climate change

UNICEF warns 27 million children at risk from climate fuelled floods

Tropical Storm Ana. Photo credit: UNICEF / UN0580114 / Ramasomanana.

By Anders Lorenzen

Millions of children worldwide are at risk from the devastating floods which have impacted almost every corner of the Earth this year, and which climate scientists say have intensified and are happening much more frequently due to climate change. UNICEF, (originally United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund, now United Nations Children’s Fund)  has warned world leaders as they gathered in Egypt for the next round of UN climate talks.

UNICEF said that a large majority of the 27.7 million children affected by flooding in 2022 are among the most vulnerable. They are therefore at high risk from a multitude of threats including death by drowning, disease outbreaks, lack of safe drinking water, malnutrition, disruption in learning, and violence.  

Paloma Escudero, head of the UNICEF delegation for COP27 commented: “We are seeing unprecedented levels of flooding all around the world this year, and with it, an explosion in threats to children. The climate crisis is here. In many places, the flooding is the worst it has been in a generation or several. Our children are already suffering at a scale their parents never did.”  

UNICEF explained that the aftermath of floods is often more deadly for children than the extreme weather events that caused the flooding. In 2022 floods, driven by rising sea- levels, tidal surges, and extreme and prolonged rainfall have contributed to the increased spread of major killers of children, such as malnutrition, malaria, cholera and diarrhoea.  

Worldwide impacts 

The United Nations (UN) body cites several examples around the world. The devastating floods followed days of severe rain in the Asian country of Pakistan. More than 1 in 9 children under five were admitted to health facilities in flood-affected areas of Sindh and Baluchistan, where they were found to be suffering from severe acute malnutrition. In addition, the flooding destroyed nearly 27,000 school buildings, forcing 2 million children to miss school. 

In the African country of Chad, 465,030 hectares of farmland were destroyed, worsening the already dire food insecurity situation. 

In another African country; Malawi, torrential rains and flooding by tropical storm Ana in January 2022 caused extensive damage to water and sanitation systems, which created the perfect conditions for a cholera outbreak. The outbreak has claimed the lives of 203 people, including 28 children. To date, 1,631 children have been infected with cholera. 

Together with other climate shocks and political conflicts, floods have caused the projected number of children affected in South Sudan, already facing high levels of food insecurity to surpass the rates seen during the conflict in 2013 and 2016.  

Additionally, the UN recently warned that some communities are likely to face starvation if humanitarian assistance is not sustained and climate adaptation measures are not scaled-up. 95 UNICEF-supported nutrition sites have been affected by floods, hampering the delivery of life-saving and preventative malnutrition services for 92,000 children. 

In Africa’s most populous country, Nigeria, an estimated 840,000 children were displaced by floods in Nigeria in recent months.

In the Asian country of Yemen, heavy rains and flooding triggered floods causing extensive damage to shelters in displacement sites. Up to 73,854 households were affected, and 24,000 households were displaced.  

Escudero added: COP27 provides an opportunity to chart a credible roadmap with clear milestones for finance for climate adaptation and solutions for loss and damage. Young people from the most affected places on Earth are drowning in climate inaction. Enough is enough. Lives are on the line – children need action now.” 

UNICEF says they’re calling on world leaders to take immediate action to protect children from climate devastation by adapting the critical social services they rely on. Measures, like creating water, health and education systems that stand up to flooding and drought, will save lives. The organisation highlighted that last year developed countries agreed to double support for adaptation to $40 billion a year by 2025. 

It urged those countries at COP27 to present a credible roadmap with clear milestones as to how these goals will be met, as a step toward delivering at least $300bn per year for adaptation by 2030. At least half of all climate finance should flow towards adaptation. They also urged parties to support those who will face climate losses and damages beyond the limits of what communities can adapt to.

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