Children are generally more at risk than adults when environmental threats gradually grow, or when natural disaster suddenly strikes. As I have highlighted in a chapter in the UNICEF publication The Challenges of Climate Change: Children on the Front Line, children face a variety of serious threats in such circumstances, including diarrhoea, drowning, vector-borne diseases, and lack of adequate nutrition. Children also lack the assets of physical strength, and decision-making options that can make the difference between life and death.
A World Health Organization study of mortality linked to climatic events
globally over three decades found that environmental factors accounted for a quarter of the deaths in the general population but for more than a third of deaths among children under 14 years of age.
One consequence of extreme environmenal events, such as typhoons and floods, is human diplacement. Between 2009 and 2013, more than 90 million people—about the population of Viet Nam—were uprooted from their homes in Asia and the Pacific by extreme environmental events. Many became migrants when they could not return home, or chose to begin a new life in a different location.
When extreme environmental events occur, children are often pulled from school, led away from accessible healthcare facilities, and even compelled to work in order to survive and help their families weather the crisis. They can also end up in dangerous situations at risk of emotional, physical, and sexual violence, particularly if they have lost the company of parents or other trusted adult guardians along the way.
To reduce such cases of displacement and help protect environmentally threatened communities, governments should strengthen their social-protection systems, basic urban infrastructure, and disaster preparedness. They should also adopt measures recognizing that migration can be a useful way for children and their parents to cope with environmental changes.
Research supported by ADB
has found that while migration can impose significant costs on migrants, it can also often improve their lives, especially if there is time to prepare, and assistance is available for resettlement. Out-migration can also reduce environmental stress and competition for resources in communities facing environmental threats. Further, those communities will benefit from remittances that can be utilized to strengthen adaptive capacity. In the long run, migration can foster resilience at the household level, and improve access to information and social networks.
Recognizing the particular vulnerability of minors to climate change, the Children in a Changing Climate coalition has called for adaptation to incorporate features to protect child rights, including analysis of climate vulnerability and capacity by age, gender, and urban/rural status; participatory spaces created by, with, and for children; child-centred resilience projects and programmes with dedicated support and resources; and indicators for monitoring and evaluation that are based on child rights.
Other steps that can be taken to protect children from natural hazards include ensuring that strategic plans on climate change protect and involve children; that a proportion of adaptation financing is explicitly targeted to build children’s capacity to adapt; and that climate-change adaptation and disaster risk reduction are included in school curricula.
Across Asia and the Pacific, actual and anticipated extreme environmental events are causing people of all ages to relocate temporarily or for long periods. If remaining in at-risk communities becomes impractical or dangerous for residents, governments should help provide threatened populations with options to settle in a place that is safe for their children, and offer livelihood opportunities to adult workers.
Migration has long been recognized as an effective tool for development, and increasingly is being recognized as a form of climate change adaptation.