During an unprecedented time of Covid-19, this year, the world celebrates the International Youth Day. The theme for this year's celebration is "Youth Engagement for Global Action", an appropriate focus which underscores the need for young peoples'—accounting for 16 percent of the global population—participation in political, economic and social life and processes at the local/community, national and international levels and strengthening their capacity to act and overcome the global challenges, including climate change and the Covid-19 outbreak. Although globally young people are attempting to address these pressing challenges, the abilities of the Bangladeshi youth are largely ignored and under-nourished, which impedes their prospects for concerted actions.
It is evident that climate change is interrupting weather patterns in every country on every continent, leading to extreme weather events, including sudden floods, cyclones, hurricanes, storms, rising sea levels, worsening water shortage, and polluting water supplies. These impacts of climate change affect the socio-economic conditions of women, children, and youth globally. The low and middle-income countries are particularly vulnerable to these impacts of climate change. For example, in the Global Climate Risk Index 2020, Bangladesh, Dominica, Nepal, Philippines, Pakistan, and Vietnam have been identified as the countries most affected by climate change. Such a global challenge acts as a barrier to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This necessitates the participation of young people in global action for addressing climate change and its impacts on the socio-economic life of people across the world.
In the past, the youth attempted to address climate change through their active participation in climate activism, including lawsuits against fossil fuel companies in the United States. Similar lawsuits were actioned in Colombia and Pakistan to combat climate change and its devastating impacts. However, Bangladesh has not seen such climate activism to fight against climate change and its impacts—nor to protect the endangered parts of the Sundarbans, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the largest mangrove forest in the world, where a coal-fired power plant is being constructed. Such so-called developments harm the livelihoods of local communities and contribute to increasing carbon and greenhouse gas emissions, thus fuelling global warming and climate change. This highlights the need for young people's participation in political processes and climate activism, which may enable them to protest against these kinds of development policies. It is also vital to mobilise the youth at the local/community level so that they can contribute to preserving the environment and reduce the impacts of climate changes on the social and economic life of local communities.
Moreover, young people's participation in environmental, social movements may prompt the government to adopt environmentally friendly policies. Such policies may motivate national and international organisations to provide financial support for undertaking youth-led environmental projects, thus combating climate change and reducing its adverse impacts.
Globally, the coronavirus pandemic has impacted nearly all aspects of life of people from all walks of life. While high-income countries seem to be capable of tackling the coronavirus pandemic and its impacts, the low and middle-income countries have been most affected by the disease due to multiple factors including limited resources, testing and treatment, inadequate political commitment and so on. For instance, Bangladesh, a lower-middle-income country, has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic and the country is in the fourth and last stage of Covid-19 transmission, according to the World Health Organization, which means that the disease has become native to the population as the numbers of cases and deaths have started to grow rapidly. However, the country adopted tardy and inadequate control and containment measures to fight against Covid-19. In this situation, the role of young people in combating the disease has become more critical than ever.
It has been reported that the youth have been playing an essential role in reducing the spread of Covid-19 globally. For instance, scouts are raising awareness about the transmission and prevention of Covid-19 across the world. In South Africa, young people have utilised music and dance to disseminate accurate information about Covid-19 and eliminate rumours and false information about the disease. In the United Kingdom, young volunteers have helped Covid-19 patients by providing food delivery services so that patients did not need to visit public places and communities, thus limiting the spread of coronavirus and easing the social life of Covid-19 patients.
In Bangladesh, organised by personal connections and social media applications such as Facebook, Messenger and WhatsApp, young volunteers have raised donations from wealthy people in the country and Bangladeshi immigrants living in different countries across the world. Then, young volunteers have distributed essential commodities (such as soaps, rice, lentils, and potatoes) free of cost at the local and national levels. In some cases, the youth have spent their own money to provide people with daily commodities and prevent them from visiting public places, thus facilitating the normal life of the latter and contributing to control the spread of the disease across the country. However, such youth-led voluntary initiatives are not taken evenly in all parts of the country due to their inequitable participation in the political process, inadequate economic support and limited capacity. Therefore, the government should undertake initiatives for strengthening youth's engagement in social, economic and political processes so that they can respond to the Covid-19 outbreak through health promotion and volunteering activities.
Together, many countries, including Bangladesh, have already evidenced the adverse impacts of the coronavirus pandemic and climate change. Active and vigorous participation of the youth in concerted actions can facilitate combating such global challenges and achieving the SDGs. Through adequate involvement in social, economic and political processes, the youth can play a more critical role in fighting against the Covid-19 outbreak and climate change than they are doing across the world. As such, it is vital to equip them with the appropriate resources (including financial support, political empowerment, knowledge, skills, education and technology) and ensure their meaningful participation and engagement in actions at the local/community, national and international levels for addressing the challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic and climate change. This should be each and every country's pledge to the youth.
Dr Md Nazmul Huda is a researcher and an academic in the School of Public Health and Community Medicine at the University of New South Wales, Australia.