UNICEF: Climate-hastened disasters displaced millions of Asian children in 2016-2021

Subel Rai Bhandari for RFA
UNICEF: Climate-hastened disasters displaced millions of Asian children in 2016-2021 A woman and her children arrive at a flooded school due to high tide during the first day of in-person classes, in Macabebe, Pampanga province, Philippines, Aug. 22, 2022.

More than 40 million children were internally displaced over six years in worldwide weather-related disasters made worse by climate change, with the Philippines, India, China and Bangladesh topping the chart in absolute numbers, UNICEF reported on Friday.

Between 2016 and 2021, as many as 43.1 million children – or about 20,000 a day – were displaced across 44 countries in hazards including floods, storms, droughts and wildfires, and many more could be similarly uprooted during the next three decades, the U.N. Children’s Fund said.

“Millions of children are already being driven from their homes by weather-related events, exacerbated by climate change,” UNICEF said in the report titled “Children Displaced in a Changing Climate.”

“[D]isplacement – whether short-lived or protracted – can multiply climate-related risks for children and their families. In the aftermath of a disaster, children may become separated from their parents or caregivers, amplifying the risks of exploitation, child trafficking, and abuse. Displacement can disrupt access to education and healthcare, exposing children to malnutrition, disease, and inadequate immunization.”

Using a disaster displacement risk model, the agency warned that riverine floods could potentially displace nearly 96 million children during the next 30 years. Cyclonic winds and storm surges could also displace 10.3 million and 7.2 million children, respectively, in the same period, the agency said.

Among the displacements caused by the four main types of weather-related disasters, floods and storms drove 95% of recorded child displacements, the report said. It was unclear how many of the affected children were, in fact, preemptive evacuees, as opposed to being displaced for the short or long term.

“It is terrifying for any child when a ferocious wildfire, storm or flood barrels into their community,” UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell said in a statement that accompanied the report’s release.

“For those who are forced to flee, the fear and impact can be especially devastating, with worry of whether they will return home, resume school, or be forced to move again. Moving may have saved their lives, but it’s also very disruptive. As the impacts of climate change escalate, so too will climate-driven movement.”

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This infographic shows the number of children affected by weather-related displacements, by size and hazard, between 2016 and 2021. [UNICEF]

The Philippines recorded 9.7 million child displacements due to all four hazards combined (floods, storms, droughts, and wildfires) between 2016 and 2021, followed by 6.7 million in India, 6.4 million in China, and 3.3 million in Bangladesh.

The numbers were high due to geographic locations, exposure to extreme weather, large child populations, and progress made on early warning and evacuation capacities, UNICEF said.

Storms in particular led to the displacement of about 21 million children, with the highest numbers in the Philippines (8.3 million), India (2.8 million) and China (2.6 million).

Relative to the size of their child population, small island states such as Dominica (13,000 or 76% of its child population) experienced the largest number of child displacements from storms, the report said.

The Pacific island nations of Vanuatu and Fiji were among those that saw large percentages of their child populations displaced by storms during the six-year reporting period. In Vanuatu, storms displaced 36,000 children – about 25% of its child population – while in Fiji, storms displaced 43,000 children – 13% of its child population.

Similarly, storms led to the displacement of about 21 million children, with the highest numbers in the Philippines (8.3 million), India (2.8 million) and China (2.6 million).

Asia and the Pacific frequently experience storms, leading to mass evacuations.

In 2020, Cyclone Amphan displaced 1.5 million children in India, Bangladesh, Myanmar, and Bhutan, while Typhoon Rai (Odette) displaced 1.5 million children in the Philippines, Palau, and Vietnam in 2021.

“Given their large population, India, Bangladesh, Vietnam, the Philippines and China are the five countries with the most predicted future displacements of children owing to all hazards combined (riverine flood, cyclones and storm surges),” the report said.

Radio Free Asia (RFA), a news service affiliated with BenarNews, produced this report.


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