Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 30 March 2020

Bangladeshis describe loss as cold snap takes 50 lives

Local hospitals in the north of the country are struggling to find beds for those coming down with illnesses such as pneumonia

A Bangladeshi woman makes her way along a road under dusty conditions in Dhaka. AFP
A Bangladeshi woman makes her way along a road under dusty conditions in Dhaka. AFP

A cold front sweeping through Bangladesh has killed more than 50 people as poor communities with little clothing struggle to stay warm – and it will only get colder, experts say.

In the northern town of Tetulia, on the border with India, temperatures dropped to 4.5 °C last weekend – the lowest ever recorded in the area – where temperatures usually hover at about 8 °C at this time of the year.

Ordinarily this temperature would not be low enough to cause deaths, but impoverished labourers and their families who lack appropriate shelter and clothing are falling victim.

But it’s not only the cold that is causing the spike in deaths. Experts say climate change has been adversely affecting weather patterns in the country leading to dense fog and incubating diseases.

Tetulia, a part of Panchagarh district, has a humid subtropical climate and his surrounded by 16 rivers. The majority of the population living along the river banks exist below the poverty line in homes made from wood, bamboo and tree branches.

Tehseen Rehman, 52, a fisherman from Tetulia, lost his son to pneumonia last week. “I have not seen such cold winter in my entire life. My son used to catch fish with me – he was diagnosed … and died after two days,” he told The National.

“About 90 per cent of people in Tetulia are directly or indirectly involved in the fish business and living in poor conditions – there is no relief sent to our area. For last five days I did not go to work,” Mr Rehman said.

On Sunday, more than 4,000 people suffering from symptoms related to the cold snap visited the hospitals across the north of Bangladesh an official at the Health Emergency Operations Centre and Control Room said.

“Winters in northern Bangladesh have been getting colder in recent years, impacting the poor population, older people and newborn babies without proper dwellings settled alongside rivers," Ainun Nishat, expert on climate change and vice-chancellor at BRAC University in Dhaka told The National.

Dr Raziul Karim, a medical officer at a local health complex in Tetulia, which has been one of the worst hit areas by the adverse weather, said his sixty-bed hospital is now out of space for the sick.

“People are primarily affected with respiratory infections, pneumonia, fever, diarrhoea, skin diseases and inflammation of eyes as their immunity to fight diseases are weak,” he said.

“In the past two days, 20 diarrhoea and seven respiratory patients were admitted to the health complex at Tetulia.

“Diarrhoea patients are mostly children and respiratory patients are old men. Every day 10 to 12 patients are admitted due to the cold wave.” Dr Karim told The National from the 60-bed hospital, which is now full.

“In this part of the world people especially older can adapt to hot weather but struggle with cope winters. Cold weather increases old age complications which are the major cause of deaths in Tetulia”. Tariful Islam Khan, a researcher at International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh told The National.

“Severe cold is also affecting the livelihoods of farmers, fish sellers and other business activity,” Mr Nishat said.

The Bangladesh Meteorological Department predicts the temperature will rise gradually over the coming days. But the mercury is set to fall again as rain, dense fog and cold winds arrive in first week of January – indicating more tough days ahead for the poor of northern Bangladesh who are in a dire need for relief.

South Asia has been choked by the intense cold and thick fog in recent days, killing at least six in India during it’s second coldest winter recorded in 119 years. Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, directed chief ministers to provide shelters to homeless people to escape severe cold.

Tariqul Islam, divisional commissioner of the northern Bangladeshi city of Rangpur told The National “the government has distributed 40,000 warm clothes among poor people who cannot afford clothes in various parts of the Panchagarh district and calls for relief organisations to step in for relief activities”.

He said, there is no relief activity started by the any relief group or NGOs so far in the area and people are seeking help. But today one NGO have started providing relief. The Environment and Social Development Organisation – ESDO distributed 851 blankets among the poor suffering from the cold.

January could see colder weather yet. This time last year the temperature dropped to 2.6 degrees Celsius, the lowest recorded temperature in the history of Bangladesh.

Updated: January 2, 2020 03:57 AM

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