East Asian and Pacific children most vulnerable to climate change – UN report

14 November 2011 – The living conditions of millions of children across East Asia and the Pacific will be worsened by climate change, says a United Nations report released today, which argues that rising temperatures put children at greater risk of contracting diseases such as cholera and malaria, and natural disasters negatively affect their livelihoods and increase malnutrition rates.

The report, released by the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), presents an analysis of the potential impacts of climate change on children in East Asia and the Pacific, drawing from five country studies in Indonesia, Kiribati, Mongolia, the Philippines and Vanuatu.

“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 complication,” said UNICEF’s Pacific Representative, Isiye Ndombi.

A large number of children in the region already suffer from a lack of access to clean water and proper sanitation, and their situation will only be worsened by climate change, according to the report.

“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.”

One in every four children in the Asia-Pacific region is already underdeveloped due to poor nutrition, and the report suggests that frequent disasters such as flooding, cyclones and droughts could have a long-term negative impact on agricultural production leading to higher food prices and an increase in malnutrition rates.

The report, entitled Children’s Vulnerabilities to Climate Change and Disaster Impacts in East Asia and the Pacific, also presents children’s perceptions and experiences with climate change.

“Children often know more about the climate change issue than their parents or grandparents, because issues about climate change are being taught in school and because children are accessing environmental and other media through electronic communication sources more regularly than their elders are,” said Dr. Ndombi.

In Kiribati, children told researchers that coastal erosion was worsening. In Mongolia, children noted harsher winters and declining water resources. Children in the Philippines spoke of heavier rainy periods, and in Vanuatu they reported increased water contamination from saltwater intrusion.

In addition, children in Indonesia, Mongolia and the Pacific, where 50 per cent of livelihoods depend on agriculture, children reported that climate change has already affected their families’ income, sometimes causing their parents to take them out of school.

“Engaging children in adaptation and disaster reduction strategies will be critical to future success,” said Mr. Singh.

According to UNICEF, evidence demonstrates that when children are educated, informed and involved, they share information with others in their communities and are better able to prepare and protect themselves.

“Children are not passive bystanders and should never be treated simply as helpless victims. They have capacities which form the basis for their active participation in emergency response, preparedness and mitigation. They are effective communicators of risk and drivers of change in their communities,” said Dr. Ndombi.

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