Human emissions of greenhouse gases have raised global average temperatures by 1.1C over the past 150 years. While regional estimates differ, business as usual will increase temperatures in most areas of Africa to 6C by 2100.
“We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children”Wendell Berry
The responsibility for this temperature rise should lie with the emitters. Since 1900, the UK alone has emitted 40% more carbon dioxide than the entire continent of Africa (Our World in Data, 2017) but it is in parts of Africa where some of the first and worst impacts of climate change are being felt. Our hotter and wetter world is worsening children’s lives today. To avoid disaster, every person and organisation must take responsibility for their environmental footprint.
Here are just four of the many ways in which climate change challenges the rights of children across Africa:
1. Extreme weather damages children’s early childhood development
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) regional climate models predict a high confidence increase in heavy rain (IPCC, 2014). Increased temperatures and precipitation will increase the likelihood and intensity of extreme weather events by the end of the century. The El Niño effect periodically makes much of East Africa wetter and hotter than normal, so studying El Niño gives us insight into how climate change will affect child development. One study showed that children affected by El Nino during early childhood posted lower scores in language development, memory and spatial reasoning than other children of a similar age. These conditions are becoming the new normal under business-as-usual.
Kenya – 2019 Landslides in West Pokot County left dozens dead and hundreds more displaced.
Knock-on effects include an increased reliance on child labour when unpredictable farming seasons affect household income security, giving children less time and energy to dedicate to school activities. A particularly tangible example of extreme weather events are tropical cyclones. Higher temperatures over the ocean increases the moisture in the air, which means more is available to be dumped as rain in cyclones. More than 115 million children live in zones at high or extremely high risk for tropical cyclones. In 2016, Patongo (where our Justice for Children project is located in Uganda) was severely affected by flash floods which threatened to close schools, sunk latrines and displaced dozens of people (GoU, 2016).
DRC – 2019 Floods in Democratic Republic of Congo affected more than 160,000 people, along with homes, schools and health facilities.
Climate change causes extreme weather, like drought.
2. Sea-level rise will increase risk of flooding in coastal areas like Accra & Mombasa
Even under a medium-low emission scenario, the IPCC predicts a global sea-level rise of 0.53 metres by 2100. Sea-level rise and increased precipitation makes flooding more likely, threatening children’s homes. In Accra, where our nurseries are located, there are an estimated 172,000 residents at risk of a 10-year flood (Appeaning Addo, et al., 2008). In Mombasa, by 2030 over a quarter of a million people are at risk of 1-in-100-year floods.
3. Drought will drive child malnourishment
Regional climate model studies suggest August/September drying and “more frequent and/or longer heat waves” (IPCC, 2014, p. 44) over most parts of Uganda, Kenya, and South Sudan by the end of the 21st century as a result of a weakening Somali jet and Indian monsoon (Patricola & Cook, 2011). These seasonal droughts cause crop failures and rising food prices. Undernutrition is responsible for almost half of worldwide deaths of children under the age of five, and nearly 160 million children live in areas of high or extremely high drought severity (UNICEF, 2015). Inadequate responses to malnourishment during the first two years of life result in irreversible stunting with lifelong consequences for children’s cognitive capacity and school performance. It is estimated that, by 2030, climate change will result in an additional 7.5 million children under the age of 5 who are moderately or severely stunted (WHO, 2014, p. 80).
Example from the ground
Our agribusiness programmes in Agago, northern Uganda, depend on rainfall, and even the climate-smart techniques taught by our agricultural experts may not be enough to prevent future crop failures.
Climate refugees are also becoming a sad reality. In 2017, 50% of South Sudan’s population were affected by a famine caused by a mixture of conflict and drought. Droughts in the region are projected to increase with increased temperatures. Uganda’s newest refugee settlement, Palabek, was established in 2017 to absorb the incoming refugees. When Chance for Childhood recently visited Palabek, we heard that both the host and refugee population in Uganda struggle to this day with changes in seasonal rain patterns which no amount of local expertise can adapt to.
Fact: Since 2008, more than three times as many people were forced from their homes by climate and weather than by conflicts and violence. (IDMC, 2017)
This conversation between researchers in Palabek refugee settlement was on how to translate concepts like disability and inclusion into the local language Acholi. When we visited Palabek we also heard how climate affects the farmers here.
4. Increased temperatures expand the range of tropical diseases, whilst flooding spreads water-borne diseases
Children are already more susceptible than adults to many diseases, with diarrhoea being the second leading cause of mortality in children under 5. Over the next 10 years, it is projected that climate change will cause 48,000 additional deaths from diarrhoeal disease in children under 15 (WHO, 2014). Outbreaks of other diseases that affect children, such as dengue, Zika, leptospirosis, viral infections, meningitis, varicella, viral hepatitis, leishmaniasis and pertussis, have all been linked to climate change. The geographic range of diseases carried by insects sensitive to variations in temperature, humidity and precipitation is set to increase. Another indirect effect of flooding is the spread of water-borne diseases like cholera; a study in Ghana (among other countries) showed that the frequency and duration of cholera outbreaks are associated with heavy rainfall (de Magny, et al., 2007), which is set to intensify due to climate change over the next century.
The most vulnerable children will be the worst affected
Marginalised groups of children like the poorest, girls and indigenous communities will bear a disproportionate burden of the effects of climate change, and children with disabilities within each of these groups face even more barriers to realising their rights. They are more likely to live in poverty and to experience physical abuse, while at the same time enjoying less access to educational and medical services (OHCHR, 2017). These children’s voices are rarely included in adaption policies (OHCHR, 2017) and decision-making at a national and international level, meaning that adequate plans are not yet in place to protect these children from the impacts of climate change.
Chance for Childhood is currently exploring ways that we can help tackle climate change by lowering our carbon footprint and environmental impact. We look forward to sharing more about this with you in the future!
Appeaning Addo, K., Walkden, M. & Mills, J., 2008. Detection, Measurement and Prediction of Shoreline Recession in Accra, Ghana. Jounal of Photogrammetry & Remote Sensing, 63(5), pp. 543-558.
de Magny, G., Guegan, J.-F., Petit, M. & Cazelles, B., 2007. Regional-scale Climate-variability Synchrony of Cholera Epidemics in West Africa. BMC Infectious Diseases, 7(20).
GoU, 2016. Agago District Hazard, Risk, and Vulnerability Profile. [Online]
Available at: https://www.necoc-opm.go.ug/HzNorthern2/Agago%20District%20HRV%20Profile.pdf
[Accessed 23 March 2020].
IDMC, 2017. Disasters and Climate Change. [Online]
Available at: https://www.internal-displacement.org/disasters-and-climate-change
[Accessed 23 March 2020].
IPCC, 2014. Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability. Part B: Regional Aspects, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Landrigan, P. & Garg, A., 2005. Children are not little adults. In: Children’s Health and the Environment: A Global Perspective. Geneva: WHO.
Our World in Data, 2017. How have global CO2 emissions changed over time?. [Online]
Available at: https://ourworldindata.org/co2-and-other-greenhouse-gas-emissions
[Accessed 23 March 2020].
Patricola, C. & Cook, K., 2011. Sub-Saharan Northern African Climate at the End of the Twenty-first Century: Forcing Factors and Climate Change Processes.. Climate Dynamics, 37(5-6), pp. 1165-1188.
UNICEF, 2015. Unless we act now: The impact of climate change of children. [Online]
Available at: https://www.unicef.org/publications/files/Unless_we_act_now_Executive_summary_11-19.pdf
WHO, 2014. Quantitative Risk Assessment of the Effects of Climate Change on Selected Causes of Death, 2030s and 2050s, Geneva: WHO.
International Programmes Officer