DHAKA — In Bangladesh, climate change is leading to an increase in the spread of infectious diseases and affecting the mental health of people, says a new World Bank Report.
The Climate Afflictions Report finds a link between the shifting climatic conditions and the increase in respiratory, waterborne, and mosquito-borne diseases as well as mental health issues. With further climate change predicted, more physical and mental health issues are likely to emerge. The most vulnerable are children and the elderly, and those living in large cities like Dhaka and Chattogram.
“Bangladesh has remarkably tackled climate change challenges, despite being among the most vulnerable countries. It has built resilience against natural disasters and introduced homegrown solutions to improve agricultural productivity,” said Mercy Tembon, World Bank Country Director for Bangladesh and Bhutan. “With more evidence showing a pronounced impact of climate change on physical and mental health, Bangladesh needs to build on its success in adaptations to ensure a stronger health system that averts outbreaks of emerging climate-sensitive diseases.”
Over the past 44 years, Bangladesh experienced a 0.5°C temperature increase. The summers are getting hotter and longer, winters are warmer, and the monsoon seasons are being extended from February to October. With these patterns, the country’s distinct seasonal variations are becoming blurred. By 2050, the temperatures are predicted to rise by 1.4°C in Bangladesh.
Erratic weather conditions played a key role in the 2019 dengue outbreak in Dhaka city, where 77 percent of the country’s total dengue-related deaths occurred. That year, Dhaka recorded more than three times the average February rainfall followed by high temperature and humidity between March and July.
Compared to monsoon, the likelihood of contracting an infectious disease is about 20 percentage points lower in the dry season. Respiratory illness rises with the increase in temperature and humidity. For a 1°C rise in temperature, people are more likely to suffer from respiratory illnesses by 5.7 percentage points; for a 1 percent increase in humidity, the chances of catching a respiratory infection rise by 1.5 percentage points.
The weather pattern also affects mental health. More people suffer from depression during winter while the level of anxiety disorders increases with temperature and humidity. Further, women are at higher risk than men for depression, while men are more susceptible to anxiety.
“Going forward, by ensuring stronger data collection, Bangladesh can better track the evolution of climate-sensitive diseases,” said Iffat Mahmud, World Bank Senior Operations Officer and co-author of the report. “Particularly by recording accurate weather data at local levels and linking it with health data, it will be possible to predict potential disease outbreaks and to establish a climate-based dengue early warning system”.
The report further suggests that by strengthening health systems, Bangladesh can deal outbreaks of infectious and other climate-sensitive diseases. Further, awareness building, and community mobilization through creation of self-help groups, will help the country address mental health issues more effectively.