Feeling the Heat: Child Survival in a Changing Climate

from Save the Children
Published on 01 Nov 2009
Climate change is the biggest global health threat to children in the 21st century. Without concerted
action, millions of children will be at increased risk from disease, undernutrition, water scarcity, disasters, and the collapse of public services and infrastructure. No one will be immune to the effects of climate change, but one of the largest groups to be affected will be children under the age of five.

The evidence is clear and mounting, yet the link between climate change and child survival struggles to command public and political attention. It is vital that governments and the public understand what is at stake. Tackling the issues young children face as a result of climate change must be made a priority.

Today, most child deaths occur in the world's poorest countries and communities. Children are dying from a small number of preventable and treatable diseases and conditions, including diarrhoea, malaria and malnutrition. An estimated third of the entire global childhood disease burden is attributable to changeable factors in food, soil, water and air. These diseases and conditions are predicted to worsen with climate change. For example, climate change will accelerate the spread of malaria in various parts of the world. By making access to clean water even more difficult, it will be harder to tackle diarrhoea, one of the biggest killers of young children. Dirty water and unsafe sanitation is a major secondary cause of child mortality. Climate change will increase the number of disasters like floods, droughts and cyclones that put children's lives at risk. And it will have very severe consequences for food security and nutrition. One-third of deaths of children under five are linked to undernutrition. Climate change will make it much harder for poor families to give their children a nutritious diet.

Because the effects of climate change on children are so significant, national governments and the international community must work together to chart a way forward. First, the effects of climate change on children need to be documented and recognised. This information will be vital in identifying appropriate interventions to support children to adapt to climate change. Second, interventions to adapt to the effects of climate change must focus on children's needs. Measures to strengthen health and social systems, to improve food security and reduce malnutrition through social protection, and to promote child-centred disaster risk reduction will become increasingly vital in a future altered by climate change. Finally, as it is still possible to avoid the worst predictions of climate change, governments must commit to a bold and binding international agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.