The potential risks of climate vulnerability and dengue amid Covid-19
The year 2020 is certainly a year of pandemic and disasters. There is no sign of an end to this series of events; to add more salt to the wound, dengue is knocking at the door
As we were writing this article on climate change vulnerability and the dengue epidemic during Covid-19, a tropical cyclone named Amphan passed over Bangladesh and caused havoc with all its strength.
In the coastal districts, millions of people were evacuated to the cyclone shelters by the tremendous efforts taken by the government. Nearly every coastal district was seriously affected by the cyclone. The storm broke down poorly maintained dams and inundated houses.
Nearly two million people were evacuated with 40,000 livestock. Preliminary report from the government stakeholder reported 15 deaths and a damage of Tk1100 crore. However, the Cyclone Preparedness Programme (CPP) and well disaster management framework of Bangladesh helped to reduce the death toll.
The year 2020 is certainly a year of pandemic and disasters. There is no sign of an end to this series of events; to add more salt to the wound, dengue is knocking at the door.
The ongoing partial lockdown is ineffective against the transmission of Covid-19 and there is no sign of flattening the curve. Each day the number of infection is rising.
Under such a scenario, multiple hazards can be developed in this country considering the uncertain season pattern and unprecedented impact of climate change. As the hydrological months of monsoon start, it brings climatic hazards including the probability of early flooding, flash floods, tornadoes, nor'westers, landslides in the hills, heatwave and tropical cyclones.
Monsoon also brings another disaster- the outbreak of dengue.
Since March 30, when our team has been working on different scenario analyses amid the Covid-19 pandemic, we have been speculating the possible climate change induced disasters that may affect during/ after the pandemic.
We have considered the monthly distribution of possible climatic extreme and slow-onset events, socio-economic and environmental situation of Bangladesh and expert suggestions to set three scenarios for impact analysis and possible management strategies.
Scenario-1: Climate change-induced disasters during or after Covid-19
Under this scenario the risks due to climatic disasters like cyclones, floods can hamper food security, and lead to loss of lives and properties. These disasters are potential threats to vulnerable groups, socio-economic crisis, and they can increase the poverty level.
In Bangladesh, the months in between May to August pose a high possibility of flash flood and riverine floods. While April to June and the end of October to November pose high risks of cyclones. Furthermore, heavy rainfall can trigger landslide risks considerably high in June and July in the hill tracts.
Although there were no major destructions from the Amphan in the largest refugee camps in Cox's Bazar, more than one million Rohingya refugees there are at a high risk of landslides during the monsoon season.
Cyclone Amphan along with Covid-19 pandemic will have a greater negative impact on livelihoods, properties, goods and services, and food security of the country. These will have a significant negative impact on the successes in poverty alleviation activities over the last decades.
As millions of people are already evacuated in the shelters, there is a chance of community infection. Therefore, along with relief support, adequate water facilities, washing kits, PPE and other tools should be available. Community awareness should be increased for ensuring social distancing measures during the time of cyclones and floods.
For the emergency management strategy, a set of preparatory and preventive action plans can be formulated such as prioritising the rebuilding of the dams in the affected areas. For long-term management strategy, climate-smart agricultural options equipped with early warning system, community-based food bank, awareness development programmes should be inacted.
Customisation of microfinance tools for developing digitalised climate-smart financial inclusion system to reach the vulnerable communities, implementation of water-related adaptation technologies, housing cum shelter approach, adaptive and digitalise social safety net system should also be ensured.
For a vulnerable country like Bangladesh, this might be very crucial to let its people know the strategy and plan, so that the people could prepare for the unprecedented situation. However, without an informed and engaged population, this climate-vulnerable country cannot fight either the Covid-19 pandemic or the climate change emergency.
Scenario 2: Dengue and other infectious disease outbreak during or after Covid-19
This scenario focuses on the possible outbreak of dengue, chikungunya, and other infectious diseases in Bangladesh. The country faces the highest level of vulnerability to the outbreak of infectious diseases from May to September.
This means multiple stressors will develop with the outbreak of dengue along with the Covid-19 in Bangladesh since the pandemic has shaken the health system, the extent of infections and death, loss of livelihoods, rise in poverty levels due to social and financial crisis in Bangladesh.
Along with the urban areas, the hill tract districts are also at a vulnerable condition to the infectious disease outbreak. Those areas need to be in the priority list to take precautions before an outbreak happens. Regular cleaning activities and larvicidal spray can be an option to prevent such an outbreak in Bangladesh.
Reformation and creation of new hospitals specialised in infectious disease treatment should be considered nationwide. Special training and capacity building of the health care workers should be considered regarding dengue and Covid-19 outbreak treatment and management. Furthermore, regular testing and monitoring of Covid-19 cases along with dengue, chikungunya or malaria testing, identification of disease hotspots and implementation of isolation and waste management is necessary.
Aside from the conventional medical support systems, awareness development programme, mass learning on hygiene and sanitation, and environment responsible learning along with public health basics might be helpful in the long run for ensuring a sustainable health system to fight infectious diseases in Bangladesh.
Scenario 3: Simultaneous multi-hazards risk of Covid-19, climatic disasters and other infectious diseases
Scenario 3 was established considering the worst possible cases that might happen in Bangladesh. And currently, this worst scenario is happening. With Amphan devastated the coastal zones and dengue knocking on the doors, the toll of suffering has just increased for the general people.
The vulnerable group such as women, children and aged people will suffer a lot. The nation's targets for achieving sustainable development goals (SDGs) will be severely affected. The number of ultra-poor population will increase, maternal and child mortality along with other SDGs will hamper, national targets will be slowed down.
The high population density, climate change vulnerability and weak health sectors along with ignorant citizens might exert pressure simultaneously to further worsen the Covid-19 and climate change emergency. Small and medium enterprises will collapse, and the health status of the country will decrease along with increasing social conflicts, gender-based violence and social and political crimes.
A strong policy can be taken for the citizens to learn the basic primary healthcare and sanitation, destruction of Aedes mosquito habitats, cleanliness, and proper preparedness with sectoral collaborative approaches. However, such collaborative approaches were absent in this emergency.
A national technical advisory committee has been formed to tackle Covid-19 in Bangladesh; it should also contain public health experts, disaster management experts, emergency crisis management experts, education experts and economists. Long-term environmental and urban management plans should be considered. Slums in the urban areas and climate vulnerable hard to reach areas should be given special emphasis.
A special response, as well as risk-assessment task force, can be developed involving specialists from every prioritised sector as well as local stakeholders from the vulnerable communities to identify the gaps and needs, which should be integrated, accountable and transparent.
Moreover, humanitarian support should reach to the most vulnerable communities which need to be targeted, outlined, and delivered. Economic implications should be subjected to the spatial and geographical locations based on the vulnerabilities. Hotspots identified in the delta plan can be considered here.
The long-term strategic plan considering the pandemic and epidemic situation can be integrated into Bangladesh delta plans (BDP 2100), Bangladesh Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan (BCCSAP) and National Adaptation Plan (NAP) for better strategic management. Furthermore, implementation of sustainable interventions following the Paris Agreement for climate change adaptation and mitigation, Sendai Framework for disaster risk reduction and WHO guidelines for combating the pandemic can help Bangladesh to build back better from this dire situation.
Finally, there is no alternative to strengthen the health care facilities and preparedness for the potential humanitarian crisis. Whatever will be the scenario, emergency preparedness for initial response and proper implementation of initiatives for resilience building must be ensured.
Strong strategic inclusive planning, proper financing and multi-sectoral collaboration including integrated support from the private sectors and international bodies are required to defeat the pandemic strike and adapt with the impacts of climate change in Bangladesh.
Md Mostafizur Rahman and Mashura Shammi, are Associate Professors of Department of Environmental Sciences, Jahangirnagar University and Md Bodrud-Doza, is a Deputy Manager of Climate Change Programme