By SM Najmus Sakib
DHAKA, Bangladesh (AA) – Climate change-driven salinity is posing serious health problems to pregnant women and child health in Bangladesh, health experts say.
“Salinity has taken everything I had – my unborn child. We were born in the land of salt, and live in salinity. We have accepted our fate and endured the misery we are facing,” 26-year-old Shandha Rani said while recounting her tragic health story.
Hailing from a village in Gabura Union of Shyamnagar town of the southwestern Satkhira district bordering India, Rani was a daily wager at a soft-shell crab farm established by a Japanese company in her village.
“Our job in the crab farm was mostly in saline water. Hypertension and fatigue had become common when I was pregnant. When I was four-and-a-half months pregnant, my baby died during a premature delivery.”
Her doctor in Shyamnagar town said it was saline water that caused the premature delivery. Therefore, her husband, a van-puller, stopped her from working there.
Rani told Anadolu she walks three kilometers and stands in the queue for hours to collect safe drinking water from a private facility.
There is only one deep tubewell situated 4-5 kilometers away from her house, and that too carries arsenic contamination.
Rani is not the only woman facing complications from saline water.
Shabita Rani, 30, a housewife of a poor fisherman, was a bit lucky than Shandha Rani. Her second child, a two-and-a-half-year-old baby boy, survived when Shabita was 7-month pregnant.
“We had to spend a lot of money during and after my premature delivery as I had to be admitted to a private hospital in the town,” she told Anadolu.
- Unsafe saline water
Bangladesh is a low-lying country with 19 coastal districts that have a combined population of 42 million.
Coastal districts like Satkhira along the world's largest mangrove forest Sundarbans have been facing severe saline problems. Fresh and potable water is a sought-after commodity in most villages along the Bay of Bengal.
According to the Satkhira District Department of Public Health Engineering, the salinity level is 4,400 milligrams per liter (mg/l) in some coastal areas against the permitted threshold of 1,000 mg/l.
Villagers said they could use pond water before the monster cyclone Sidr hit the region in 2007. But now they have to buy fresh water.
“One drum (20 liters) of filtered water costs Taka 30 ($0.30). Only a few water treatment plants have been set up in the town. A middleman or vendor system has grown that supplies the filtered water at hiked prices,” Najmun Nahar, 50, told Anadolu.
Hailing from Burigoalini village, Nahar said a drum of water can only meet the drinking demand of a small family for a day.
“During the dry season, we are helpless and forced to use contaminated saline water. And, buying water at high prices is a huge burden for families like us with low income,” she lamented.
“In Ramadan, the situation gets even worse. After a whole day of fasting, we do not get safe water to drink or use. And the situation leaves us with no option but to use saline water,” she added.
Skin diseases are also common among women and children.
“We have to take medicine for skin disease regularly. It is almost common for people living here,” said Nahar, showing her affected hand and that of her son, a Madrasa student in grade four.
- Health complications
Dr. Sameena Chowdhury, a senior gynecologist, told Anadolu that salinity in drinking water is directly related to the increased risk of (pre)eclampsia and gestational hypertension among pregnant women in coastal regions.
“When hypertension rises, it causes the body to lose protein through urine. When a pregnant mother lacks protein she faces seizures and episodes of shaking. Seizures is a serious health condition that causes abnormal brain activity, puts a pregnant mother in coma or death or premature delivery,” she elaborated.
Of the total, 24% of deaths in eclampsia happen in the coastal belt in the country, she added, saying that salinity can also cause brain attack and kidney diseases.
A former president of The Obstetrical and Gynecological Society of Bangladesh, she said: “So many women and girls in the coastal Satkhira have reportedly been taking medicine to suspend or delay their menstrual cycle.”
Women in the coastal areas do this due to a lack of safe water to use during the cycle, the health specialist explained, adding that “suspending or delaying the periodic cycle has long-term reproductive health effects.”
Dr. Md. Ziaur Rahman, a Shyamnagar town health official, admitted that an increasing number of women face salinity-driven diseases, including skin disease in his town.
“Women who work in fish firms or catch fish in coastal rivers have been facing urinary tract infection (UTI),” he told Anadolu.
The health official, however, said they don’t have any data on how many women face such reproductive health or pregnancy-related complications.
District officials said they have been working to create awareness among women and help them switch over to other safe works like sewing, and other skill development activities.
Satkhira District Public Health Engineering Department’s Chief Officer Md. Shahidul Islam told Anadolu that the government has started implementing a two-year project to harvest rainwater in the 10 coastal districts.
“Over 50,000 people would benefit from safe drinking water once the project is done.”
Islam attributed the situation to global climate change which causes frequent cyclones in the Bay of Bengal and brings in saline water to the locality destroying the freshwater sources and fertility of the land.