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[ISLAMABAD] Over 19 million children in Bangladesh are vulnerable to the forces of climate change, says a new study released this month (April) by the UNICEF.

The study notes that nowhere in the world are the lives of children threatened more by climate change than in Bangladesh, thanks to the country’s overwhelmingly young population and its geographical situation on a plain traversed by mighty rivers flowing into a storm-prone coastline.

“Through the data analysis, we have found that climate change impacts are depriving farming and fisher families of their livelihoods”

Simon Ingram, UNICEF

Children account for 40 per cent of Bangladesh's total 160 million population, according to UNICEF, which defines children as those below 18 years of age.

According to UNICEF, nearly 12 million of the most climate-vulnerable 19.4 million children live in and around powerful river systems while 4.5 million reside in cyclone-prone areas along the Bay of Bengal and another three million are at risk from recurring drought-prone lowlands in the country’s north.

Bangladesh disaster and children infographic

Storm surges, recurring cyclones, rising sea-levels, riverine floods and droughts are key climate threats that the families and children face. These could drive poverty, hunger, early marriage, child labour and sex trade levels to new heights, the study warns.

Global Climate Risk Index 2019 ranked Bangladesh ninth in the list of the top 10 countries worst hit by climate change in 2017. That year, close to a million houses were damaged or destroyed in the floods that caused large-scale displacement. From 1998 to 2017, climate change affected 37 million people in the country.

10 Most Affected Countries

Image credit: German Watch
 
According to the UN World Meteorological Organization, global temperatures are likely to rise by three to five degrees Celsius before the end of the century, exceeding the global target of limiting the rise to two degrees Celsius.

“Through the data analysis, we have found that climate change impacts are depriving farming and fisher families of their livelihoods,” says study author Simon Ingram and UNICEF senior communications advisor. The impacts, he says, are pushing people deeper into poverty and forcing them out of their homes, affecting children's access to education, health and nutrition services.

"Children, who get deprived of sustained provision of health, nutrition and education needs due to climate change impacts, were found lodged into early marriages, exploitative labour and sex trade markets so as to financially ‘support’ their families,” says Ingram.

UNICEF Bangladesh deputy representative Sheema Sen Gupta says the country’s authorities need to ensure that cash grants and other quality social services reach migrant or displaced Bangladeshi families in the immediate aftermath of climate-related shocks to benefit their children. “Such supports will help them avoid their children landing into exploitative job and sex trade markets,” Sen Gupta tells SciDev.Net. Bangladesh YouthNet for Climate Justice Coordinator Sohanur Rahman says that adequate funding is needed to address children and youth-centric climate issues. “Training will help them make right choices about protecting their lives when confronted with climate risks. Introducing floating boat schools and community health facilities in riverine flood and cyclone-prone districts can be of significant help,” he tells SciDev.Net.

On the other hand, Bangladesh ministry of disaster management and relief’s deputy director Nurun Nahar Chowdhury says protecting children from fallouts of climate change and exploitation in any form is a key focus. “The ministry is engaged with the country’s education and health departments and other relevant civil society organisations and looking into workable solutions to address children-related climate change-induced challenges raised in this study.”
  
This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Asia & Pacific desk.