Disasters induced by the climate crisis are among the greatest dangers to human survival. Children, in particular, are the beneficiaries. Today, an estimated 2.2 billion children around the world are growing up in the face of the impacts of the climate crisis, even though they have the right to healthy and nutritious food, good physical, mental and social health and access to knowledge. The climate crisis directly threatens these fundamental rights of children.
India is the third most disaster-prone country in the world, just after the United States (US) and China, with children making up 40% of its population. Any disaster has a disproportionate impact on the most vulnerable people and their children.
The Child Climate Risk Index (CCRI), which ranks countries according to children’s exposure to climate and environmental shocks such as cyclones and heat waves, and their vulnerability to these shocks according to their access to essential services. Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan and India are among four countries in South Asia where children are extremely exposed to the effects of the climate crisis, ranking 14th, 15th, 25th and 26th respectively. Furthermore, the CCRI has placed India among the 33 countries at very high risk, with floods and air pollution being repeated environmental shocks, leading to adverse socio-economic consequences for women and children.
A human rights crisis
The climate crisis is a human rights crisis because the children of this generation and future generations will not have the basic necessities of life, i.e. clean air, drinking water, sufficient food and safe shelter.
To a greater extent, the climate crisis also threatens the achievement of universal health care (UHC) due to adverse health outcomes and disruption of the health care system. Although it already creates a substantial global burden of disease, current Disability Adjusted Life Years (DALYs) due to unsafe water, poor sanitation and hygiene, air pollution in urban settings, indoor smoke from solid fuels and exposure to lead overshadow the present day-to-day health effects of climate change. The incidence of many infectious diseases shows seasonality, and additional outbreaks frequently accompany extreme weather events. Since meteorological parameters influence vector reproduction, it is obvious to link epidemics to climate change and to assume a correlation between increased disease incidence and global warming.
However, the factors responsible for the emergence/re-emergence of vector-borne diseases are complex and influence each other. Many of the countries most vulnerable to the climate crisis have the lowest UHC coverage. These regions have colossal gains thanks to an integrated approach. Climate-sensitive diseases are on the rise due to extreme weather conditions.
Estimating the future burden of climate-related disease impacts on children is complex. The problem will affect a child’s life cycle from the preconception period through adolescence. Furthermore, people experience different inherent sensitivities to the impacts of the climate crisis at different ages and stages of life. Therefore, climate health strategies for children need to be tailored to their life stage.
Keeping this in mind, India’s first National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC) was released on June 30, 2008. In addition, a National Expert Group on Climate Change and Health has was constituted in July 2015 to prepare an action plan, recommend strategies for adaptation and capacity building.
UHC strategies should strive to improve thinking about the climate crisis, use new climate-sensitive financial frameworks, and integrate greenhouse gas mitigation. They should strive to achieve evidence-based climate adaptation that protects health and prioritizes climate resilience of the health system. Integrating adaptation to the climate crisis into the global health strategy could mean both better sustainability of existing programs as the climate becomes increasingly unpredictable and better inclusion of these climate crisis efforts in short-term international health programs by coupling them with programs already funded,
Children’s Environmental Health Indicators
Prevention frameworks include the integration of climate crisis actions into the 10 Essential Public Health Functions and WHO’s efforts to develop internationally comparable Children’s Environmental Health Indicators (CEHIs). The CEHIs, subdivided into categories of context, exposure, health outcomes and actions, have emerged from several international agreements as a proposed tool to track the environmental health status of children. Prevention through adaptation, resilience and mitigation.
Strategies for preventing the climate crisis have primarily focused on reducing or mitigating greenhouse gas (GHG) levels in the global system. However, the concept of prevention in public health is multilevel.
In conclusion, there is a need for improved monitoring of the current state of children’s environmental health, better integration of climate change adaptation into existing programs, and new programs to prevent climate-sensitive diseases that have short-term and long-term co-benefits for health.
Vikas Kaushal is Head of Health, Save the Children (Bal Raksha Bharat)
Opinions expressed are personal