By Syful Islam
DHAKA, Bangladesh (AlertNet) - Despite being disproportionately affected by climate change, women and girls are getting relatively little attention and money in Bangladesh’s climate adaptation initiatives, activists and negotiators say.
The Bangladesh Climate Change Trust Fund, financed with Tk 25 billion ($305 million) from the national budget, has financed only one project focused on women out of 109 climate adaptation and mitigation projects, they say.
Qazi Kholiquzzaman Ahmad, coordinator of the Bangladesh climate negotiation team and a trustee of the trust fund, told AlertNet that women are just one of many groups still receiving relatively little funding.
“Climate change adaptation itself is a new issue for us. We have to tackle many aspects in fighting climate change,” he said. So far, women have not received much funding but “we will definitely finance such projects if the government bodies or NGOs submit proposals,” he said.
One problem, Ahmad said, is that “we received very few project proposals in this field from government bodies” and the fund is yet to support NGO projects.
Another climate change fund, the donor-supported Bangladesh Climate Change Resilience Fund, has so far funded seven projects; none of those funded so far are focused on women.
Among the approved projects 41 percent are construction of embankments and dykes, 25 percent for environment protection, 12 percent for river engineering work, 12 percent for research, 4 percent for awareness building and 2 percent for water and sanitation.
The lone project focused on women’s issues - “Water Supply and Social Protection of Vulnerable Women and Children in Ecologically Fragile Areas” - is under implementation in Bhola, a southern Bangladesh district.
Hasan Mehedi, the chief executive of Humanitywatch, a non-governmental organisation that works in coastal areas, said research shows women are much more vulnerable to death during disasters.
When disasters strike, many stay behind with vulnerable children or elderly people rather than flee danger; others are burdened by heavy clothing or less able to swim than men. Of the people killed in Bangladesh by a large 1991 cyclone, 77 percent were women, and the casualties of Cyclone Aila in 2009 similarly were 73 percent female.
“Despite their high vulnerability, women and their safety get less attention from state functionaries,” Mehedi said. Coastal women in particular, are vulnerable to climate impacts, he said.
Water scarcity is one problem. Some women in coastal areas now have to travel eight to 10 kilometers from their villages to collect drinking water, and on the way some are subjected to sexual harassment and attacks.
Mehedi said that as a result of worsening salt intrusion into drinking water sources, many women in the southwest coastal zone of Bangladesh are drinking water with three times the safe level of salt. Studies show they experience a range of health problems including reproductive issues such as eclampsia, miscarriage and stillbirth 20 times higher than in other areas of Bangladesh.
Coastal women and girls in Bangladesh are also suffering as the severity of storms, cyclones and flash floods has increased in the region, changes believed linked to climate change.
Their vulnerability deepens further when they are forced to take refuge in shelter centers in the face of the increased number of cyclones and flash floods, experts said.
Shirin Sharmin Chowdhury, a junior minister for women and children affairs, told AlertNet that the Bhola district project, aimed at helping women and girls deal with worsening climate impacts, is now underway.
She also said another project worth Tk 1 billion ($12.5 million) is awaiting approval before the Bangladesh Climate Change Resilience Fund. It would help ensure separate women’s toilets and health facilities in storm shelter centres, she said.
“Steps are there to ensure the safety of women in disasters,” Chowdhury said. She urged NGOs to come forward with more women- and children-focused climate adaptation projects.
Atiq Rahman, executive director of Bangladesh Centre for Advance Studies, also urged government offices and services to give priority to adaptation projects focused on women.
Climate scientist and vice chancellor of Brac University, Ainun Nishat, said Bangladesh’s climate change strategy and action plan focused sufficiently on women but “now we will have to implement projects to help reduce their suffering,” he said.
Nishat said it was important to consider women and children in all adaptation plans, not just those focused on women. “Focusing separately does not bring any benefit for women and children,” he said.
He pointed out that each government ministry has someone appointed to consider women’s issues. The bigger problem, he said, is that “some women- and children-related projects are not getting approval” from donors because the application documents are not properly prepared by the ministries.
Syful Islam is a journalist with the Financial Express newspaper in Bangladesh. He can be reached at: email@example.com.