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August 10, 2023

Need for Coordinated Action on Climate and Health in Bangladesh

Climate change is impacting Bangladesh’s natural environment, economy and society with increased frequency and intensity. Heatwaves, floods, monsoons and declining groundwater reserves are some of the extreme challenges that Bangladesh is facing today.

To address these challenges, Mr. Saber Hossain Chowdhury MP, Special Envoy to the Honorable Prime Minister for Climate Change and Chair of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change convened an interministrial and departmental meeting on Climate and Health on August 7, 2023, at the Department of Environment in Dhaka. This was the first meeting as part of Bangladesh’s preparation for the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP-28) in November. Dr. Farhina Ahmed, Secretary of this Ministry chaired the meeting. The Honorable Minister Mr. Md. Shahab Uddin MP was the chief guest, Honorable Deputy Minister Ms. Habibun Nahar MP, and Mr. Saber Hossain Chowdhury MP, Special Envoy to the honorable Prime Minister for Climate Change and Chair of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change were special guests.

Two presentations were discussed during the meeting. The first, “Impact of Climate Change on Health in Bangladesh” was presented by the Additional Secretary, Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change. He mentioned that as per the Global Climate Risk Index, Bangladesh ranked 7th among the countries affected the most due to climate change, while its contribution to climate change is a meagre 0.48%. As per the Sixth Assessment Report of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC AR6) 2021 report, the country is at risk of losing 2-9% of annual GDP by mid-century due to climate change. He described the direct and indirect impact of climate change on human health.

Bangladesh is already struggling with the health implications of local air pollution, which cause 86,000 deaths each year in Bangladesh. The country has also lost 280 million working hours due to air pollution, which is equivalent to 7.7 -9.0% of GDP, as per World Bank 2023 report.  According to the World Health Organization, (WHO), between 2030 and 2050, climate change is projected to result in around 250,000 more fatalities per year due to starvation, malaria, diarrhea and heat stress. The direct harm costs to health are predicted to cost between $2 billion and $4 billion annually by 2030. Areas with inadequate health infrastructure, primarily in poor nations, will be the least equipped to react and prepare without aid.

Experts and political leaders noted that Bangladesh has prepared the National Action Plan and has included a health component in it, but more coordination and convergence is needed to respond to the need of the people and country. The second presentation, “Putting Health on the Climate Agenda for Bangladesh and Globally,” was presented by Ms. Vandana Shah, Vice President for Health Systems Strengthening at the Global Health Advocacy Incubator. She mentioned in her presentation that rising global temperatures have contributed to more frequent and severe extreme weather events around the world, including cold and heat waves, floods, droughts, wildfires and storms. These events have direct and indirect adverse impacts on sustainable development goals in general and population health in particular. Health has a compounding impact from climate change and has multi-layer and multi-level consequences. Globally, five million deaths were associated with non-optimal temperatures alone per year, accounting for 9.5% of all deaths. Further, the 2015 global burden of diseases study has indicated that 16% of all deaths globally are attributed to varied pollutions and cause an economic loss of $4.6 trillion per year. Among all sorts of pollution, air pollution is considered one of the largest environmental risk factors causing almost seven million premature deaths each year. Burning of fossil fuels, burning of solid wastes, deforestation, industrial activities and agricultural activities are leading causes of air pollution. The WHO estimates that 9 out of 10 people worldwide are exposed to air with higher levels of pollutants.

Vandana emphasized the need for a national program on climate change and human health that is coordinated and convergent, so that climate and health are integrated in the health system at all levels. The political leadership of the country champions the cause of climate justice. Development of climate services for health in Bangladesh would require proactive partnerships, enabling institutions, creating sustainable infrastructure, strengthening capacities and investment in interdisciplinary research on climate health linkages. Given the huge share of population vulnerable to climate risks in Bangladesh, with high probability of increased risk exposure in the future, it would be a missed opportunity if the Bangladesh health and climate agencies do not work together to combat the threat by shaping an effective system of climate services for the public health system.

Among others Directorate General of the Department of Environment, Additional Secretary from Ministry of Health, representatives from Directorate General of Health, Institute of Epidemiological, Disease Control and Research; Medical Education, local government, Dhaka North City Corporation, Dhaka South City Corporation and GHAI Bangladesh and India team members were present. The Global Health Advocacy Incubator was invited to be the part of discussion on Climate and Health Issues by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, along with other development partners including the WHO, United National Development Programme (UNDP) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), among others.