Half of all children in Europe and Central Asia, totalling 92 million, are exposed to high heat wave frequency, posing serious risks to their health and education, said a new policy brief by UNICEF. Urgent actions are needed to protect children’s health, well-being, and education from the growing threat of heat waves, it said.
VULNERABILITY OF CHILDREN TO HEATWAVES
Children are particularly vulnerable to heat waves as their core temperatures rise faster and higher than adults, making them susceptible to serious illnesses like heatstroke. Heat waves also affect their ability to concentrate and learn, hampering their education.
“Countries across Europe and Central Asia are feeling the heat of the climate crisis, and children’s health and well-being are suffering the most,” said Regina De Dominicis, Regional Director for UNICEF Europe and Central Asia. “Half of children across the region are now exposed to high heat wave frequency. This is expected to rise to all children in 2050. The multitude of negative implications on the current and future health of such a significant proportion of the region’s children must be a catalyst for governments to urgently invest in mitigation and adaptation measures,” said De Dominicis.
INCREASING HEATWAVE FREQUENCY
Heat waves in Europe and Central Asia have become more frequent in recent years, with no signs of abating. The region is expected to experience even more heat waves in the coming years, posing a concerning future for children. Under conservative estimates of global temperature increase at 1.7 degrees Celsius, the report predicts that by 2050, every child in the region will experience high heat wave frequency. About 81 percent of these children will face prolonged periods of intense heat waves, and 28 percent will encounter more severe heat wave conditions.
UNICEF’s Recommendations for Governments
To protect children from the harmful effects of heat waves, UNICEF proposes six key recommendations for governments in the region:
a. Incorporate heat wave mitigation and adaptation into climate-related commitments and disaster risk reduction policies, keeping children at the forefront of all plans.
b. Invest in primary health care to support prevention, early action, diagnosis, and treatment of heat-related illnesses in children, including training community health workers and teachers.
c. Invest in national climate early warning systems and conduct local environmental assessments to enhance emergency preparedness and resilience-building initiatives.
The alarming report by UNICEF highlights the grave situation faced by millions of children in Europe and Central Asia due to increased heat wave exposure. Urgent action is required from governments to prioritize children’s protection, health, and education by investing in mitigation and adaptation measures to tackle the impacts of climate change. By incorporating the proposed recommendations, the region can take crucial steps towards safeguarding the well-being and future of its young population.