By Zulker Naeen
As sea levels rise and the coastal belt is hit by fierce cyclones and tidal surges, the salt intrusion in water and soil into both coastal and non-coastal areas, impacting the lives of millions of residents of Bangladesh.
Around 35 million people are living on the edge of a climate catastrophe, at the coastal belt of the Bay of Bengal.
We often spoke about the immediate impacts of storms and tidal upsurges, but we hear less about the resulting salinity increase and its long-term consequences. Each time saltwater from the sea contaminates farms and water sources when a tidal surge sweeps the inland. Along with drastic economic effects, as its consequences, worsening of crop yields, malnutrition, and diseases are significant concerns.
As consequences, high and long-term salinity exposure has deteriorated the coastal lifestyle, and acute health crises emerged while sub-surface and surface water is contaminated by salinity intrusion in the coastal area. Approximately 98% of freshwater reservoirs and ecosystems were abolished, and it has created potable water scarcities.
The salinity gradients in groundwater increased several-fold over previous decades. A significant change is observed in the salinity of the groundwater aquifer over the last ten years. The salt content is at its highest level during the summer season.
Nearly 45% of people drink pond water without taking any disinfection measures.
Life is so miserable when access to fresh drinking water. Local people can’t regularly drink enough water to meet their bodies ‘ demands owing to severe drinking water shortages.
The average potable water collection time takes around four hours a day. Moreover, around 45% of people use pond water for drinking without taking any disinfection measures. It is hardly found the number of households used to drink pond water after boiling it. Very few people use water from desalination plants during emergency periods to fulfil their needs.
Most local people have no enough money to get treatment for their disease.
The long-term consequences of the regional water crisis cause residents suffering from high blood pressure and cardiovascular diseases, a high prevalence of kidney diseases, skin diseases, and diarrhoea. Also, the average household health expenditure has significantly increased, but their financial capacity is too weak to cover the actual treatment cost.
Thus, more than 95% of residents do not get proper treatment because of high treatment costs and lack of medical support at the community level, receiving some medical support only during the immediate aftermath of devastating disasters.
“First food, then treatment.”
Despite having no adequate money to meet the regular household needs, their average health treatment cost has increased by around 24%. So, most low-income people try to ignore their health diseases owing to food insecurity and financial crisis, which leads to a thought process of “first food, then treatment.”
Why integrated policy measures are needed?
Over the last few decades, local peoples are highly exposed to drinking water salinity and a severe water crisis that has created a coastal public health crisis.
Within the disaster-affected economy, health expenditure is one of the most influential factors that can increase population migration considering coastal environmental hazards, drinking water contamination, and health diseases.
A majority of coastal communities depend on coast-based livelihoods and credit support. Because of a decrease in the diversity of livelihood patterns, household incomes have been interrupted.
Integrated policy measures can secure coastal communities facing coastal disasters. We should identify social perceptions regarding the high salinity water crisis, how its impact could be reduced, and what are the best social actions or co-activities between government and non-government organizations regarding the salinity problem?
It requires regular health check-ups to measure the impact of potable water access and salt intake and to monitor how health diseases worsen.
This study was carried out in the Shyamnagar sub-district in the Satkhira district of Bangladesh. For this research, five unions of Atulia, Burigoaliny, Gabura, Munshigonj, and Padmapukur were selected. Those unions are in the southwestern part of the country, are highly vulnerable to cyclonic storm surges, waterlogging, and flooding hazards.
Khan, R. (2020). COP25: The case for a sincere investment in loss and damage. Dhaka: The Daily Star.
Rakib, M., Sasaki, J., Matsuda, H., & Fukunaga, M. (2019). Severe salinity contamination in drinking water and associated human health hazards increase migration risk in the southwestern coastal part of Bangladesh. Journal of Environmental Management, 238–248.
Originally published at https://www.zulkernaeen.com on January 27, 2020.