How climate change could be causing miscarriages in Bangladesh
This is total speculation. In some parts of Bangladesh land levels are rising. Who knows what is at work?
Poor people live in worse areas and poor people have worse health. That is probably all we are seeing in the statistics
In small villages along the eastern coast of Bangladesh, researchers have noticed an unexpectedly high rate of miscarriage. As they investigated further, scientists reached the conclusion that climate change might be to blame. Journalist Susannah Savage went into these communities to find out more.
"Girls are better than boys," says 30-year-old Al-Munnahar. "Boys do not listen. They are arrogant. Girls are polite."
Al-Munnahar, who lives in a small village on the east coast of Bangladesh, has three sons but wished for a girl. Once she thought she would have a daughter, but she miscarried the baby.
She is among several women who have lost a baby in her village.
Almost all the food they eat in Al-Munnahar's village now has to be bought at markets some distance away
While miscarriages are not out of the ordinary, scientists who follow the community have noticed an increase, particularly compared to other areas. The reason for this, they believe, is climate change.
The walk to Failla Para, Al-Munnahar's village, is arduous: in the dry season, the narrow track leads into a swamp, and in rainy season, into the sea. The village itself is not much more than a mound of mud with a few shacks and a chicken pen perched precariously on the slippery surface.
"Nothing grows here anymore," says Al-Munnahar. Not many years ago - up until the 1990s - these swamp lands were paddy fields.
The village, in the district of Chakaria, is built on salty mud, and families often live in wet, damp conditions when the water gets into their home
If rice production back then was not profitable, it was at least viable. Not anymore. Rising waters and increasing salinity have forced the wealthiest among the villagers to change to shrimp farming or salt harvesting. Today, few paddy fields remain.
"This is climate change in action," says Dr Manzoor Hanifi, a scientist from the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research Bangladesh (ICDDRB), a research institute. "The effect on the land is visible, but the effect on the body: that we don't see."
Brine and bribery
ICDDRB have been running a health and demographic surveillance site in and around the district of Chakaria, near Cox's Bazaar, for the last thirty years, enabling them to detect even small changes in the health of the communities they monitor.
Over the last few years, many families have left the plains and moved inland, into the forest hill area—mostly those with enough money to bribe forest wardens.
"We paid a 230,000 Taka ($2,752, £2,106) bribe to build the house," says Kajol Rekha, who moved to the hills from the plains with her husband and two children three years ago. "Because of the water, my kids would always have a fever, especially when our house remained wet after the flood. Everything is easier here."
These environmental migrants are faring relatively well, able to grow crops and nearer transport routes to access jobs and schools. They are also in better health than those they left behind.
In particular, women inland are less likely to miscarry. Between 2012 and 2017, the ICDDRB scientists registered 12,867 pregnancies in the area they monitor, which encompasses both the hill area and the plains.
They followed the pregnant women through until the end of the pregnancy and found that women in the coastal plains, living within 20km (12mi) of the coastline and 7m above sea level were 1.3 times more likely to miscarry than women who live inland.