One in three children worldwide (739 million) live in areas with high or very high water scarcity, a situation that could be exacerbated by climate change, warns a UNICEF report released this Monday, November 13.
The document from the United Nations Children’s Fund also shows that the climate crisis is affecting children’s physical and mental health and calls for urgent action to protect them.
In addition, the report stresses that the combination of challenges caused by reduced water availability and inadequate drinking water and sanitation services increases the risks for children.
The Climate Changed Child report, published ahead of the 28th Conference of the Parties on Climate Change (COP28), which begins on the 30th in Dubai, highlights the threat to children as a result of water vulnerability, one of the ways in which the impacts of climate change are manifested.
The document presents an analysis of the impacts of three levels of water security in global terms: water scarcity, water vulnerability and water stress.
Complementary to UNICEF’s “Children’s Climate Risk” report, released in 2021, the new document also describes many other ways in which children suffer the consequences of the impacts of the climate crisis, including diseases, air pollution and extreme weather events such as floods and droughts.
“From the moment of conception to adulthood, the health and development of children’s brains, lungs, immune systems and other critical functions are affected by the environment in which they grow up,” says a UNICEF note on the report, which gives as an example that “children are more likely to suffer from air pollution than adults because they generally breathe faster than adults and their brains, lungs and other organs are still developing.”
According to the document, the majority of children exposed to water scarcity live in the Middle East and North Africa and South Asia regions, which means they live in places with limited water resources and high levels of seasonal and inter-annual variability, declining water tables or risk of drought.
“Many children – 436 million – face the dual challenge of high or very high water scarcity and low or very low levels of drinking water service – known as extreme water vulnerability – which put their lives, health and well-being at risk,” this being “one of the main factors in mortality among children under 5 due to preventable diseases.”
Some of the most affected countries are Niger, Jordan, Burkina Faso, Yemen, Chad and Namibia, where eight out of ten children are exposed.
The report highlights that, in these circumstances, investment in safe drinking water and sanitation services is an essential line of defense to protect children from the impacts of climate change, which is also leading to an increase in water stress, the ratio between water demand and available renewable reserves.
By 2050, 35 million more children are expected to be exposed to high or very high levels of water stress.
For COP28, UNICEF is calling on world leaders and the international community to take critical action on this problem and to guarantee a habitable planet.
Proposals preview including children in the COP28 discussions and convening an expert dialogue on children and climate change.