In recent years, the government hospital in Dacope upazila in the coastal district of Khulna have been receiving an ever-increasing number of pregnant women suffering from pre-eclampsia.
Incidentally, this place also falls under those coastal areas where farming activities have been nearly destroyed by heavy salinity in the soil.
Once happy growers of paddy, the farmers in these areas have been trying shrimp and crabs on the same land and is still left wanting for a sustainable livelihood because of excessive salt in the soil.
This also indicates that the drinking water options are also heavily affected by salinity, meaning that the residents of these areas do not have any options but to drink quite a bit of salt with the water – significantly higher than they should be, to be more specific.
Pre-eclampsia is a disorder of pregnancy usually characterised by high blood pressure among other symptoms.
Suporna Sarker, 24 years old and nine-month pregnant, was recently admitted to the Dacope Upazila Sadar Hospital after she got diarrhoea and felt an unusual pain in the lower abdomen.
So, when the doctor says that her case was “hypertension during pregnancy as a result of excessive sodium chloride intake through drinking water,” it makes perfect sense.
Because she lives in an area where the rising sea level – because of global warming and climate change – has been pushing up salinity into soil and water.
Sontosh Kumar Majumder, gynaecology consultant at the hospital, said that they have to handle more pre-eclampsia patients during the November-May dry season than any other time of the year.
When there is rain, the sweet water pulls down the level of salinity in the soil and water somewhat.
Hospital records show that until October this year, as many as 96 pregnant women with this disorder took treatment there.
While talking to this correspondent at the hospital, Suporna, who lives in the Gorkhali village, said that she has been drinking water from a deep tube for many years.
“This time, I having the complications because of the excessive salt in the drinking water. This did not happen when before I gave birth to my first child seven years ago,” she said.
A 2008 study conducted by the London Imperial College and Bangladesh Centre for Advanced Studies said that pre-eclampsia and gestational hypertension were more common in the coastal areas compared to the non-coastal areas.
The study, titled “Drinking Water Salinity and Maternal Health in Coastal Bangladesh: Implications of Climate Change,” also said that the coastal population, comprising approximately 40 million people, relies heavily on natural water sources like ponds, rivers and tube wells for drinking water.
These sources have become severely saline from seawater intrusion caused by environmental changes, and man-made factors including poor water management and shrimp farming.
Salinity has already encroached more 100km inland from the Bay of Bengal, and the impacts are projected to be exacerbated by sea level rise due to climate change, the study said.
According to the 5th Assessment report of Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Bangladesh is identified as being at specific risk from climate change due to its exposure to sea-level rise and extreme events like salinity intrusion, drought, erratic rainfall and tidal surge which will hamper the country’s food as well as livelihood security and public health.