Extreme salinity in the coastal area of the Sundarbans is posing serious health hazard to women and children, particularly pregnant women.
Saline water is killing trees and sources of other foods including fishes, cows, hens and other resources.Health experts blamed the lack of nutrition for such deaths in the coastal areas.
Ayesha Begum, a 19-year-old expecting mother, from Gabura village of Shyamnagor Thana under Sathkhira district, is suffering from various kinds of diseases.”I always feel very tired and weak after becoming pregnant. Sometimes even I cannot breathe properly. I have rash all over my body causing serious itching making me unable to sleep at night,” Ayesha said while talking to the Daily Observer.
Health experts noted that lack of nutrition is causing different kinds of diseases. Dr Md Nazrul Islam of Shyamnagar Upazila Health Complex said Ayesha was suffering from anaemia and gestational hypertension.
“Such trend is alarming as the frequency rate is on the rise. Anaemia is the scarcity of hemoglobin in the blood and the major health consequences include poor pregnancy outcome,” he said.
It also causes impaired physical and cognitive development and increased risk of morbidity in children. “We are worried as the frequency rate is on the rise and we have not experienced such trend before. We think lack of nutritional food is the main reason behind such diseases.”
People in the affected villages are suffering from various diseases including diarrhoea, dysentery, viral fever with cough, cold, skin diseases, eye infections, pain, paralysis, jaundice, waterborne diseases, typhoid, anemia, high blood pressure and severe headaches (most common), he added. He also noted that the women and children are suffering not only from some serious diseases but also from seasonal illness due to lack of nutritious food intake.
Dr Md Mozammel Haque Nijami, Dacop Upazila Health Family Planning Officer, said the rate of admitted patients with pre-eclampsia during pregnancy has been rising over the last few years.
According to the hospital database, the number of Hypertension patients in the complex was 159 in 2012 while it reached 196 in 2015
Additionally, research examining the correlation between drinking water salinity and maternal health in Bangladesh by London Imperial College and the Bangladesh Center for Advanced Studies in 2008 found that the frequency of pre-eclampsia and gestational hypertension were higher in coastal areas when compared to non-coastal areas.
The study titled ‘Drinking Water Salinity and Maternal Health in Coastal Bangladesh: Implications of Climate Change’ also found that frequencies of these medical conditions hike during the dry season.
Sona Banu, aged 71, from the same locality noted that the prolonged trapping of saline water in shrimp enclosures is taking away the once lush-green cropland.
“Neither me nor my parents even nor my grandparents have heard about such diseases. And now our women, girls and children are victims of this situation,” Sona Banu said while recalling her past days 30 years back.
“Every family at least used to have a fruit garden like guava, sapodilla, palm, plumb, mango, coconut, java and other fruits in different seasons. Our ponds, canals and rivers were full of traditional fish, and now even a single tree is not visible,” she said.
Sitara Banu, 67, a traditional midwife who lives in the Mulapara under Dacop Upazila in Khulna district, echoing Sona Banu said fish were the most important source of nutrition especially for the pregnant mothers.
“Some fish including gangana had special food value and the pregnant mothers were advised to eat the fish that offered protein to the unborn child too,” she said.
“Gangana fish increases mothers’ milk. We had rich tradition like giving pregnant mothers kheer made of new indigenous rice and soaked rice. Different kinds of fish like Gang Kai, Kai Phul, Vatki, Kan, Pangash, Tangra, Paira, Lusa etc were in abundance,” she said.
Sitara, also the local doctor of Shamnagor General Hospital, noted that the number of miscarriage and abortion rate has increased over the last few years.
Talking with the Daily Observer another resident of Dacop Upazila, said: “Once every yard of all the villages had plenty of vegetables such as lal shak, kalmi, palong, pumpkin, gourd, shapla and etc. were the great sources of nutrition for the poor people.”
Besides, different medicinal plants like brahmi leaves, thankuni, water cress, telakucha and kalakachu were in plenty everywhere. They not only gave the energy to the mothers but also protected her new born from diseases, she noted.
Soil scientists think that the one of the reasons behind such lack of nutrition is salinity. Thousands of hectares of land in coastal districts have been affected by saline water due to shrimp production, frequent tidal surges and low freshwater flow from the upstream restricting normal crop production.
“Once the local farmers used to cultivate traditional rice, like Baran, Churkun,Dhak Shal, Patnai and Gavi that are now the stories of the past. The shrimp cultivation has killed these rice verities,” said Paval Partha, an environmental activist and a researcher on ethno-botany directly working in the coastal areas.
He suggested return to traditional sources of foods to prevent the adverse impacts.
The problem got acute after the two devastating cyclones – Sidr in 2007 and Aila in 2009, said Environment, Forest and Climate Change Minister Anisul Islam Mahmud.
He also noted that the salinity intrusion and the cyclones caused loss to the cattle, goats and other poultry products that are considered a major source of protein.
Asked if they are going to address such nutritional issue, he said initially they are introducing huge plantation and saline-prone rice varieties in the coastal areas.
The article written by Banani Mallick was first published in Daily Observer, Bangladesh