Climate change is one of the greatest challenges faced by the world today. The vulnerable population, especially children, are at greater risk of bearing the brunt of the climate crisis. The COVID generation of children now faces the dual, connected threats of exacerbating inequalities caused by the pandemic and the impact of climate change. Children are vulnerable to the adverse outcomes of climate change. However, at the same time, it is imperative to also recognise the potential role of their agency in addressing the challenges posed by it. Child participation is one of the core principles of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), and there is a need to ensure the meaningful participation of children in addressing the issue of climate change.
A survey conducted by Bal Raksha Bharat, India revealed that 45% of children had experienced heavy non-stop rains, 32% shared that they have experienced floods, and 27% of children have also experienced climatic disasters like cyclones. Among the children who had experienced climatic events, 40% shared that extreme climatic change events affect the availability of clean drinking water, and 35% of children could not attend school during the crisis. Children in varying proportions also shared how climatic events adversely affect the earning capacity of their family members.
Children are at the core of the climate crisis conversation. During any humanitarian crisis, children are the most affected impacting their development, physical and psychosocial well-being. A child-centred climate resilience programme aims at building sustainable and resilient communities equipped to cope with extreme climate change events and enable children to influence their future. They should be allowed to raise their concerns, participate in the development process and engage in policy and governance matters. Here’s how a community-driven model with children’s participation is changing mindsets.
Every year, heavy rainfall floods a slum in Patna’s Adalatganj area, disrupting life. Bihar is one of the states to be most vulnerable to extreme climate change events. The northern part faces annual floods, while the southern regions are prone to droughts. To prepare the community for extreme climate events, Bal Raksha Bharat India had started an urban disaster risk reduction programme in July 2018 in Patna, keeping children at the core of the programme. As part of the resilience programme, adolescents and young adults are taught to draw three types of maps. The first is the social map that shows all the houses (kaccha and pakka houses), schools, water resources and the general layout of the area. The asset map highlights the cyclone shelters, schools, temples, and other buildings that can double up as shelters, and the third is a risk map that shows all the pathways through which water can enter the neighbourhood and the vulnerable houses. There’s an evacuation map in case of any hazard like fire in urban slums.
Now, these young adults are not only safeguarding their neighbourhoods; they are also going to other areas and training people on risk reduction, evacuation and asset management in case of a natural disaster or an extreme climate event. Even the younger children, growing up amid a constant state of uncertainty of climate change events, are educating themselves in disaster risk reduction. They are devising their ways and educating the community. Their development process has now become a way of life.