East Asia-Pacific Children Highly Vulnerable to Climate Change Impacts Region’s children say they are already feeling the effect of climate change

 

East Asia-Pacific Children Highly Vulnerable to Climate Change Impacts Region’s children say they are already feeling the effect of climate change

Global News 00:50

14-11-11_coverBANGKOK/ HONG KONG, 14 November 2011 – According to a UNICEF report, Children’s Vulnerabilities to Climate Change and Disaster Impacts in East Asia and the Pacific, children will 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.

The leading killers of children worldwide are highly sensitive to 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 released today presents an analysis of the climate change trends and potential impacts on children in East Asia and the Pacific, drawing on findings from five UNICEF-commissioned country studies in Indonesia, Kiribati, Mongolia, the Philippines and Vanuatu, as well as children’s own perspectives on climate change and other research. This research was supported by Reed Elsevier, which works in partnership with the global science and health communities to publish more than 2,000 journals, includingThe Lancet and New Scientist.

“The findings in this report remind us of the connection between climate change and the other challenges confronting children,” said Anupama Rao Singh, UNICEF Regional Director for East Asia and the Pacific. “They also remind us that children’s experiences, and the risks they face in terms of their health, education and development, are unique.”

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.

A boy and his father walk with their fishing gear into the Pacific Ocean near Tarawa, the capital.  In late 2006 in the Republic of Kiribati, childrens quality of life is declining, as it is across the region. Kiribati is one of 14 Pacific Island Countries, which form a group of atolls dispersed over 30 million square kilometres of the Pacific Ocean. Because populations are scattered across multiple islands, efficient delivery of health care, education and other social services is difficult. The region is also vulnerable to natural disasters like floods, typhoons and volcanic eruptions. While overall infant and under-five mortality rates have declined since 1990, some countries, including Kiribati, lag behind in improving child health and access to basic services. Across the region, birth registration systems are weak or fragmented. Sixty per cent of Pacific children are anaemic, and deficiencies in Vitamin A, iodine and other micronutrients are common. Immunization rates are declining in many nations, partly due to the challenge of maintaining the cold chain in remote islands. Some 20 per cent of Pacific Islanders have no access to improved drinking water, while 30 per cent lack sanitation facilities. Poverty forces many children to drop out of school, and while HIV/AIDS infection rates are low, unsafe sex practices and lack of knowledge prevail. Increases in teen pregnancies, drug and alcohol abuse, domestic and sexual violence and child trafficking are contributing to an overall decline in living standards for children and women. UNICEF and its partners are working with health ministries to improve birth registration practices and other child health initiates; deliver psychosocial support to children and families affected by natural disasters and political conflicts; and raise awareness among young people of HIV/AIDS and its prevention. UNICEF is also providing assistance throughout the region in the areas of immunization; child and maternal health; water and sanitation; and education. A first-grade student walks several kilometres to her home after school in the district of Altai, in Khovd Province. A mountain range rises in front of her.  In March 2010 in western Mongolia, heavy snow, strong winds and extreme cold have created crisis conditions in over half the countrys provinces. Temperatures have fallen to minus-50 degrees Celsius, and snow is impeding access to food, fuel, sanitation and basic medical care. The crisis, known locally as a dzud, has killed at least nine children in one province, and has trapped many others in dormitories with failing heating systems and limited food supplies. Over 22,000 children in dormitories need emergency aid, and an additional 40,000 children may soon need assistance as well. The Government has declared a state of disaster in 12 of the countrys 21 provinces, with seven additional provinces expected to fall into disaster status. The dzud poses longer-term threats as well: Cold temperatures have killed over 2.7 million livestock, which may increase unemployment and poverty for the third of the population employed in agriculture. Animal carcasses also threaten to pollute soil and spread disease when the cold weather recedes in June. UNICEF is responding by providing food, fuel, blankets, hygiene kits, medical supplies and boots to over 60,000 children, including those in dormitories and isolated villages. UNICEF is also collaborating with other United Nations agencies to supply hospitals and provide mobile medical teams in isolated areas. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) is offering a cash-for-work programme that pays herders to properly dispose of livestock carcasses. A boy carries supplies through waist-high floodwater in Pasig City in Manila, the capital.  On 30 September 2009 in the Philippines, over half a million people are displaced by flooding caused by Tropical Storm Ketsana (also known as Ondoy), which struck on 26 September. The storm dumped over a months worth of rain on the island of Luzon in only 12 hours. The flooding has affected some 1.8 million people, and the death toll has climbed to 246; both numbers are expected to rise as aid workers reach additional disaster areas. The Government has declared a state of calamity in Metropolitan Manila  the capital city with a population of over 15 million  and 25 other provinces. Power outages and mud-choked roads are slowing rescue efforts, and shelters report shortages of food, medicine and other essential supplies. Stagnant floodwater poses disease and sanitation hazards, and two other tropical storms are approaching the country, complicating relief efforts. UNICEF has responded by distributing hygiene kits, essential medicines, water purification tablets, portable toilets, blankets and soap, and is collaborating with the relief efforts of other UN agencies. UNICEF is also working to address the long-term needs of affected children by providing psychosocial support and planning for the rehabilitation of damaged schools. Rozina, 15, treats brackish water with aluminium sulphate ('alum') wrapped in fishing net at her home in the village of Padma in Borguna District. Rozina lives with her parents and two younger siblings. During Cyclone Sidr, their home and village were submerged and the pond they used for drinking water was polluted. They must now drink water from the Baulestar River, which feeds directly into the saltwater Bay of Bengal. To make it safer, Rozina first uses a piece of cloth as a filter against mud and rocks. She then treats the water with aluminium sulphate ('alum'), which causes dirt and other particles to settle so that clear water can be decanted. Today she will also add a UNICEF-provided water purification tablet to kill bacteria and prevent water-bourne diseases. "Tablets may kill germs, but [the water] is still very salty and hard to drink," she said. [#3 IN SEQUENCE OF FIVE]  In late November 2007 in Bangladesh, some 8.5 million people are recovering from Cyclone Sidr, a Category 4 storm that was the deadliest to hit the country in more than a decade. The cyclone struck the southern coast on the evening of 15 November and swept inland, hitting hardest in the districts of Patuakhali, Barguna, Bagerhat, Barisal and Pirojpur. An estimated 2.6 million people are in need of life-saving assistance - half are children. There have been more than 3,200 confirmed deaths and many people are still missing. More than 1 million homes and 3,000 educational institutions have been damaged or destroyed. Working with the Government and other partners, UNICEF has rushed emergency supplies to hundreds of thousands of families in affected areas and is working to support relief efforts in the areas of water, sanitation and hygiene, health and nutrition, education, child protection and the provision of non-food items. UNICEF has made an initial request of US $29.2 million to support the needs of children and women.

In Kiribati, 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, children reported increased water contamination from saltwater intrusion.

In a region 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.

A girl carries a metal pail along the rocky terrain of the UNICEF-assisted Sarshahi camp for displaced persons near the city of Jalalabad in the eastern province of Nangarhar. Because the camp is located on dry rocky land, water must be brought in by truck or collected from a nearby canal and then treated with chlorine to make it safe for drinking.  In 1994 in Afghanistan, civil conflict -- now in its 15th year -- has destroyed the country's economy and infrastructure. Already one of the world's poorest countries before the war, the situation has become dismal. Some one million people are dead and twice that number are injured or disabled.  Over 500,000 women have been widowed.  A third of the population has become refugees and some two million people have been internally displaced.  UNICEF-assisted programmes focus on the immediate needs of the country's most vulnerable, including displaced populations and children in especially difficult circumstances, by providing basic health care, sanitation, safe water and vaccinations.Children in Indonesia, Mongolia and the Pacific reported that climate change has affected their families’ livelihoods and in some cases it has caused parents to take them out of school to help collect water and fuel and supplement household income.

“Engaging children in adaptation and disaster reduction strategies will be critical to future success. Children have unique perspectives on their environment, which makes them a vital player in improving community capacity to address climate change risks,” said Rao Singh.

Evidence demonstrates that when children are educated, informed and involved, they share this 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 Rao Singh. “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.”