Climate change: Children pay high price

Zimbabwe’s 2015/2016 rainy season got off to a tragic start, when three pupils from Bulilima District, Matabeleland South Province, died following a hailstorm that hit the area.

BY JAIROS SAUNYAMA

Two Early Childhood Development pupils from Sevako Primary School, both girls aged six years, died in the violent weather while the third, a boy from Ndolwane Primary School, drowned.

The three deceased minors’ tragic deaths denote how climatic changes have an impact on children. The global phenomenon that has left the country counting losses in different aspects, has brought along detrimental outcomes that have resulted in children being the most affected.

“I travel about two kilometres one way every day, pushing a wheelbarrow to fetch water from the borehole before I go to school.
Our well is dry and we are expecting it to fill up after the rains,” said 13-year-old Fungai Chingwaro, a Grade Six pupil at Dombi Primary School in Murewa West.

This has become routine for Fungai, each day that passes is characterised by a long walk to the nearest water source before she goes to school.

ZimEnergy Eco-Foundation national director, Wadson Muchemwa, said climate change effects have not spared the children, who are being affected in a number of ways.

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“As with any complex global phenomenon, the effects of this mounting crisis are far-reaching and interconnected. The droughts that decimate a village’s food and water supply create aching hunger, to be sure, but hunger alone is just one facet of this terrible story. A hungry family may not be able to send their children to school or afford health care. Hunger may drive families out of their homes, creating an environment that fosters crime. In drought-stricken areas, where it has reached levels of natural disaster, children may become orphaned or separated from their families and may be preyed upon by opportunistic adults,” he said.

Last year more than 3 000 families were relocated to Chingwizi in Mwenezi, after being displaced from their homes in the flood basin of Tokwe-Mukosi Dam, as torrential rains caused massive flooding, thereby putting the lives of villagers in danger.
Thousands of school-going children were affected and had to endure several months in the open at the same time not going to school among other problems.

“With its dramatic and harmful effects on the environment, climate change threatens the basic elements of life for people.  As the world warms, people will suffer hunger and water shortages. As rains fail, crops will wither and livestock will die, exposing children to starvation and diminishing water supplies for drinking and hygiene. Children will bear the brunt of the impact of climate change because of the increased risk of health problems, malnutrition and migration,” Muchemwa said.

More children in Zimbabwe (about 73,5%) live in rural areas compared to urban areas, according to the Zimstat 2012 census report. They are directly affected by low food crop production, food insecurity and hunger, which are exacerbated by more frequent droughts, flooding and unreliable rainfall patterns. Under-nutrition in children is a major public health problem in the country.

According to a 2014 report, Children and Climate Change in Zimbabwe produced by Unicef, children in the rural areas are mostly affected by drought and hunger. The report unearthed desperate measures that are being employed by children in order to survive.

“Children were involved in some of the food shortage coping responses as they assisted adults in various economic activities, particularly vending, working in someone else’s fields and herding someone else’s cattle.

“In districts that border other countries, such as South Africa, Botswana and Mozambique, children reported that family members crossed the border to go and work to earn money to buy food, as a response to food shortages. Some children were also involved in this migration trend,” reads the report in part.

“In several instances, the coping strategies used in times of food shortages were detrimental to the welfare of children. Young girls marrying at a young age was given as a coping strategy for food shortages. The scenario whereby household food insecurity precipitated early marriages was regarded by the children as distressing and painful.”

According to the World Food Programme, food and nutrition security remain fragile and subject to natural and economic shocks in Zimbabwe, chronic under nutrition remains relatively high, despite some improvements. Dietary diversity is generally poor and consumption of protein is insufficient. Only 11% of Zimbabwean children (6-23 months) receive a minimum acceptable diet.
One-third of Zimbabwe’s children are stunted or short for their age.

The report also stated that drought negatively affected the children’s education with 4,5% of the children dropping out of school in the rural areas.

A number of children’s education was affected by the impacts of floods. During the 2014/2015 rainy season, almost one quarter of the school buildings got damaged during storms and heavy rains. Over 13% of children could not travel to school during times of floods and heavy rains with those in the rural areas being the most affected.

“Last year we spent close to a month idle as children would not come to school because of floods. They could not cross the rivers because of the excessive waters. Those who tried were swept away by the raging waves,” said a teacher at a Muzarabani school in Mashonaland Central Province.

Weather-related disasters such as floods, droughts, cyclones and hurricanes, which have increased in frequency and intensity as a result of climate change, have directly affected an estimated 66,5 million children worldwide, 600 000 of whom died every year from 1990 to 2000. The number of children affected is predicted to be more than double, rising to 175 million a year in the next decade. Children are highly vulnerable to physical trauma, stress, drowning and displacement due to floods and to famines associated with drought.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that more than 88% of the existing global burden of disease due to climate change occurs in children less than five years of age.

According to WHO estimates, climate change could be causing more than 150 000 deaths annually and approximately five million lost their lives due to ill-health, disability or early death every year, as a result of increasing incidences of malnutrition and just a few diseases considered. These estimates could more than double by 2030 in the absence of meaningful action.

Climate change communicator Peter Makwanya said there is need for policy makers and relevant authorities to engage children and come out with climate change adaptation strategies for the minors.

“Children are highly motivated to both adapt and mitigate climate change. They are willing to take risks, as well as prepared to lead community adaptation initiatives in their communities. While this is all true, children appear marginalised from the official decision-making processes with regard to climate change,” he said.

“Climate change issues have been articulated from the perspectives of the adults without accommodating the children’s views, which are believed to be important in this current scenario. The rights of children to participate in decisions relating to climate change issues need to be enhanced.”

With the Meteorological Department warning of normal to below normal rainfall in most parts of the country, more children will be affected by the climate change effects. The common sight remains, whereby school children in both rural and urban areas will first fetch water from the borehole before going to school.

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