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Climate Change-Driven Extreme Weather Led to 43m Child Displacements in Past Six Years, UNICEF Says

CRISIS - Viability of Life on Earth by Martina Igini Africa Americas Asia Oct 10th 20234 mins
Climate Change-Driven Extreme Weather Led to 43m Child Displacements in Past Six Years, UNICEF Says

The first-of-its-kind report found that common extreme weather events including floods, droughts, storms, and wildfires were linked to millions of child displacements worldwide between 2016 and 2021.

Climate change-related weather events were responsible for at least 43.1 million child displacements across 44 countries in the past six years, new research has found.

The first-of-its-kind analysis, conducted by the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) and the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) and released Friday, looked at common weather-related hazards linked to the largest number of displacements. It was found that floods, storms, droughts, and wildfires account for over 99% of all weather-related displacements recorded by IDMC since 2016 – the equivalent of approximately 20,000 children per day – while the rest was the result of other climate-related hazards including extreme heat, erosion, and landslides.

More than half of all displacements – about 23 million – took place in three disaster-prone, densely populated countries: India (6.7 million), China (6.4 million), and the Philippines (9.7 million). Nevertheless, when looking at the number of displacements relative to the child population of a country, the picture is very different.

Geographical Distribution

African countries including South Sudan and Somalia saw the highest number of child displacements from floods – about 12% and 11% of the total child population, respectively, while Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and parts of the Horn of Africa recorded the largest number of child displacements from storms. For example, Dominica, a small SIDS in the Caribbean, saw 76% of its child population displaced over the last six years; in Cuba, it was 31%.

Droughts mostly affected African countries such as Somalia and Ethiopia, where more than half of all children were displaced between 2016 and 2021. In Afghanistan, 190,000 children were forced to flee. However, the authors behind the study argue that displacements triggered by droughts and other slow-onset climate processes are “radically underreported” and that numbers are likely much higher.

Top 10 in absolute numbersTop 10 relative to child population
Philippines: 9.7 millionDominica: 76% (13,000)
India: 6.7 millionSint Marteen (Dutch part): 37% (2,800)
China: 6.4 millionNorthern Mariana Islands: 36% (4,600)
Bangladesh: 3.3 millionSaint Martin (French part): 35% (3,000)
Somalia: 1.7 millionCuba: 31% (670,000)
United States: 1.7 millionVanuatu: 35% (36,000)
Ethiopia: 1.3 millionPhilippines: 23% (9.7 million)
Indonesia: 960,000British Virgin Islands: 20% (1,200)
Vietnam: 930,000Somalia: 19% (1.7 million)
Cuba: 670,000Fiji: 15% (46,000)
Estimated number of child displacements due to all hazards combined between 2016 and 2021. Data: UNICEF/IDMC. Graph: Earth.Org.

 “This is absolutely a conservative estimate, and possibly just the tip of the iceberg for some climate impacts,” Verena Knaus, the UNICEF lead on global migration and displacement, told the Guardian. 

Lastly, the report suggests that wildfires resulted in 810,000 new child displacements, with more than one-third of them occurring in 2020 alone. Among the countries most affected were the US, Canada, and Israel, all of which have highly reliable and efficient early warning and disaster risk reduction (DRR) systems that led to pre-emptive evacuations.

Weather-related displacements by size and hazard (2016-2021). Image: UNICEF/IDMC.

Future Outlook

There is no doubt in the scientific community that human-induced climate change is affecting the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events. As the global climate deteriorates, natural disasters will become more frequent and destructive, inevitably leading to higher displacement rates, which are set to skyrocket over the next thirty years.

UNICEF and IDMC estimate that an average of 96 million children will be displaced over the next three decades as a result of riverine floods in the future, particularly in Nigeria, Africa’s most populated country and one of the world’s areas most prone to flooding. Cyclonic winds and storms will account for an estimated 10.3 million and 7.2 child displacements over the same period, respectively, with the Philippines and Bangladesh among the nations most at risk.

To mitigate the impacts of climate change on children around the world, the report says countries must deliver on their international commitments, including the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the Paris Agreement, and the Sendai Framework for disaster risk prevention.

Moreover, resource-rich nations must provide support to poorer, more climate-vulnerable nations through adequate climate finance, though most climate funding mechanisms are still lagging behind.

At a finance conference held in Bonn, Germany, last week to advance discussions on climate finance and encourage countries to fulfil their commitments made under the Paris Agreement, wealthy nations fell short of a US$10 billion target, managing to raise only $9.3 billion, only a fraction of what the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) says is needed by developing countries by 2030 to adapt to the rapidly deteriorating climate crisis

Besides ensuring the money flow, the report argues that countries must scale up child-responsive climate finance.

“Climate is the fastest-growing driver of child displacement yet most policies and discussions about climate finance fail to consider or prioritize children,” Knaus said.

Governments, donours, development partners, and the private sector must “prioritize investments to strengthen the climate resilience and portability of child-critical services through child-responsive interventions, including in education, health, food and nutrition, clean energy, water, sanitation and hygiene, child and social protection services, and disaster risk reduction,” the report reads.

UNICEF called on world leaders to take up the issue at the upcoming COP28 summit, set to begin in less than two months in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Several points remain to be settled in Dubai, including the still-unmet $100 billion pledge made by rich nations in 2009, which was supposed to be delivered by 2020, as well as the loss and damage fund, a historic deal reached at last year’s UN climate summit, COP27.

Featured image: EU/ECHO/José Cendon on Flickr

You might also like: Climate Migration Is the Crisis of the Century

About the Author

Martina Igini

Martina is the Managing Editor at Earth.Org. She holds two BA degrees, in Translation/Interpreting Studies and Journalism, and a MA in International Development from the University of Vienna. After working at the United Nations Global Communication Department in Vienna, she joined a newspaper in Italy as a reporter before moving to Hong Kong in 2020. Her interests include sustainability and the role of public policy in environmental protection with a focus on developing countries.

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