ISLAMABAD: Almost one billion children are exposed to high or extremely high water stress, stated the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) in a report released on Monday, ahead of the much-awaited COP28 climate change summit to be held later this month.

Titled ‘The Climate Changed Child’, the report mentioned that some 4.2 billion children are expected to be born over the next 30 years, and there will be no normal climate for them.

According to the report, 739 million children are exposed to high or extremely high water scarcity while 436 million children live in areas with high or extremely high water vulnerability besides 470 million children face high or extremely high drought risk.

Around the world, extremes of drought, heat and flooding are becoming more common and are set to become more severe, with some regions already experiencing swings between the three and infrastructure and services struggling to cope with it, the report says.

4.2bn children likely to be born over next 30 years will have no normal climate

It says putting children at the centre of the global response to the climate crisis will not only protect the health and well-being of children, but also lead to stronger communities and more resilient economies. At COP28, world leaders and the international community must take critical steps for children to secure a livable planet, it says.

Beyond COP28, Unicef is calling on parties to take action to protect the lives, health and well-being of children — including by adapting essential social services, empowering every child to be a champion for the environment, and fulfilling the international sustainability and climate change agreements including rapidly reducing emissions.

The report, a supplement to the Unicef’s Children’s Climate Risk (2021), says children who live in low-income countries are at particularly high risk of harm caused by climate change.

Children are particularly vulnerable to effects of the climate change. They are disproportionately affected by the impacts of disasters, environmental degradation and the climate crisis compared to adults through pollution, deadly diseases and extreme weather events.

The report estimates that one in three children — or 739 million worldwide — already live in areas exposed to high or very high water scarcity, with climate change threatening to make this worse.

“The consequences of climate change are devastating for children,” says Unicef Executive Director Catherine Russell.

“Their bodies and minds are uniquely vulnerable to polluted air, poor nutrition and extreme heat. Not only is their world changing, with water sources drying up and terrifying weather events becoming stronger and more frequent, so too is their well-being as climate change affects their mental and physical health. Children are demanding change, but their needs are far too often relegated to the sidelines,” Russell says.

Far too many children — 436 million — are facing the double burden of high or very high water scarcity and low or very low drinking water service levels, known as extreme water vulnerability, leaving their lives, health, and well-being at risk. It is one of the key drivers of deaths among children under five from preventable diseases.

Published in Dawn, November 14th, 2023

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