A roundtable titled “Securing life and livelihood of women and girls of climate-vulnerable areas: Hurdles and Hopes” was jointly organized by Manusher Jonno Foundation (MJF) and Dhaka Tribune on August 26
The keynote presentation focused on evidence and experience on hurdles faced by women and girls gathered from a climate change project implemented by MJF in climate vulnerable coast, hill tracts and flood plain areas of Bangladesh. The discussion had two main objectives: to share the misery of women and girls, and to find a way to tackle the challenges they face.
Md Ahsanul Wahed, Deputy Program Manager, MJF
We conducted a study in September 2020 to see the impact of cyclone Amphan and the Covid crisis on women and girls. We found that many of them were miserable as they faced domestic violence and were forced into unpaid care workand child marriage.
A lack of separate toilets and breastfeeding facilities at cyclone shelters were cited as major problems by many of the respondents. A portion of women and girls in coastal areas had to stay on embankments after cyclones, braving unhygienic conditions and a lack of security.
We observed a freshwater crisis at all project locations, which intensified after the natural disasters and increased the suffering of women and girls.
About 98% of the respondents blamed the lack of maintenance of embankments for their suffering.
Decreases in income due to Covid-19 and natural disasters, as well as inadequate access to financial assistance werealso cited as reasons by the respondents.
The project generated fundsfor 259 community groups, which played aneffective role in rebuilding their livelihoods during the pandemic. Limitedfacilities for women and girls to access to financial resources, limited access to local markets for selling produce, especially during the pandemic, limited access to information and illiteracy in remote climate vulnerable areas and social norms which discourage women from engaging in earning livelihood and other social activities are major issues that need solving.
Ainun Nishat, Professor Emeritus, Centre for Climate Change and Environment Research (C3ER), BRAC University
Bangladesh is working on a national adaptation plan which we hope to submit at the end of this year or the beginning of next year. We need to take help from experts to develop the plan as it needs to be tailored based on the country’s needs. It has to be gender sensitive and we also need to focus on the needs of the elderly and people with disabilities.
Women need separate toilets in shelters. Climate change has a damaging effect on women’s reproductive capacity and that needs to be considered as well. Elderly people also need to be considered while making policies.
There is another threat hovering over us. The sea level may rise higher than had been projected, which poses a grave threat to people living in disaster-prone areas.There is a projection that there will be more flooding in the next 10 to 15 years. This is why embankments need to be maintained in flood prone areas.
MA Mannan, Minister, Ministry of Planning
Women, children, and the elderly have always been more vulnerable to climate disasters. Areas like chars, the coast and hill tracts have been vulnerable to climate change for years.
When shelters were built in climate vulnerable areas, gender sensitive infrastructure was probably not part of the design plan. When it comes to executing the plans, we are not doing very well.
However, things are changing, and the government is willing to take recommendations from experts, like the panelists, to improve the action plan and policies.
Reaz Ahmad, Executive Editor,Dhaka Tribune
Char areas and coastal areas are more vulnerable to climate change. Women and children in those areas are at the receiving end of lots of misery and suffering. It should not be a choice between life and livelihood for women. We need to focus on both.
The recommendations and suggestions that came from the panel should be considered in the formulation of policies about disaster management.
Shaheen Anam, Executive Director, MJF
Women face unique challenges during any emergency, be it natural disaster, manmade (such as war or conflict), or a health disaster such as the present pandemic. Scarcity of fresh water during natural disasters is common in almost every climate-vulnerable area. However, solutions require strategies tailored to the local context.
Life is normally hard for general people in climate vulnerable areas due to frequent floods, storms, and scarcity of drinking water due to salinity, and for women it is all the more difficult due to cultural and traditional factors as well as a lack of opportunities.
Banasree Mitra Neogi, Gender Advisor, MJF
Climate change has been demonstrated to, directly and indirectly, impact a wide range of human rights, including the rights of children, persons with disabilities, old age, and all gender diverse populations.
Because persons and communities disproportionately bear the negative impacts of climate change, MJF urges formulating and review all policies and programs from a human rights perspective.
Badrul Talukder, Royal Danish Embassy
The number of women’s deaths in the flood and cyclone in 1991 was five times higher than men’s deaths. This is why all the policies and guidelines for combating climate change should be women and children friendly. Implementing those plans should be our major focus now, and the new Danish Development Strategy has a great focus on poverty-free,just, and resilient societies that fight inequality and lead in the fight against the climate crisis and for a planet in balance.
Chakma Raja Debashish Roy
There is no one size fits all solution for climate change. The Chittagong hill tracts have unique problems when it comes to water scarcity. Freshwater scarcity in the hill tracts region was more severe during a disaster and even deep tube wells could not pump out fresh water in that area.
Dr Sharmind Neelormi, Professor, Department of Economics, Jahangirnagar University
The issue is important because the impact of climate change on women is different than on men. It is important to create evidence through research on how women are impacted in different areas, including the hill tracts, due to climate change. Implementation of gender policies with effective monitoring is important to address the misery of women and girls in climate action.
Kazi Amy, Oxfarm
We are implementing a project called Recall in three climate vulnerable areas: chars, haors and coastal areas. We found that Haor areas do not have good maternity services or community clinics, which posesa serious threat to the health of mothers and babies. Transgender communities should be included in relief and support programs.
Ashraful Haque, USAID
When a natural disaster hits a region, it adversely impacts the natural resources in that area. As a consequence, gender-based violence increases as traditional gender roles intensify. However, women would perform better in reviving their livelihood if they received proper inputs, training, and resources.
Saqib Sarker, Journalist, Dhaka Tribune
When people go to cyclone centers, access to fresh water becomes a crisis. If people in climate vulnerable areas have brick-built houses, they will get protection from many disasters as the houses themselves will work as shelter.
Dr Fazle Rabbi Sadeque Ahmed, Deputy Managing Director, PKSF
We have to admit that our funds are scarce. We cannot afford to redesign our adaptation plans every now and then or to keep rebuilding houses and shelter centers. We need a sustainable adaptation plan. We need to predict what lies ahead and for that there is no alternative to extensive research on climate change. Women are left behind to take care of children and family when there is a natural disaster and,therefore, they are more likely to die.