Full Report here
Climate change is a global issue. Addressing it is a shared responsibility. Yet it is increasingly apparent that the world’s poorest countries and most vulnerable people will bear the brunt of climate change. Failure to act will render the environments of millions of children and their families even more hazardous. Many poor people already live in fragile climates, where food and clean water are scarce and shelter inadequate – climate change will exacerbate this fragility. Our children – particularly those in Africa and Asia – are already facing a future in which it appears likely that disasters will increase in number and become more intense, where economic growth will falter and incomes
fall, where disease outbreaks will be more frequent, clean water and good sanitation harder to secure, and habitats and communities less stable. As a consequence, children may also have to cope with higher levels of conflict and other pressures which keep them out of school and force them into work too soon.
Many developing countries have poor infrastructure and lack the technologies that could help them cope with a changing climate, such as flood defences and early warning systems. They are thus more vulnerable to the impact of climate change and their children are the most vulnerable of all.
The potential impact on children has been a critical missing element from the debate about climate change. Whilst there is a growing body of literature on the links between climate change and vulnerability, particularly in relation to the impact of natural disasters, research and advocacy activity on climate change and children specifically isless developed.
In publishing this report, UNICEF UK is working to bridge those gaps. The report seeks to illustrate how climate change may impact on every aspect of the most vulnerable children’s lives and how children themselves can be central to the response. In doing so, UNICEF UK sets out the challenge before us – to rapidly develop a greater understanding of the impact of climate change on children and take appropriate measures to protect them from its consequences…
Impact on child health: nutrition
Pressures on both large-scale and small-scale farming are likely to have consequences for nutrition. Crop volumes and/or crop diversity may be constrained by water and other climate-related stresses – affecting what is immediately available to the farming household, as well as what can be bought at market. Livestock will also be affected by the changing environment (both by gradual change and by the sudden impact of natural disasters). This may have consequences for the availability of meat and dairy products, and for the use of animals in small-scale agriculture, in, for example, ploughing or transporting goods to market. All of these factors will affect the ability of parents to feed themselves and their children.
Malnutrition is already a leading cause of infant and child mortality. The evidence of progress to date in this area is far from encouraging. Analysis conducted in 2004 suggested that, based on current trends, the proportion of children in Africa who are underweight – this being one of three core indicators of malnutrition – is likely to grow between 1990 and 2015, from 24 to 26.8 per cent. In the Southern and North African subregions, and in Asia, analysts forecast a decline in the prevalence of childhood underweight through to 201514 – however, as indicated above, these regions appear to be some of the most vulnerable to water stress and/or other natural disasters, so such gains cannot be guaranteed over the long run.
There is a good body of evidence demonstrating the impact that malnutrition and other consequences of climate-related shocks have on child development more broadly. Zimbabwean children ages 12 to 24 months, for example, were found to have lost 1.5 to 2 centimetres of growth in the aftermath of a drought.15 This loss in growth was not made up during later stages of development and the consequences appeared long-lasting or permanent.
The longer-term consequences of lost growth have been seen in many population groups, and include lower rates of skill acquisition, lower cognitive function and educational attainment, reduced peer interaction, lower adult productivity and premature death. Further, taller women appear to experience fewer complications during childbirth and have a lower risk of maternal or infant mortality. Nutritional and other impacts of climate-related shocks may therefore be passed from generation to generation.
Impact on child health: disease
As land-use patterns change in response to evolving climatic and hydrological pressures this may exacerbate other drivers of communicable disease. For example, researchers in West Africa have recently documented a series of complex interactions between patterns of irrigation and malaria transmission, land degradation and meningitis, and deforestation and onchocerciasis (river blindness) – and it is believed these findings can be extrapolated to other infectious diseases, such as schistosomiasis (bilharzia).16 Such interactions must be better understood and managed if the impacts of climate change on child health are to be mitigated.
Indeed, changing patterns of communicable-disease distribution present a significant threat to infants and children across the world. Again, climate change plays a part. There is a significant body of evidence documenting the impact of climatic variability on vector-borne diseases. The transmission of mosquito-borne diseases such as malaria – which currently claims the lives of around 800,000 children every year – is known to be influenced by factors such as rainfall, humidity, temperature and levels of surface water, all of which affect vector reproduction and lifespan.17 Changes in these environmental factors are facilitating malaria transmission in areas where it had previously been eliminated – such as the highlands of Kenya18 and Jamaica.19 Current estimates of the likely increased range for dengue due to climate change suggest the population at risk could increase to 3.5 billion by 2080 (up from 1.5 billion)