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Each year on 12 August, the world comes together to celebrate the contributions of young people by marking the International Youth Day. The day bears particularly significance for Bangladesh, as the country has one of the biggest youth populations in the entire world, and with the right investments, has the potential to reap the rewards of this tremendous asset, and harness the full demographic dividend within the next 12 years. 

The theme of this year’s International Youth Day, Transforming Food Systems: Youth Innovation for Human and Planetary Health, emphasizes the role of young people in tackling the challenges and risks presented by climate change. In Bangladesh, as around the world, unpredictable weather patterns linked to climate change are severely destabilizing food systems and threatening food security, specifically of vulnerable communities. This also came out into clear view in the recent launch of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) panel results. 

In the build up to the first ever United Nations Food Systems Summit in September of this year, we also hosted Bangladesh’s first ever inaugural Sustainable Food Systems National Dialogue in May 2021, where key stakeholders discussed how the country’s food system could be made safer and more environmentally friendly. All decisions on climate change will impact the lives of youth.

Food insecurity can be particularly harmful for children and youth, as inadequate nutrition can severely compromise physical and cognitive development, including contribute to long-term impact of diet-sensitive non-communicable diseases, intensify stress and mental health challenges, further exacerbated in the times of COVID 19. 

Climate change induced natural disasters also cause disruptions in access to sexual and reproductive health services, emphasizing the need to protect women and children from violence. It also results in agricultural damage to farmers and livestock owners, depriving some of the most vulnerable people from their basic necessities, nutrition and livelihoods.

These challenges are particularly severe for adolescent girls and women. Due to discriminatory gender norms, girls often end up having a less nutritious diet in times of food insecurity as families may prioritize the health and wellbeing of their sons. Food insecurity can also be a driver of child marriage, as families may need to marry off their daughters to cope with the sudden shocks of poverty. Whilst girls and women contribute the majority of work in households and agriculture, the resources are often not in their hands.  

To address these issues, with the right investments, and to contribute to the empowerment of women and girls, these trends can be reversed and youth can become agents of change for food security.

As UN agencies, we are collaborating with the Government of Bangladesh and other partners to integrate our efforts to address climate change and food security into our work. The new United Nations Sustainable Development Cooperation Framework (2022 - 2026) contains targeted climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts, committing UN agencies to address youth and food security through a multi-sectoral approach. In the context of COVID-19, this is particularly needed to prevent further loss of the development gains already made, and to build back better.

Furthermore, the United Nations in Bangladesh is working to ensure meaningful youth participation in matters related to climate change. More voices of young people need to be heard, especially on decisions that address climate change that will impact their lives in the years to come. Youth need to be at the forefront of these decisions.

By harnessing the creativity, innovative drive, and initiative of youth across the country, and with the right investments, Bangladesh will undoubtedly be able to safeguard more sustainable and resilient food systems for its future generations, and confront the climatic challenges with its usual and admired resilience, innovation and agility. As the UN, we stand by Bangladesh in these efforts.

Mia Seppo, UN Resident Coordinator
Robert Simpson, FAO Representative
Asa Torkelsson, UNFPA Representative
Tomoo Hozumi, UNICEF Representative
Sherina Tabassum, IFAD Officer in Charge
Dilruba Haider, UN Women Officer in Charge

This op-ed was originally published on International Youth Day, 12 August 2021, by Bangladesh Post and Dhaka Tribune