Humanitarian Crisis and How Young People are Affected by Climate Change

Climate change is one of the most pressing global issues of our time. Its negative impacts have brought about a fragile humanitarian context that requires continued attention. People are constantly grappling with natural hazards, such as floods and droughts, exacerbated by climate change and economic instability. Disease outbreaks, including measles and diarrhoea, affect the country’s southern parts, and the risk of cholera remains high.


On 16 March 2019, the eastern parts of Zimbabwe were hit by Cyclone Idai, which brought torrential rains and winds. Cyclone Idai, characterised by floods and landslides, resulted in the loss of lives and left immense damage to infrastructure and livelihoods. Tropical Cyclone Idai was recorded as one of the strongest and most destructive tropical cyclones in the Southern Hemisphere, affecting more than three million people.


Cyclone Freddy hit Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe in February. Cyclone Freddy in Malawi affected 484 primary and 63 secondary schools, which had a negative effect on young people’s right to access education, as highlighted by Hon. Madalitso Kambauwa Wirima, the Minister of Education in Malawi, during a press conference. In total, 273,388 learners (130,980 boys, 142,408 girls) and 586 teachers were affected.


These young people will need humanitarian aid in rebuilding damaged infrastructure, textbooks, computers, internet infrastructure, and writing exercise books, which aid in capacity building for adolescents, a key aspect of economic development.


Climate change is regarded as the biggest global health threat of the 21st century. It disrupts basic requirements for health, such as clean water, clean air, and adequate food, and exacerbates underlying social, economic, and ecological factors that cause illness and premature deaths at all ages.


The impact of climate change on the physical and mental health of children and youth is both direct and indirect. Due to their immature physiological systems, dependence on adults, and repeated exposure to climate events, children are more vulnerable to negative effects of climate change than adults. The mental health implications cannot be ignored as post-traumatic stress disorder is likely to occur in such situations. Family relationships may also suffer, particularly if family members are separated. Parents may experience increased stress, making it difficult for them to provide effective care for their children, and consequently adding stress to their children. This stress may cause children to miss school or attend a new school, further increasing the risk of psychological distress and behavioural issues.


When natural disasters strike, the girl child is unfortunately not spared from its impact. The basic necessities of shelter, food, clean water, clothing, and blankets become crucial for their survival, but it also makes them more vulnerable to sexual exploitation, abuse, and harassment. Managing menstrual health becomes particularly challenging during such times, and survivors, especially young girls, may find it difficult to obtain sanitary pads and menstrual cups. In their absence, girls may resort to using cow dung, rags, or other unhygienic materials, which can result in urinary tract infections, vaginal infections, and rashes, ultimately leading to complications. Poor menstrual hygiene can also cause genital infections or pelvic pain, which can result in infertility.


According to the World Health Organization, one in three women worldwide has been subjected to either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime. Such evidence suggests that increased vulnerability to gender-based violence (GBV), such as sexual violence, transactional sex, and sex trafficking, may be related to climate change, especially disasters related to it. These are consequently connected to an elevated risk of sexually transmitted infections and unintended pregnancies. Girls and women who are migrants, internally displaced people, girls and women living with disabilities, and girls and women living in poverty are more vulnerable to GBV, including sexual violence.


Furthermore, climate-related disasters directly cause disruptions that restrict access to sexual and reproductive health (SRH) services and supplies in the absence of adequate disaster-risk management (DRM). Extreme weather conditions, such as storms, floods, and wildfires, can cause damage to healthcare facilities and infrastructure, interrupting the flow of medical supplies and leading to the destruction of patient records. Access to and the quality of SRH services, such as post-exposure prophylaxis for HIV, HIV treatment, emergency contraception, and safe abortion services, are adversely affected when health facilities and supply chains are compromised.


It is important for governments, development partners, and the international community to recognize the significant role that Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) can play in achieving multiple Sustainable Development Goals, particularly those related to gender equality and climate change. When it comes to Disaster Risk Management (DRM) procedures, greater attention must be given to SRHR. This involves discussing both the planning process for DRM and the practicalities of disaster prevention, response, and recovery. Securing funding for disaster management well in advance is crucial, and governments must take on the responsibility of acquiring and safeguarding necessary equipment and plans.


When planning evacuation processes and shelters, it’s important to consider the unique needs of pregnant women, mothers with infants, adolescents, and individuals who identify as underrepresented sexual orientations or gender identities. This includes providing necessary hygiene supplies, ensuring personal safety, and promoting overall comfort.


SAYWHAT is committed to empowering youth by enhancing their ability to take action, increasing awareness of the effects of the climate crisis on their mental and physical well-being, and facilitating efforts to secure a sustainable climate for the future.

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