Extreme weather displaced 43 mln children in past six years, UNICEF reports

Weather-related disasters forcibly displaced a staggering 43.1 million children in 44 countries over six years ­ or approximately 20,000 child displacements a day – according to a new UNICEF analysis.

‘Children Displaced in a Changing Climate’ is the first global analysis of the number of children driven from their homes between 2016 and 2021 due to floods, storms, droughts and wildfires, and looks at projections for the next 30 years.

With every additional 1C of warming, the global risks of displacement from flooding are projected to rise by as much as 50%, the UN agency said.

Catherine Russell, UNICEF Executive Director, emphasized the scale of the crisis. It is terrifying for any child when a ferocious wildfire, storm or flood barrels into their community, she said.

For those who are forced to flee, the fear and impact can be especially devastating, with the worry of whether they will return home, resume school, or be forced to move again … As the impacts of climate change escalate, so too will climate-driven movement, Ms Russel added.

The head of UNICEF called for urgent action to prepare communities, protect children at risk of displacement, and support those already uprooted.

In absolute terms, China, the Philippines and India dominate with 22.3 million child displacements ­ just over half the total number which the report attributes to the country’s geographical exposure to extreme weather such as monsoon rains and cyclones and large child populations, as well as increased pre-emptive evacuations.

However, when considering the proportion of displaced children relative to the child population, small island States such as Dominica and Vanuatu were the most severely affected by storms, while Somalia and South Sudan bore the brunt of flooding-related displacements.

Haiti, which is already at high risk of disaster-related child displacement, also faces violence and poverty, with limited investments in risk mitigation and preparedness, and in Mozambique, the poorest communities, including those in urban areas, bear the disproportionate brunt of extreme weather events.

Of the recorded child displacements between 2016 and 2021, floods and storms accounted for a staggering 40.9 million, or 95 per cent.

This was due in part to better reporting and preemptive evacuation efforts. Droughts triggered more than 1.3 million internal displacements of children, with Somalia again among the most affected.

In August 2022, unprecedented floods submerged a third of Pakistan underwater, causing billions of dollars in damage and displacing around 3.6 million children ­ many of whom went months without access to proper shelter, safe drinking water and sanitation.

Wildfires, according to UNICEF, were responsible for 810,000 child displacements, with more than a third occurring in 2020 alone, and mostly in Canada, Israel and the United States.

As countries gear up for the COP28 climate conference in November, UNICEF is urging governments, development partners and the private sector to take immediate action to protect children and young people who are vulnerable to future displacement.

The UN also called on governments to prepare children and young people to live in a climate-changed world by improving resilience and ensuring their participation in finding inclusive solutions.

UNICEF further highlighted the need to prioritize children and young people, including those who have already been uprooted from their homes, in policies and investments to prepare for a future already happening.

We have the tools and knowledge to respond to this escalating challenge for children, but we are acting far too slowly. We need to strengthen efforts to prepare communities, protect children at risk of displacement, and support those already uprooted, Ms. Russell said.

By Web Desk