The constant fight against climate change is not only a struggle to keep our planet alive and more comfortable to live in. For many children in developing countries, it is a direct cause of different forms of violence.
As the world becomes more arid due to increased drought and deforestation, wooded areas are disappearing. Women and girls, particularly in Africa, are being forced to walk farther away from home to find firewood and water, and thus increasingly at risk of being raped or abducted.
Actually, most girls end up being raped, abducted or sometimes even killed. While the impact of water scarcity can be felt by all, no one suffers more than the most vulnerable children, especially girls.
Globally, the 200 million hours women and girls spend daily collecting water is a colossal waste of their valuable time not to mention the risks involved. (UNICEF, 2016). Girls who spend more time fetching water have fewer days in school and may even drop out.
A 16-year-old from Marsabit County, for example, can been forced to look for employment in Isiolo town to fend for her family that has been adversely affected by the prolonged drought. This is echoed among thousands of other girls across the country whose families are forced to send them away to look for work to ease the pressure of biting poverty.
The impact of climate change exacerbates the risk of violence against women in urban and peri-urban areas of Nairobi. In Mukuru slums nestled in Nairobi’s industrial area, teenage girls narrate how floods swept away their family houses and left them homeless, cold and at risk of infection.
Families sought refuge at a nearby school and it is there that her nightmare began. At the shelter there was no privacy and nor toilets, constantly exposing girls to attacks and abuse by men.
The impact of climate change is great and may trigger both displacement and worsen living conditions or hamper return for those who have already been displaced.
Limited natural resources, such as drinking water, are becoming even scarcer in many parts of the world that host refugees both internally displaced and those from neighbouring nations.
Crops and livestock struggle to survive where conditions become too hot and dry, or too cold and wet, threatening livelihoods. In such conditions, climate change can act as a threat multiplier, exacerbating existing tensions and adding to the potential for conflicts (UNHCR, 2021).
Development organisations need to work with communities and local authorities to save children from the violence associated with climate change. Bringing safe and clean water closer the affected communities through boreholes and connection to existing water systems will ensure that families are free from water-borne illnesses.
There is still a lot to be done and we must all join hands in the fight to counteract the climate crisis and its negative consequences. We need policy and transformative programmes that leverage new technologies in the adaptation and mitigation of climate change.
It calls for thorough gender analysis and responsive interventions, recognising that climate change has exacerbated gender inequality experiences, manifested in violence against vulnerable girls and young women.
Alice Anukur is the Country Director, ChildFund Kenya