Impacts of climate change on children

Mahamudul Hasan | Published: 00:00, Nov 02,2019 | Updated: 00:48, Nov 02,2019


CLIMATE change presents one of the greatest development challenges and the eradication of poverty and inequality cannot be achieved without addressing climate change issues.

Bangladesh is often considered one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change. Bangladesh also has high levels of poverty and inequality (43.3 per cent of the population lives below the international poverty line of $1.25 a day) and low per capita GHG emissions at just one tonne (compared with nearly 20 tonnes a person in the United States).

Climate change issues are of vital importance for children, not just because they are one of the most affected groups, but also because their future will be so fundamentally influenced by actions taken to meet the challenges. Children will suffer from effects of climate change and climate change policies longer than adults, making them vital stakeholders in decisions on climate change responses. Children are affected in many ways by climate change in Bangladesh, both in the worsening of challenges already present and through challenges freshly arising from changing average climatic conditions. The types of climate risks confronting children are diverse, ranging from direct physical impact such as cyclones, storm surges and extreme temperature to impact on their education, psychological stress and nutritional challenges. The impact is falling unequally on children compared with adults. Children are more vulnerable to vector-borne diseases than adults; under-nutrition and diarrhoeal diseases can more easily lead to severe, and often dire, consequences in children; and the physical danger of disasters poses unique threats to the young.

Implications for education and climate change in Bangladesh: schooling is disrupted when disasters damage and destroy educational infrastructure and equipment; schooling is disrupted when school buildings are used as shelters; on many locations, the disruption is frequent, happening multiple times every school year; declining livelihoods, often an impact of shifting seasonal patterns on agriculture-based livelihoods, impacts on the ability of families to keep children in school; disasters and declining rural livelihoods can increase the risk of child labour for boys and child marriage for girls; girls are more likely to be taken out of school than boys when families experience a shock or decline in income; the longer a child is out of school, the less likely they are to return to education; studies demonstrate the link between drought and intense rainfall, through a decline in agricultural income, to increased school absenteeism; climate change is implicated in increasing levels of migration, with impact on children’s schooling; and an educated population is vital for adapting to climate change now and in future.

Today’s children in Bangladesh will need the skills and knowledge to adapt to the unfolding impact of climate change for the rest of their lives. Investing in girls and boys’ education is vital for Bangladesh to thrive in a changing climate.

Health and climate change in Bangladesh are the following. Children are most at risk of health impact of climate change; climatic changes are disrupt disease patterns; water-borne diseases are more prevalent after floods, cyclones, and droughts; temperature changes the distribution and prevalence of vector-borne diseases; it is estimated that globally 25 million more children will be malnourished by 2050 because of climate change; the availability of safe drinking water is undermined by climate change and weather-related disasters, leading to health problems for those with no choice but to use contaminated water; the number of death and hospital admissions of children increases during extreme heat and extreme cold; ill health and malnutrition in childhood undermines development and lifelong prospects; healthcare services are disrupted when disasters or extreme weather events damage and destroy healthcare infrastructure and equipment; a healthy population is vital for adapting to climate change now and in future; and healthcare infrastructure built today must be resilient to disasters and services to deliver effective health care that meets the needs in a changing climate.

Climate change can harm nutrition: malnutrition linked to extreme weather events may be one of the most challenging consequences of climate change; a half the projected death from climate change-induced food insecurity are expected to be of children in lower income countries such as Bangladesh; agricultural yields and food security are undermined by climate change in Bangladesh through changing rainfall patterns, increasing temperature, the unreliability of seasonal patterns and extreme weather events; climate change does not affect only agricultural productivity but also the nutritional content of the crops; and efforts to adapt the agriculture sector to climate change will have implications for what is produced and how it is produced, with implications for children’s nutrition; increases in food prices, caused by extreme weather events, climate variability or change, will disproportionately affect the poorest girls and boys, with implications for other family expenditure on education, health, and other well-being factors.

Because of water sanitation and hygiene and climate change, Bangladesh suffers negative consequences of both too much water and too little water; globally, diarrhoea is the second biggest killer of children; climate change is exacerbating existing water challenges through changing rainfall patterns, increased temperatures and evaporation and increased flooding; the salinity of surface water and groundwater supplies are exacerbated by climate change; and WASH infrastructure is at risk from disasters and extreme weather events.

Child protection could be hampered as children are at risk of violence, exploitation, and abuse during and after disasters; disasters are increasing in frequency and severity in Bangladesh because of climate change; climate change also erodes rural livelihoods, placing children at an increased risk of child labour, child marriage, and trafficking as families struggle to cope with less predictable seasons and more frequent harvest failures; and migration is a common strategy for families to cope with climate change and disaster impact, which can increase the vulnerability of children.

Climate change can create a vicious downward spiral of poverty for those who have already become vulnerable. A child already living in poverty or without adequate water and sanitation before a crisis will be more affected by a flood, cyclone, or drought and less able to recover quickly. Whilst this cycle continues, during each period of stress or crisis, child’s education is disrupted and health undermined, potentially eroding their adaptive capacity in adulthood.

Tackling climate change and its impact on children is, therefore, imperative to ensure equity. The reduction in inequity between children will now promote their future resilience to climate change and disasters.


Mahamudul Hasan studies at Noakhali Science and Technology University.

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