Experts Warn that Africa’s Children Are Under Threat from Climate Crisis

Photo credit: UNICEF

Child rights campaigners are warning that the climate crisis in Africa undermines the rights of children to life, health, education and security — whilst increasing the risks of violence, exploitation and displacement.

In sub-Saharan countries 490 million children in 35 sub-Saharan countries are at risk from the worst impacts of climate change, and at least 11 million children across the continent face food insecurity due to extreme weather events including drought and floods.

More than two hundred child rights experts, civil society organizations, academics and high-level United Nations and African Union officials met in Addis Ababa Ethiopia this week (Sept 6-7) for the start of the Ninth International Policy Conference (IPC). They were joined by government ministers from some of the African countries most vulnerable to climate risks — including Ethiopia, The Gambia, Malawi, Mozambique, Sierra Leone, South Sudan and Zambia.

The conference aims to put Africa’s children at the center of the climate agenda and calls for urgent and greater efforts to prevent and respond to the effects of climate change on African children.

In Liberia, we see first hand the effects of climate change on the country’s poverty-stricken population. Irregular weather patterns — especially during the rainy season — are not helped by environmental violations such as filling in waterways for building construction and dumping garbage in wetlands, causing flooding. Logging activities — though apparently legal — take away the much needed buffer against strong winds that would otherwise rip roofs off of homes. 

Both extreme winds and floods render poor people displaced or homeless, exposed to all kinds of diseases, while adding economic strains on already impoverished communities. 

Irregular weather patterns also contribute to agricultural crop failure, economic constraints, and food insecurity. Malnutrition in children is a clear example. 

“Half of Africa’s population is under the age of 20. They are the ones who will suffer most from extreme weather events and climate-related disasters, from the long-term impacts of increased poverty, lack of investment and inadequate infrastructure,” said Dr Joan Nyanyuki, Executive Director of African Child Policy Forum (ACPF), which organizes and hosts the IPC. “The climate crisis is a major child rights crisis in Africa and could reverse the progress made so far.”

According to recent analysis, Sub-Saharan Africa accounts for 35 of the 45 countries globally at the highest climate risk. Chad, Central African Republic, Somalia, Eritrea and the Democratic Republic of Congo are the African countries least capable of adapting to the impacts of climate change.

Angola, Eswatini, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe are home to more than 11 million people, including children, who experience food insecurity caused by drought and flooding. According to the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), by 2100, increased temperatures could increase children’s malnutrition in Western Africa by 37 percent and in Central Africa by 25 percent.

“By 2050, Africa will be home to one billion children and young people who, given the right life chances, could power the continent’s social and economic renaissance. But they face a future of reduced employment, productivity and growth due to the economic impacts of climate change,” said Mrs Graça Machel, Chair of the ACPF Board of Trustees.

“Children and young people in Africa face a double-whammy from climate change,” added Mrs Machel. “They face more floods, droughts, food and water shortages, whilst at the same time, investment in essential children’s services could be diverted to pay for climate adaptation. African children and young people are bearing the brunt of climate change now, and will continue to do so in the coming decades.”

“The already heavy burden of malnutrition and disease among children in Africa is exacerbated by increasing drought, poverty, high food prices, displacement and insect outbreaks that are all related to extreme weather events,” said Dr Nyanyuki. “Climate change has a negative impact on the survival rate, development, growth and mental health of children in Africa - and girls and young women are especially vulnerable. The majority of children live in families and communities that have little resilience to respond and adapt to climate-induced emergencies.”

“Extreme weather events and rising temperatures lead to knock-on effects for African children such as increased poverty, child labour, severe malnutrition, lack of access to clean water, health and sanitation facilities, child marriage and school drop-out. African governments urgently need to step up their financial investment and economic policies to prevent and respond to the effects of climate change on African children,” she added.

Do we need conferences to tell us how negatively climate change is impacting our lives? Not always. While conferences do extremely well to amplify the severe effects of climate change on the critical mass of Africa’s economically deprived populations. Unfortunately, successive governments represented at such conferences return home with hardly any action plans or the political will to take concrete action. Remember, the rain falls on the just and the unjust. A hint to the wise is enough.