Cold-related deaths higher in Rangpur, Barishal

Prothom Alo

Some 104 people die on average every year in Bangladesh due to cold and winter-related diseases. The number of deaths are higher in parts of the country with longer winters and higher poverty rates.

This information came up in a study conducted by four teachers of Calgary University of Canada and Khulna University of Engineering and Technology (KUET). It also shows that the winter reaches its peak during the months of December and January in the country. Mortality rate remains high during this period.

The mortality rate per million is the highest in Rangpur and Barishal division. The rate is the lowest in Dhaka. Notably, the poverty rate is high in the Rangpur and Barishal division whereas it is the lowest in Dhaka division.

The results of the study titled “Developing Cold Related Mortality Database in Bangladesh” were published on 27 September in an international science journal called Environmental Research and Public Health.

When asked, ASM Mahtab, one of the members of the research team and professor of KUET, told Prothom Alo, “The mortality rate has declined in places where the people got the winter clothes. The cold-related mortality rate is higher in poverty-stricken areas."

1,249 deaths in 12 years

The report has been prepared by analysing the data of winters from 2009 to 2021. The researchers have used information obtained from reports published in different news media. They have obtained the weather-related information from the Bangladesh Meteorological Department. They got the information on per capita income and poverty situations from the open database of the World Bank. They have identified pneumonia, diarrhoea, breathing problems and fire burns as the reasons behind the deaths during the winter.

The research shows that a total of 1,249 people died during the winter seasons from 2009 to 2021. The mortality rate was the highest in the 2011-2012-season with the death of 214 people. The rate was the lowest in the winter season of 2016-2017. Some 18 people died that year. On the other hand, some 52 died in the winter of 2020-2021 season.

A man rides a bicycle to his workplace, braving the biting cold, to earn bread and butter. The picture was taken from the Keranihat area in Rangpur on 8 January.
Mainul Islam

The researchers also mentioned that the mortality rate usually increases when the cold is severe. The winter reaches its peak between 21 December and 31 December or within 11 to 20 January. The mortality rate also increases during this time. However, the number of deaths in Barishal districts was higher in comparatively warmer months of winter.

Some 75.5 per cent of those people died due to cold and some 10.65 per cent of them died of cold-related deaths. Besides, some 5.8 per cent of them died after being burnt while trying to warm themselves near a fire.

Government and private initiatives provide warm clothes to people suffering from cold waves, but that is not enough. There are many people who do not get the help from these initiatives. Besides, there are questions regarding the availability of medical services in winter.

In the last few days, it has been observed that children have been placed on the floor in government hospitals due to the shortage of beds.

Speaking to Prothom Alo, Enamur Rahaman, state minister for relief and disaster management, "Already we have distributed more than 2,633,000 blankets among the poor. Apart from that, we distributed some 80,000 blankets separately in Rangpur. We are going to purchase more blankets worth Tk 420 million within a few days. The death rate from cold-related diseases will fall exponentially once we distribute those newly-purchased blankets."

However, the government is yet to buy blankets even after eight days of January.

Higher death rates in Rangpur

The researchers presented the graph of cold-related deaths in two ways in this study. First, they presented the number of deaths in winter against every one million people from 2009 to 2021. According to that, the number of people who died due to cold was the highest in Rangpur. Barishal is in second place in terms of cold-related deaths followed by Rajshahi, Khulna, Sylhet, Chattogram, Mymensingh and Dhaka. The mortality rate per one thousand square km is also the highest in Rangpur followed by Barishal, Rajshahi, Khulna, Sylhet, Dhaka, Mymensingh and Chattogram division.

Rangpur is one of the poorest divisions of the country. The severity of cold is also very high there. According to the research, the division has a poverty rate of 42 per cent and some 25 per cent of the total populations of the division are extremely poor. The temperature was the lowest in the previous 12 winter seasons until 2021 in Rangpur. The average temperature in the month of January there was 10.74 degree Celsius. Rajshahi was second in the list of divisions with the lowest temperatures. Chattogram was warmer in this time period as compared to other divisions.

75-year-old Fulbi Begum came to collect a blanket distributed at the initiative of the Prothom Alo Trust. She lives in a dilapidated hut alone. She lives by begging.

After getting the blanket she told Prothom Alo that the almost worn out bamboo fence around her house was not enough to save her from the biting cold. Therefore a blanket means a lot to her.

High death rate among the children and the elderly

The mortality rate from cold-related diseases is the highest among children. More than half of the people (633), who died of cold-related diseases in 12 years till 2021, were less than six years of age while some 255 of them were over 65.

People concerned say that the people who were financially affected during the coronavirus pandemic are under more pressure now due to the increase in commodity prices in 2022. Research from the World Food Program (WFP) showed that 68 per cent of the families in the country are struggling to buy food. Therefore, it is difficult for them to buy winter clothes.

Speaking to Prothom Alo, BRAC chairman and economist Hossain Zillur Rahman said, “As per our observation, the number of new poor has increased in the country. These people should be prioritised and provided with food and winter clothes.”

*This report appeared on the print and online versions of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Ashish Basu