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Mental health distress following the Bangladesh cyclone reveals the devastation caused climate-related losses and damage
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Mental health distress following the Bangladesh cyclone reveals the devastation caused climate-related losses and damage

Mental health distress in the wake of Bangladesh cyclone shows the devastation of climate-related loss and damage


Climate-induced damage has been recognized as a growing concern over the past decade. loss and damage – such as the destruction of homes or buildings after a flood. But, economic losses and damage have been far greater attentionThey are more than their non-economic counterparts.

These non-economic losses and damagesThe value of a project cannot be measured in monetary terms. loss of life, health and wellbeing, livelihoods, territory, cultural heritage, traditions, indigenous knowledge and biodiversity.

Kabir’s village faced tremendous losses during Cyclone Sidr, when approximately a third of its population lost their life.
Sonja Ayeb-Karlsson

A major UN report on climate changewas released earlier this season, I and my peers at Lancet Countdown described its findings as a “code red for a healthy future”. That doesn’t just mean physical health, but mental health as well.

In my research, I focus on the relationship between environmental events and people’s wellbeing and mental health in countries such as the Philippines, South Africa, Senegal, India and Bangladesh.

Kabir, a 38 year-old Bangladeshi man, met me at one of our coastal study locations in Khulna. He spoke about the long-term mental health effects of this. Sidra Category 5 tropical storm that struck the Bangladesh coast in November 2007, killing thousands.

Kabir recalls the night that Cyclone Sidr hit.

While 2007 may seem like a distant memory for many, Kabir still holds onto the memory of the night that the cyclone ravaged his house.

I felt anxious after Sidr. I can’t seem to relax. I feel the sea breeze, especially during rainy and cloudy days. It forces my mind to remember. I can’t bear that breeze any longer.

Kabir describes how the first year after the cyclone turned out to be a big black hole. There are fragments of positive memories, such as his neighbours bringing him food or checking in on him. Other, less pleasant memories include people who took advantage of his vulnerability by lending him money when he was unable work and then harassing him to repay his debts.

People will grieve the loss of one member of their family if they lose another. My four children and my spouse died. I am the only one left. How can I be mentally stable.

The psychological traumaMany felt anxious after the cyclone damage over many days. stopped evacuatingIn an effort to avoid any further traumatizing experiences that could be caused by evacuation procedures.

Kabir’s village lost about a third of its population to Sidr, and for weeks after its impact bodies were lined up for burial on a field next to the cyclone shelter. An elderly man from the village explained that many survivors were still traumatized.

We noticed that children would often bury their toys in odd places. We also often heard them saying: “Stop the game! Otherwise, the cyclone will come”. They often repeated: “When will the flood strike again? Do I have to go? [to the shelter]Again, or will you die next time? If it happens again, then please promise me not to leave.”

An innovative tractor and trailer made out of empty plastic bottles by local kids.
Sonja Ayeb-Karlsson

The man explained that many of the cyclone survivors had suffered psychological and internal injuries, and were subject to complications, some of these causing long-term mental distress. The region did not have any mental health specialists after the cyclone so no one received specialist psychological support.

These dangers are returning year after year. Many of my relatives died screaming and crying while I was there. I failed them to help, I failed their lives. I will never be happy because of this. That is something I will never be able to get rid of.

I was struck by how these men’s words spoke directly to the core of the debate around how to compensate for non-economic loss and damage. They spoke out about the importance to include mental health considerations in climate policies, especially by including carefully designed mental assessments and support for post-disaster assistance packages delivered by the UN or national governments.

Land erosion is often accelerated by cyclone strikes that are followed by flooding and standing waters.
Sonja Ayeb-Karlsson

People are more likely to suffer from psychological effects if they don’t have the chance to heal from the traumas caused by disasters. post-traumatic stressAnxiety, depression and anxiety. Untreated mental illness can have a negative impact on your ability to learn and develop. opportunitiesParticularly for children and women who are marginalised.

Bangladesh has advocated over the years for climate negotiations to include loss and damage assessments.
Sonja Ayeb-Karlsson

Climate change is projectedTo increase the intensity of extreme weather events like droughts, cyclones and rainfall. heatwaves and humidity. It is therefore more important than ever that we start treating problems in vulnerable areas of the world – like poverty resulting from historical power imbalances between countries, making inhabitants vulnerable to climate change – as well as the symptoms of these problems, like mental ill health exacerbated by extreme weather events. After all, the effects of so-called “natural disasters” are socially constructed.


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