Children in the Central African Republic (CAR), Chad, Nigeria, Guinea, and Guinea Bissau are the most at risk of experiencing the worst and most life-threatening effects of climate change, a new study by the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) has found.
The study, titled The Climate Crisis is a Child Rights Crisis: Introducing the Children’s Climate Risk Index (CCRI), provides the first comprehensive view of children’s exposure and vulnerability to the impacts of climate change.
The CCRI found that approximately one billion children live in countries that are at an ‘extremely high-risk’ from the impacts of climate change.
Climate change has contributed to a jump in food insecurity, mosquito-borne disease and mass displacement in the past decade.
Also, the rise in sea levels has led to unusual weather patterns such as Tropical Cyclone Idai, which hit Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe in 2019.
Africa, it is understood, has been warming progressively since the start of the last century, and in the next five years, according to the UN World Meteorological Organisation (WMO), northern and southern Africa are likely to get drier and hotter, while the Sahel region gets wetter.
‘Children with existing respiratory problems such as asthma, pneumonia and bronchitis, among others, are more likely to suffer as air pollution worsens with rapid urbanisation and industrialisation’, the report noted.
It added that nearly 34 million more people, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, are expected to be pushed into extreme poverty as a result of increased food prices.
According to the report, children who lack adequate nutrition are more likely to face even more severe impacts as a result of climate impacts, such as stunting and wasting.
‘Almost every child on earth is exposed to at least one climate and environmental hazard, shock or stress such as heatwaves, cyclones, air pollution, flooding and water scarcity’, UNICEF Executive Director, Henrietta Fore, said in the report.
‘But a record-breaking 850 million – approximately one-third of all children – are exposed to four or more stresses, creating incredibly challenging environments for children to live, play and thrive’.
The CAR, for instance, experienced severe flooding in 2019 which forced tens of thousands of people to flee their homes, putting them at risk of food insecurity.
The floods also led to an outbreak of malaria and cholera, which is particularly serious in a country where access to health care is extremely limited.
A World Bank report also found that the CAR is at risk of numerous natural hazards including floods, wildfires, droughts, extreme temperatures and increase in the duration of heat waves
The CCRI also estimated that climate change will force up to 132 million additional people into extreme poverty by 2030.
While the most vulnerable regions will be hardest hit, they contributed least to the problem as the ten highest risk countries, which are all African countries, emit only 0.55 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions
‘This underscores the importance of high-emitter countries in supporting the adaptive capacity of the most vulnerable children and countries’, the CCRI noted.
The UNICEF report added that a comprehensive disaster risk reduction (DRR) strategy is an important component to better protect children from the impacts of climate change especially in high-risk countries.
‘None of the extremely high-risk countries have an extremely high (80 percent) score on the adoption and implementation of the national DRR strategies’, the report stated.
It urged countries to cut emissions by at least 45 percent (compared to 2010 levels) by 2030 and Increase investment in climate adaptation and resilience in key services for children.
The report also called for improvement in monitoring of air pollution, as well as urged countries to provide children with climate education and greens skills.
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