Nearly 600 million children around the world will live in areas with extremely limited water resources by 2040, warns UNICEF in a new report. The poorest children will be affected most as climate change worsens an ongoing problem.
“Water is elemental; without it, nothing can grow. But around the world, millions of children lack access to safe water — endangering their lives, undermining their health, and jeopardising their futures,” said UNICEF executive director Anthony Lake.
According to the report, 36 countries are already facing extremely high levels of water stress, which is when the demand for water far exceeds the renewable supply available.
Warmer temperatures, rising sea levels, increased floods, droughts and melting ice – all of which are intensifying as a result of climate change – affect the quality and availability of water as well as sanitation systems.
Other stressors on water resources include population growth, increased water consumption and higher demand for water due to industrialisation and urbanisation. Conflict also threatens children’s access to safe water, writes UNICEF in a statement announcing the report’s release.
All of these factors force children to use unsafe water, which exposes them to potentially deadly diseases like cholera and diarrhoea. Many children in drought-affected areas spend hours every day collecting water, missing out on a chance to go to school. Girls are especially vulnerable to attack during these times.
The poorest and most vulnerable children will be most impacted by an increase in water stress. Many children in drought-affected areas spend hours every day collecting water, forfeiting their chance to go to school Girls are especially vulnerable to attack during these times.
Over 800 children under the age of five die every day from diarrhoea linked to inadequate water, sanitation and hygiene.
But the report also outlines measures that governments can take to help curb the impact of climate change on the lives of children, including planning for changes in water availability and demand in the coming years.
“In a changing climate, we must change the way we work to reach those who are most vulnerable. One of the most effective ways we can do that is safeguarding their access to safe water,” Lake said.
Image credit: © UNICEF / Mukwazhi