Soaring temperatures in South Asia can put children’s health in danger, UNICEF warns

Statement by Sanjay Wijesekera, UNICEF Regional Director for South Asia, urging parents, caregivers and health workers to protect children from heat strokes and dehydration.

22 May 2024
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UNICEF/UN0847819/Haro

NEW DELHI/KATHMANDU, 23 May 2024  “UNICEF is deeply concerned about the health and safety of babies and young children as debilitating heatwave conditions take hold in several countries.

“Across many northern states in India, including Delhi, temperatures spiked to 43- 47 C on Sunday, according to a 5-day heatwave warning issued by the Indian Meteorological Department on 20 May. A severe heatwave is expected in Pakistan from May 23 to 27, according to an advisory from Pakistan’s Meteorological Department. The Government of Punjab has closed schools from 25 - 31 May.

“The soaring temperatures across South Asia can put millions of children’s health at risk if they are not protected or hydrated. Unlike adults, children cannot adapt as quickly to temperature changes.  They cannot remove excess heat from their bodies, which can lead to dehydration, higher body temperature, rapid heartbeat, cramps, severe headache, confusion, fainting and coma in young children.

“Dehydration can cause heat strokes and diarrhoea. It can also result in an increased risk of chronic respiratory conditions, organ dysfunction like kidney failure, and chronic issues due to congenital defects.

“Prolonged exposure to extreme temperatures can disrupt children's brain development. This can lead to difficulties with learning, memory, and concentration, potentially impacting their future opportunities.  For pregnant women, who are particularly susceptible to heat, early contractions, preterm birth, delivering premature babies and stillbirths are the major risks. Babies can also die when born premature. 

“Children rely on adults to protect them from heat. UNICEF is therefore advising parents and caregivers to be extra vigilant in keeping their children hydrated through the day. To protect children from heat related illnesses, they should check regularly if the child is thirsty, sweating, feeling hot, vomiting, has a dry and sticky mouth, or headaches.  Making sure that the child is clothed loosely is important.

“For young children, ice packs, fans or misting with water can help lower their body temperature, while cold water immersion can help older children.  Parents should take their child to the nearest health facility if he or she is not responding properly, has a high fever, is dizzy or breathing fast. 

“These steps are necessary given that South Asia had the highest percentage of children exposed to extreme high temperatures, compared to all other regions. According to a UNICEF analysis based on 2020 data, 76 per cent of children under 18 in South Asia – 460 million – were exposed to extreme high temperatures where 83 or more days in a year exceed 35°C. In addition, UNICEF also estimated that 28 per cent of children across South Asia were exposed to 4.5 or more heatwaves per year, compared to 24 per cent globally.

“UNICEF also urges health workers to recognize symptoms of heat stress in pregnant women and children and treat them quickly. Frontline workers, parents, families, caregivers and local authorities can protect pregnant women, newborns and children and B.E.A.T. the heat by taking the following steps: 

  • BE AWARE of heat stress and protect yourself and your children. Take preventive measures and recognize heat stress and know what actions to take; 
  • EASILY IDENTIFY the symptoms. Recognize the symptoms of various heat-related illnesses that caregivers, communities and front-line workers need to know; 
  • ACT IMMEDIATELY to protect. Learn the first-aid actions that caregivers and front-line workers need to take to rebalance body heat in the short term; and 
  • TAKE to a health facility. Front-line workers, families and caregivers should recognize the symptoms of heat stress immediately, especially signs of heat stroke, and help take affected people to a health facility.

“Already, UNICEF had raised concerns about the impact of rising temperatures on children during an oppressive heatwave in Bangladesh in April. The Government was forced to close government primary schools for several weeks impacting 30 million children. The Directorate General of Health Services, with UNICEF support, launched guidelines to respond to heat-related risks such as severe heat stress in young children.

“According to UNICEF’s 2021 Children's Climate Risk Index (CCRI), children in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India and Pakistan are at 'extremely high risk' of the impacts of climate change. We can and must do more to protect them.”

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Media contacts

Sabrina Sidhu
Communication Specialist (Media)
UNICEF South Asia
Tel: +91 9384030106
Pravaran Mahat
Regional Communication Specialist
UNICEF ROSA
Tel: +977 9802048256

About UNICEF

UNICEF works in some of the world’s toughest places, to reach the world’s most disadvantaged children. Across more than 190 countries and territories, we work for every child, everywhere, to build a better world for everyone. 

UNICEF’s Regional Office for South Asia (ROSA) works with UNICEF Country Offices in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka to help to save children’s lives, defend their rights, and help them fulfil their potential. For more information about UNICEF’s work for children in South Asia, visit www.unicef.org/rosa and follow UNICEF ROSA on Twitter and Facebook