Children at Mercy of Climate Change

by Amy Wickham

Zimbabwean children will be hit hardest by climate change in a development that is likely to have an even more profound effect on their future. Upon being asked during a recent survey of young people on whether or not she understood what climate change meant, a 16-year-old girl from Chimanimani in Manicaland, remarked: “There are strong winds which at times blow off roofs from buildings and houses, so money for school fees is used for reconstruction and survival.”

Another 16-year-old girl from Mbire, Mashonaland Central, remarked: “When there is no food at home due to climate damage, you cannot even talk to parents easily. Sometimes you cannot tell them that you have been sent away from school for non-payment of school fees because of fear of making them angry.”

Children at Mercy of Climate Change

These sentiments, expressed during a study of the impact of climate change on children conducted last year by the University of Zimbabwe’s Institute for Environmental Studies, suggest two important points.

First, children generally understand how climate change is affecting their wellbeing and, second, that climate change is increasing the vulnerabilities of children.

There is no doubt that children experience the negative effects of climate change.

The regular occurrence of droughts and floods results in food shortages leading to hunger, malnutrition and poverty. As a coping strategy, parents deploy their children to work to earn additional income, sometimes at the expense of the children’s emotional and psychological well-being. It is also not uncommon for parents to marry off their daughters at a young age.

In the University of Zimbabwe study, which was conducted among 1 200 children across the country, droughts and floods were cited as the most serious effects of climate change. Reduced crop yields linked to poor rainfall and floods compromised household food security and environmental degradation multiplied the risk of disease outbreaks.