The UNICEF’s website states that, “Children are the least responsible for climate change, yet they will bear the greatest burden of its impact.” It is also true that low- and middle- income countries produce less emissions and contribute less to climate change than high income countries, but they will stand to face the highest cost. However, by developing sustainable solutions spearheaded by community workers in low- and middle- countries, we give children a second shot at a better life and a chance for a bright future.
Because extreme weather events, such as heatwaves and heavy rain, are on the rise, it is paramount that we act quickly and set up appropriate and sustainable interventions. UNICEF’s website also states that, “Climate change is a direct threat to a child’s ability to survive, grow, and thrive.” Disasters exacerbated by climate change negatively affect a child’s education, their access to water and food, and their mental health. This will lead to long-term effects that play a role in keeping children and their families in poverty.
With World Forgotten Children Foundation’s mission statement focusing on supporting projects that promote the health and welfare needs of underprivileged communities, bringing awareness to projects pertaining to mitigating the effects of climate change is one of our goals. This falls under our mission of protecting vulnerable children too, as UNICEF estimates that children are the most vulnerable to diseases that are becoming more prevalent due to climate change, such as dengue fever and malaria. A frightening estimate is that almost 90% of the burden of disease that can be traced back to climate change is going to affect children under the age of 5.
Not only are the dangerous effects of climate change long-term for children but are also affecting children now. About two billion children reside in places where air pollution levels exceed the standards set by the World Health Organization. This means that children are breathing in toxic fumes and endangering their health and neurological development. In fact, over half a million children under the age of 5 die from air pollution-related causes annually. Millions more suffer long-term damages in their lungs and brain. This might result in incomplete neurological development and chronic disease, both of which may lead children to struggle as adults and to continue living in poverty.
On February 17th of this year, Frans Timmermans, Executive Vice-President of the European Commission, delivered a keynote speech at the World Sustainable Development Summit calling for sustainable solutions to the climate crisis. He stressed that cooperation is the only way to reach our goal of mitigating climate change. “We came to an agenda that has given me hope,” he said in reference to COP26, “Hope that I can tell my kids, my grandson and soon my granddaughter: ‘we are doing this, for you, and we can actually achieve it.'” Most of the people living today may struggle to see the current effects of climate change if they do not live in impoverished communities. However, climate change is currently inflicting damages on poorer populations, with projections that the damages attributed to climate change are only going to grow.
Mr. Timmermans also emphasized the importance of including the World Health Organization, as the climate crisis is closely connected to the spread of diseases, many of which primarily affect children. For example, pneumonia is still the leading infectious cause of death among children under 5. The disease kills about 2,400 children every day. This is because pneumonia is closely linked to undernutrition, lack of water sanitation, indoor air pollution and no access to health care, which implies that most of the children dying were already living in poverty and struggling to gain access to basic needs. The future only looks worse for parents of children living in impoverished communities, since their child’s likelihood of survival is going to drop as the disastrous effects of climate change become prominent.
It is particularly important to emphasize that underprivileged children and families are the ones struggling most due to climate change. The most vulnerable populations are already losing their homes, having worse health, and falling behind in their education. With climate change making such crises more common, recovering from them will become very difficult. Bouncing back after one climate change- induced disaster is not as hard as facing multiple crises annually. All signs lead us to believe that the future is likely going to look like the latter.
UNICEF’s website estimates that by 2040, almost 600 million children are projected to live in areas where the demand for water will exceed the amount available. Funding sustainable projects that provide water to people in need has also been one of our goals. For example, in the fall of 2020, WFCF funded a total of US $6,050 to install a solar-powered water system that provides a reliable and safe water source at the Republic of Hope’s Bulangzi Garden and Orchard Complex in Zimba District in the Southern Province of Zambia. WFCF partnered with the African Community Project for this project, since we believe in engaging community members for long-term sustainability. We have also partnered with the African Community Project on a multitude of different initiatives that support the environment, health, and well-being of communities in Africa.
The project was inspired by the United Nations’s World Water Development Report that came out in 2019, titled “Leaving no one behind.” The report was launched during the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) 40th session and on World Water Day. In the report, it was estimated that there will be a 20-30% increase in water use by the year 2050. Today, 2 billion people already live in countries experiencing high water stress, and around 4 billion people experience severe water scarcity during at least one month of the year. The continued rise in water demand will only intensify water stress globally, unless sustainable solutions are found to provide for populations currently facing water scarcity. “Leaving no one behind” is one of the main commitments of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which is aimed at allowing people the benefits of socio-economic development to achieve the full realization of human rights globally.
Safe drinking water and sanitation are globally recognized as basic human rights. This is because access to safe drinking water is integral to the sustaining of healthy livelihoods and indispensable in maintaining the dignity of all human beings. International human rights law requires states to work towards achieving universal access to safe drinking water and sanitation for all, especially since there is well-documented research into the effects that unclean water may have on the development of children and the disastrous long-term results of drinking unclean water.
With that in mind and following our commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals, WFCF learned that many women in the rural community of the Zimba District, who were often the heads of the household, were experiencing difficulties providing clean, safe water and food for their families. These struggles had led many women to pick up temporary odd jobs or walk miles to gain access to the basic resources their families needed to survive. Therefore, providing them with a sustainable water resource gave them the chance to grow fruits and vegetables in their own communities. The project was completed by the end of March 2021, and the African Community Project is working on building upon that project and providing more sustainable ways of accessing food for that community.
According to the latest research from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), we have about 11 years to make the changes necessary to avoid the worst effects of climate change. “This is the first time a global generation of children will grow up in a world far more dangerous and uncertain as a result of a changing climate and a degraded environment.” read the UNICEF article, “Addressing climate change and mitigating its impact is imperative to protect the world’s children and fulfill their rights.” It is important to stress that unless we start working to mitigate the effects of climate change today, we risk entering a period where our work trying to reverse climate change is considered fruitless.
Another UNICEF article introduces solutions to the climate crisis based on the ways we’ve adapted to the COVID-19 pandemic. Their first solution states that we all have a role to play. “The global community has shown that it can act to address a crisis, with governments, businesses and individuals taking measures and changing behaviors in response to the pandemic,” the article states, “When we work together, even small personal actions when put together, like physical distancing, can make a big difference, helping us to overcome huge challenges.” WFCF provides such opportunities to play a role in engaging in positive change by volunteering or by donating to our projects.
Keep learning for a better tomorrow is also one of the article’s lessons from COVID-19 that we can use for climate change. We might be unaware of the struggles of people living in vulnerable communities in Zambia, South Sudan, or South Korea. However, once we get out of our comfort zone, we can engage in global conversation and participate in effecting change that would benefit millions of children and families around the world. Even small changes, like signing up to help WFCF’s mission, can change the lives of many.
The article goes on to explain that in a crisis, we must protect the most vulnerable of populations. Today, we are in a crisis. We must do all that we can to ensure that we’re protecting communities that are impoverished and do not hold the global influence that other nations do. While other nations exacerbate the effects of climate change, unaware of the detrimental effects that those actions have on vulnerable communities, those communities continue to struggle to get their basic needs of clean water and food. The communities struggling most are often the ones that have no spotlight. At WFCF, we aim to direct the spotlight at those communities most in need. You can be part of our mission by helping WFCF today!