Bangladesh: extreme heat closes all schools and forces 33 million children out of classrooms

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School girls walking in a road in Bangladesh
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This is the second consecutive year that Bangladesh has been forced to close schools and comes just weeks after heat-induced school closures in both the Philippines and South Sudan. This shows how children’s rights are increasingly under threat from the intensifying impacts of the climate crisis, Save the Children said.

Bangladesh is one of the countries most vulnerable to the impacts of the climate crisis, with the Global Climate Risk Index classifying the low-lying country as the seventh most extreme disaster risk-prone country in the world in 2021. Tropical cyclones, floods and coastal erosion are common, and last year, Bangladesh experienced its worst-ever dengue outbreak which killed more than 1,000 people. Experts blamed the outbreak on the climate crisis and El Nino-driven weather patterns which created an extraordinarily wet monsoon season.

Like in many parts of the world, rising temperatures are also causing extreme heatwaves and drought in the country, with the government closing primary and secondary schools in June last year due to heat. A total of 33 million of Bangladesh’s 54 million children are enrolled in school.

More than 1 billion children, about half the world’s 2.4 billion children, live in countries highly susceptible to - and in many cases already experiencing – the effects of climate change. Children affected by poverty and inequality are even more vulnerable, with Save the Children research showing that one third of the world’s child population live with the dual impacts of poverty and high climate risk.

The high temperatures have prompted Bangladesh’s health ministry to issue guidelines to help people in the world’s eighth most populated country to cope and avoid heat stroke. They include drinking 2.5 – 3 litres of water a day and to rest in shaded areas.

Save the Children is distributing safe drinking water to the worst hotspots and has arranged heatwave awareness campaigns for children and parents as well as developing health advisory messages that have been shared through posters and leaflets in the capital Dhaka and two districts in the country’s north.

In Bangladesh’s drought-prone northwestern Kurigram district, Save the Children has distributed drought-tolerant seeds to farmers, demonstrated irrigation techniques and helped some 120 of the most vulnerable families with cash support.

Shumon Sengupta, Country Director Bangladesh, Save the Children International, said:

Missing school draws children into a spiral of risk. They are more likely to be forced into child labour, and adolescent girls are particularly at risk of gender-based violence, child marriage and teenage pregnancy, which increases the longer they are out of school. The same risks directly impact their ability to return to school at all.

“Extreme heat jeopardises children’s physical and mental health – and it also has a significant impact on education. Even when classrooms are still open, children struggle to concentrate – US-based research suggests that each degree Fahrenheit increase in temperature throughout a school year reduces the amount learned by 1%."

Children in Bangladesh are among the poorest in the world, and heat-related school closures should ring alarm bells for us all. Leaders need to act now to urgently reduce warming temperatures, as well as factoring children – particularly those affected by poverty, inequality and discrimination - into decision making and climate finance.

Last year, 2023, was the planet’s hottest year since records began in 1850 and saw global temperatures rise 1.18°C (2.12°F) above the 20th-century average of 13.9°C (57.0°F).

Save the Children has been working in Bangladesh for more than 50 years. Together with government, civil society organizations and businesses we respond to major emergencies, deliver development programmes and ensure that children’s voices are heard through our campaigning to build a better future.

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