Climate change is altering the mental and physical health of children – UNICEF report

As UNICEF Philippines' Youth Delegate Joshua Villalobos heads to COP28, UNICEF zeroes in on how dwindling water supply affects children in the country

30 November 2023
UNICEF Philippines/2023/Monserate-Piojo

Dubai/Manila, 30 November 2023 – The bodies and minds of children are uniquely vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. As the climate changes and water supply and services are affected, children’s mental and physical health are also changing, a new report from UNICEF warns as COP28 starts in Dubai today.

1 in 3 children – or 739 million worldwide – already live in areas exposed to high or very high water scarcity, with climate change threatening to make this worse. Further, the double burden of dwindling water availability and unsafe drinking water and sanitation services is compounding the challenge, putting children at even greater risk.

In the Philippines, only 45 per cent of school-aged children have access to an improved water source with a regular supply of water. Some 26 per cent of school children drink water from unimproved sources or have no access to water in schools at all[1]. Pervasive drought in some areas exacerbate water scarcity and threaten food security. Typhoons and flooding, which have become more frequent, damage water infrastructure.

The Philippines is also ranked 57th out of 167 countries that are likely to undergo water stress by 2040. This suggests that without intervention, between 40 and 80 per cent of the country's total water supply is expected to be depleted by the year 2040. Urgent action is required to address and mitigate the potential impacts on water resources.

The Climate Changed Child report throws a spotlight on the threat to children as a result of water vulnerability, one of the ways in which the impacts of climate change are being felt. It provides an analysis of the impacts of three tiers of water security globally – water scarcity, water vulnerability, and water stress*.

Climate change, economic development, urbanization, population growth and displacement of people due to hazards and conflict will impact water demand and availability.

The report, a supplement to UNICEF’s Children’s Climate Risk (2021), also outlines the myriad of other ways in which children bear the brunt of the impacts of the climate crisis. From the moment of conception until they grow into adulthood, the health and development of children’s brains, lungs, immune systems, and other critical functions are affected by the environment they grow up in. In the Philippines in particular, child malnutrition is worsened by crop failures and rising food prices, which is exacerbated by higher temperatures and increased rainfall linked to climate change.

“The bodies and minds of children in the Philippines are vulnerable to polluted air, poor nutrition, and extreme heat. Their world is changing and so too is their well-being as climate change affects their mental and physical health. Children are demanding change, but their needs are far too often relegated to the sidelines,” UNICEF Philippines Representative Oyunsaikhan Dendevnorov says.

The Philippines’ Youth Delegate to COP28 and Lead Convenor of the Negrosanon Initiative for Climate and the Environment Joshua Villalobos joins other young people around the world as an observer in the climate negotiations.

“Children and young people are not taking this crisis sitting down as our future is being stolen before our very eyes. When the government listens to us and includes us in decision-making, please realize that you’re not only making a difference towards the lives of children and young people, but you are actively helping shape a brighter future for the society we all live in,” he says.

Despite their unique vulnerability, children have been either ignored or largely disregarded in discussions about climate change. For example, only 2.4 per cent of climate finance from key multilateral climate funds support projects that incorporate child-responsive activities.

At COP28, UNICEF is calling on world leaders and the international community to take critical steps with and for children to secure a livable planet, including:

  • Elevating children within the final COP28 Cover Decision and convene an expert dialogue on children and climate change.
  • Embedding children and intergeneration equity in the Global Stocktake (GST).
  • Including children and climate resilient essential services within the final decision on the Global Goal for Adaptation (GGA). 
  • Ensuring the Loss and Damage Fund and funding arrangements are child-responsive with child rights embedded in the fund's governance and decision-making process.

Beyond COP28, UNICEF is calling on parties to take action to protect the lives, health, and well-being of children - including by adapting essential social services, empower every child to be a champion for the environment, and fulfil international sustainability and climate change agreements including rapidly reducing emissions.

Notes to Editors:

* Water stress: The ratio of total water demand to available renewable surface and groundwater supplies. Water demand includes domestic, industrial, irrigation, and livestock uses. Higher values indicate more competition among users.

Water scarcity: UNICEF’s Children’s Climate Risk Index defines water scarcity based on composite measure of baseline water stress, seasonal variability, interannual variability, ground water table decline and drought risk. Higher values indicate higher exposure to water scarcity risks.

Water vulnerability: UNICEF calculates water vulnerability index[2] based on a composite measure of water scarcity (as above) and drinking water service levels. Higher values indicate high levels of water scarcity and low levels of drinking water service.

[1] WHO and UNICEF, Joint Monitoring Program, 2021

[2] UNICEF, 2021, The UNICEF Extreme Water Vulnerability Index (EWVI) – Methodology Paper. TP/12/2021

Media contacts

Marge Francia
Advocacy & Communication Specialist
UNICEF Philippines
Tel: +63 917 858 9447


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