Countless children are being uprooted from their homes due to weather-related events, which are increasingly exacerbated by the effects of climate change. Although the relationship between climate change and displacement is intricate, it is now more evident than ever that climate shifts are altering the patterns of displacement.
The report titled ‘Children Displaced in a Changing Climate: Preparing for a Future Already Underway’ delves into the most common weather-related hazards responsible for the largest number of displacements, including floods, storms, droughts, and wildfires. The report reveals that over a six-year period, there were a staggering 43.1 million internal displacements of children directly linked to weather-related disasters. To put this in perspective, it translates to roughly 20,000 children being displaced daily. Notably, a staggering 95 percent of these recorded child displacements were driven by floods and storms.
According to the UNICEF report, Almost all – 95 per cent – of recorded child displacements were driven by floods and storms. These comprised 19.7 million child displacements due to floods and 21.2 million due to storms between 2016 and 2021.
This displacement, whether temporary or prolonged, significantly amplifies the risks related to climate for children and their families. In the aftermath of a disaster, children may become separated from their parents or caregivers, thus heightening their vulnerability to exploitation, human trafficking, and abuse. Additionally, displacement can disrupt access to education and healthcare, exposing children to malnutrition, diseases, and inadequate immunization.
However, up until now, children displaced by weather-related events have largely remained invisible in statistical records. Existing data on displacement is seldom distinguished by age, and factors like rapid urbanisation, fragility, and conflicts often make it even more likely for children on the move to go unnoticed.
The research findings tell two very different stories. Three countries dominate the results based on absolute numbers: the Philippines, India and China, with a combined total of almost 23 million child displacements due to weather related events between 2016 and 2021. There were 9.7 million child displacements in the Philippines alone, 6.7 million in India and 6.4 million in China. In addition to their locations and geographic profiles being prone to floods and storms, these countries’ sizes and populations also help explain the large numbers of displacements, said the report.
As per the report, droughts triggered more than 1.3 million internal displacements of children across 15 countries between 2016 and 2021. More than half – 730,000 – were recorded in Somalia, with another 340,000 in Ethiopia and 190,000 in Afghanistan. Unlike in the floods and storms analysis, the data on droughts show mostly actual displacements as a consequence of the disaster. Pre-emptive evacuations in drought contexts are extremely rare, so it is likely the majority of these displacements occurred without early warnings and efforts to minimize the impacts of displacement.
Floods triggered an estimated 19.7 million displacements of children across the globe between 2016 and 2021. Hotspots are mostly located in Southern and Eastern Asia, with India (3.9 million), China (3.7 million) and the Philippines (1.3 million) being the most affected countries in terms of absolute numbers. Most displacements recorded in the region occurred during the summer monsoon season, the report highlighted.
Apart from the common natural disasters like droughts, floods, storms too have added to the misery of displacement of children. Storms caused an estimated 21 million new displacements of children between 2016 and 2021, as per the UNICEF report.
However, various steps are being taken in order to safeguard the well-being of children across the globe from these recurring natural disasters.
To enhance the well-being of children and young people who are vulnerable to future displacement, the report implores governments, donors, development partners, and the private sector to take the following actions: