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Adapting to climate vulnerability

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06th-Aug-2017       
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Khaleda Begum :
The global climate has been changing significantly and damage to the climate is still ongoing. The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) in its paper titled 'Children's vulnerability to Climate Change and Disaster Impacts in East Asia and the Pacific' observes that climate change is one of the biggest development challenges of the twenty-first century. Communities across the globe are already experiencing the impacts of more extreme weather events, temperature changes and disease outbreaks. No one is immuned to the effects of climate change, and children are particularly vulnerable. However, active engagement of children in the process of adaptation to climate change and disaster risk reduction programs can reduce this threat to children.
There are two types of climate risks confronted by children. Thes are physical and psychological. Cyclones, storm surges, ultra violet ray, lower food production, extreme temperatures and climate change induced diseases have direct physical impacts on the survival of children. More natural calamities like cyclone, storm, flash flood, draught, thunder storm are occurring now due to changed climate. Extreme temperature, either too high or too low, makes children sick. In the South Pacific Islands, many children are being admitted to the hospitals because of fever and heat stress caused by climate- change-induced higher temperature.
Changing weather accelerates reproduction of bacterial and protozoan pathogens that cause diarrhoea. Also, draught and acute water crisis cause diarrhoea, hepatitis A and cholera. Different kinds of dangerous mosquitoes breed more in the environment of higher temperature. Changed rainfall pattern affects the transmission of some vectors and causes malaria, dengue, yellow fever and Chikungunya. Malaria contributes to anaemia in children - a major cause of poor growth and development. For pregnant women, malaria causes maternal deaths, low birth weights and neonatal deaths.
Disasters caused by these calamities also have profound impact on the mental wealth of the children and they suffer from frustration, loss of self-confidence, nervousness and insomnia as found by a UN study conducted in Mongolia. The American Academy of Pediatrics Journal (vol.  117, no. 2 February, 2006) observes, 'Disasters  are frightening for adults and can be equally, or even more, traumatic for children. Feelings of anxiety, sadness, confusion and fear - are all normal reactions. However, if children are anxious, frightened, or confused for long periods of time, it can have devastating long-term emotional effects on them.
Crop loss is another negative impact of climate change which drives one of the parents or both to the urban areas for alternative livelihood searches leaving the children behind in rural areas. During this absence children become deprived of appropriate care of parents. Sometimes children get sick, faces nutritional challenges and their education is disturbed. Also, the children who accompany their migrating parents and move from rural to urban areas leave their school, and it is difficult for the parents to find and afford a new school in the new habitation. During the process of settling in the cities, children are forced to work to support their families.
A UNICEF study conducted in Mongolia found that the migrant children are four times more likely to drop out of school than non-migrant children. In that country, guardians engage Children in hazardous tasks, such as livestock herding even during snow blizzards and dust storms. Water is scarce in Mongolia. The Children spend three to four hours every day to collect water from different sources including rivers, wells, and lakes braving the freezing weather. This scenario is same for all the parts of the world where children become the victim of climatic hazards.
It is the core responsibility of the parents to ensure safety of their children. The community and the government are also concerned about this issue. However, children's engagement in the process of risk assessment, planning, designing and implementing mitigation and adaptation initiatives will reduce the burden from the shoulder of parents, community and government.
Children learn about climate change in schools, they have access to different media and sources to learn issues relating to climate change. That is why, they are more knowledgeable than adults and on the basis of this understanding they can contribute in assessing risks associated with climate change and help the community.
Creating awareness among the citizen, policy makers and civil society is an important aspect of dealing climate change impacts. Children play a vital role in raising public awareness on climate change effect. In Rembang, Indonesia, children are found using traditional Qasidah music to raise public awareness on disaster risk reduction and environmental issues. In Thailand, a youth network is reportedly helpful in increasing flood preparedness in its community.
In 2011, more than 600 children across 21 countries provided input towards the development of a Children's Charter for Disaster Risk Reduction, which calls for stronger commitment from government, development agencies and donor partners to protect children and uses their knowledge and capacities to engage in disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation. The Charter outlines five priority areas such as physical safety; safe school and uninterrupted education; right to participate and access to information; relief and reconstruction interventions for reducing future risk and assurance of secured community infrastructure; and disaster risk reduction response to the most vulnerable people.
International organization 'Save the Children' is supporting different programs on Children-led Disaster Risk Reduction in some Asian countries where children are participating and contributing in various ways. In Thailand, children assess risk and vulnerabilities by interviewing their communities. On the basis of that assessment they work to sensitize the community and policy makers regarding disaster risks and their mitigation. In Sri Lanka, students are found helping in the reconstruction of their schools to ensure that they are children friendly. In India, children are taking part in designing house reconstruction. In schools they form committees to identify and mitigate risks and hazards; they organise cultural program to raise awareness about disasters and associated risks.
Children are repertedly taking part in local government disaster planning sessions in Indonesia. They draw the hazard maps and contribute to contingency plans. Children learn about evacuation and produce awareness raising materials to educate communities. One of the children taking part in that program noted, "We can make understand the community and government about the issues that children face during disasters - we must share our experiences with them." In Vietnam, children take part in community meetings to assess risks and hazards; they teach community members about response and make decision makers aware of the impact of disasters on children. In the Philippines, children in schools have been formed into emergency response teams and they are holding regular drills for earthquakes and tsunamis; and the teams provide peer-to-peer education for other children. After participating in the program one of the students noted, "I'm not scared of any disasters anymore because I already know what to do." In Pakistan, children are taking part in assersing emergency supports for relief interventions. They are helping in developing materials to educate communities about the dangers of disasters. In Nepal, children are being traine up to react to a disaster making themselves and their families safer.
In Bangladesh, 'Save the Children' is developing an adaptive culture around climate change for children and their families. Here, its focus is to listen to the needs identified by the children, young people, and their families for creating the best adaptation measures at a the local level and share these throughout the region.
Children have the potential to play role actively and wisely. However, they are little and need support from the elders, society and the state to fight against any kind of man-made or natural disaster. Policies that fail to distinguish the children from the adult can result in additional harm to the children. Therefore, climate change education system and disaster risk reduction resources should be child-sensitive. If children are familiar with the impacts of climate change and trained in disaster preparedness, they will bring a significant change in the society as they are the future citizens and leaders of the country. They will pass this knowledge to their children, making disaster preparedness a societal practice, which will keep on passing from generation to generation.
(PID-UNICEF Feature)

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