The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has issued a stark warning regarding the dire impacts of heatwaves and high temperatures on the lives of young individuals in South Asia. According to their recent estimates, a staggering 76 percent of children under the age of 18 in the region, amounting to approximately 460 million children, are regularly exposed to extreme high temperatures. These conditions are characterized by more than 83 days per year when temperatures surpass 35 degrees Celsius.
UNICEF’s Alarming Findings
The concerns about heatwaves and their detrimental effects are further exacerbated by the record-breaking temperatures that have been observed worldwide. The month of July has marked the hottest month ever recorded on a global scale. This unsettling trend raises serious apprehensions about the future well-being of children, particularly in South Asia. UNICEF points out that these young individuals are poised to experience more frequent and intense heatwaves due to the accelerating impacts of climate change.
UNICEF’s Regional Director Addresses the Issue
Sanjay Wijesekera, the UNICEF Regional Director for South Asia, underscored the gravity of the situation, stating, “With the world at global boiling, the data clearly show that the lives and well-being of millions of children across South Asia are increasingly threatened by heat waves and high temperatures.” This assertion reinforces the urgent need for concerted efforts to address the challenges posed by escalating temperatures.
World’s Hottest City
The 2021 Children’s Climate Risk Index (CCRI) developed by UNICEF categorizes countries like Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Maldives, and Pakistan as having an “extremely high risk” of climate change impacts. UNICEF expresses particular concern for vulnerable groups such as infants, toddlers, malnourished children, and pregnant women, who are at elevated risk of heat-related illnesses.
In the southern Sindh province of Pakistan, a city named Jacobabad earned the dubious distinction of being the world’s hottest city in 2022. With temperatures soaring into the 40s degrees Celsius in June, approximately 1.8 million people in the region found themselves exposed to severe short- and long-term health risks. This perilous heatwave followed closely after the devastating floods that inundated large parts of southern Sindh in August 2022.
Perils and Health Risks
Even during the rainy season, the sweltering heat can intensify the challenges faced by children. Their limited ability to adapt quickly to temperature changes makes it difficult for them to regulate their body heat. As a result, they are susceptible to various symptoms and ailments ranging from elevated body temperatures, rapid heartbeats, and cramps to severe headaches, confusion, organ failure, dehydration, fainting, and even coma.
Infants face the risk of poor mental development, while children may experience developmental setbacks such as neurological dysfunction and cardiovascular diseases. Pregnant women are also highly susceptible to heat-related complications, including early contractions, hypertension, seizures, high blood pressure, preterm births, and stillbirths.
Combatting the Heat
UNICEF emphasizes the importance of collective action to protect vulnerable populations during periods of high temperatures. They advocate for the adoption of the “B.E.A.T.” approach:
- Be Aware: Understand the risks of heat stress and take preventive measures.
- Easily Identify: Recognize symptoms of heat-related illnesses.
- Act Immediately: Learn first-aid actions to rebalance body heat in the short term.
- Take to a Health Facility: Recognize signs of heat stress and seek medical help promptly.
In conclusion, the plight of young individuals, adolescents, and women in the face of extreme weather events is a pressing concern. Sanjay Wijesekera, the UNICEF Regional Director for South Asia, emphasized the urgency of the situation: “Young children simply cannot handle the heat…Unless we act now, these children will continue to bear the brunt of more frequent and more severe heatwaves in the coming years, for no fault of theirs.” It is imperative that comprehensive efforts are undertaken promptly to safeguard the lives and well-being of the most vulnerable members of society.
How to protect children from extreme heat? | UNICEF