The United Nations Children’s Fund on Friday said floods, storms, and other weather-related disasters have driven millions of children from their homes, with the situation set to deteriorate if action is not taken.
So far, there have been 43.1 million internal displacements of children across 44 countries between 2016 and 2021, due to events such as floods, droughts, and wildfires, according to the organisation.
UNICEF recorded the most weather-related child displacements in East Asia and the Pacific region due to the combination of hazards, followed by South Asia.
According to UNICEF, more than 113 million displacements of children will occur in the next three decades.
The miseries of long, drawn-out disasters like droughts are often underreported, the report stated.
Children had to leave their homes at least 1.3 million times because of drought in the years covered by the report — more than half of them in Somalia — but this is likely an undercount, the report said.
Unlike during floods or storms, there are no pre-emptive evacuations during a drought.
Worldwide, climate change has already left millions homeless.
Rising seas are eating away at coastlines; storms are battering megacities and drought is exacerbating conflict.
But while catastrophes intensify, the world has yet to recognize climate migrants and find formal ways of protecting them.
“The reality is that far more children are going to be impacted in future, as the impacts of climate change continue to intensify,” said Laura Healy, a migration specialist at UNICEF and one of the report’s authors.
Nearly a third of the 43 million people uprooted from their homes due to extreme weather from 2016-21 are children.
Nearly half were forced from their homes by storms. Of those, nearly 4 of the 10 displacements were in the Philippines.
Floods displaced children more than 19 million times in places like India and China.
Wildfires impacted children 810,000 times in the U.S. and Canada.
Data tracking migrations because of weather extremes typically don’t differentiate between children and adults.
UNICEF worked with a Geneva-based nonprofit, the International Displacement Monitoring Center, to map where kids were most impacted.
The Philippines, India and China had the most child displacement by climate hazards, accounting for nearly half.
Those countries also have vast populations and strong systems to evacuate people, which makes it easier for them to record data.
But, on average, children living in the Horn of Africa or on a small island in the Caribbean are more vulnerable. Many are enduring “overlapping crises” — where risks from climate extremes are compounded by conflict, fragile institutions and poverty, Healy said.
Vietnam, along with countries like India and Bangladesh, will likely have many children uprooted from their homes in the future, and policymakers and the private sector need to ensure that climate and energy planning takes into account risks to children from extreme weather, the UNICEF said.
In estimating future risks, the report did not include wildfires and drought, or potential mitigation measures. It said vital services like education and health care need to become “shock-responsive, portable and inclusive,” to help children and their families better cope with disasters. This would mean considering children’s needs at different stages, from ensuring they have opportunities to study, that they can stay with their families and that eventually they can find work.
“We have the tools. We have the knowledge. But we’re just not working fast enough,” Healy said.