In a move aimed at protecting children from the impact of climate change, Egypt and Unicef, the United Nations children’s agency, are working on strategies to guard against the risks they face, Nivine El-Kabbag, Egypt’s minister of social solidarity, announced on Wednesday.
El-Kabbag’s comments came during a panel session at the COP27 climate summit in Sharm El-Sheikh.
Officials and climate change experts have warned that climate and environmental shocks, such as cyclones and heatwaves, pose severe dangers to the health, education and physical safety of children around the world, especially those in the most vulnerable communities.
In a report issued late last month, titled “The Coldest Year of the Rest of Their Lives”, Unicef said that nearly 560 million children were already exposed to heat waves that occur with high frequency, and that by 2050, virtually all of the world’s two billion children will be. High frequency means an average of 4.5 or more heat waves within a year.
“Children are the most vulnerable and most affected by the negative impacts of climate change, which leads to a decline in their life quality in the future,” El-Kabbag said in an interview with Al-Fanar Media.
“We have a great opportunity to be better. We should not be satisfied with adaptation efforts. We must prepare for possible future environmental changes.”
“Children are the most vulnerable and most affected by the negative impacts of climate change, which leads to a decline in their life quality in the future.”Nivine El-Kabbag, Egypt’s minister of social solidarity
El-Kabbag cited the unusual floods Egypt has witnessed in recent years, and added that the children in the poorest areas, disabled people, and people who work under harsh conditions, indoors or outdoors, are more affected by climate and environmental shocks than others.
Measuring Children’s Risk
A special report focusing on the impact of climate change on children in Egypt was introduced at Wednesday’s session. The report, titled “Children’s Climate Risk Index: Egypt Report”, uses a new methodology developed by Unicef and will serve as a basis for developing the country’s plans to protect children from climate change, El-Kabbag said.
Unicef introduced the Children’s Climate Risk Index (CCRI) last year to measure the impact of climate change on children, their adaptive ability and the degree of protection they enjoy. It said at the time that approximately one billion children were living in countries classified as at “extremely high risk” of climate and environmental shocks.
Such shocks undermine the complete spectrum of children’s rights, the 2021 report said, from access to clean air, food and safe water; to education, housing, freedom from exploitation, and even their right to survive.
Tamer Kirolos, the Arab region director at Save the Children, a British-registered humanitarian organisation that operates in 118 countries, also spoke to Al-Fanar Media about how climate change affects children.
Kirolos noted that when climate disasters destroy livelihoods in rural areas, children and their families are forced to migrate to urban areas. “This leaves children without a safe home and exposed to various forms of violence, abuse, neglect, and exploitation,” he said.
Kirolos called attention to the severe floods that hit Pakistan this summer, leaving a third of the country under water, killing over 1,700 people, including more than 600 children, and destroying over 25,000 schools.
“Millions of children are still unable to go to school, and crops and livestock have been washed away,” he said. “The country is facing a terrible hunger crisis.”
When climate disasters destroy rural areas, children and their families are forced to migrate to urban areas. “This leaves children without a safe home and exposed to various forms of violence, abuse, neglect, and exploitation.”Tamer Kirolos, Arab region director at Save the Children.
Children around the world are facing a hunger crisis due to climate change, said Kirolos, who cited figures showing that more than 1.8 million children in Somalia are suffering acute malnutrition.
Focus on Children’s Rights
Kirolos called on COP27 to ensure a focus on children’s rights and equity in climate negotiations, policies and financing, and to increase financial commitments to help affected communities and children deal with and recover from climate shocks.
Amna Khalil, who works with Save the Children in Egypt, said that rising temperatures, air pollution, and storms lead to immediate risks to children’s lives, including breathing difficulties, malnutrition, and an increased risk of infectious diseases.
The education of about 38 million children worldwide is disrupted every year due to a climate crisis, Khalil said.
“Climate change repercussions not only impede access to education, they also harm the child’s educational attainment,” she added. “It has been found that students scored lower on the hottest days of the year, compared to the coldest days.”
Extreme weather events that lead to increased food insecurity and population displacements create other risks for children, Khalil said. They are at risk of losing access to basic services, being separated from their families, and becoming vulnerable to trafficking, sexual exploitation, or recruitment by armed groups, she said.
Khalil concluded that the funding allocated to protect children is still insufficient, which makes it doubly important to take urgent measures to prevent the devastating effects of climate change on children.
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Read more about the COP27 climate summit and global climate concerns in Climate and Environment, an archive of Al-Fanar Media’s reporting on these topics.