El Niño is over but its impact on children is set to worsen as disease, malnutrition continue to spread

In Eastern and Southern Africa alone, 26.5 million children are in need of aid

NAIROBI/NEW YORK, July 8, 2016 – The 2015-2016 El Niño has ended but its devastating impact on children is worsening, as hunger, malnutrition and disease continue to increase following the severe droughts and floods spawned by the event, one of the strongest on record, UNICEF said today.

And there is a strong chance La Niña – El Niño’s flip side – could strike at some stage this year, further exacerbating a severe humanitarian crisis that is affecting millions of children in some of the most vulnerable communities, UNICEF said in a report called It’s not over – El Niño’s impact on children.

Children in the worst affected areas are going hungry. In Eastern and Southern Africa – the worst hit regions – some 26.5 million children need support, including more than one million who need treatment for severe acute malnutrition.

In many countries, already strained resources, have reached their limits, and affected families have exhausted their coping mechanisms – such as selling off assets and skipping meals. Unless more aid is forthcoming, including urgent nutritional support for young children, decades of development progress could be eroded.

HALABA WOREDA, SNNPR – 24 JANUARY 2016In many countries, El Niño affected access to safe water, and has been linked to increases in diseases such as dengue fever, diarrhoea and cholera, which are major killers of children. In South America, and particularly Brazil, El Niño has created favourable breeding conditions for the mosquito that can transmit Zika, dengue, yellow fever and chikungunya.  If La Niña does develop, it could contribute to the spread of the Zika virus to areas that have not been affected to date.

UNICEF also said there are serious concerns that Southern Africa, the global epicentre of the AIDS pandemic, could see an increased transmission of HIV as a result of El Niño’s impact. Lack of food affects access to anti-retroviral therapy (ART), as patients tend not to take treatment on an empty stomach, and many people will use their limited resources for food rather than transport to a health facility. Drought can also force adolescent girls and women to engage in transactional sex to survive. And, mortality for children living with HIV is two to six times higher for those who are severely malnourished than for those who are not.

“Millions of children and their communities need support in order to survive. They need help to prepare for the eventuality La Niña will exacerbate the humanitarian crisis. And they need help to step up disaster risk reduction and adaptation to climate change, which is causing more intense and more frequent extreme weather events,” said UNICEF’s Director of Emergency Programs, Afshan Khan. “The same children who are affected by El Niño and threatened by La Niña, find themselves on the frontlines of climate change.”

Climate change and lack of sanitation threaten water safety for millions: UNICEF

#ClimateChain Instagram campaign will highlight water and the environment

Drought in Ethiopia
Harko, 12, walks across the land with her younger brother. She is no longer going to school as is forced to go in search of water almost every day, travelling at night to avoid the heat and not returning to Haro Huba until well into the afternoon of the next day. © UNICEF Ethiopia/2016/Ayene

 New York/Addis Ababa, 21 March 2016 – On the eve of World Water Day, UNICEF said the push to bring safe water to millions around the world is going to be even more challenging due to climate change, which threatens both water supply and water safety for millions of children living in drought- or flood-prone areas.

In 2015 at the end of the Millennium Development Goal era, all but 663 million people around the world had drinking water from improved sources – which are supposed to separate water from contact with excreta. However data from newly available testing technology show that an estimated 1.8 billion people may be drinking water contaminated by e-coli – meaning there is faecal material in their water, even from some improved sources. 

“Now that we can test water more cheaply and efficiently than we were able to do when the MDGs were set, we are coming to terms with the magnitude of the challenge facing the world when it comes to clean water,” said Sanjay Wijeserkera, head of UNICEF’s global water, sanitation and hygiene programmes. “With the new Sustainable Development Goals calling for ‘safe’ water for everyone, we’re not starting from where the MDGs left off; it is a whole new ball game.” 

One of the principal contributors to faecal contamination of water is poor sanitation. Globally 2.4 billion people lack proper toilets and just under 1 billion of them defecate in the open. This means faeces can be so pervasive in many countries and communities that even some improved water sources become contaminated.

The safety concerns are rising due to climate change.

In March 2015, a year ago, Ethiopia celebrated the achievement of meeting MDG 7c by halving the number of people without access to safe water since 1990 – 57 per cent of the population now using safe drinking water. During the celebrations, it was noted that the majority of the MDG water supplies have been constructed in the densely populated highland regions. Thousands of hand dug wells, springs and small piped water schemes have been constructed to serve the highland populations using shallow and accessible surface water. 

In comparison, limited water supply development has taken place in the water scarce areas of Eastern Ethiopia. Inaccessible and deep groundwater resources make water supply to these areas costly and complex. Combined with this, the negative effects of climate change such as changing rainfall patterns and increased surface air temperatures are resulting in increased evapotranspiration of available limited water sources. 

For many years, UNICEF Ethiopia has worked to develop water sources in water scarce areas of the country. In its current Country Programme, UNICEF is assisting the Government of Ethiopia in exploring the use of satellite/remote sensing technologies to identify deep groundwater sources. These sources are then being developed through multiple village water schemes which supply water to residents (women and girls) in villages, schools and health centres. 

When water becomes scarce during droughts, populations resort to unsafe surface water. At the other end of the scale, floods damage water and sewage treatment facilities, and spread faeces around, very often leading to an increase in water-borne diseases such as cholera and diarrhoea. 

Higher temperatures brought on by climate change are also set to increase the incidence of water-linked diseases like malaria, dengue – and now Zika – as mosquito populations rise and their geographic reach expands. 

According to UNICEF, most vulnerable are the nearly 160 million children under 5 years old globally who live in areas at high risk of drought. Around half a billion live in flood zones. Most of them live in sub-Saharan Africa and in Asia.

Starting on World Water Day and ending with the signing of the Paris Agreement on 22 April, UNICEF is launching a global Instagram campaign to raise awareness of the link between water, the environment, and climate change.

Using the #ClimateChain hashtag, UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake, UN General Assembly President Mogens Lykketoft, UN climate chief Christiana Figueres, and other prominent figures will figuratively join hands with members of the public in a chain of photographs intended to urge action to address climate change. The images will be presented at the signing of the Paris Agreement. 

UNICEF is also responding to the challenges of climate change by focusing on disaster risk reduction for water supplies. For example:

  • Nearly 20,000 children in Bangladesh now have access to climate and disaster-resilient sources of water through an aquifer-recharge system which captures water during the monsoon season, purifies it, and stores it underground.
  • In Madagascar, UNICEF is helping local authorities make classrooms for 80,000 children cyclone- and flood-proof, and provide access to disaster-resilient sources of water.
  • In drought-prone Kiribati, new rainwater-harvesting and storage facilities are improving communities’ access to safe drinking water.

 In a recent publication, Unless We Act Now, UNICEF has set out a 10-point climate agenda for children. It sets out concrete steps for governments, the private sector and ordinary people to take in order to safeguard children’s futures and their rights.

Malnutrition mounts as El Niño takes hold  

Drought in Ethiopia
Bora Robu Etu, a father in Haro Huba kabele, says that people are not only angry at not being able to feed their children – but their cattle too. © UNICEF Ethiopia/2016/Ayene

Almost one million children are in need of treatment for severe acute malnutrition in Eastern and Southern Africa, UNICEF said today. Two years of erratic rain and drought have combined with one of the most powerful El Niño events in 50 years to wreak havoc on the lives of the most vulnerable children.

Across the region, millions of children are at risk from hunger, water shortages and disease. It is a situation aggravated by rising food prices, forcing families to implement drastic coping mechanisms such as skipping meals and selling off assets.

“The El Niño weather phenomenon will wane, but the cost to children – many who were already living hand-to-mouth – will be felt for years to come,” said Leila Gharagozloo-Pakkala, UNICEF Regional Director for Eastern and Southern Africa. “Governments are responding with available resources, but this is an unprecedented situation. Children’s survival is dependent on action taken today.”

Lesotho, Zimbabwe and most provinces in South Africa have declared a state of disaster in the face of growing resource shortages. In Ethiopia, the number of people in need of food assistance is expected to increase from over 10 million to 18 million by the end of 2016.

Releasing its latest briefing on the impact of El Niño on children in the region, UNICEF notes that:

  • In Ethiopia, two seasons of failed rains mean that near on six million children currently require food assistance, with school absenteeism increasing as children are forced to walk greater distances in search of water;
  • In Somalia, more than two thirds of those in urgent need of assistance are displaced populations;
  • In Kenya, El Niño related heavy rains and floods are aggravating cholera outbreaks;
  • In Lesotho, one quarter of the population are affected. This aggravates grave circumstances for a country in which 34% of children are orphans, 57% of people live below the poverty line, and almost one in four adults live with HIV/Aids;
  • In Zimbabwe, an estimated 2.8 million people are facing food and nutrition insecurity. The drought situation has resulted in reduced water yields from the few functioning boreholes exacerbating the risk to water-borne diseases, especially diarrhea and cholera;
  • Malawi is facing the worst food crisis in nine years, with 2.8 million people (more than 15 per cent of the population) at risk of hunger; cases of severe acute malnutrition have just jumped by 100% in just two months, from December 2015 to January 2016;
  • In Angola, an estimated 1.4 million people are affected by extreme weather conditions and 800,000 people are facing food insecurity, mainly in the semi-arid southern provinces.

The UN Office for Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) estimated that it will take affected communities approximately two years to recover from El-Nino exacerbated drought, if agricultural conditions improve in the latter half of this year.

UNICEF humanitarian appeals are less than 15 per cent funded across El Niño-impacted countries in southern Africa.

UNICEF humanitarian appeals in El Nino-affected countries:

  • $US 26 million in Angola
  • $US 87 million in Ethiopia
  • $US 3 million in Lesotho
  • $US 11 million in Malawi
  • $US 15 million in Somalia
  • $US 1 million in Swaziland
  • $US 12 million in Zimbabwe

Saying “children will, and should, judge us,”

UNICEF calls for ambitious action on climate change

Mother and children take ITNS home through swamps along the Baro River
Mother and children take ITNS home through swamps along the Baro River ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2005/Getachew

PARIS, 10 December 2015 – Children are already paying a heavy price for the world’s inaction on climate change, UNICEF said.

 “The future of today’s children, particularly the most disadvantaged, is at stake,” said UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake, speaking at an event at the 21st United Nations climate change conference in Paris, known as COP21. “Sadly, we are failing them. Because today’s children are disproportionately bearing the brunt of the effects of our changing climate. They are paying for our failure with their health and safety. With their futures. And too often, with their lives.”

A UNICEF report ‘Unless we act now – The impact of climate change on children’ points out that climate change brings more droughts, floods, heatwaves and other severe weather conditions, which contribute to the increased spread of major killers of children such as malnutrition, malaria and diarrhoea. The report also shows that over half a billion children live in areas where floods are extremely frequent, and thus are highly exposed to climate change. Many of those children are in countries with high levels of poverty.

“We can no longer allow our collective inaction on climate change to perpetuate a vicious cycle that condemns the most disadvantaged children to lives with little hope, at the mercy of disasters beyond their control,” Lake said.

In addition to cutting emissions, steps need to be taken to reduce inequities among children, Lake said, citing the need for investments in health and other essential services and in basic infrastructure that can withstand climate-related disasters.

“The path the world chooses here in Paris will indelibly mark humanity’s future,” Lake said. “History will judge us. And most importantly, our children will — and should — judge us for our stewardship of the planet they will inherit.”

 Lake spoke at an event jointly hosted with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), which featured discussions amongst civil society and young people about ways to reduce the impact of climate risks on the most vulnerable children.