Pregnant people in Bangladesh are suffering from alarming rates of negative health effects tied to rising salinity in drinking water due to sea level rise and climate-fueled cyclones, The Guardian reports. Increased salt intake can lead to hypertension, pre-eclampsia, and eclampsia — all of which can have dire, potentially deadly, effects on both the pregnant person and fetus.

“High blood pressure is among the leading causes of maternal death in developing countries,” environmental epidemiologist Aneire Khan, a pioneering researcher of the links between high blood pressure-related conditions among pregnant people drinking water salinity. “It also makes pregnant [people] particularly vulnerable to pre-eclampsia, which can lead to severe headaches, organ damage and even death.” Natural water sources, including rivers, ponds, and groundwater, are becoming saltier due to saltwater intrusion from both cyclones and sea-level rise.

“When Cyclone Aila hit in 2009, it left behind a trail of destruction, breaching embankments and leaving the entire region submerged in salt water,” said Dr. Santosh Kumar, a gynecologist in Dacope. “With most freshwater infrastructure destroyed, the coastal region has been facing an acute drinking water crisis. The extent of the impact on people’s health is only now being realised.”  

“Climate change and rising sea levels will further exacerbate salinity issues here in the future,” said Dr. Santosh Kumar, a gynecologist in Dacope. “All the women and girls in the area are at threat. Without easy access to safe drinking water, their reproductive health will deteriorate.” (The Guardian; Climate Signals background: Sea-level rise, Cyclones)