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What does climate change have to do with child health?

World Vision
4 December 2012 by Kirstin Donaldson
What does climate change have to do with child health?

Despite significant progress, chronic undernutrition affects one in four children worldwide. Pictured is Doctor Nassec who leads a World Vision-supported health centre in Mozambique. Photo by Antonio Matimbe.

Right now, 194 countries are meeting in Doha, Qatar, for the United Nations climate change talks, where they will continue years of negotiations over how best to limit the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.

We hear a lot about climate change in the media, and people often wonder why a development agency like World Vision has such a keen interest in what is often perceived to be an environmental problem. Aren’t we supposed to be focused on children and community development?

Well, yes. And we are. What we hear less often is that the bottom line of climate change is the impacts it will have, and is already having, on people in developing countries – particularly with regards to food supplies and health issues.

As I’ve argued in this article for a magazine published daily at the UN negotiations, climate change is a looming threat to children’s health around the world and could potentially undo lots of the progress we’ve made since 1990.

Globally, we’ve managed to reduce child mortality – the number of children under five who die each year – by a huge 42% over that time period.

But the top causes of death for children – among them undernutrition, diarrhoeal disease, malaria, and pneumonia – are highly sensitive to climatic conditions.

The International Food Policy Research Institute, for example, estimates that under projected climate change, child malnutrition will increase by 20% by 2050 – mostly because crop yields will be compromised by increased temperatures and more frequent extreme events like floods and droughts.

This is a huge move in the wrong direction – and we need to be aware of that now so we can try to reduce the damage.

Many of the world’s poorest people rely directly on the natural environment to meet their daily needs and generate income; they are farmers, fishermen, forest dwellers, or living in informal settlements in and around large cities and reliant on cheap food.

So reducing the damage we’re doing to the environment isn’t just an issue for ‘greenies’ – it’s something we’ve all ultimately got a stake in.

Kirstin Donaldson is the Senior Policy Officer for Food Security at World Vision Australia.

2 Responses

  • Jake says:

    In my opinion orgs such as World Vision should be doing more about educating people on the impacts of climate change. Aid agencies have been eerily quiet on this issue, even though it’s the world’s poorest which will be most affected.

  • Lisa T says:

    I haven’t heard much from the NGOs, but I’ve also heard nil from our own government about our responsibility to act on climate change in terms of a global perspective. It’s a little embarrassing that we’re here debating over a minuscule price increase through the carbon tax while the majority of the world’s population are much more vulnerable to changes in our climate. If we truly have a responsibility to our neighbours in developing countries, why aren’t we acting??

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