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South Africa

Study highlights the impact of climate change on children in South Africa

PRETORIA, South Africa, November 28 2011—Climate change will exacerbate the existing vulnerabilities of children in South Africa, unless mitigation and adaptation strategies are child-sensitive and implemented swiftly.

VIDEO: Young people in South Africa share their thoughts about climate change.  Watch in RealPlayer


‘Exploring the Impact of Climate Change on Children in South Africa’ study, made public recently, 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.

The study 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 the 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 increasing the possibility of flooding and drought.

Prioritising child wellbeing

The burden of dealing with the impact of these changes in climate will not be distributed evenly. 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—diarrhoea, under-nutrition, and malaria—are highly sensitive to climate.

© UNICEF South Africa/2011/Pirozzi
A child gathers firewood in Souht Africa. A new UNICEF supported study shows that climate change is likely to impact on children's well-being as families adapt to changing 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. “Prioritising child wellbeing in climate change related plans and programmes is our obligation as a society, under the Convention on the Rights of the Child.”

Child participation essential

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, and most climate change-related policies do not adequately examine the specific impact of changing climatic conditions on children.

Effective participation by children on climate change issues can feed into, and strengthen policy and national response. 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.

© UNICEF video
As international climate change talks begin in South Africa, a new study shows South African children are already feeling its effects.

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 be formally represented in the climate change policy development and in processes to advance South Africa’s commitment to Disaster Risk Reduction.
  • Local and provincial governments also need to be supported 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 prioritised in local-level development plans and other programmes.

“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,” said Girma.



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