Climate Change

Climate crisis, air and water pollution emerging threats to children: Unicef

Global climate crisis is threatening children's basic rights — a clean environment to live in, clean air to breathe, water to drink and food to eat, said Henrietta Fore, executive director at United Nations Children's Fund in an open letter

By Kiran Pandey
Published: Thursday 19 September 2019
Henrietta Fore, executive director at UNICEF. Photo: Eric Bridiers/Flickr
Henrietta Fore, executive director at UNICEF. Photo: Eric Bridiers/Flickr Henrietta Fore, executive director at UNICEF. Photo: Eric Bridiers/Flickr

Climate crisis, air and water pollution are the biggest emerging global threats to children, warned Henrietta Fore, executive director at United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef) in an open letter on September 18, 2019.

The letter marked 30 years since the adoption of the Unicef’s Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The Convention on the Rights of the Child — an international treaty affirming the world’s commitment to protect and fulfil children’s rights — was adopted by the UN General Assembly on November 20, 1989, and later ratified by 196 countries.

Children are the victims of rampant destruction to the planet and a global climate crisis, Fore said.

It is threatening their basic rights — a clean environment to live in, clean air to breathe, water to drink and food to eat.

It is also is likely to increase the global burden of hunger and malnutrition for the next generation of children as a result of droughts and floods that threaten food production, Fore said citing a report by the Food and Agriculture Organization.

More than half a billion children live in areas with extremely high flood occurrence and almost 160 million in high-drought severity zones. Rise in extreme weather patterns and toxic air, prolonged drought, access to water and flash floods are part of this crisis aggravated by climate change, Fore noted.

Air and water pollution

An increase in temperature will worsen water scarcity and waterborne diseases will have a severe effect on children's health, Fore warned.

While more than 90 per cent of the world’s children breathe toxic air every day, air and groundwater pollution will worsen children’s health. By 2040, one in four children will live in areas of extreme water stress and thousands will be made sick by polluted water, the letter noted.

Management of plastic waste will also become a defining health issue for children, it said.

Fore was also concerned over the environmental migrants. At least 200 million to one billion people may have to migrate due to environmental crisis, she warned in her letter quoting the International Organization for Migration.

“Our climate is changing beyond recognition. Inequality is deepening. Technology is transforming how we perceive the world. And more families are migrating than ever before. Childhood has changed, and we need to change our approaches along with it,” Fore said.

Prolonged conflicts, rising mental health disorders, mass migrations, statelessness, data rights and online privacy and online misinformation are the other major challenges facing children.

On the other hand, Fore stated that in the last three decades, following the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child:

  • The number of children missing out on primary school have been reduced by almost 40 per cent
  • The number of stunted children under 5 years of age decreased by over 100 million
  • Ninety-nine per cent of polio cases have been eliminated

Interventions such as vaccines, oral rehydration salts and better nutrition and digital and mobile technology are behind the achievements, Fore said. 

However, more is required to address the challenges, particularly for climate, she added.

Unicef is working to mitigate the impact of the climate crisis in countries across the world, Fore said, while highlights its work in – Ethiopia and Malawi.

In Ethiopia, Unicef has pioneered new technology to map groundwater, and is developing solutions for chronically water-scarce communities. In Malawi, Unicef has developed a long-lasting, eco-friendly system using solar power to improve access to clean water for communities.

“Governments and business must work hand in hand to reduce fossil fuel consumption, develop cleaner agricultural, industrial and transport systems and invest in scaling renewable energy sources,” Fore said.

Children and young people have already created movements across the world in search of solutions to overcome the challenges they – and their peers – face, Fore said, while calling world leaders to follow their lead.

“We must listen to you – today’s children and young people – about the issues of greatest concern to you now and begin working with you on twenty-first century solutions to twenty-first century problems,” Fore said.  

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