Children are highly vulnerable to climatic changes and the potential losses associated with climate change and disaster impacts are high.
By Constance Ndeleko
The diverse impact of climate change greatly places a substantial danger to humanity including children in Africa. In the recent years, we have all witnessed the depths of climate change in regards to rising sea level, floods, severe drought challenging the social and economic development of the continent.
Despite Africa’s low contribution to greenhouse gas emissions, it remains the most vulnerable continent to climate change impacts under all climate scenarios above 1.5 degrees Celsius.
Today our children and the future generations will bear an inconsistent share of the burden of climate change, which will outright affect their wellbeing through many direct, indirect, and societal pathways.
Children are fundamentally left out of discussions about proper responses to climate change, but they ought to be central to these discussions as they have a much larger picket in the outcome than we do.
Children are physically more vulnerable to the direct effects of extreme heat, drought, and natural disasters.
The World Health Organization estimates that children suffer more than 80 percent of the illness and mortality attributable to climate change.
“About 70 million people and up to 30% of the Africa’s coastal areas could face the risk of flooding by the end of the 21st century due to climate change induced sea level rise; yields from rain-fed agriculture could be reduced by up to 50 per cent; and about 25-40% of mammal species could become endangered or extinct by 2080, while 5,000 African plant species will be faced with substantial reductions in areas suitable for growth by 2085. Between 75 and 250 million people in Africa are projected to face increased water stress. This is likely to constrict economic growth and hamper measures for the timely delivery of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDG).”
These adverse impacts of climate change have limited the prosperity of children forcing some to drop out of school due to lack of food and water or shelter. Some have been mandated by their circumstances to dive into hard labor exposing them to child labor and abuse, violence and mistreatment.
Their rights have been infringed and they now have to fend for themselves and their families to survive the harsh realities. Their normalcies have drastically changed impacting their growth and development and realizing their optimal potential.
Dire effects of climate change- shifting seasons have exposed children to life threatening diseases like Malaria, diarrhea and major outcomes on their nutritional needs leading to malnutrition, underweight etc.
The sensitive climatic conditions are forcing children to be more aware of their environs and to purposefully act towards changing our way of life and adapting to new sustainable ways that will elevate our living standards now and in the future.
Undoubtedly, children have an incredible strength towards creating, promoting and enhancing climate sensitive agendas that are possibly significant resources to the community, governments and organizations to mitigate this challenge.
We cannot afford to underestimate their potential in creating new measures that are sustainable to our environment e.g. a movement by Greta Thunberg a Swedish environmental activist who is known for challenging world leaders to take immediate action for climate change mitigation. This move by the then 16 year old girl gave the world a different perspective on the role of children on issues that are affecting them and allowing them a seat at the table in different decision making processes.
Environmentalist Ellyanne Githae who is also Africa’s youngest climate change ambassador and Kenya’s youngest Shujaa has planted over 1 million trees from the age of four years in a bid to enrich our environment and to make the world a green healthy sustainable place.
With great efforts geared towards making our cities greener, Africa is also focusing on the dessert lands(Sahel Dessert) to grow at least an 8000 km Green Wall (a project that is highly supported by child participation). This move is done in support of restoring 100 million hectares of degraded land, capture about 250 million tons of carbon and create 10 million green jobs by 2030.
Air pollution kills more Africans than unsafe water or malnutrition in children. Most of us are aware of the fact that our cities are densely polluted but then what are we doing about this issue? How are we involving children to take up roles in finding lasting solutions to this mess?
Given our different experiences in life, green spaces have actually been proved to boost good mental health. Access to nature has also been found to improve sleep and reduce stress, increase happiness and reduce negative emotions, promote positive social interactions and even help generate a sense of meaning to life.
If we can help redevelop urban green space and provide a suitable play area with learning activities for children and youth then we are improving our sustainability and securing a healthy future by preserving biodiversity.
Actions that involve children and keep climate change agenda in the national vision of the country are crucial. Targeting programs and training, especially those that integrate climate change into educational curriculum, offers the opportunity for achieving long-term solutions to climate change.
Governments bear the largest responsibility for adopting policies that respond to climate change. However, most governments in developing countries are less likely to represent children’s interests effectively, leaving children at even greater risk of harmful consequences.
The benefits of engaging children in the climate change discourse can provide a guiding vision and with proper planning the climate crisis in Africa can be turned into an opportunity. |UNICEF|
We have to purpose and tailor our crafts towards creating inclusive spaces that allow children to be part of the movement whilst making climate change decision and involving them in finding lasting sustainable solutions.