A photo of Marshall Islands in the Pacific (Eric Sales/ADB). A photo of Marshall Islands in the Pacific (Eric Sales/ADB). 

UNICEF: Climate crisis disproportionately affects children in East Asia-Pacific

Children in East Asia and the Pacific are facing more environmentally-related hazards as extreme weather events in the region significantly increased over the past five decades, a UNICEF report reveals.

By Zeus Legaspi

Climate change has pushed the East Asia and Pacific region to the brink of irreversible damage as climate and environmental hazards have increased over the last five decades, according to a recent regional report from UNICEF.

Children are most affected by the uptick of extreme weather events, facing six times more climate-related disasters than their grandparents. Over the past 50 years, the region has seen an 11-fold increase in floods, four-fold storms, over two-fold drought, and five-fold landslides, the report said.

According to the report, more than 210 million children are highly exposed to cyclones, 140 million to water shortages, 120 million to coastal flooding, and 460 million to air pollution.

“The situation for children in the East Asia-Pacific region is alarming. The climate crisis is putting their lives at risk, making them lose their childhood and the right to survive and grow,” said Debora Comini, UNICEF Regional Director for East Asia and the Pacific.

Moreover, these climate hazards are worsening the already existing inequalities as the hazards make it more difficult for children disadvantaged by poverty to cope with their impacts. They are also more likely to face some of the most immediate dangers but have the least means to protect themselves from these risks, said UNICEF.

However, the report reveals that this may only be the beginning as children who are aged 10 or younger in the year 2020 are projected to experience a nearly four-fold increase in extreme events under the 1.5°C of global warming by 2100, and a five-fold increase under 3°C global warming.

‘Irreversible damage’

“Climate change has pushed the East Asia and Pacific region across a tipping point of irreversible damage,” the report said.

The region is one of the most affected by overlapping shocks and stresses as global temperatures rise, causing shifts in weather patterns and wildlife degradation. These are then exacerbated by non-climate hazards such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

“These climate shocks are increasing in frequency and interacting with non-climate shocks like the COVID-19 pandemic and the cost-of-living crisis, among others, creating multiplier effects and cascading impacts across the region, leading to a ‘polycrisis’ – a situation with multiple near-simultaneous shocks with strong interdependencies,” the report revealed.

UNICEF urged governments, businesses, and donors to invest in building climate-responsive social services, including education, medical care, water and sanitation aid, and early warning systems.

“We need urgent and collective action from governments, businesses, and donors to address some of the major challenges in disaster risk management and deploy climate-smart services so children can grow up in safe and healthy environments,” the UNICEF Regional Director appealed.

Pollution and deforestation are among the climate and environmental change challenges threatening the East Asia-Pacific region's sustainable development and economic growth, with long-term irreversible consequences for the lives and livelihoods of children and youth.

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25 May 2023, 12:22