An estimated 11 million children are at risk of hunger, disease and lack of water in eastern and southern Africa as a result of a strengthening El Nino, which is also causing droughts and floods in parts of Asia, the Pacific and Latin America, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) warned on Tuesday.
The consequences could ripple through generations unless affected communities receive support amid crop failures and lack of access to drinking water that are leaving children malnourished and at risk of killer diseases, UNICEF said in a briefing note.
Besides the immediate risks of death and injury, El Nino can lead to significant increases in diseases such as malaria, dengue fever, diarrhea and cholera, which are major killers among the young.
When extreme weather deprives communities of their livelihoods, young children often suffer from malnutrition, which puts them at greater risk of illness, delayed mental development and premature death.
“Children and their communities need our help to recover from the impact of El Nino and to prepare for the further damage it could unleash,” said UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake.
“At the same time, its intensity and potential destructiveness should be a wake-up call as world leaders gather in Paris. As they debate an agreement on limiting global warming, they should recall that the future of today’s children and the planet they will inherit is at stake,” he added.
El Ninos are not caused by climate change, but scientists believe El Ninos are becoming more intense as a result. Many of the countries now experiencing the effect of El Nino are those that face the gravest threat from climate change. Many of the areas affected also have high poverty levels.
The weather phenomenon, among the strongest on record, is likely to cause more floods and droughts, fuel Pacific typhoons and cyclones and affect more areas if it continues strengthening as forecast over the coming months.
El Nino is a climate pattern linked to the warming of surface waters in the Pacific Ocean, which can have a profound impact on weather patterns around the world. El Nino events tend to happen every two to seven years. (PNA)