By Tobias Lengnan Dapam

More than 27 million children were driven into hunger and malnutrition by extreme weather events in countries heavily impacted by the climate crisis in 2022, which was a 135% jump from the previous year, according to a new data analysis by Save the Children ahead of COP28.

Save the Children said it found that children made up nearly half of the 57 million people pushed into crisis levels of acute food insecurity or worse across 12 countries because of extreme weather events in 2022.

It said this was based on data from the Integrated Food Security Classification or IPC scale, a monitoring system for assessing hunger emergencies in 58 countries.

The IPC has estimated that the number of people facing hunger in countries where extreme weather events were the main driver of food crises has nearly doubled in five years – soaring to 57 million in 2022 from about 29 million people in 2018.

The majority of countries where weather extremes were the main driver of hunger last year were concentrated in the Horn of Africa, with Ethiopia and Somalia accounting for about half of the 27 million children.

The 12 countries where weather extremes were the primary driver of hunger in 2022, according to the IPC, were Angola, Burundi, Ethiopia, Iraq, Kenya, Madagascar, Malawi, Pakistan, Somalia, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia.

Somalia has been repeatedly at the frontlines of the climate crisis, suffering five failed consecutive rainy seasons. Now, the country stands once again at the precipice, with extreme weather events such as mass flooding set to exacerbate hunger this year.

Heavy rains and floods in recent weeks have displaced about 650,000 people – about half are children – cutting families off from accessing food and medical care. The current flooding could be just as devastating for the country as the years of drought that left millions of children hungry and malnourished.

Sadia*, 38, and her eight children, have weathered the storm of climate-induced displacement in Somalia twice over – initially due to drought and now again due to severe flooding.

“We left due to droughts, and now we face displacement again because of floods. [Before the drought] life was good. We were farmers and took care of animals. We had enough food from our crops and milk from our animals to live comfortably. But the droughts came and destroyed everything we had,” said Sadia who eventually started a small business in the displacement camp selling fruits and other items to support her children.

“But recently, heavy rains and floods have made everything worse. The markets are flooded, and my stall is underwater. I can’t earn any money, and it’s tough to feed my children.”

Pakistan was one of the countries where extreme weather events were the primary driver of hunger last year after devastating flooding submerged one third of the country, affecting 33 million people, half of whom were children. One year on, more than 2 million flood-affected children are acutely malnourished, with almost 600,000 children suffering from the deadliest form of malnutrition.

Dr Muhammad Hanif, who works at a healthcare unit run by Save the Children in Sindh Province—a region severely affected by the floods—explained that he had never seen anything like it in his lifetime.

“I am a doctor, so my weapon is medicine. It’s what we rely on to treat and save lives. But during the floods, I felt like a solider in the battlefield without a weapon; nothing to save the life of children or pregnant mothers,” he explained. “By the end of last year, I treated about 1,000 children for hunger-related illnesses, and about 30,000 other patients for various diseases that were inflamed by climate change.”

Annually, conflicts and economic shocks push even more children into hunger than weather extremes. Conflict was the primary driver of hunger for 117 million people in 19 countries last year. IPC data also revealed an eight-fold increase in the number of people facing hunger because of economic shocks in five years, jumping to about 84 million people in 2022 from 10 million in 2018.

Globally, an estimated 774 million children – or one third of the world’s child population – are living with the dual impacts of poverty and high climate risk, according to Save the Children’s report Born into the Climate Crisis.

Inger Ashing, Save the Children’s Chief Executive Officer, said:

“In a world where wildfires, floods, droughts and hurricanes are becoming the frightening new normal, children today not only face a climate emergency but a landscape of heightened inequalities, where hunger is an unwelcome guest at an already crowded table.

“As climate-related weather events become more frequent and severe, we will see more drastic consequences on children’s lives. In 2022, 135% more children were pushed into hunger due to extreme weather events than the year before.

“In my recent trip to Pakistan, I met a young boy named Jaffar who shared that his home and school were destroyed in the 2022 floods. His family had to sell their livestock and were struggling to cope with the limited resources in their community. While he was able to attend our temporary learning centre there were no plans to rebuild his school. These are all losses and damages that violate children’s rights.

“Prioritising investment in children’s health, nutrition, education, protection and safety nets must be at the forefront of global efforts. To truly protect children now and in the future, robust support for the new Loss and Damage Fund is non-negotiable. At COP28, World Leaders must listen to the demands of children and invite them to be part of proposing solutions. Without tackling the climate crisis, the global hunger crisis will only deteriorate further, pushing millions more to the brink.”

Last year, Save the Children found that 83% of children in 15 countries reported witnessing climate change or inequality, or both, affecting the world around them. Yet, children’s rights are neglected in climate finance. Currently 2.4% of climate finance from four key global climate funds can be classified as sufficiently considering children, although some funders like the Green Climate Fund are actively working to bridge these gaps.

Save the Children is calling on world leaders at COP28, particularly those from high-income countries and historical emitters, to take action on the climate crisis by recognising children as key agents of change. Climate finance must be increased, providing funding for losses and damages and climate adaptation. Governments must work to urgently limit warming temperatures to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels.

The child rights organisation is also calling on leaders to address the root causes of acute food and nutrition insecurity such as conflict, inequality, and a lack of resilient health, nutrition and social protection systems.

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