COP28 -Fostering Mental Health Resilience in Climate-Vulnerable Communities  (5)

Climate Change Programme

Dec 9, 2023

Dubai, December 08, 2023: SAJIDA Foundation organised a discussion session titled ‘Fostering Resilience: The Path to Bottom-Up Mental Health Support in Climate-Affected Communities’ at the Bangladesh Pavilion of COP28.

The background of the session stems from the fact that as the seventh most climate-vulnerable country in the world, Bangladesh experiences an alarming impact on mental health due to factors such as extreme heat, humidity, and frequent climate change induced events. The repercussions of rapid, widespread climate events encompass anxiety, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), elevated suicide rates, reduced well-being (stress, sadness), ecological grief, increased domestic violence, cultural erosion, and weakened social bonds.

Speakers at the session touched on these issues and how these could pose significant risks for climate-vulnerable countries like Bangladesh in the coming years.

Dr. Valéry Ridde, Director of Research (Senior Research Fellow), Centre population et Développement (CEPED) urged Bangladesh to integrate mental health interventions with climate action policies appropriate for the country.

Referring to the UN Sustainable Agenda 2030, Ridde reflected that in climate-vulnerable communities, children are the most vulnerable as they are exposed to “aggressive behaviour and domestic violence” caused by work life stress faced by adults. “Impact on livelihood on vulnerable communities-interdisciplinary studies and implementation of the solutions should be co-constructed with the communities in order to enhance the effectiveness, equity and sustainability,” he said pointing out that there is a lack of funding and research action plan for this space as most of the funding is for vertical diseases such as HIV, malaria and Tuberculosis.

Wameq A. Raza, Senior Health Specialist, World Bank said that Mental Health (MH) should be the focus of Climate Change actions. Citing a couple of World Bank studies he pointed out that for every 1 degree rise in temp they observed people showing a 21% increase in probability of reporting anxiety and 24% increase in probability of reporting depression. “Nationally, 16% of the country is depressed and 6% experience generalised anxiety, which is higher than the global average of 4.4%. We cannot have one national representative survey as Bangladesh needs more attention on these issues,” he said.

Dr. Samiya Ahmed Selim, Advisor, Climate Change Programme (CCP), SAJIDA Foundation said, “Gathering the knowledge and resources is very important for us. So we have been working with our international partners to get the evidence to best develop the tools for bottom-up based MH support. Also we should be focusing on the non-economic loss and damage of MH. MH well-being, migration effects are not easy to quantify. We are trying to quantify the effects from our data mining programme but we want to collaborate with others in this space on how we can further develop tools, help design."

Kyra Lilier, Research Assistant, Heidelberg Institute for Global Health, has studied the migrant communities from Bhola, Bangladesh. She said that they had a deeper look at “stressors and what draws on people’s MH. It was not surprising to find natural disasters like cyclone, especially river erosion had severe social stresses” besides economic stressors.

“We looked at things that protect people's MH. Material needs were the biggest factor,” she said. As far as coping is concerned, “it is important to focus on how big the capacity is to cope with the mental stresses that they have.” She pointed out that psychological coping strategies for the people include praying, health-seeking in the community, talking to hospital authorities or the govt. authorities.

Dr. Madeleine Thomson, Head of Impacts and Adaptation, Climate and Health Team of Wellcome Trust, said, “MH is a new area that is being built up in the last few areas. Due to the lack of funding in this space, it has been challenging. Climate and health (MH) is a new area. We have now been fundraising between the climate and health team. First approach to this is to try and build an understanding, best way of doing it is by investing to connect the programme with the climate clients. The space is being created in the 7 regions-climate care centre and other institutes that establish a dialogue between climate and mental health that comes to the region, in the presence of local participants-i.e. how to be united. The way people define MH in the communities is different from how we approach funding. Hence identifying funding that is relevant to the community people is important to be identified. We are now discussing internally about how the heat increase effect mental health, which will take some time to fully understand the actual situation-heat stress, suicide, violence, meditation effects due to extreme heat. How we understand current times MH compared to traditional MH is a very big challenge. Heat insurance could be introduced and explored based on evidence."

Tajwar Hoque, Director-Development Programmes, SAJIDA Foundation, who also moderated the session, said, “When it comes to climate issues such as extreme heat conditions, degraded air quality and its effects, I am sure that the local partners in Bangladesh like World Bank and implementing organisations like SAJIDA can help gather evidence. SF can introduce heat insurance as well-how it can be used to cover productivity losses, for women in particular. There are a lot of stakeholders in BD who can provide support in this space such as for research we have ICCCAD-research on eco-anxiety space.”

He stressed, “We have to respond systematically and we should be adopting a strengthening approach in nature where we try to complement the existing systems that are present and try to retrofit them with our technologies, our studies and our interventions.”

Dr. Ainun Nishat, Professor Emeritus, Centre for Climate Change and Environmental Research (C3ER), BRAC University, spoke about two effective strategies on loss and damage that can be brought over to the health space that can be used in the analogy of Mental Health (MH) as well. He said that the people who are involved in the rescue operations or work voluntarily with the community people, can, besides providing relief or support the community, also provide mental support for trauma.

Reflecting that climate change affects are leading to forced migration, he said, “We should start thinking about how to re-settle these community people who migrate for money earning opportunities. Poverty issues due to climate change is severe.” He stressed the need to allocate resources to these external factors.

Sanjay Kumar Bhowmik, Additional Secretary of the Bangladesh Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, reflected, “During disaster we should focus on women, children and the disadvantaged and we should include them in our policy. Volunteers who rescue the community people should treat them with same respect. Under the ongoing Mujib Climate Prosperity Plan, we are trying to find ways about how we can improve our working condition for survival and how we improve what we place on our families.”

At COP28, the SAJIDA team is sharing case studies and learnings from their interventions in the form of multi-tiered community-based mental health services and technology-driven physical health services.

In Bangladesh, SAJIDA's Climate Change Programme (CCP) is also implementing climate-resilient livelihood opportunities, green skills development, and developing nature-based solutions for integrated farming. Additionally, they are creating opportunities for cohabiting people and biodiversity in riverine and coastal areas of Bangladesh.

COP28 -Fostering Mental Health Resilience in Climate-Vulnerable Communities  (6)
COP28 -Fostering Mental Health Resilience in Climate-Vulnerable Communities  (7)

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