East Asia-Pacific children highly vulnerable to climate change impacts

14 November 2011

The UNICEF report, Children’s Vulnerabilities to Climate Change and Disaster Impacts in East Asia and the Pacific, supported by Reed Elsevier, highlights that children are likely to be among those most affected by climate change. 

Millions of children across East Asia and the Pacific already suffer from a lack of access to clean water and proper sanitation, and are vulnerable to food shocks and risks of disease. Climate change is expected to worsen this situation.

“We are pleased that Reed Elsevier was able to support this important UNICEF report, drawing from our expertise as one of the world’s leading information providers,” said Sarah Dyson, corporate responsibility manager for Reed Elsevier.  “The research reminds us not only of the issues faced by children from climate change, but also the need to engage them in adaptation and disaster reduction strategies.”

Diseases that kill children worldwide are highly correlated with climate change. Higher temperatures have been linked to increased rates of malnutrition, cholera, diarrhoeal disease and vector-borne diseases like dengue and malaria, while children’s underdeveloped immune systems put them at far greater risk of contracting these diseases and succumbing to their complications.

The UNICEF report presents an analysis of the climate change trends and potential impacts on children in East Asia and the Pacific, based on findings from five UNICEF-commissioned country studies in Indonesia, Mongolia, the Philippines and Kiribati and Vanuatu in the Pacific, as well as children’s perspectives on climate change and other research.

While the report suggests that the impacts of climate change vary from country to country, children in all countries were aware that changes in their environment were already present. In Kiribati, the Pacific, children told researchers that coastal erosion was worsening. In Mongolia, children noted harsher winters and declining water resources. In the Philippines, children spoke of heavier rainy periods and in Vanuatu, South Pacific, children reported increased water contamination from saltwater intrusion.  Children in Indonesia, Mongolia and the Pacific reported that climate change has affected their families’ livelihoods and in some cases, has caused parents to take them out of school to help collect water and fuel and supplement household income.

In a part of the world where one in every four children is already stunted due to poor nutrition, the report suggests that more frequent disasters such as flooding, cyclones and droughts could have a long-term negative impact on agricultural production leading to higher food prices and a corresponding increase in malnutrition rates.  Agriculture, vulnerable to changes in temperature, precipitation and water salinity, encompasses more than 50 per cent of livelihoods in the Asia-Pacific region, and a significant portion of GDP for a majority of countries.

The report cites evidence which shows that when children are educated, informed and involved, they share such information with others in their communities and are better able to prepare and protect themselves.

“The impacts of climate change on the lives and well-being of children are real and the policies and decisions made today will set the tone for years to come,” said Anupama Rao Singh, UNICEF Regional Director for East Asia and the Pacific. “Now is the time to put in place adaptation strategies that ensure that the risks specific to children are addressed. By doing this, we will go some way in helping to build a climate-resilient world for children.”

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