By Amy Lieberman
Sunday, February 7, 2010
Women in the isolated northern chars of Bangladesh are the first to feel the effects of climate change. Fairly forgotten by most of the world, they now have a boat that floats their way, bringing some medical help and community health training.
GAIBANDHA, Bangladesh (WOMENSENEWS)--Hardly anyone, including Bangladeshis, know of the isolated northern chars, tiny islands that barely rise above sea level. Fewer know what will become of the islets as land erosion and flash floods likely worsen in the near future.
Approximately 20 percent of this delta nation is expected to be underwater by 2050, leaving 20 million people as climate change refugees, according to the International Panel on Climate Change, based in Dhaka. Yet no organization or governmental agency has conducted environmental research on the isolated islets in northern Bangladesh, leaving their future in doubt.
One thing is certain, though--the Himalayas' melting glaciers and the unpredictable seasons will chiefly plague women.
"The women are the ones who suffer first," said Abdul Momen, Bangladesh's United Nations envoy. "They are the ones working in the fields and they are the ones who have to clean up the pieces when that source of income and nourishment is destroyed."
The rate of land erosion of the Brahmaputra-Jamuna River, which surrounds the chars, is expected to steadily increase over the next 40 years, according to the Center for the Environment and Geographic Information Services, a government-founded research organization in Bangladesh. A wider river could produce more flash floods, which routinely swallow scores of char children during the rainy months of May through September.
Wintertime presents other challenges, as the murky river recedes, uncovering long stretches of wave-imprinted mud. While the land is ripe for harvesting, it forces char-dwellers to travel greater distances to reach other chars.
A woman's access to medical care in either the rainy or cold seasons was virtually nonexistent until 2002, when Friendship, a nongovernmental group headquartered in Dhaka, established the Lifebuoy Friendship Hospital boat.
Unlike the men, the char women don't annually travel to the mainland for work, so this floating clinic has become their sole hope for medical attention.
Treating 3,000 patients monthly for free, the hospital boat offers everything from orthopedic and cataract surgery to treatment for diarrhea and burns caused by open kitchen fires.
Women can see the male residential doctor for these kinds of ailments, but the problem is that few ask him to assist with their gynecological and obstetrical medical concerns.
Another problem: they can't always reach the boat. It moves to different major chars every few months.
In response, Friendship has trained 224 local women to serve as community medics for other women. They provide basic medical counsel, sell condoms and birth control for next-to-nothing and distribute birthing kits, complete with sanitized needles.
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