Through arts, young people in Senegal speak out about climate change

On World children’s day, 100 young people from Sahelian countries discuss how climate change is already affecting them

Lalaina F. Andriamasinoro
Climate change
UNICEF Senegal/2020/Tremeau
25 November 2021

DAKAR (Senegal), 17 November 2021 – "Here, global warming is already destroying us, we have to travel miles to fetch water, more and more children are dying from hunger, young people are leaving their countries turning their backs on their families, and fishermen are suffering because their fishing nets are empty."

These rhythmic words emerge from the pen of Siga Diop, 18, one of the participants to the first-ever public debate on climate change led by young people in the Sahel region, as part of the celebration of World Children's Day.

Through poetry and slam, Siga wanted to draw the attention of all stakeholders at all levels on the devastating impact of climate change, "already being felt by children and young people in Senegal," she explains.

"Pens and words for a better future. I like to voice our heartfelt cry and make the dreams of children heard. I remain convinced that art is one of the best ways that allow us to make our voice heard and to get the message clearer," she adds.

Mariama, 19, opted for drawings to illustrate the issue of coastal erosion in some regions of Senegal.

"The rising seas are already affecting the livelihoods of the affected populations in several regions of Senegal. Actions must be taken now, otherwise entire communities risk being in disaster. It is important that leaders around the world see in pictures how difficult the situation is,” she explains.

A total of fifteen adolescents and young people represented Senegal to this public debate, which brings together a hundred young people from the 10 countries of the Sahel region. The public debate was moderated on this occasion by Juan Gomez, from Radio France Internationale, and has seen the participation of experts and officials from different countries.

Senegal is prone to chronic and seasonal vulnerabilities, mostly due to climate change. Coastal erosion is already affecting some parts of the country, threatening the livelihoods of some communities. Drought affects the northern, central and eastern regions of Senegal, causing food and nutritional insecurity, putting young children and women at risk of acute malnutrition.

Flooding is more prevalent in the urban areas of the western and central regions during the rainy season: at least 150,000 people are at risk of being affected by flooding every year and 20,000 at risk of epidemics.

UNICEF conducted a series of consultation with young people and children in regions affected by climate-related shocks (coastal erosion, drought) to collect their opinion and help them carry out their own advocacy.

For Moustapha Mangassy, 21, young climate activist in the country, "every voice counts. Climate change impacts us all. The scarcity of rains, heatwaves, rising sea already threaten our survival and our environment. It is therefore essential that together we commit to limit the damage"

"Children and youth are fully-fledged citizens and rights-holders. It is of paramount importance to give them a voice and acknowledge they have a say in climate action. Children and young people need to be recognized and listened to as agents of change" says Georges Gonzales, UNICEF Senegal deputy representative.

In a report entitled "the climate crisis is a child rights crisis" UNICEF called on all stakeholders to act now at their respective levels.

Governments need to ensure that environmental policies are child-sensitive. Businesses must ensure their practices are protective of the natural environment on which children depend. Greenhouse gas emissions and environmental pollutants must be reduced dramatically. Services for children need to incorporate climate resilience and environmental sustainability. Schools need to be educating for green skills.