Thought Leadership

Children and the Future of Health in a Changing Climate

3 Mins read

Oladimeji Solomon Yemi (Lead Writer)

“Our Climate is Changing…. Why Aren’t We?” — Vanini Aggarwal, a 15-year-old telling climate stories by young people in Nigeria.

Children make up 51% of the 223 million people in Nigeria who are disproportionately impacted by climate change. They are often the first to be affected by climate change and exposed to diseases, malnutrition, heat stress, and respiratory infections as a result of their dependence on others and inability to make their own choices.

According to a recent study, despite children’s vulnerability to the adversities associated with changing climate-induced hazards, the focus of successive governments on the issue of climate change has largely been confined to economic benefits/gains, with little, if any, given to adaptive responses to mitigate children’s exposure to risks associated with climate change. Children are the future of any nation, yet if a study like this shows anything, it is that they are often considered an afterthought, especially in the context of the global climate crisis.

Image credit: Nigeria Health Watch

Closer to home

In Nigeria, the dangers of climate change have a severe impact on child nutrition. A study understanding the Nigerian perspective of climate change and children’s health, revealed that Nigeria’s changing climate correlates with a higher probability of malnourishment, especially in rural areas because of their heavy reliance on natural resources for food, energy and water. The study’s findings further support the notion of the need for climate-friendly policies to mitigate the long-term effect of climate change on malnourishment; otherwise, climate change could reverse years of progress in lowering children’s malnutrition.

However, the effects are not only felt on nutrition. With the combination of drought, flooding, desertification, poverty and sociocultural factors, a children’s safety and access to water, health, education, food security and well-being are severely impeded. Therefore, there is a pressing requirement for policies that are environmentally friendly and adaptable strategies to safeguard Nigerian children from the lasting consequences of climate change.

Image credit: Nigeria Health Watch

Safeguarding the future of Nigeria

To address these climate challenges and foster resilience, strategic measures through the approaches explained below can be taken to safeguard Nigerian children from the adverse effects of climate change and build a resilient future.

  • Prioritising Climate-Resilient Healthcare: Invest in pediatric facilities equipped to handle climate-related illnesses, train healthcare workers in climate-sensitive diagnoses, ensure access to clean water and sanitation in healthcare settings, and advocate for policies prioritising children’s health in climate adaptation and mitigation efforts.
  • Empowering Climate Champions: Integrate climate education into school curriculums, engage children in community gardening projects and sustainable practices, support youth-led initiatives promoting climate resilience, and give children a platform to advocate for their health and future through policy discussions and campaigns.
  • Investing in Early Warning Systems and Climate-Smart Agriculture: Equip communities with advanced weather forecasting tools to prepare for droughts and floods, introduce drought-resistant crops and water-efficient farming techniques for food security, and develop contingency plans for climate-related hazards, including access to clean water and temporary accommodations.
  • Encouraging Climate-Smart Practices: Educate children on staying hydrated during extreme heat, wearing appropriate clothing, planning outdoor activities during cooler times, and seeking shade for rest and cooling. Discourage outdoor activities during poor air quality events, wildfires, or heavy smoke to protect children’s health during climate extremes.
  • Ensure accommodation and learning spaces are well-ventilated, implement strategies like building flood-resistant structures, and develop contingency plans for climate-related hazards. Strengthen emergency response capacities, educate communities on safety measures, and collaborate with stakeholders for effective risk mitigation.
Image credit: Nigeria Health Watch

In navigating the challenges posed by climate change, proactive measures must be taken to mitigate its impact on children, who are among the most vulnerable members of our society. Amplifying children’s voices and involving them in decision-making processes concerning climate adaptation and mitigation efforts is crucial; through giving them a platform to advocate for their health and future, we can harness their energy, creativity, and determination to drive meaningful change and build a more sustainable world. Governments, communities, healthcare providers, educators, and individuals alike also need to work collaboratively and take decisive action by embracing sustainable practices, promoting climate resilience, and prioritising the needs of our children.

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