Nearly 350 Million Children in South Asia at Risk from Water Issues

As the Canadian federal and provincial governments, as well as Canadian companies and civil society organizations, prepare to attend the 2023 UN Climate Change Conference (COP 28) in the United Arab Emirates later this month, a new UN report will invariably be flagged as essential reading.

The report, “The climate-changed child,” shows that 55 per cent of children in South Asia — more than 347 million people under 18 — are vulnerable to a wide array of effects from water scarcity and a lack of access to safe drinking water. Only the Middle East and North Africa had a higher percentage (64%) of water-vulnerable children. The report is a supplement to the UN’s 2021 Children’s Climate Risk Index, a groundbreaking effort that identifies children as critical stakeholders in global climate initiatives.

Children suffer short- and long-term impacts

The premise of the UN’s focus on children is that they are especially vulnerable to certain aspects of climate change, given the stage of their physical and brain development and their susceptibility to certain diseases whose prevalence and severity are often exacerbated by climate change.

For example, as the report notes, the number and duration of droughts worldwide have risen 29 per cent since 2000. In India, the higher incidence of droughts has resulted in “compromised diets” for children, causing both short- and long-term effects on their health.

Putting young people front and centre

Released ahead of COP 28, which kicks off in Dubai on November 30, “The climate-changed child” authors hope to not only raise awareness of the urgency of issues related to water shortages but also to highlight examples of positive action.

One such example is a collaboration among several groups in the western Indian state of Maharashtra, which has a population of 126 million and includes the mega-city of Mumbai. The effort, entitled Maha Youth Climate Action, is led primarily by UNICEF and the state government and has resulted in the training of more than three million young people and more than 10,000 educators in areas such as climate advocacy and grassroots-level innovations.

Canada’s feminist international assistance policy notes that in many countries, women and girls are the primary producers of food and water for their families. When the availability of freshwater becomes unpredictable, girls spend more time securing this resource, meaning they have less time to spend in school, creating generational issues around education and advancement.