The impacts of climate change are already being felt far and wide in the East Asia and Pacific region. From extreme winters in Mongolia, to floods and droughts in Cambodia, and disappearing islands in the Pacific, children are among those bearing the greatest burden.
Malnutrition, a lack of clean water, respiratory problems and lost livelihoods are just some of the ways climate change is affecting families and children. UNICEF is working with communities throughout the region to adapt to the impacts of climate change and prepare them for impending emergencies such as stronger and more frequent typhoons, droughts and floods.
In every crisis it is children who are most vulnerable to their devastating impacts and without action the problems will only escalate. Below are just a few stories of problems faced in the region, and how UNICEF is helping.
Kiribati: Behind the ‘poster child’ of climate change
Raising sea levels, declining rain fall and dying reefs are all impacting communities throughout the island. Scores of i-Kiribati people will have to wrestle with the reality of leaving Kiribati and moving elsewhere – what Anote Tong, the President of Kiribati, refers to as “migration with dignity.”
The reality is complex, uncertain and pervaded by an overwhelming sense of grief and loss for a nation which could be the first wholly displaced by climate change. The consensus among the people of Kiribati is that they will be leaving parts of their culture, heritage, ancestry and traditions behind on their beloved islands.
Stronger, more frequent typhoons in the Philippines
When Typhoon Haiyan (also known as Yolanda) tore through the Philippines two years ago, nearly 6 million children were affected by its devastating impact.
Shortly after the typoon struck, ten-year-old Apple Joy stood in the place where her house used to stand. There was nothing left. Only the toilet bowl remained as it was the only part of the house set in concrete. It was standing out in the devastated landscape like a memorial.
Since then, UNICEF has been helping millions of lives get back on track with critical aid and support. With climate change triggering more frequent and more powerful storms, UNICEF is also helping communities and youths be better prepared for future crises.
UNICEF-supported workshops in disaster-prone areas in the Philippines aim to increase awareness and develop the interest of children and youth in the community in disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation.
Floods and droughts in Cambodia
Thirteen-year old Loinh Chantou attends Preak Cham School in Cambodia. In September 2011, both her school and home were engulfed in the worst floods to strike Cambodia in a decade. Chantou’s family struggled with food and water shortages. “People with boats were able to fish but it was very hard for us,” says Chantou’s mother, Chuon Sean.
“The well was spoiled and the flood water was dirty, with dead animals in it. We drank river water but we had no wood to boil it. The children got ill with diarrhea, skin rashes and fever.”
Cambodia is one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change in Asia. This year, Cambodia suffered one of the worst droughts in several years, with the rainy season being delayed for almost two months. Many villagers in Veal village were left scrambling for water, like mother Yuen Roun who was often forced to collected water from a nearby pond.
Veal village is extremely vulnerable to both droughts and floods. Of the 16 wells in the village, the only well that was fully operational during the drought is one UNICEF rehabilitated last year after the well was affected by floods during the previous rainy season.
In this case, the rehabilitation was carried out following the “building back better” principle, making the infrastructure more resilient to disasters by elevating the platform by 70 cm so that future floods would not affect the well by polluting its water.
Drilling deeper wells and elevating well platforms are just two simple examples of how communities can become more resilient to the impact of climate change.
Green Voices of Borneo
Green Voices of Borneo represents the voices of the younger generation in Sabah, Borneo who want their views and opinions about issues relating to climate change heard at the top level.
The name is very meaningful to them (young generation of Sabah, Borneo) because it is a combination of the whole generation of Sabah who want immediate action from the government to halt the activities that destroy the existing natural resources of their land and community.
Extreme winters in Mongolia
In western Mongolia, heavy snow, strong winds and extreme cold created crisis conditions in over half the country’s provinces. Temperatures fell to minus-50 degrees Celsius. The crisis, known locally as a “dzud”, killed at least nine children in one province.
A 16-year-old girl recalled the extreme weather: “In the last winter dzud, I took turns to herd our livestock… around 40 animals. I needed to dig the snow to help the livestock reach the grass, sometimes by hand. When there is a snow blizzard, I can’t see my way and I’m afraid of getting lost. I’m also afraid of wolves. My cheeks and ears freeze and I get frostbite…This makes my ears very painful by the evening and liquid comes from my ears.”
UNICEF delivered core supplies and services for children and their families such food, fuel, blankets, boots, hygiene supplies and recreation kits to dormitories in multiple districts.
For more information on UNICEF’s work on climate change, read our new report ‘Unless we act now: the impact of climate change on children‘.