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Rising heatwave impact: 3 out of 4 children in South Asia including India affected

South Asia bears the highest burden of children exposed to extremely high temperatures compared to other regions of the world.

By Ground Report
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A recent analysis by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) has highlighted a distressing reality: South Asia bears the highest burden of children exposed to extremely high temperatures compared to other regions of the world.

This UNICEF study states that prolonged periods of extremely high temperatures, with 83 or more days each year that exceed 35°C, subject a staggering 76 percent of children under the age of 18 in South Asia—a staggering 460 million young lives—to such conditions.

This staggering statistic implies that three out of four children in South Asia endure these dangerous conditions, in stark contrast to the global average of one in three children (32 percent).

Alarming Exposure to Heatwaves

The analysis, based on 2020 data, not only underscores the severity of the problem in South Asia, but also reveals that 28% of children in the region face 4.5 or more heat waves a year. Comparatively, this figure stands at 24 percent globally. These findings paint a dire picture, especially as the world bears witness to the aftermath of the hottest month on record, July 2023, a stark reminder of intensifying heat waves resulting from climate change.

UNICEF's 2021 Child Climate Risk Index (CCRI) further reveals that children in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Maldives and Pakistan are classified as "extremely high risk" when it comes to the impacts of climate change. This sinister classification amplifies concerns about the vulnerability of the younger populations of these nations.

In parts of South Asia, the repercussions of extreme heat are already evident. In the southern Pakistani province of Sindh, including the sweltering city of Jacobabad, temperatures reached 40 degrees during June 2022, exposing 1.8 million people to serious health risks.

Benazir lost a child amidst the tumult of last summer’s floods. Photo Credit: UNICEF/UN0847800/Haro

This heat wave came on the heels of devastating floods that submerged large swathes of southern Sindh in August 2022, leaving more than 800,000 children in flood-affected regions exposed to severe heat stress in June 2023.

Even during the rainy season, the intense heat aggravates the plight of the children. Young bodies struggle to adapt to rapid changes in temperature, leading to symptoms such as increased body temperature, rapid heartbeat, cramps, severe headaches, confusion, and even organ failure.

For babies, the heat can lead to developmental setbacks such as neurological dysfunction and cardiovascular disease. Pregnant women are also at risk and face complications like premature contractions, high blood pressure, and preterm labor.

Heatwaves threaten lives of South Asian children

Sanjay Wijesekera, UNICEF Regional Director for South Asia, has said, "The data clearly show that rising temperatures and heatwaves threaten the lives and futures of millions of children in South Asia, as global temperatures are boiling."

They also say that the countries in the region are not yet the hottest in the world, but the heat here is threatening the lives of millions of children. "We are particularly concerned about infants, young children, pregnant women and children suffering from malnutrition as they are most vulnerable to heat stroke and other severe effects of heat," he added.

UNICEF's 2021 Children's Climate Risk Index (CCRI) confirms that children in India, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Maldives, and Pakistan are facing an 'extremely high risk' of climate change and its impacts.

For example, some areas of Pakistan's southern Sindh province, such as Jacobabad, experienced a severe heatwave in 2022. During that time the temperature of this city had increased up to 40 degree Celsius. Which makes it one of the hottest cities in the world. Due to this, about 18 lakh people had to face serious health risks.

Children are not safe from heat even in rain

The rainy season in South Asia worsens the condition of children, even though it is the season. Children are not able to expel excess heat from their bodies as they do not adapt quickly enough to temperature changes. This poses a serious threat to their health.

Problems like rise in body temperature, rapid heartbeat, convulsions, headache, dehydration, and unconsciousness in young children also have a serious effect on their organs. These problems not only affect the mental development in infants but can also cause symptoms like heart disease and neurological disorders.

This heat can also badly affect pregnant women. Serious consequences such as increased blood pressure, early contractions, seizures, preterm birth, and stillbirth can be caused by this. In this case, fomentation with ice, a fan, or sprinkling of water help in controlling the rising temperature in young children.

UNICEF has discussed the increase in heat and awareness about heatstroke and its impact on children's health in this analysis to prevent heatstroke. Additionally, the analysis emphasizes the importance of creating awareness among health workers regarding the diseases associated with heatstroke.

UNICEF also recommends taking immediate action and administering first aid in such situations. Furthermore, UNICEF suggests promptly taking the patient to a health center or doctor, if necessary.

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