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Weather-related disasters led to 43.1 million displacements of children over six years

  • Weather-related disasters led to 43.1 million displacements of children over six years
    A young girl sits outside the tent her family are living in at a camp for internally displaced people in Mogadishu, Somalia in October 2022. Credit: UNICEF/UN0742088/Condren
  • River floods alone projected to displace almost 96 million children over next 30 years, new analysis shows.

About the entity

UNICEF works in 190 countries and territories to save children’s lives, to defend their rights, and to help them fulfil their potential, from early childhood through adolescence. And we never give up.

Weather-related disasters caused 43.1 million internal displacements of children in 44 countries over a six-year period – or approximately 20,000 child displacements a day - according to a new UNICEF analysis released today.

Children Displaced in a Changing Climate is the first global analysis of the number of children driven from their homes between 2016 and 2021 due to floods, storms, droughts and wildfires, and looks at projections for the next 30 years.

According to the analysis, China and the Philippines are among the countries that recorded the highest absolute numbers of child displacements, due to their exposure to extreme weather, large child populations and progress made on early warning and evacuation capacities. However, relative to the size of the child population, children living in small island states, such as Dominica and Vanuatu, were most affected by storms, while children in Somalia and South Sudan were most affected by floods.

“It is terrifying for any child when a ferocious wildfire, storm or flood barrels into their community,” said UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell. “For those who are forced to flee, the fear and impact can be especially devastating, with worry of whether they will return home, resume school, or be forced to move again. Moving may have saved their lives, but it’s also very disruptive. As the impacts of climate change escalate, so too will climate-driven movement. We have the tools and knowledge to respond to this escalating challenge for children, but we are acting far too slowly. We need to strengthen efforts to prepare communities, protect children at risk of displacement, and support those already uprooted.”

Children Displaced in a Changing Climate is the first global analysis of the number of children driven from their homes between 2016 and 2021 due to floods, storms, droughts and wildfires, and looks at projections for the next 30 years

Floods and storms accounted for 40.9 million - or 95 per cent - of recorded child displacements between 2016 and 2021, due in part to better reporting and more pre-emptive evacuations. Meanwhile, droughts triggered more than 1.3 million internal displacements of children - with Somalia again among the most affected, while wildfires triggered 810,000 child displacements, with more than a third occurring in 2020 alone. Canada, Israel and the United States recorded the most.

Decisions to move can be forced and abrupt in the face of disaster, or as the result of pre-emptive evacuation, where lives may be saved but many children still face the dangers and challenges that come with being uprooted from their homes, often for extended periods.

Children are especially at risk of displacement in countries already grappling with overlapping crises, such as conflict and poverty, where local capacities to cope with any additional displacements of children are strained.

Haiti, for example - already at high risk of disaster-related child displacement - is also plagued by violence and poverty, with limited investment in risk mitigation and preparedness. While in Mozambique, it is the poorest communities, including those in urban areas, that are disproportionately affected by extreme weather. These are the countries – where the number of vulnerable children at risk of future displacement is the greatest and coping capacities and financing is limited – where risk mitigation, adaptation, preparedness efforts and financing are most urgent.

Using a disaster displacement risk model developed by Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, the report projects riverine floods have the potential to displace almost 96 million children over the next 30 years, based on current climate data, while cyclonic winds and storm surges have the potential to displace 10.3 million and 7.2 million children respectively, over the same period*. With more frequent and more severe weather events as consequence of changing climate, the actual numbers will almost certainly be higher.

UNICEF works with governments in countries most at risk to better prepare for and minimise the risk of displacement, develop and implement child-responsive disaster risk reduction climate change adaptation strategies, and design resilient and portable services to protect and reach children before, during and after disaster strikes, catering solutions to address context-specific vulnerabilities.

As leaders prepare to meet at the COP28 Climate Change Summit in Dubai in November, UNICEF urges governments, donors, development partners, and the private sector to take the following actions to protect children and young people at risk of future displacement and prepare them and their communities: 

  • PROTECT children and young people from the impacts of climate change-exacerbated disasters and displacement by ensuring that child-critical services – including education, health, nutrition, social protection and child protection services – are shock-responsive, portable and inclusive, including for those already uprooted from their homes.
  • PREPARE children and young people to live in a climate-changed world by improving their adaptive capacity and resilience, and enabling their participation in finding inclusive solutions.
  • PRIORITIZE children and young people – including those already uprooted from their homes – in disaster and climate action and finance, humanitarian and development policy, and investments to prepare for a future already happening.

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