Climate change costing poor women in Bangladesh up to 30 per cent of their outgoings

Posted May 19, 2022

Rural households led by women are spending to reduce risks from flooding, storms

Average for all households is up to 15 percent of their total expenditure  

Women heading poor, rural households in Bangladesh are spending up to 30 per cent of their total expenditure on measures to protect themselves from the impacts of climate change including flooding and storms, according to new research from the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), Kingston University, the International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD) and UN Development Programme (UNDP). 

The study, Still bearing the burden: how poor rural women in Bangladesh are paying most for climate risks, surveyed 3094 households from the rural areas of ten selected districts in Bangladesh to assess their exposure to climate change and their spending patterns on reducing the risks of climate-related disasters.

On average, 15 per cent of households’ expenditure is going on measures to protect against flooding and storms, like raising floors or building shelters(?) for their livestock. But for households headed by women, that percentage doubles.

Across the districts, 83 per cent of households are affected by climate-related disasters and are spending about US$93 (BDTk 7493) a year privately on measures to reduce their risks. This adds up to about US$1.8 billion. This study updates a 2019 review by IIED which used secondary data, and found similar estimates of total rural household level expenditure.

Sudipto Mukerjee, UNDP’s Resident Representative in Bangladesh said: “As in other climate vulnerable countries, it is the poorest in Bangladesh, with negligible carbon footprints and who can least afford it, who are bearing the bulk of the climate losses and adaptation costs. This amounts to gross climate injustice and hits at the heart of the fundamental rights of the poorest and weakest inhabitants of this ailing planet. “

Paul Steele, IIED’s Chief Economist said: “Our estimate of what people living in rural Bangladesh are spending on climate change is conservative - the true cost is likely to be even higher as this survey didn’t look at the costs of clean up and repair in the aftermath of cyclones, storms and floods.

“This just goes to show how the burden of paying for climate change is falling on the shoulders of those who have done least to cause it but are most vulnerable to it, and women are paying the highest price.”

Different households’ exposure to catastrophic events varies both by region and by gender. Households from the northern districts of Gaibandha, Jamalpur and Kurigram report high exposure to floods. Storm exposure is mostly found in the southern coastal districts of Bagerhat, Barguna and Satkhira. 

While households headed both by women and men experience a similar exposure to things like drought and excessive heat, those headed by women have a greater percentage exposure to floods, and a lower percentage exposure to storms. This is because the most flood-affected districts are in northern areas, such as the Greater Rangpur region, where due to seasonal migration men are often living away from the household. 

The survey shows women tend to care more about reducing damage from climate-related disasters but in almost all cases, households headed by women are poorer and cannot spend at the same level as those headed by men. They therefore spend a greater share of their income on climate adaptation. 

For more information or to request an interview, please contact Sarah Grainger / +44 7503 643332 / sarah.grainger@iied.org or Md Abdul Quayyum, Head of Communications UNDP Bangladesh. Email: md.quayyum@undp.org  

The survey was carried out in May 2021 in Bagherat, Barguna, Gaibandha, Jamalpur, Khagrachari, Kurigram, Moulyibazar, Mymensingh, Noakhali and Satkhira districts.