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Children in four South Asian countries at ‘extremely high risk’ of the impacts of the climate crisis – UNICEF

 

According to afirst-ever report of its kind, children in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India and Pakistanare extremely vulnerable to climate change risks such as heatwaves and  floods

 

KATHMANDU, 23 August 2021 – Young people living in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India and Pakistan are among those most at risk of the impacts of climate change, threatening their health, education, and protection, according to a new UNICEF report launched today. In addition Nepal and Sri Lanka are among the top 65 countries most impacted globally.

‘The Climate Crisis Is a Child Rights Crisis: Introducing the Children’s Climate Risk Index’ (CCRI) is UNICEF’s first child-focused climate risk index. It ranks countries based on children’s exposure to climate and environmental shocks, such as cyclones and heatwaves, as well as their vulnerability to those shocks, based on their access to essential services.

Pakistan, Bangladesh Afghanistan and India are among four South Asian countries where children are at extremely high risk of the impacts of the climate crisis, with a ranking of 14, 15, 15 and 26 respectively. While Nepal is ranked 51, Sri Lanka is at 61st place. Bhutan is ranked 111, with children at relatively lower risk. Approximately 1 billion children live in one of the 33 countriesclassified as “extremely high-risk”, including the four South Asian countries.

“For the first time, we have clear evidence of the impact of climate change on millions of children in South Asia. Droughts, floods, air pollution and river erosion across the region have left millions of children homeless and hungry, and without any healthcare and water,” said George Laryea-Adjei, UNICEF Regional Director for South Asia. “Together, climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic have created an alarming crisis for South Asian children. The time to act is now – if we invest in water, healthcare and education, we can protect their futures from the impacts of a changing climate and degrading environment.”

Children’s Climate Change Risk Index for South Asia, UNICEF 2021

Country Name Children’s Climate Risk Index (CCRI) Rank Climate and environmental shocks  Child vulnerability to climate change shocks Emissions Per Capita (Mt)
Pakistan 14 8.7 6.4 0.98
Afghanistan 15 7.3 7.9 0.20
Bangladesh 15 9.1 5.1 0.51
India 26 9.0 4.6 1.80
Nepal 51 7.5 4.2 0.43
Sri Lanka 61 7.0 3.3 1.00
Bhutan 111 4.3 3.3 1.83

The report found that these South Asian children are in constant danger from  riverine floods and air pollution, but also that investments in child health, nutrition, and education can make a significant difference to protect children from climate change.

South Asia is home to over 600 million children and has the highest number of young people globally. South Asian countries are among the most vulnerable globally to the impacts of climate change. Extreme climate-related events – heatwaves, storms, floods, fires and droughts – affect more than half of the region’s population every year and continue to burden South Asian countries’ economies.  Rising global temperatures and changing weather patterns have put the futures of millions of children living in climate-vulnerable areas in South Asia at constant risk. Worse, before they can recover from one disaster, another one strikes, reversing any progress made.

The report also reveals a disconnect between where greenhouse gas emissions are generated, and where children are enduring the most significant climate-driven impacts. The 33 extremely high-risk countries , including four from South Asia, collectively emit just 9 per cent of global CO2 emissions. Conversely, the 10 highest emitting countries collectively account for nearly 70 per cent of global emissions.

“The frightening environmental changes we are seeing across the planet are being driven by a few but experienced by many in South Asia,” added Laryea-Adjei. “We must urgently reduce greenhouse gas emissions and work together as a community to build greater resilience in South Asia. Children and young people are at the heart of this change, withalmost half of 1.8 billion people below the age of 24 in South Asia.”

Compared to adults, children require more food and water per unit of their body weight, are less able to survive extreme weather events, and are more susceptible to toxic chemicals, temperature changes and diseases, among other factors. Without the urgent action required to reduce greenhouse gas emissions globally, children will continue to suffer the most.

Young people across South Asia are championing the cause. In Bangladesh, exposures to cyclones, droughts, floods and river erosion moved Tahsin, 23, to action. Through the youth organization he established, Tahsin and 400 children and young people from across the country are cleaning up public spaces, selling the plastic they collect to recycling centres and planting trees. In Pakistan, 14-year-old Zymal started producing biodegradable bags in order to clean up her country from the plastic pollution. In India, a youth filmmaker Divy is traveling across the country and spreading awareness about global warming and Gavita developed a water budgeting app.

In  light of these findings, UNICEF is urgently calling on governments, businesses and relevant actors to:

(1)  Increase investment in climate adaptation and resilience in key services for children.

(2)  Reducegreenhouse gas emissions. Countries must cut their emissions by at least 45% (compared to 2010 levels) by 2030 to keep warming to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius.

(3)  Provide children with climate education and greens skills, critical for their adaptation to and preparation for the effects of climate change.

(4)  Include young people in all national, regional and international climate negotiations and decisions, including at COP26.

(5)  Ensure the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic is green, low-carbon and inclusive, so that the capacity of future generations to respond to the climate crisis is not compromised.

Notes to Editors:

 

INDIA

The CCRI has placed India as one of the 33 extremely high-risk countries, with repeated flooding and air pollution being the repeated environmental shocks leading to socio-economic adverse consequences for women and children.

It is estimated that more than 600 million Indians will face ‘acute water shortages’ in the coming years, (NITI Aayog 2018) while at the same time flash flooding is to increase significantly in the majority of India’s urban areas once the global temperature increase rises above 2° Celsius. Twenty-one of the world’s 30 cities with the most polluted air in 2020 were in India (IQ Air Report 2020).

Dr Yasmin Ali Haque, UNICEF India Representative said, “Climate change is a child rights crisis.  The Children’s Climate Change Index data has pointed to the serious deprivations faced by children, due to the intensifying effect that climate and environmental shocks have on existing inadequate access to essential services, such as water and sanitation, healthcare and education. Understanding where and how children are uniquely vulnerable to this crisis is crucial to building our resilience and effectively addressing climate change. UNICEF hopes the findings of the report will help prioritize action to protect those most at risk and to ensure that children inherit a livable planet.”

UNICEF in India partners with the Central and State governments to build community resilience against future hazards, through key flagship programmes. In Bihar, it is supporting 45,000 villages to become more resilient through the development of risk informed disaster management plans. In Maharashtra, it has helped develop a state-wide climate change curriculum that will be rolled out in all government schools to help skill the next generation of youth on taking climate action.

Across the country, UNICEF is also working with government to ensure that Gram Panchayat Development Plans (GPDPs) take into account costed climate resilient investments going forward, that health services such as the cold-chain are energy efficient and incorporating renewable sources, sanitation and water supply programmes are sustainable and contributing to maintaining clean environments, and education plans include school safety programming that train faculty on how to invest in disaster resilience.

To support systemic and scientifically validated climate advisories for social sectors, UNICEF has partnered with the Indian Institute of Technology Gandhinagar, to advance adaptation practices within social sectors. UNICEF also engages with children and youth to build awareness for climate advocacy and action.

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