The geographic location and range of a range of risk factors impacting on human health is being altered by climate change.
The World Health Organisation estimate that around 2.4 per cent of world-wide incidences of diarrohea, six per cent of malaria in middle income countries and seven per cent of dengue fever in industrialised countries could be associated with climate change.
Children are particularly vulnerable to many of these factors (malnutrition, diarrheal diseases, and vector-borne diseases such as malaria). Currently nearly 2.5 million children die of diarrheal diseases annually, 655,000 children die of malaria annually and around 7 million children under five years die of malnutrition annually.
These numbers will likely increase by 3-10 per cent because of the impact of climate change. Some of the impacts of climate change include contaminated water and inadequate sanitation, both of which contribute significantly to diarrheal diseases. Rising world temperatures create the conditions that support the spread of some pathogens. Increased flooding spreads pathogens and may damage water treatment, thus increasing the risk of disease.
Changing temperatures impact on pollen production and spread which contributes to allergies and asthma prevalence. Changes in levels of carbon dioxide acidify the ocean and this impacts on food security in some locations. For example nearly 30 per cent of the coastal areas in Africa risk being flooded by 2099 due to sea level rises. This will impact around 70 million people. Agriculture is likely to produce 50 per cent less, and 25-40 per cent of mammal species could be endangered or become extinct.
Water stress is likely to impact on 75 - 250 million people, 80 per cent of whom are likely to be children.
Recently UNICEF have put together a range of resources relating to the impact of climate change on children. UNICEF estimate that in the next decade, the natural disasters arising from climate change will impact up to 175 million children.
One review estimates that an additional 250,000 child deaths a year can be attributed to the effects of climate change.
Water shortages impact on children. For example in Africa families can spend up to three hours a day collecting sufficient water and children are often performing this task, which is (understandably) given higher priority than attending school.
After a natural disaster children are often completely unable to attend school, either because school is no longer available but often because families need to send them to work to help recoup what has been lost. Children are more likely to be injured, they are more vulnerable than adults to diseases born in water, through inadequate sanitation and food insecurity.
They are more vulnerable to psychological and emotional trauma, and particularly so when they are separated from family members, and/or exposed to violence and displacement. Children who survive these kinds of diseases often suffer life-long consequences.
There is wide consensus that involving children in climate change action is important in developing their resiliency. Programs that help children remain in school, and inclusion of climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction strategies into school curricula are key elements in empowering children to manage their environments and adapt to climate change.