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An empty sea and a lost livelihood: Urban children perspective

The susceptibility to water-borne and vector-borne diseases, which are linked to climate change is increasing in urban low-income settlements, specifically among the children living in slums and fishermen communities. Continuous exposure to these diseases is causing higher incidences of undernutrition and poor health status. A child suffering from undernutrition in the initial years of his/her life is less likely to adapt and build resilience to climate change impacts in the long-run.

Thotaveedhi is a picturesque fishing hamlet, lying tranquil within the floodplains of the river Gosthani in Bheemili, Visakhapatnam. Waves lap sleepily at the small and large boats tied to the posts, even as the nets are strung out to dry under the hot sun, glistening when the rays catch a shimmering fish scale trapped in the nylon threads. For the fishermen community living here, it is their livelihood, strung out on the beach.

For them, the sea is their life. They ride the seas and brave the rough waters to bring home a large catch of fish, a source of both sustenance and income. Unfortunately, the fish in the sea are shrinking, as is their livelihood and the food security of their families.

Industries spew waste unhindered into the oceans, upsetting an ecosystem already in peril. Nearby coastal areas are being trampled by large urban shoes of coastal development. And the risk of climate change is already being felt by the erratic change in the weather and increasing temperatures. 

And its ripples have reached inside the fishermen’s home. 

Daily, simple meals of fish and rice become few and far in between. With a reduced catch, lesser fish is available to sell in the market. Lesser sale means lower incomes, and fewer purchases. No more of green vegetables or fruits bought from the market, adding nutritional value to an already meagre meal. As a result, micronutrients (especially iron) and energy (calories) deficiencies increases among children, their immunity reduces and they in turn are more susceptible to ill health and diseases.

When disaster strikes, it is worse. As it happened during Hudhud, a large part of food stocks including dry fish, stored by the families were destroyed. Markets were inaccessible or non functional, and food prices soared. The obvious result- hungry people; and of these, children under five, pregnant and lactating women, and the elderly, suffered the most. 

This need not be the case always.

To improve the situation, state run nutritional schemes and programmes, already in existence must be strengthened. The Public Distribution System needs to be more effective, unbiased and should stress on good nutritional outcomes through quality ration distribution. Anganwadi Centres must be upgraded, and health and nutritional status check-up among fishermen communities conducted regularly to know and understand their nutritional status and emerging deficiencies. This can be integrated under various components of the newly launched ‘State Nutrition Mission 2016-26’. 

Given the vulnerability of Visakhapatnam to climate induced disasters, a long-term approach is essential for livelihood diversification of parents and nutritional security of children. There is a need to create more job opportunities, especially for fisherwomen as they handle the family credit system and are more likely to spend the earnings on food, unlike the men folk who spend it easily on alcohol. 

Only when the children are able to rise above the double burden of under nutrition and poor health, will s/he be able to adapt and build resilience to climate change in the years to come. And then and only then will the reduced fish in the sea not affect their nutrition, their health and their future so much.

This is the 3rd field story captured by GEAG during the children-focused vulnerability assessment in Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh. It is a part of the UNICEF India supported project titled ‘Building climate change and disaster resilience for urban children’.