‘Children particularly vulnerable’ to effects of more frequent heatwaves – UNICEF

Image courtesy of Alison Stenning, Play Streets

Governments across Europe and Central Asia are being urged to put in place policies to protect against extreme heatwaves – and in so doing protect millions of children who are feeling the brunt of the effects.

UNICEF, the children’s charity, says that around half of children in Europe and Central Asia – or some 92 million – are exposed to high heatwave frequency, based on data from 50 countries.

Children are ‘particularly vulnerable’ to the impacts of heatwaves, putting them at risk of serious illness, including heatstroke, says the charity in a new policy brief.

Beat the heat: protecting children from heatwaves in Europe and Central Asia says the amount of children being affected in Europe and Central Asia is double the global average of 1 in 4 children exposed to high heatwave frequency.

‘Infants and young children most at risk’

UNICEF is urging government to urgently put in place measures to tackle the issue, including national heatwave plans and early warning systems, plus major investment in health care to support prevention, early diagnosis and treatment of heat related illness in children.

Infants and young children, says the charity, are most at risk during heatwaves as their core temperatures rise significantly higher and faster than adults. Heatwaves also affect children’s ability to concentrate and learn, putting their education at risk, the report notes.

While children are uniquely vulnerable to the impact of heatwaves, most adults experience heat differently, making it hard for parents and caretakers to identify dangerous situations or symptoms of heat-related illness in children, putting children’s health at further risk.

Regina De Dominicis, Regional Director for UNICEF Europe and Central Asia, said: “Countries across Europe and Central Asia are feeling the heat of the climate crisis, and children’s health and well-being are suffering the most. Half of children across the region are now exposed to high heatwave frequency. This is expected to rise to all children in 2050.

‘Keep children at the centre of all plans’

The frequency of heatwaves in Europe and Central Asia has intensified in recent years, and there are no signs of the situation improving. UNICEF says that even with ‘the most conservative’ global temperature increase scenarios of 1.7 degrees Celsius, all children in Europe and Central Asia will be exposed to high heatwave frequency by 2050. In addition, 81 per cent are estimated to be exposed to high heatwave duration and 28 per cent are expected to be exposed to high heatwave severity.

UNICEF says governments across Europe and Central Asia must do the following:

  • Incorporate heatwave mitigation and adaptation into National Determined Contributions (NDC), National Adaptation Plans (NAP), and Disaster Risk Reduction and disaster risk management policies, keeping children at the centre of all plans.
  • Invest in primary health care to support prevention, early action, diagnosis, and treatment of heat-related illness among children, including training community health workers and teachers.
  • Invest in national climate early warning systems, carry out local environmental assessments, and support emergency preparedness and resilience building initiatives.
  • Adapt water, sanitation and hygiene, health, education, nutrition, social protection and child protection services to cope with the impacts of heatwaves.
  • Ensure adequate financing to fund interventions that protect children and their families from heatwaves.
  • Equip children and young people with climate change education and green skills training.

“The multitude of negative implications on the current and future health of such a significant proportion of the region’s children must be a catalyst for governments to urgently invest in mitigation and adaptation measures,” adds Regina De Dominicis.

Click here for more information from UNICEF about how heatwaves are affecting children.

Author: Simon Weedy

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