GENEVA - The U.N. Children’s Fund says climate change in Bangladesh is threatening the lives and futures of 19 million children or one-third of all children under age 18 in the country.
The report forecasts a grim future for millions of children who live in Bangladesh’s flood- and drought-prone lowlands in the country’s north and in the storm-ravaged coastline along the Bay of Bengal. They are the areas most likely to be devastated by floods, cyclones and other environmental disasters.
Included among the 19.4 million vulnerable children are nearly one-half-million Rohingya refugee children. They and their parents fled to Bangladesh's Cox’s Bazar area to escape violence and persecution in Myanmar. They are living in fragile bamboo and plastic shelters, which will not be able to withstand a climatic disaster.
The report's author, Simon Ingram, says climate change will have direct implications on children’s lives, especially the poor, who are most at risk from its devastating impacts. He says more than 6 million climate change refugees have migrated from rural to urban areas. He warns many of the children who end up in Dhaka and other large cities are forced to fend for themselves.
“Many children being pushed into very hazardous forms of child labor. Many girls who end up being pushed into taking early marriages because their families can no longer look after them,” Ingram said. “And, there are other girls who also end up in what is clearly a flourishing and expanding sex trade in the cities. Girls who are left with simply no other outcome available to them.”
Despite the magnitude of the problems ahead, Ingram says the children he met during a visit to Bangladesh are not fatalistic. He tells VOA they are very resilient and determined to take their future into their hands. He says more and more youth activists are coming to the fore and becoming agents of change.
“In the report, you can read about one particular network down in the south of the country where there are something like 1,500 activists who go out to communities helping people understand the risks that face them; helping them basically to get ready for whatever might be around the corner in terms of a climatic shock,” Ingram continued.
Ingram says this sort of work is expanding and getting the recognition it deserves. He says Bangladesh as a whole is pulling together to meet the climatic challenge.
The report is calling on the international community to support the government in implementing a range of initiatives aimed at shielding children from the effects of climate change. It says children must be put at the center of any response.