India is one of the youngest nations in the world (in terms of average age of the population) and has the second highest population in the world. It is in this context that the recent UNICEF’s report on climate crisis makes us worried. Climate change is creating a water crisis, a health crisis, an education crisis, a protection crisis and a participation crisis. It is threatening children’s very survival. Almost every child on earth is exposed to at least 1 of the major climate and environmental hazards, shocks and stresses.
It should be noted that currently, 820 million children (over one third of children globally) are highly exposed to heatwaves. This is likely to worsen further as global average temperatures increase and weather patterns become more erratic. Remember, 2020 was tied for the hottest year on record.
As climate change increases frequency and severity of droughts, water stress, seasonal and interranual variability, contamination – and demand and competition for water increases, resulting in depletion of available water resources thus causing more scarcity and depriving more children from clean drinking water. Currently, 1 in 4 children globally are highly exposed to vector-borne diseases, such as malaria and dengue, among others. This is likely to worsen as temperature suitability and climatic conditions for mosquitos and pathogens that transmit these diseases spreads. Almost 90 per cent of children globally are currently highly exposed to air pollution that exceeds 10µg/m3. This is likely to get worse unless there is a reduction in fossil fuel combustion that causes air pollution.
At present, 240 million children are highly exposed to coastal flooding. This is likely to worsen as sea levels continue to rise, with the effects magnified considerably when combined with storm surges. Further, over one-third of children globally are currently highly exposed to lead pollution due to exposures in contaminated air, water, soil and food. This is likely to get worse without more responsible production, consumption and recycling of lead-containing products. It should be noted that children are physiologically more vulnerable and toxic substances, such as lead and other forms of pollution, affect children more than adults, even at lower doses of exposure.
Its true that children are more vulnerable to climate and environmental shocks than adults as they are physically more vulnerable, and less able to withstand and survive shocks such as floods, droughts, severe weather and heatwaves.
Children are more at risk of death compared with adults from diseases that are likely to be exacerbated by climate change, such as malaria and dengue. Children have their whole life ahead of them and any deprivation as a result of climate and environmental degradation at a young age can result in a lifetime of lost opportunity. Not only do climate and environmental hazards negatively affect children’s access to key essential services, but children’s lack of access to key essential services also reduces their resiliency and adaptive capacity, further increasing their vulnerability to climate and environmental hazards.
Therefore, understanding children’s vulnerability is critical to understanding the full extent to which climate and environmental hazards are likely to impact their well-being, and even their very survival.