• Wednesday, Dec 08, 2021
  • Last Update : 12:32 am

Involving children in tackling climate change and environmental threats


Cases from the developing world

Children are at greater risk of injuries, death, displacement, loss of caregivers and post-traumatic stress due to climate change and environmental hazards. Climate change also threatens children’s development through reduced access to food, water, health care and education; increased exposure to abuse and violence; and increased prevalence of vector-borne diseases and acute respiratory infections. 

Despite being identified as one of the most vulnerable groups, very little is done to educate or involve children in the measures taken to counter the impact of climate change. In some cases, the children are left out, getting no help from the relief organizations. If the adaptation & mitigation action by children at the community level can be promoted it will increase the capacity building tools and information to enhance impact. 

Children can act better when they are involved in the decision-making process, and truly understand the science and complexity of climate change. Institutional support, particularly with tools, knowledge and finance, are crucial to translating children’s ideas into actions. This article analyses cases from the developing world on how children can be involved in climate change adaptation and mitigation.

As per WHO fact sheet, 2021, drowning is the 3rd leading cause of unintentional injury death worldwide, accounting for 7% of all injury-related deaths. In Bangladesh, drowning accounts for 43% of all deaths in children aged 1–4. 

Drowning risks increase with floods particularly in low and middle-income families where people live in flood-prone areas. The situation is more difficult for females who don’t learn to swim and fall victim to such extreme events, often bound by social and cultural customs. 

In July 2013, the government committed to ending preventable child deaths, including drowning of children of five, before 2035. In response to the high numbers of child drownings, the government made swimming lessons compulsory in primary schools in April 2015, awaiting implementation. Teaching children swimming and CPR can be implemented through targeted strategies, improved community infrastructure (water supply, bridges, embankments etc.) and driving public awareness. A community-based, supervised child swimming program for children can reduce drowning risk.

In India, the Hasmathpet Primary High School at Hyderabad city has had about 900 students, and the majority of them come from a poor economic background. In recent years, non-arid conditions and extreme heat wave events due to the rising temperature have become a regular phenomenon leading to various social challenges. 

In the past the school had no facilities to provide safe drinking water to the children and the only water source was the government-owned water tankers (5000 litres capacity). However, the supply from the water tanker was often irregular and the storage was considered unsafe. Thus, the children had to carry water in bottles from their residence to quench their thirst for the entire day and the water bottles would hold insufficient amounts of water (0.5 litre).

The scarcity of pure drinking water and unsafe, contaminated water consumption made the children vulnerable to various diseases and affected their health. Therefore, SaciWaters with support from WaterAid installed LifeStraw water filters (2 units) at the school to ensure accessibility to safe drinking water for the children. After the installation of the filters, the consumption of water increased and enhanced the welling-health of the children.

A child-cantered climate change adaptation project in the Philippines aimed to increase the resilience of vulnerable children, youth and their communities in forty Barangays (administrative divisions) and strengthen the evidence base for child-centred climate change adaptation that informs policy and practice. 

Children involved in this project learned about the importance of protecting local ecosystems in their local disaster risk reduction group, protecting mangrove forests from being cut down for charcoal, and spearheading mangrove rehabilitation campaigns to restore their local ecosystems. 

With support from Plan International, children’s groups educated others on how to protect mangroves, held community meetings, formed teams to replant mangrove trees, used local media to raise awareness and distributed information, education and communication materials. 

These activities not only informed the importance of natural resources to tackle the impacts of climate change but also allowed both the children and other members in the community to learn how to adapt.

In coastal areas, salinity intrusion problems are increasing every day due to climate change. It’s challenging to find pure drinking water for the local communities. There were several initiatives, but they were not financially viable and were time-consuming. 

A community school-based water testing program can be explored that will work towards identifying pure drinking water. In Tajikistan, a UNICEF-initiated school-based hygiene and sanitation project accomplished extensive, reliable water testing, led by children as researchers who sought to assess the quality of water at their schools and communities every week. 

Within a short time, it was possible to generate a comprehensive map of the quality of water and sanitation in hundreds of schools and communities, an achievement that would have required considerable time and money if done through surveyors.

The ‘Green School’ environmental project was introduced in 286 primary schools in Suriname in October 2013. The objective of this project was to enhance the capacity of the primary school children to safeguard the biodiversity (Tree plantation and gardening), and the environment (Waste management, Renewable energy usage, Recycling) through participatory measures and bring in behavioural change. 

The interactive sessions included- environmental sports, the establishment of environmental brigades, creative thinking for doing it yourself activities etc. For the baseline study, 76 schools were monitored for 6 months. After the training period, the schools witnessed a significant improvement of 17%, 4%, 48%, and 69% increase in terms of school cleanliness, gardening, recycling, energy, and water-saving.

As illustrated in the cases, community, local and national level initiatives that involve children can build societal resilience and enhance environmental and economic benefits. These initiatives should be taken on multiple forefronts such as knowledge, advocacy, policy and practice. 

Finally, with the on-going pandemic and intensifying impacts of climate change, human health and environment are in dire need of protection. Thus, our collective efforts should focus on the present situation and invest in building the future generation who are well-informed and capable of tackling these intertwined threats.

Fatema Akhter is working in the International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD) as a Junior Research Officer, her research interest lies in Child-centric adaptation & gender-based development. Can be reached at [email protected]

Savio Rousseau Rozario is currently working at the International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD) as a Junior Research Officer. He holds a great interest in disaster risk reduction and management practices in terms of climate change impact. He can be reached at [email protected]

Adeeba Nuraina Risha is working at Brac Institute of Governance and Development (BIGD) as a Research Associate. Her areas of research interests include climate policy, gender and environment, and sustainable development. Adeeba can be reached at [email protected]

Afsara Binte Mirza is working in the International Centre for Climate Change and Development as a Junior Research Officer. Her research interest lies in Nature-based Solutions, National Adaptation Plans and Gender Equality. Afsara can be reached at [email protected] 

Dr Ali Mohammad Rezaie is the Research Coordinator at ICCCAD and can be reached at [email protected]

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