45 million children at risk of poor health, malnutrition, displacement & learning loss in Eastern and Southern Africa due to climate crisis

UNICEF appeals for $1.4 billion to ramp up preparedness and response to avert a humanitarian crisis

19 December 2023
A girl and her grandmother
UNICEF/UN0805069/Pouget
Dabo, 10, here with her grandmother, lives in an IDP camp for several months now. Deprived of school, Dabo's future is jeopardized by the drought that affects her family, which can no longer rely on livestock, the traditional means of subsistence.

NAIROBI, 19 December 2023 - UNICEF is sounding the alarm on a looming climate-induced humanitarian crisis in Eastern and Southern Africa where the lives of 45 million children are at risk of poor health, malnutrition, displacement and learning loss. Needs are escalated by projections indicating a strong likelihood of robust El Nino impacts such as floods lasting through early 2024 and drought which is forecasted to persist through most of 2024.  The strength of El Nino is expected to be comparable to the top six strongest events in recorded history, increasing the likelihood of extreme weather and climate hazards.

To address the humanitarian needs of children and communities impacted by climate change, and other crises in the region, the UN children’s agency is urgently appealing for $1.4 billion to continue funding its humanitarian response in 2024, which includes preventing and treating wasting through a continuum of care of children and mothers;  prevention, early detection and treatment of diseases through health facilities; provision of  safe water and sanitation access to prevent waterborne diseases; provision of quality learning and child protection services including mental health and psychosocial support;  gender-based violence and prevention of sexual abuse and exploitation; and building  resilient systems that can withstand current and future shocks.

“The climate crisis is not a distant threat but an immediate danger to the well-being of children in Eastern and Southern Africa. The impact of climate change on children is a stark reminder that urgent action is needed to address the root causes of the crisis AND facilitate sustainable solutions to help children through this. Our collective responsibility is to protect the most vulnerable and build a sustainable future for all,” said Etleva Kadilli, UNICEF’s Regional Director for Eastern and Southern Africa

The climate crisis has had a devastating impact on vulnerable populations and the historical confluence of climate, conflict displacement and health emergencies have put the lives of children particularly at risk. Climate change patterns with prolonged droughts and above-average rainfall in parts of Kenya and Somalia have disrupted food security, pushed people into displacement and put more than 6.4 million children at risk due to malnutrition and diseases. 

Across the region, rising temperatures, extreme weather events, and shifting climate patterns have led to a surge in displacement amongst vulnerable communities. Families are forced to flee their homes due to floods, droughts, and other climate-related disasters. Climate induced emergencies have accelerated the regional learning crisis with children and families displaced and their schools damaged or destroyed. This mass displacement has disrupted children’s learning, exposed children to heightened risks of exploitation such as forced child marriage, child labour and recruitment into armed groups, and worsened the region's existing humanitarian challenges. Children who are already at risk of school dropout face an even higher risk when exposed to crises worsened by climate change and environmental degradation.

The climate crisis is also taking a toll on the health of children in the region. Droughts, floods and increased temperatures are contributing to the spread of infectious diseases, while extreme weather events have disrupted healthcare systems and access to essential services. Children are increasingly vulnerable to malnutrition, respiratory diseases, and waterborne illnesses such as cholera, with long-term implications for their overall well-being. 

Food security is under threat as changing climate conditions affect agricultural productivity. The region is grappling with decreased crop yields, affecting the availability and affordability of nutritious food. Children face an increased risk of malnutrition, stunting, and developmental issues, further perpetuating cycles of poverty and inequality. Between January - September 2023, 24% more children were treated for severe wasting compared to the same period in 2022.

Droughts, erratic rainfall, and water scarcity are compromising water sources, leading to inadequate sanitation facilities and hygiene practices. The lack of access to safe water puts children at risk of waterborne diseases including cholera, hindering their ability to thrive in a healthy environment. The need for girls to walk longer distances to fetch water increases risk of exploitation and violence.

“The time to act is now. As the climate crisis intensifies, it threatens the well-being and survival of children and young people. UNICEF remains steadfast in our commitment to safeguarding the rights of every child, advocating for urgent climate action, and forging resilient solutions that ensure a sustainable and equitable future for the children of today and tomorrow. But we cannot do it alone. The regional and international community must come together to recognize the catastrophic impacts of climate change and place children at the heart of our immediate response. Investment in climate resilient infrastructure is more critical than ever, and also empowering children and young people on the climate crisis. The future of children in Eastern and Southern Africa, depends on our immediate and decisive actions today,” added Ms. Kadilli.

In addition to critical funding to support children’s humanitarian needs in the region, UNICEF calls on governments, business, civil society and other partners to:

  • Implement climate-resilient strategies to protect communities and reduce displacement.
  • Strengthen healthcare systems to address the rising health challenges faced by children.
  • Invest in sustainable agriculture and food security initiatives to combat malnutrition.
  • Enhance access to clean water and sanitation facilities, especially in vulnerable communities.
  • Increase investment in education in emergencies and resilience building of education systems.

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Notes to Editors:

  • UNICEF Eastern and Southern Africa senior spokespeople are available for interview. Please contact details below.

Media contacts

Louis Vigneault-Dubois
Chief of Communication
UNICEF Africa Services Unit
Tel: +27 79 495 5938
Vumani Mkhize
UNICEF Johannesburg
Tel: +27-79-495-5935

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