Children, Cities and Climate Change

16 Oct, 2017
Written By
Tag Words

Children, City, Climate change, Disaster, PeriUrban, Urban

Children, Cities and Climate Change

Climate change impacts each one of us, but children are the most vulnerable and consequently the worst affected. Our children are our future; and their well-being, healthy growth and safety must be our top priority. Children are, and will be affected by climate change and disasters; through malnutrition, diseases, physical and psychological trauma, to name just a few. Not only do they have to cope with the direct consequences of climate change, but also suffer its ripple effect on their family and living environment, through loss of habitat and livelihood.

Climate related disasters are not only increasing in frequency and intensity, but will only get worse with time. The stress induced and the adverse impacts of these disasters are both projected to increase, and will impact children, particularly those who are deprived and living in poverty, the most. Heat waves, floods, droughts, sea-level rise, cyclones, landslides are all likely to increase and these will affect all those living here in varied environments in different ways.

The impact on the children will be multi faceted. Schools can get destroyed, education severely impacted, and children taken out of school to contribute to the diminishing household income. Loss of habitat and homes can result in temporary or permanent migration, which again affects education and the well-being of children. Safety and security of children is another major concern that could further be impacted by such events. Thus, climate change will have short and long-term impact on children’s health, education, growth and also their future.

Droughts will not only impact food security, but also result in children dropping out of school to help the family fetch water or contribute to the family income. Fetching water from long distances (a job often thrust on children) can impact children’s health. Scarcity of water can result in the use of contaminated water, leading to water borne diseases and disabilities, which also impacts the growth of children.

Heavy precipitation is causing floods in many urban areas. Young children easily drown in such suddenly created pools of water, walk in the dirty water mixed with sewage and solid waste, get injured and fall ill. Open defecation can further exacerbate problems as fecal matter gets mixed with flood/ stagnant waters and results in serious illnesses. Floods can destroy school buildings, health facilities and infrastructure. Even though the buildings can be repaired post flood, moisture on the walls remains for a long time and can cause respiratory problems amongst children. This makes them vulnerable to other types of diseases too, due to their reduced immunity.

With global warming happening at an unprecedented scale, children will be highly affected by the heat stress, both in schools and at home. Children can suffer heatstroke, fall ill or even die due to extreme heat, exposure to sun, or dehydration. The indirect impacts include faster deterioration of cooked food, limited outdoor physical activity, and malnutrition. Adaptation measures can reduce the adverse impact of heat stress. These include - indoor sports facilities, playgrounds with trees and greenery, school buildings with good ventilation and cool roofs, solar powered fans (to cope with
power shortages during severe summer heat), and recycling wastewater to deal with water scarcity. Use of indigenous earthen wares to keep food safe and water cool, and promotion of traditional architecture to keep houses cool by using local designs, materials and paints, can also help reduce this heat stress.

Children should not be viewed only as recipients who will be impacted by climate change; they can also contribute to adaptation. Older children often have innovative ideas that can tackle problems. They must be consulted and their participation in decision making be encouraged. Their innovations and experiments can provide local level solutions that may be simple and easy to implement. Also, they can act as catalysts, who can change adult behavior and at the same time teach younger children too.

Children today will become adults tomorrow. If we do not focus on the health, education and safety of our children today, we may not be able to reap the demographic dividends of tomorrow. We may have a population that is less productive, a liability for our vision of a developed nation. Therefore, we must take care of the well-being of our children today, for a brighter tomorrow.

Prof Usha P. Raghupathi, the author,  is a retired Professor from National Institute of Urban Affairs.

Get In Touch