Royeda Begum leaves her home in Khulna’s Koyra area as water level continues to rise. She now lives in a slum in Natun Bazar of Khulna city.
Mosabber Hossain

More than a year has passed since cyclone Amphan hit the country in 2020. But, the house of Sufia Begum, 58, still bears the mark. The storm blew away the roof of the corrugate iron sheet and left a weak structure of the house. The sky can be seen from it. The tiny kitchen has been destroyed too. The family of four now lives under the house with a thatched roof.

Sufia Begum, who works at a silo, is from the neighbourhood of C&B Colony under Motla union parishad of Satkhira’s Kaliganj upazila. She earns the bread and butter for her family. Her husband left several years ago. Her elder son also died. Sufia Begum has a daughter and another son, who suffers from paralysis and he cannot work. She also has a grandson.

After Amphan, Sufia Begum received no assistance except some food aids. She said, “I could not get any penny from anyone to mend my house. Who will give it? Does anyone give anything to the poor?” So she spent all of her savings and borrowed a little money to repair her house.

The Amphan ravaged through 76 upazilas of 19 districts in the country and the government estimated Tk 11 billion (1,100 crore) in damages. But who knows people like Sufia Begum have been counted or not. Every year people like Sufia Begum suffer loss from cyclone, flood or other natural disasters and climate change causes such disasters frequently. These people affected by disasters also spend huge amount of money to repair their houses. In addition, major problems like illness and job loss also persist.

According to a recent study of United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), these disasters cause more damages to women like Sufia Begum than men. The report titled “Bangladesh Climate Change Household Expenditure Survey” was released in October last year. This is the first such survey conducted on financial impact of climate change on the people in Bangladesh. It covered 3,095 households from 10 districts. Of the households, 42.6 per cent and 40.7 per cent reported exposure to floods and storms, respectively. The remaining households are exposed to other kinds of disasters.

International Centre for Climate Change and Development director Saleemul Huq said, “In Bangladesh, women are the worst affected than men because of climate change. Women have to tackle maximum damage caused by this manmade climate change and they are forced to spend the last portion of their wealth to tackle the situation.”

According to the study, female-headed households earn less than male-headed household does. But female-headed households spend a higher share of their income than male-headed households in adaptation. Families led by men spend 16 per cent of their annual income on flood adaptation while families led by women spend over 18 per cent. Male-headed households spend 10 per cent of their income on storm adaptation while it is 44 per cent for female-headed households. The expenditure of male-headed households on other disaster adaptation is 7 per cent of their income while the spending of female-headed households crossed 10 per cent.

Mamunur Rashid, a climate change specialist with UNDP, led the research. He said women in Bangladesh are fighting with all their means every day to adapt to climate change but their formidable fight and their loss is never estimated in climate finance. Even there are little talks over it in climate conferences.

Every year natural calamities hit the countries including Bangladesh that are prone to disaster. These countries hardly have catastrophe insurance. Widows receive assistance under social safety net programme but there is no separate programme for families led by women, he added.

Economist Hossain Zillur Rahman observed it is necessary to have a separate programme for female-headed households and these households face problems caused by climate change-related disasters for two reasons. Firstly, families led by women have less number of working people than the families led by men. Secondly, women have to earn in addition to managing household activities. So women are expose to more risk, he added.

*This report appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Hasanul Banna