On World Health Day 2008, UNICEF cautions about the impact of climate change on the health of women and children
New York, 7 April – The impact of climate change could fall disproportionately on women and children, UNICEF cautioned today, on the occasion of World Health Day 2008.
The theme for World Health Day 2008 is climate change and health. The annual day commemorates the founding of the World Health Organization (WHO).
“Nearly 10 million children under age five die every year of largely preventable diseases,” said Ann M. Veneman, Executive Director of UNICEF. “Many of the main global killers of children – including malaria and diarrhoea – are sensitive to changes in temperature and rainfall, and could become more common if weather patterns change.”
In addition, women and children tend to be disproportionately affected by hurricanes and flooding, which climate change experts say will increase in intensity and frequency in coming years. The destruction of homes, schools and health centres resulting from natural disasters reduce services available to families.
Climate change experts also predict that warming and shifting rains could impact crop production, which could reduce food availability. In 2006, some 36 per cent of children globally were either moderately or severely underweight.
Last year’s report by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) found that malnutrition and associated disorders, including those relating to child growth and development, could increase as the global climate changes. Reduced supplies of clean water in some areas could also add to the burden on rural women and girls, who are usually responsible for collecting water for cooking and washing.
The voices of women and children must be heard and their needs assessed as part of the international response to prospective changes to the environment, and they must have access to the knowledge and tools necessary to protect themselves and their communities.