Extreme weather impact: 20,000 children displaced every day in last 6 years

At least three of every 10 persons displaced across the world due to weather-related disasters was a child

By Kiran Pandey
Published: Monday 09 October 2023
Photo: iStock

Over the last six years, weather-related disasters have forcefully displaced at least 134.1 million people, of which 32 per cent or 43.1 million were children from 44 countries, according to a new report.

This means 20,000 children were displaced every day on an average during 2016-2021, according to estimates released by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) October 6, 2023. 

Thus at least three of every 10 persons displaced across the world due to weather-related disasters was a child, the report showed.

Storms (21.2 million) and floods (19.7 million) have been the most damaging and accounted for 95 per cent of forced child displacements in this period, according to Children Displaced in a Changing Climate.

These numbers are an underestimate as there are still large data gaps, acknowledged the authors of the report. The region with the largest number of weather-related child displacements was East Asia and the Pacific, followed by South Asia, UNICEF estimates showed.

A little over 53 per cent (23 million) of the children displaced were in three countries – Philippines (9.7 million), India (6.7 million) and China (6.4 million). These three countries were highly prone to weather-related disasters and so, the risks may increase further due to climate-driven extreme weather events.

The report acknowledged that these countries conduct pre-emptive evacuations in catastrophe situations. When correctly executed, such actions can prevent deaths and also lessen the damage caused by displacements, it said.

SIDS, Horn of Africa impacted significantly

The greatest proportion of child population displaced, however, was in Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and countries in the Horn of Africa, the report showed.

Storms have been the most destructive for children in these regions, according to UNICEF. Around 76 per cent of children in Dominica, a small-island developing country in the Caribbean Sea, had to leave their homes due to weather disasters. This means that three-fourth of the children in the island nation got displaced due to storms. In Cuba, 31 per cent of the children were displaced due to storms.

The Northern Mariana Islands, Dominica, Saint Martin (French part), Sint Maarten (Dutch part) and Vanuatu also witnessed a disproportionately high number of storm-related displacements of children.

South Sudan and Somalia recorded the greatest number of child displacements from floods relative to the size of their child population — 12 per cent of the children in South Sudan had to leave their homes due to weather disasters.

In Somalia, 11 per cent of the children were displaced due to natural disasters. 

Both the African countries implement and document significantly fewer preventative evacuations, suggesting that children residing here may be even more susceptible to the risk of displacement. 

From 2016-2021, over 1.3 million children were internally displaced due to droughts across 15 countries. Of these, around 730,000 or over 50 per cent were recorded in Somalia, with another 340,000 Ethiopia and 190,000 in Afghanistan. A major proportion of these displacements happened without early warning or efforts to minimise the impacts of displacement. 

Wildfires led to 810,000 new child displacements. Of these, over a third happened the year 2020, said the UNICEF report. 

Most of the child displacements due to wildfires were in the United States, Canada and Israel, with reliable early warning and disaster risk reduction mechanisms in place as well as reliable data systems. So, most of the displacements were pre-emptive evacuations.

Children may be especially vulnerable in SIDS and the Horn of Africa, with high disaster risk but little preventative evacuations. This includes Mozambique, where the poorer populations are disproportionately affected and have a limited ability to recover from calamities that strike back-to-back, the authors noted in the report.

So, risk mitigation, adaptation and preparedness will be most critical and urgent in these countries, suggested the report. To save lives and prevent disruption to children’s access to vital services, these countries must prioritise embracing preemptive evacuations and other climate mobility choices

Worrying projections 

Most of the displacements due to all hazards including riverine floods, cyclones and storm surges were projected to be from India, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Philippines and China, according to the report. 

However, in terms of relative numbers, the nations with the child population most affected by disaster displacement were the Bahamas, the British Virgin Islands and Antigua and Barbuda, the findings established. 

Riverine floods, which displace over 3.2 million child displacements annually, is projected to cause most of the child displacements in the future, the authors noted. Over the next 30 years, riverine floods would result in around 96 million displacements.

The report released ahead of the 28th Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change reminded that forced displacement of children will affect commitments made by countries under the Paris Agreement, Sendai Framework, Sustainable Development Goals and Global Compacts for Migration and Refugee. 

So, the needs of migrants and displaced children must be included in the local, national, regional and international climate strategies like National Adaptation Plans, Nationally Determined Contributions, DRR strategies and wider frameworks for sustainable development, suggested UNICEF.

In July 2022, the International Organization for Migration and UNICEF also recognised the challenges faced by children forced to flee their homes due to climate-related emergencies and launched landmark guidelines to protect and empower them.

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