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Cambodia’s children 46th most vulnerable to climate change

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Children walk home from school in Siem Reap province in 2019. Heng Chivoan

Cambodia’s children 46th most vulnerable to climate change

UNICEF warns that children in Cambodia are at high risk of being negatively impacted by the ongoing climate change crisis, which poses a threat to their health, education and economic prospects.

On August 20, UNICEF issued a global report titled “The Climate Crisis is a Child Rights Crisis: Introducing the Children’s Climate Risk Index”. They call it the first comprehensive analysis of climate risk from a child’s perspective.

For the first time, UNICEF ranks countries based on children’s exposure and vulnerability to climate and environmental shocks, with Cambodian children ranked the world’s 46th most vulnerable out of 163 countries.

Simply put, 117 countries out of 163 are in a better position to deal with climate change than Cambodia currently is, according to the report.

“Cambodia ranks 46th out of 163 countries, which is in the top third of countries with a high risk to climate change. The report found Cambodian children are highly exposed to water scarcity, river flooding and vector-borne disease,” the report said.

But investments in social services, particularly access to water, sanitation and hygiene, health and nutrition, education and social protection services can make a significant difference in the ability to safeguard Cambodian children’s futures from the impacts of climate change, it said.

The climate crisis is a child’s rights crisis because it threatens all aspects of children’s health and wellbeing in a way that humanity has never experienced before, said UNICEF Cambodia representative Foroogh Foyouzat in a press release seen by The Post on August 22.

“Climate change has made the world a riskier place for children to live and grow in, but we can prevent it from becoming worse if we act now.

“We need to invest in services they depend upon to survive and thrive – such as water, healthcare and education infrastructure and services and make them more resilient. Strong systems and services will help to protect their futures from the impacts of a changing climate and degrading environment,” Foyouzat said

Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport spokesman Ros Soveacha told The Post on August 22 his ministry welcomes and thanks the cooperation of ministries and development partners –including UNICEF, the private sector, educators, parents, students and local authorities – to contribute to improving the quality of education, including knowledge on environment and climate change, to enhance the quality of life of students.

He said that under the cooperation with the environment and education ministries, schools in Cambodia have incorporated environmental content into their curriculums starting from the kindergarten level.

The two ministries have also been conducting youth forums to discuss the environment so that young people have more opportunities to participate in improving the quality of Cambodia’s environment and quality of life by linking environmental education theory to practice in daily life.

“[The education ministry] encourage students at all levels to love and participate in protecting the environment, schools and communities. The ministry will also continue to organise ‘clean school’ competitions to improve school’s environments, including reducing the use of plastics,” he said.

Environment ministry spokesman Neth Pheaktra told The Post on August 22 that the effects of climate change will lead to changes in rainfall, temperature and rising sea levels. It will have impacts on human health, agricultural production, forestry and ecosystems, water resources, coastal areas and Cambodia’s socio-economic conditions broadly.

He cited a report conducted by the Ministry of Economy and Finance and the National Council for Sustainable Development which indicates that if the government does not increase investment in adaptation by 2050, climate change will reduce economic growth due to declining labour productivity from rising temperatures, damage to infrastructure from severe weather events and loss of agricultural yields.

Pheaktra said the government has increased the budget four times over the last eight years to respond to the problems caused by climate change.

An estimated $900 million in investment from the government and development partners is planned for the five-year project, which is being implemented in collaboration with 14 other institutions and ministries to mitigate climate change impacts, he noted.

“Cambodia is not a country that is causing climate change, but it is still going to be affected. So, Cambodia must be a country that is actively fighting climate change and be recognised for that,” Pheaktra said.

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