Only one way forward: The world confronts multiple crises
18 October 2021
The world faces layer upon layer of challenges: a global pandemic, a climate crisis, and increasingly complex humanitarian emergencies that transcend borders. Compounding the challenges are attacks against democracy and human rights — especially those of women and girls. The Government of Bangladesh and the UN are joining forces to confront these crises.
When COVID-19 was first detected in Bangladesh in March 2020, many worried that the country’s health system could not withstand the challenges posed by the pandemic.
Since the outbreak, the UN family in Bangladesh has worked closely with the Government, development partners and civil society groups to help mitigate the most devastating impacts of the health crisis. Together, we’ve created isolation and treatment centres across the country, including those that serve both Rohingya refugees and host communities in Cox’s Bazar District.
Together, we have tackled the pandemic in a multisectoral manner. Our Community Support Teams is an innovative joint project that sends volunteer teams into slums and remote areas to help identify COVID-19 cases and provide follow-up support to patients and their families, promote mask-wearing and support registration for vaccination.
These efforts have helped mitigate the worst-case COVID-19 scenario — and all while having only limited access to vaccines. Bangladesh made a strong call for vaccine equity at UNGA76.
The health response has been matched with increased cooperation to address some of the most adverse socio-economic impacts of COVID-19. The pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on women. Without urgent action, the increased gender inequality will negatively impact countries’ recovery and development trajectories.
The Climate Crisis
First, the bad news on climate. And there is a lot of bad news.
While the global outlook is dire, the impact on the Asia Pacific region is particularly alarming. Asia Pacific experiences faster sea-level rise and is predicted to experience more intense heatwaves and heavier rainfall in the decades to come.
For Bangladesh, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicts more frequent high-intensity cyclones and the storm surges they create. Sea level rise alone is predicted to submerge 17% of the country by 2050, leaving approximately 20 million people homeless. Millions more will be forcibly displaced by extreme weather events or the slow-onset impacts of climate change, such as saltwater intrusion.
We know that women and children are hardest hit by disasters and the impact of climate change is no exception. Yet, the numbers in densely populated Bangladesh are staggering. Climate change threatens the lives and futures of 19 million children in Bangladesh.
The UN in Bangladesh is partnering with the Government of Bangladesh on three fronts: ensuring livelihoods and basic needs, responding to climate-related disasters, and mobilizing climate finance.
A few highlights of our work: We are enhancing climate resilience of smallholder farms by helping them produce diverse, high-value crops. We are piloting Anticipatory Action to release funding in advance of severe flooding, allowing for greater preparedness and increased coping capacity of affected people and a faster and better humanitarian response. And we are working with a broad range of partners to address the vast funding gap for the SDGs, by producing an updated financing strategy and a pipeline of bankable investment projects on climate action and other SDGs.
Our interagency programme in Cox’s Bazar is working with our donor partners to distribute liquified petroleum gas to replace the use of firewood and is promoting solar power and alternative energy sources. In parallel, efforts continue to restore the forest and green the camps.
Bangladesh’s experience with climate change is testament to the connections between climate and virtually every other challenge facing the world. Indeed, Bangladesh, as the Chair of the Climate Vulnerable Forum, has advocated for the creation of a Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Climate Change. From the big emitters to small island states and highly impacted countries like Bangladesh, a Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Climate Change, if approved, will have her work cut out for her.
The Rohingya Crisis
Despite challenges of its own, Bangladesh has played a critical role in addressing a defining tragedy of our time: the Rohingya crisis.
We recently saw the fourth anniversary of the Rohingya crisis pass, marking the mass exodus of Rohingya people fleeing persecution from their home country of Myanmar into Bangladesh.
The most viable, durable solution to the Rohingya crisis is the voluntary repatriation of refugees in safety, dignity, and sustainability; the responsibility for that lies with Myanmar.
However, while Rohingya refugees are in Bangladesh, we need to work together to prepare them for this eventual return. This means ensuring refugees are skilled and educated in a manner that allows them to rebuild their lives and contribute actively to society when they can return.
Since March 2020, the Rohingya humanitarian response has focused on COVID-19 preparedness and response. With COVID restrictions lifting, humanitarian partners are scaling back up responsibly keeping the refugees at the forefront of the response.
While our work on the ground continues, our colleagues at regional and global levels work to strengthen diplomatic channels to help restore stability in Myanmar, support accountability and justice for the Rohingya and make sure the Rohingya crisis does not become a forgotten crisis.
The Way Forward
The biggest challenges facing Bangladesh and the world today transcend borders.
COVID-19, climate change, and the Rohingya crisis are not unilateral challenges — they are cross-border challenges that require cross-border solutions, global political will and commitment, strong partnerships, and collective action.
These are challenges that the world must confront together, and we must give a seat to young people, to women, to those not usually heard or listened to. This is why the Secretary-General's report on "Our Common Agenda" is more important than ever. This agenda of action is designed to strengthen and accelerate multilateral agreements – particularly the 2030 Agenda – and make a tangible difference in people’s lives. That's how we truly move forward together.