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Adapting children against climate change

Nov 21, 2008

International Institute of Environment and Development’s paper titled: Climate Change and Urban Children examines the impact of climate change on poor children in urban areas. It argues that with adequate healthcare, household support and protection, they can be resilient in the face of stress and shocks.

Climate Change and Urban Children: Impacts and Implications for Adaptation in Low- and Middle-Income Countries

Author: Sheridan Bartlett

Publisher: International Institute of Environment and Development (IIED), 2008

As is the case with many poor groups, if adaptations to climate change fail to take account of the disproportionate risks for children (who make up between a third and a half of the population in the most affected areas) they will be less than adequate in responding to the challenges.

This paper discusses the probable impacts for children of different ages from the increasing risk of storms, flooding, landslides, heat waves, drought and water supply constraints that climate change is likely to bring to most urban centres in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

Children are in a stage of rapid development and are less well equipped on many fronts to deal with deprivation and stress. Their more rapid metabolisms, immature organs and nervous systems, developing cognition, limited experience and behavioural characteristics are all at issue here.

Urban children are generally better off than their rural counterparts, but this is not true for the hundreds of millions living in urban poverty. Most of the people and enterprises at most serious risk from extreme weather events and rising sea levels are located in urban slums in low-income countries, where there is a combination of high exposure to hazards and inadequate protective infrastructure and services.

In low-income countries, the loss of life is shown repeatedly to be disproportionately high among children, women and the elderly, especially among the poor during such extreme events as flooding, high winds and landslides.

A study of flood-related mortalities in Nepal, for instance, found that the death rate for children aged two to nine was more than double that of adults; and pre-school girls were five times more likely to die than adult men.

Children under five are the main victims of sanitation-related illnesses (diarrhoeal disease primarily) because of their less developed immunity.

Learning is also dependent on supportive social and physical environments and the opportunities to master new skills. Disaster can also result in the interruption of formal schooling for months at a time, and children are more likely to be withdrawn from school when households face shocks.

In seeking to reduce vulnerability and enhance resilience in the face of various hazards and risks, some basic concerns need to be taken into account:

  • Ensuring children’s optimal health and nutrition: Ensuring children’s health through preventive care and environmental health measures is a potent form of disaster risk reduction. Food aid and supports for health are vital after crises.
  • Strengthening families’ capacity to cope: All adaptive measures should ideally enhance the capacity of households to come through periods of shock with minimal upset.
  • Maintaining and restoring children’s routines, networks and activities: It is important not to compromise children’s spaces, activities, networks and opportunities for gaining competence.
  • Respecting children’s capacities; supporting their active involvement: The contribution of children and young people is also a potential community asset too seldom tapped in the process of development and adaptation.
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