Climate change is the biggest health threat to children in the 21st century, says new report

Climate change is the biggest health threat to children in the 21st century and represents an immediate global emergency, according to a new report, "Feeling the Heat," released today by Save the Children, at the Barcelona United Nations Climate Change talks.

As many as 175 million children per year will be hit hardest as natural disasters increase over the next decade. No one will be immune from the effects of climate change, but children will feel the brunt of disasters such as floods, cyclones and droughts, as they get worse, the international children's organisation said. These disasters will combine with an increase in malnutrition and disease, already the biggest killers of children.

The new report, "Feeling the Heat: Child Survival in a Changing Climate," calls on world leaders to sign an ambitious climate change agreement at the United Nations Copenhagen Climate Conference (COP 15) in December 2009 -- an agreement that helps the world's poorest children cope with the effects of global warming. According to the report, climate change also will more than treble the number of people caught up in natural disasters in the next 20 years, with natural disasters more frequent and severe due to climate change. Download the full report here.

The report warns that climate change will exacerbate the leading causes of death of children, including diarrhea, malnutrition and malaria.

"Unless action is taken, climate change will become a slow-motion train wreck with the world's children on board," said Rudolph von Bernuth, emergency director for Save the Children.

Children Bear the Brunt of Natural Disasters

The report notes the following key impacts on children:

-- Diarrhea, the killer of one million children every year, is set to increase by as much as 10% by 2020 because of climate change. -- Malnutrition, which today affects 178 million children and causes 3.2 million child deaths each year, will affect 25 million more children by 2050. -- Malaria, responsible for one million child deaths per year, will affect up to 320 million more people by 2080.

"Children are already dying because of climate change and without urgent action these deaths will increase," added von Bernuth. "Nearly nine million children die every year before their fifth birthdays from simple causes like diarrhea and pneumonia. Climate change will make these threats worse. Climate change is a global emergency for children."

Poorest People in Poorest Communities Most Affected

Save the Children's report highlights how the poorest people in the poorest communities will be most affected, as climate change reduces communities' access to clean water and their ability to grow nutritious food, increases food prices and allows malaria mosquitoes to spread. Children in poor communities, especially under-fives, will be hardest hit.

In East Africa the current food crisis, exacerbated by erratic weather patterns, is rapidly getting worse. Up to 20 million people are threatened with severe hunger, leaving them in desperate need of emergency food aid. In Ethiopia, 6.2 million are in urgent need of food relief and, in Kenya, nearly 4 million people in Kenya alone are on the brink of Starvation.

Communities are able to withstand droughts, but this prolonged drought pushes their coping abilities to the absolute limit. Already they are facing the effects of climate change every day.

Calls for Action by Richer Nations and by Developing Countries

"It is the responsibility of rich nations, that have been emitting greenhouse gases for centuries, to help poor communities adapt to the effects of climate change," said Alberto Soteres, CEO of Save the Children Spain.

"Feeling the Heat" calls on governments to strengthen health, water and sanitation systems in the poorest countries so that they are ready to cope with the effects of climate change. Developing countries must also draw up plans for climate change adaptation that include the particular needs of children.

The report identifies social protection, through cash grants for the poorest people, as an important way to strengthen communities struggling with the effects of climate. Early warning systems to sound the alert on coming disasters such as floods, cyclones, epidemics and famines are also vital.

"It is essential that the international community signs a strong and binding agreement in Copenhagen," noted Soteres. "This should include significant funds from rich countries to help developing countries adapt to climate change. It is also vital that leaders in Copenhagen agree to binding cuts to greenhouse gas emissions of 80% by 2050."

He added, "Today's children will grow up into a world transformed by climate change. International leaders owe it to them to do everything possible to limit the dangers of this global threat."


Save the Children


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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