|© UNICEF/HQ06-0187/Michael Kamber|
|A muddy alleyway strewn with excrement and garbage in Kibera, Kenya – the largest slum in Africa.|
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Children need a clean environment
Deteriorating environmental conditions have their most profound effect on children who are exposed to a barrage of environmental threats – from lead in air pollution to faecal bacteria in drinking water. Children in developing countries are the least protected and the most affected by unsafe environments, both through direct threats to their health and from the poverty caused by environmental pollution and resource degradation.
Young children are particularly vulnerable. Their physical characteristics, childhood activities and natural curiosity put them at greater risk from environmental hazards. In fact, the quality of a child’s environment is a key determinant of whether a child survives the first year of life and of her or his further physical and mental development.
In recent years, threats to the environment are clearly on the increase, as illustrated, for example, by increasing contamination and over pumping of aquifers and the degradation of freshwater catchment areas. But the most serious, far-reaching threat is global warming, with its complex and comprehensive impact on water resources and its predicted multiplier effect on diarrhoea, malaria and other diseases. The impact of global warning is and will continue to be felt most by developing countries and by children.
The environment needs children
Empowered children are a dynamic and ultimately powerful force for protecting and improving the environment.
What children learn today will shape the world tomorrow. Instilling environmental awareness at a young age is the best way to protect the environment. But increasing children’s environmental awareness is not enough. For children to become effective agents of change, avenues must exist for their knowledge to be translated into advocacy and action.
UNICEF uses its WASH programmes around the world to educate and empower children on environmental issues related to water, sanitation and hygiene. Activities include the development of sanitation and environmental education programmes in schools, participatory processes to involve children in the reduction of open defecation in their communities, and initiatives that promote the participation of children in local, national and global environmental initiatives.