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Climate change induced natural disasters impact on the health of the coastal people in Bangladesh

[PHP Nepal Vol 5 Issue 7 Jul 2015] | Climate change is undeniable, has been a reality and its devastating impact is evident all over the world, particularly in the poor developing countries like Bangladesh. Bangladesh is considered as one of the high-risk countries to climate change due to its geographical location, topography, population density, poverty and lesser adaptive capacity to climate change.

Recent evidences show that climate change is responsible for the frequency of natural disasters and climatic events like cyclone, earthquakes, floods, riverbank erosion, sea level rise and salinity over the coastal areas of Bangladesh (Kabir et al, 2014). Within Bangladesh, the coastal region is the most vulnerable due to its unique geographic location, the dominance of floodplains, low elevation from the sea, and high population density. Wind direction, precipitation, river and terrestrial runoff along with the wide and open coast, strong current and wind, dynamics of erosion and siltation and salinity intrusion etc. are the salient features behind the natural disasters. Most of the people in the coastal areas of Bangladesh are living under poverty line. Climate change induced natural disasters will aggravate the situation of poverty by causing havoc to the life and livelihoods of the coastal people.

The major health threats due to climate change are caused by changing patterns of disease, water and food insecurity, vulnerable shelter and human settlements and population growth and migration. Climate change is also responsible for dehydration, malnutrition and heat-related morbidity among children and older people (Rahman, 2008). Availability of underground safe water has also decreased due to the changing in the climatic pattern. The coastal communities of Bangladesh are drinking and cooking with high sodium water and thus being vulnerable to developing hypertension and its associated risk of cardiovascular diseases. Increasingly saline drinking water may result in acute health hazards and may displace hundreds of thousands of people from the coastal region.

Climate change will have a substantial impact on the health and survival of next generations among challenged populations (Rylander et al, 2013). Children, elderly and women are highly vulnerable due to adverse effects of climate change impacts. The prevalence of diarrhea, skin diseases, dengue fever, hepatitis (jaundice) and other infectious diseases has increased. Water-borne and food-borne infections are very common after the climate induced disasters and the main sources of these infectious diseases are polluted and high salinity of water, unhealthy sanitation, unclean environment, unhygienic food and vector-borne insects (Kabir et al, 2014). It has been anticipated that the combination of higher temperature and a potential increase in summer precipitation may cause the spread of many infectious diseases (Patz et al, 2003).

Due to dislocation and displacement caused by climate-induced natural disasters, the coastal people lose their jobs, which push them into serious food insecurity that ultimately may lead to malnutrition. More adaptive and mitigation measures like climate change and adaptation information dissemination to a vulnerable population, capacity building programme and more health awareness programmes should be taken to reduce people’s vulnerability to climate change induced natural disasters.

Dr Russell Kabir is a Lecturer of Public Health at Anglia Ruskin University in London, UK.

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