Along with other losses and casualties, cyclones bring water salinity in coastal areas, which adversely affects people’s living standard, health status, socio-economic condition and livelihood strategies
Amidst the coronavirus pandemic, Bangladesh went through a storm surge named Amphan on May 20.
Amphan wreaked havoc on the lives of the people of West Bengal and coastal areas of Bangladesh.
Bangladesh went through a tough time recovering from the aftermaths of Sidr and Alia, two devastating cyclones that affected the coastal areas, claiming thousands of lives.
It seems that Amphan was just another iteration of an appalling nightmare for the country's people.
According to the Bangladesh Meteorological Department, the cyclone Amphan hit the country's coast on May 20, 2020 which caused tidal surges of up to nine feet; flooding hundreds of villages in Bhola, Patuakhali, Barguna, Khulna, Bagerhat, and Satkhira.
Along with other losses and casualties, cyclones bring water salinity in coastal areas, which adversely affects people's living standard, health status, socio-economic condition and livelihood strategies.
The coastal zone of the country is still carrying salinity which intruded during Sidr and Aila.
Agriculture land and freshwater of ponds, canals and rivers are still saline contaminated and increasing the sufferings of the coastal population.
A recent study in the coastal areas has raised major concerns regarding the health adversities caused by water salinity.
In the southwestern part of the country people suffer from rough skin, fatigue and tiredness along with sore fingers in hands and legs.
It is estimated that 20 million people living in coastal areas of Bangladesh are already facing higher exposure to diseases like hypertension due to increased salinity of the water supply.
Although both men and women suffer from these health adversities, the women get affected disproportionately.
The study has also reflected that women in those affected areas suffer from diseases like dysentery, diarrhoea and skin rashes for consuming and using saline water more than men.
Moreover, water salinity is also responsible for changes related to menstruation and higher rates of miscarriage.
Another positive correlation has also been discovered between salinity in drinking water and the risk of both preeclampsia and gestational hypertension.
To add to that, drinking water salinity has been found to have a detrimental effect on child mortality rates in those areas.
There is also a relationship between post-natal impacts and the timing of prenatal ingestion of saline drinking water.
The recent study also showed that consuming saline water has left some impact on the taste buds and taste threshold of the people of the cyclone affected region.
While cooking, women in those areas tend to use more salt than necessary, people from outside of that area might not be able to consume that level of salt in their food.
The coastal community was also found to be associated with higher raw salt intake practice, which is directly linked to increased blood pressure and hypertension – both of which affect women more.
Another recent study conducted in the south-western part of Bangladesh has highlighted that skin diseases not only have a negative physical impact on women, rather, they also have social implications.
Women being the victims of skin diseases face problems like social exclusion, social denial, mental stress and negligence by family members.
They are ignored in their marital life and have lower value in the husband's family.
Women in those coastal areas are dependent on using saline water from tube wells for doing household chores like washing clothes, cleaning utensils and other tasks, which require high water usage as the number of ponds is insufficient in those areas.
As women use more saline water, it causes more skin complications among them than men.
Although the health effects are profoundly disturbing, they are proven reversible in a relatively short period through simple, affordable and sustainable adaptation measures.
Awareness building and health skill developments, proper pregnancy care, safe drinking water practices and the right health and dietary choices can improve the overall health of women.
Retaining rainwater for consumption, building embankments can also help to prevent water intrusion into the coastal areas in future.
Bangladesh is regarded as ground zero for climate change, where some of the most severe effects are being recorded.
The southern region is almost at the sea level. A one-metre rise in sea level will inundate 17 percent of the land surface.
Rainwater is only available for three to four months.
Because of the annual sea level rise, the water inland is becoming saline.
Rising water salinity is a further potential consequence of climate change and sea level rise and it also raises issues of environmental justice.
The contribution of low-income countries like Bangladesh to carbon emission is often negligible but the burden of negative consequences of climate change on them is disproportionate.
The cyclone Amphan also inundated homes in the Sundarbans and other areas with saline water. This will affect the soil quality and further impact agricultural productivity and force people to migrate in search of livelihood.
The government needs to start rebuilding the affected areas without any further delay.
Reconstruction will remain even more challenging now as we fight the Covid-19 pandemic.
We need to act now to combat this looming health crisis by taking into account local knowledge while building embankments and any other necessary structures.
The local community should be given the responsibility of looking after and maintaining the embankments.
Local knowledge should be valued. People can use the local knowledge and re-invent the technology.
The government only has to play the role of a facilitator.
If our government works along with the private sector, NGOs and local communities, we can collectively build sustainable resilience and save our coasts and save the health of women and mothers.
Sayeeda Zeenat Karim is guest lecturer and research associate at Center for Sustainable Development (CSD), ULAB.