A new report released by the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) reveals that a staggering 739 million children globally, equivalent to one in three, reside in areas exposed to high or very high water scarcity.
The report, titled “The Climate Changed Child,” warns that climate change is exacerbating this situation and places children at an increased risk of water-related challenges.
The study, released ahead of the upcoming COP28 UN climate change summit in Dubai, sheds light on the alarming consequences faced by vulnerable children. It analyzes three key aspects of water security: water scarcity, water vulnerability, and “water stress,” where demand surpasses available surface and groundwater supply.
The report underscores the diverse ways in which children bear the brunt of the climate crisis, including exposure to diseases, air pollution, and extreme weather events such as floods and droughts. From conception to adulthood, children’s development is significantly impacted by environmental stress factors.
UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell emphasized the devastating effects of climate change on children, stating, “Their bodies and minds are uniquely vulnerable to polluted air, poor nutrition, and extreme heat. Children are demanding change, but their needs are far too often relegated to the sidelines.”
According to the findings, the Middle East and North Africa, as well as South Asia, are regions with the highest number of exposed children, where limited water resources and high variability pose significant risks.
Moreover, the report highlights that 436 million children face the double burden of high water scarcity and low drinking water service levels, termed “extreme water vulnerability.” This precarious situation contributes to preventable diseases and is a major factor in child mortality, particularly for those under the age of 5.
Low- and middle-income countries in sub-Saharan Africa, Central and Southern Asia, and Eastern and South-Eastern Asia are the most affected, with countries like Niger, Jordan, Burkina Faso, Yemen, Chad, and Namibia facing critical challenges.
Investing in safe drinking water and sanitation services is identified as a crucial defense against the impacts of climate change on children. The report warns that climate change will lead to increased water stress, with projections suggesting that by 2050, an additional 35 million children will be exposed to high or very high levels of water stress.
Despite their vulnerability, children have been largely overlooked in climate change discussions, with only 2.4% of climate finance supporting child-responsive projects. UNICEF is calling on world leaders at COP28 to take urgent steps to address these issues, including elevating children in climate decisions and ensuring child-responsive funding arrangements.
Beyond COP28, UNICEF advocates for actions to protect children’s lives, health, and well-being, urging the fulfillment of international sustainability and climate change agreements, including rapid emissions reduction.