Human Settlements Discussion Paper – Climate Change 2


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Figure 1: Age and gender distribution of tsunami-related deaths

Figure 2: The age distribution of deaths from malaria in Africa (%)

Figure 3: Different circulation patterns affect safety and mobility for children

Figure 4: Different ways to use the same space: traditional grid layout

versus more positive open space


This paper discusses the probable impacts for children of different ages from the increasing risk of storms, flooding, landslides, heat waves, drought and water supply constraints that climate change is likely to bring to most urban centres in Africa, Asia and Latin America. It also explores the implications for adaptation, focusing on preparedness as well as responses to extreme events and to changes in weather patterns. As is the case with many poor groups, if adaptations to climate change fail to take account of the disproportionate risks for children (who make up between a third and a half of the population in the most affected areas) they will be less than adequate in responding to the challenges.

Why children?

Children, especially young children, are in a stage of rapid development and are less well equipped on many fronts to deal with deprivation and stress. Their more rapid metabolisms, immature organs and nervous systems, developing cognition, limited experience and behavioural characteristics are all at issue here. Their exposure to various risks is also more likely than with adults to have long term repercussions. Almost all the disproportionate implications for children are intensified by poverty and the difficult choices low-income households make as they adapt to more challenging conditions. Events that might have little or no effect for children in high-income countries and communities can have critical implications for children in poverty.

Why urban children?

Urban children are generally better off than their rural counterparts, but this is not true for the hundreds of millions living in urban poverty. Without adequate planning and good governance, poor urban areas can be among the world’s most life-threatening environments. In some informal settlements, a quarter of all children still die before the age of five. Nor does the “urban advantage” come into play in terms of education and life opportunities for most of those in poverty. In many urban areas the risks children face are likely to be intensified by climate change. Most of the people and enterprises at most serious risk from extreme weather events and rising sea levels are located in urban slums in low income countries, where there is a combination of high exposure to hazards and inadequate protective infrastructure and services.

Children as resilient, active agents

Although children are disproportionately at risk on many fronts, it is a mistake to think of them only as victims in the face of climate change. With adequate support and protection, children can also be extraordinarily resilient in the face of stresses and shocks. Moreover, there is ample documentation of the benefits of having children and young people active, informed and involved in responding to the challenges in their lives, not only for their own learning and development, but for the energy, resourcefulness and knowledge that they can bring to local issues.


There is not enough hard knowledge about the implications of climate change for children to present a comprehensive picture. Even where more general impacts are projected, figures are seldom disaggregated by age. But it is possible to extrapolate from existing knowledge in related areas: work on environmental health in urban areas, disaster responses, household coping strategies, the effects for children of urban poverty, children’s resilience and the beneficial effects of their participation in various efforts, all contribute to a picture of the implications of disasters as well as more gradual changes and the adaptations likely to be made to them.

Table 1: Some likely impacts of climate change


Impact on natural systems, agri-culture, water

Impact on urban areas

Impact on health and household coping

Implications for children

Warm spells and heat waves frequency up on most land areas

Reduced crop yields in warmer regions, wildfire risk up; wider range for disease vectors

Heat islands with higher temperatures (up to 10˚ higher); often large concentrations of vulnerable people; air pollution worsened.

Increased risk of heat-related mortality and morbidity; more vector-borne disease; impacts for those doing strenuous labour; increased respiratory disease where air pollution worsens; food shortages

Greatest vulnerability to heat stress for young children; high vulnerability to respiratory diseases, vector-borne diseases, highest vulnerability to malnutrition with long term implications

Heavy precipitation events, frequency up over most areas

Damage to crops, soil erosion, water-logging, water quality problems

Floods and landslide risks up; disruption to livelihoods and city economies, damage to homes, possessions, businesses and to transport and infra-structure; loss of income and assets; often large displacements of population, with risks to social networks and assets

Deaths, injuries, increased food and both water-borne and water-washed diseases; more malaria from standing water; decreased mobility with implications for livelihoods; dis-locations; food shortages; risks to mental health, especially associated with displacement

Higher risk of death and injury than adults; more vulnerable to water borne/water washed illness, and to malaria; risk of acute malnutrition; reduced options for play and social interaction; likelihood of being removed from school /put into work as income is lost; higher risk of neglect, abuse and maltreatment associated with household stress and/or displacement, long term risks for development and future prospects

Intense tropical cyclone activity increases

Damage to crops, trees and coral reefs, disruption to water supplies

Increased area affected by drought

Land degradation, lower crop yields, livestock deaths, wildfire risks and water stress up

Water shortages, distress migration into urban centres, hydro-electric constraints, lower rural demand for goods/services, higher food prices

Increased food & water shortages, malnutrition and food and water borne diseases up; risk of mental health problems up; respiratory problems from wildfires

Young children at highest health risk from inadequate water supplies; at highest risk of malnutrition, with long term implications for overall development; risk of early entry into work, exploitation.

Increased incidence of extreme high sea level

Salinization of water sources

Loss of property and enterprises;, damage to tourism, damage to buildings from rising water table

Coastal flooding, increasing risk of death and injuries; loss of livelihoods; health problems from salinated water

Highest rates of death for children; highest health risks from salinization of water supplies, long term developmental implications.

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