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South Africa, 22 November 2011: Climate change exacerbates child vulnerability

© UNICEF/2010/Pirozzi
Climate is likely to have an impact on children's well-being as families adapt to changing climatic conditions.

New study calls for policy makers to focus on children in addressing climate change

PRETORIA, South Africa, 22 November 2011 – Climate change will exacerbate the existing vulnerabilities of children in South Africa, unless mitigation and adaptation strategies are child-sensitive and implemented in a timely way, according to a study made public here recently.

The study, Exploring the Impact of Climate Change on Children in South Africa, highlights the likely impact of climate change on children’s health, education, nutrition, safety and access to adequate housing and sanitation in South Africa – both directly and indirectly. It presents a body of evidence that South Africa’s climate is already changing, with increases in average annual temperatures and slight decreases in rainfall in recent decades.

In future, all regions of the country are projected to be warmer, particularly inland. According to scientific models, rainfall variability countrywide will increase, with consequences for the incidence of flooding and drought.

Child well-being as a priority

The burden of dealing with the impact of these changes in climate will not be distributed evenly across society. Children represent more than a third of South Africa’s population and are one of the social groups most vulnerable to climate change.

Research shows that many of the main killers of children – including diarrhoea, under-nutrition and malaria – are highly sensitive to climatic conditions.

“In the context of existing poverty and HIV and AIDS, climate change is likely to deepen the vulnerability of children in South Africa,” said UNICEF Representative in South Africa Aida Girma. “Children are more susceptible than adults to the adverse effects of environmental degradation because of their physical, cognitive and physiological immaturity.”

Youth participation is key

The study also highlights the importance of children’s participation in designing effective responses to climate change. In spite of their increased vulnerability, children have a right to be involved in the planning of mitigation and adaptation strategies.

Effective participation by children on climate change issues can feed into, and strengthen, policy and national responses. Currently, most climate change-related policies do not adequately examine the specific impact of changing climatic conditions on children.

There is a need to ensure that issues of climate change are communicated effectively to children. Though aspects of climate change already cut across the curriculum, more is still needed to ensure successful communication and take-up among children.

Looking forward

The study – commissioned by UNICEF in partnership with the Department of Women, Children and People with Disabilities, and the Department of Environmental Affairs – makes several recommendations for South Africa’s climate-change response.

  • At the national level, children must be recognised as a unique social group and formally represented in climate-change policy   development and in processes to advance South Africa’s commitment to disaster risk reduction.
  • Local and provincial governments also need support to understand their roles and responsibilities to children.
  • Strengthening the adaptive capacity of children and their families to deal with the impacts of climate change should be a priority in development plans and other programmes at the local level.

“Prioritising child well-being in climate change-related plans and programmes is our obligation as a society under the Convention on the Rights of the Child,” said Girma. “UNICEF is committed to working with partners to ensure that child-related risks associated with climate change, as well as wider development pressures, are addressed.”



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