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Asia-Pacific children face climate disaster risk

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Children play in a canal in Battambang province’s Kors Kralor district in January 2023. Hong Menea

Asia-Pacific children face climate disaster risk

Children in the East Asia and Pacific (EAP), particularly in Cambodia, are facing a heightened risk from multiple climate disasters, as highlighted by UNICEF. Compared to their grandparents, the current generation of children in the region are enduring six times more climate-related shocks, eroding their ability to cope and exacerbating inequality.

The latest regional report from UNICEF, titled “Over the Tipping Point”, reveals that children in the EAP region are enduring multiple climate and environmental hazards at an unprecedented rate. This underscores the pressing need to invest in climate-smart social services and policies to safeguard children.

“Children born in the region today are experiencing a six-fold increase in climate-related disasters compared to their grandparents. Over the last 50 years, the region has witnessed an 11-fold increase in floods, four-fold increase in storms, 2.4-fold increase in droughts, and five-fold increase in landslides,” said the report.

UNICEF is working closely with the Cambodian government and development partners to enhance the climate resilience of vulnerable communities and empower young people to take positive action against climate change.

UNICEF’s findings reveal that 443 million children face three or more types of climate shocks, accounting for 89 per cent compared to 73 per cent globally. Moreover, 325 million children face four or more types of climate shocks (65 per cent compared to 37 per cent globally), 204 million children face five or more types (41 per cent compared to 14 per cent globally), and 63 million children face six or more types (12 per cent compared to three per cent globally).

Rising temperatures, sea levels and extreme weather events like typhoons, floods, landslides and droughts put millions of children at risk, leaving them displaced and struggling to access essential services such as healthcare, education, and water and sanitation.

Debora Comini, regional director for UNICEF East Asia and the Pacific, describes the situation for children in the region as alarming. The climate crisis jeopardises their lives, depriving them of normal childhoods and their right to survival and prosperity. Urgent and collective action from governments, businesses and donors is needed to address the key challenges in disaster risk management and adopt climate-smart services, ensuring children can grow up in a safe and healthy environment.

Based on the Children’s Climate Risk Index (CCRI), the analysis shows that over 210 million children in the EAP region face a high exposure to cyclones, 140 million to water scarcity, 120 million to coastal flooding and 460 million to air pollution.

“The [CCRI] ranks Cambodia 46th out of 163 countries, placing it in the top third of countries facing high risks associated with climate change. Cambodian children are highly exposed to water scarcity, river flooding and vector-borne diseases,” it said.

The compounding effect of overlapping climate shocks with other crises such as food insecurity, malnutrition and infectious diseases disproportionately affects the most vulnerable children, especially those from poor and marginalised communities and those with disabilities, exacerbating existing inequalities and driving the poorest further into poverty.

UNICEF urges governments, businesses and donors to take urgent action and invest in climate-smart social services, including education, healthcare, water supply, sanitation, early warning systems, and climate-responsive social protection such as cash transfers.

Will Parks, UNICEF representative to Cambodia, emphasises that the climate change crisis is a child rights crisis, disproportionately impacting children’s wellbeing. From heat waves and floods to air and river pollution, the situation is expected to worsen unless immediate and sustained action is taken collectively by the government, partners, private sector and communities to mitigate climate change.

“UNICEF is closely collaborating with the Royal Government of Cambodia and other partners to enhance the climate resilience of vulnerable communities and empower young people to take positive action in preventing climate change,” he said.


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