Ref. :  000041050
Date :  2017-03-20
Language :  English
Home Page / The whole website
fr / es / de / po / en

Thirsting for a future : water and children in a changing climate

Author :  UNICEF


When 12-year-old Swapna went back home the day after Cyclone Roanu hit Bangladesh in 2016 she could not believe her eyes – the entire neighbourhood, even the trees, had disappeared.

In Zimbabwe, drought left Emmanuel struggling to feed his family. He agreed to a dowry of a few goats for his 15-year-old daughter. It meant one less mouth to feed, food and livestock for the family.

Over in the state of Alaska, Amaia, 11, stands on an ice floe in July 2016. In recent years, big ice floes can be found farther from the shore as the sea ice starts melting earlier and faster.

The impacts of climate change are being felt around the world. For many children, a change in climate is felt through a change in water. In times of drought or flood, in areas where sea level has risen or ice and snow have unseasonably melted, children are at risk – as the quality and the quantity of the water they rely on is under threat.

In the coming years, the demand for water will increase as populations grow and move, industries develop, and consumption increases. This can lead to water stress, as increasing demand and use of water strains available supplies.

The world is on the brink of a deadly crisis, as the combination of water stress and climate change creates a dangerous outlook for children.

If you cannot visualize this document, click HERE

If you cannot visualize it, download Adobe Reader by clicking



Children play 'hide and seek' in a graveyard on Tuvalu in the Pacific Ocean. Massive coastal erosion has caused many coconut trees to fall down. Islanders face coastal erosion, surface flooding, and saltwater intrusion into soil and groundwater.

Climate change is contributing to a growing water crisis, putting the lives of millions of children at risk

By 2040, almost 600 million children will live in areas with extremely limited water resources. That’s around 1 in 4 children worldwide.

A major factor in water stress will be a global increase in demand for water, driven largely by industrialization, population growth, demographic shifts, food production and increased consumption. Taking longer showers, cleaning cars, watering gardens and eating more meat – all take their toll.

In many of the regions projected to be hit hardest, we are already witnessing a water crisis unfolding.


Peia, 16, swims in the flooded area of Aberao village in Kiribati in 2014. Kiribati is one of the countries that has been affected by a rise in sea levels. During high tides many villages become inundated, making large parts of them uninhabitable.

Increasing droughts and floods threaten quality and quantity of water

Over the past 50 years, the average global temperature has increased at the fastest rate in history. In the 136 years NASA has been keeping record, all but 1 of the 16 hottest years have occurred since 2000. The hottest year on record? 2016.

When it comes to the world’s water supply, only a tiny amount (2.5 per cent) is actually fresh water, the type needed to sustain human, animal and plant life.

Sea levels are rising faster than before, and as they do, salt water can infiltrate water supplies and make the water undrinkable.

The higher temperatures also cause droughts and floods, and an increase in water-linked diseases.

Deadly droughts

Without water, children simply cannot survive. During times of drought, children not only risk dying of thirst, but also have less food and must walk longer distances to collect water. This means less time to go to school, study and play.

Often it is the girl in a family who is tasked with fetching water and who is the first to miss out on education. Instead of being in school, girls can spend hours fetching water, sometimes at risk of attack. If they are fortunate enough to finally get to school, they are often too tired to learn.

Globally women and girls already spend about 200 million hours a day gathering water. Thirteen-year-old Aysha, in Afar, Ethiopia, must trudge eight hours, round trip, to collect water for herself and her family. Watch a day in her life:

Droughts can have multiple effects on poor families and communities. Crops fail, livestock dies and income drops, leading to food insecurity for the poor as well as rising food prices. Such loss of livelihood can push families further into poverty and force them to migrate in search of water and food.

In 2016 Malawi faced its worst drought in 30 years, resulting in 6.7 million people needing food aid as of February 2017. One of the people affected was Teresa. After losing her husband, she has been struggling alone to look after her baby, who is suffering from severe acute malnutrition. Watch their story:

Unsafe water

When water becomes scarce during droughts, many people resort to drinking unsafe water, putting children at risk of deadly diseases.

Water and sanitation related diseases are one of the leading causes of death in children under 5 years old. Every day, over 800 children under 5 die from diarrhoea linked to inadequate water, sanitation and hygiene.

In Lesotho, for example, the drought in 2016 caused many safe water sources to dry up, forcing families to search for unsafe alternatives and leading to an increase in diarrhoea cases.

In the event of floods, latrines and toilets can be destroyed or damaged, which can contaminate water supplies and make them unsafe to drink.


Children play on a fallen tree that came down during Cyclone Pam in 2015 on the outskirts of Port Vila in Vanuatu. The cyclone affected more than 60 per cent of the islanders, many of whom had not fully recovered from Cyclone Lusi the previous year.

The poorest and most disadvantaged children are most at risk

Flood and drought zones often overlap with areas of high poverty and limited access to essential services such as water and sanitation.

Many of the children and families who are disadvantaged by poverty are already suffering from the impacts of climate change.

This situation can create a vicious cycle: children living in poverty or deprived of adequate water and sanitation before a crisis will be more affected by a flood, drought or storm. They are less likely to recover quickly and at even greater risk in a subsequent crisis.

The number of floods and storms worldwide is increasing and evidence suggests that climate change is behind this upward trend. Out of the 15 countries in the world most at risk of disaster, 9 are in Asia and the Pacific – with Vanuatu as the most threatened.

Nine-year-old John lives in Vanuatu where Cyclone Pam hit in 2015. It affected more than 60 per cent of the islanders, many of whom had not fully recovered from Cyclone Lusi the previous year. John is afraid there is not enough food and water for him and his family. “When I grow up, I want to be rich,” he says. “I want to be so rich that I can buy food and I will still have some money left.” See John’s story:

This crisis is not inevitable, but we must act now

Today's children, and their children, will bear the brunt of climate change. We must work together to make sure children are at the heart of climate discussions and decisions – and to make sure their voices are heard.

One of the most effective ways to protect children now and in the future is to safeguard their access to safe water and sanitation.

“We expect more than words on paper and promises. We expect action,” said 16-year-old Getrude Clement to world leaders at the signing of the Paris Climate Agreement at United Nations headquarters in 2016.


Want to raise awareness about the impact of climate change on children and the water they rely on?

Join UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Orlando Bloom on Instagram and show the world that you want to #FlipClimateChange

Take Action

Countries : 
- Malawi   

Rate this content
Same author:
 fleche3 in 5 babies not breastfed in the first hour of life

 flecheA global initiative on out-of-school children
 flecheFrom Syria to Libya: Stalked by war
 flecheSept années de guerre en Syrie et aucune amélioration en vue : les enfants handicapés menacés d’exclusion
 fleche5 ways you can help end violence against girls
 flecheLevels and Trends in Child Mortality, Report 2017
 flecheLevels and Trends in Child Mortality
 flecheThe State of the World’s Children 2016: A fair chance for every child
 flecheFive-fold increase in number of refugee and migrant children traveling alone since 2010
 flecheEnding child marriage. Progress and prospects
 flecheUNICEF 2016 Report - Uprooted: The growing crisis for refugee and migrant children
 flecheUNICEF Humanitarian Action for Children 2016
 flecheL’UNICEF lance un appel humanitaire de 2,8 milliards de dollars pour les enfants
 flecheOne in four children in conflict zones are out of school
 flecheMore than 16 million babies born into conflict this year: UNICEF
 flecheChild brides in Africa could more than double to 310 million by 2050 - UNICEF
 flecheL'impact du changement climatique sur les enfants
 flecheConflict drives 13 million children out of school in the Middle East and North Africa
 flecheMillions of children in Syria at high risk of disease amid water scarcity and summer heat
 flecheRéimaginer l’avenir
 fleche14 million children impacted by conflict in Syria and Iraq
 flecheMore brutal and intense conflicts leave children increasingly at risk of recruitment
 flecheAdolescents twice as likely to be out of school as children of primary school age, say UNESCO and UNICEF
 flecheConflict in Ukraine leaves almost 150 schools closed
 flecheWith 15 million children caught up in major conflicts, UNICEF declares 2014 a devastating year for children
 flecheA Malian refugee girl in Niger chooses school over marriage
 flecheInnovations in peacebuilding: How technology is changing the way we see the world and respond to violent conflict
 flecheUNICEF, UNFPA stand behind Africa’s biggest anti child marriage push
 flecheAlmost 3 million newborns could be saved each year – UNICEF
 flecheEvery child counts
 flecheBreaking down the data: new snapshots of water and sanitation in Asia Pacific
 flecheOne in three children under-five do not officially exist
 flecheChildren With Disabilities
 flecheOn Universal Children’s Day, put hidden violence and abuse in the spotlight, says UNICEF
 flecheInternational Day of the Girl Child
 flecheHelping youth associated with gangs create a better future for themselves – and their communities
 flecheAdditional US$45 million contribution to Syria’s children, as EU becomes largest donor to UNICEF appeal
 flecheMillennium Development Goals a major focus, at United Nations General Assembly
 flecheMillennium Development Goal drinking water target met
 flecheUNICEF launches flagship report focusing on urban children
 flecheUNICEF: Investing in adolescents can break cycles of poverty and inequity
 flecheNew UNICEF study shows MDGs for children can be reached faster with focus on most disadvantaged
 fleche"The State of the World’s Children report 2009" - Special issue
 flecheUNICEF’s State of The World’s Children report commemorates 20 years of the Convention on the Rights of the Child
 flecheUNICEF ‘Progress for Children’ report advances child-protection goals
 flecheGlobal child mortality continues to drop
 fleche2009 Humanitarian Action Report focuses on conflict, climate and hunger
 flecheReleasing declining numbers for child mortality, UNICEF calls for increased efforts to save children’s lives
 flecheWorld Water Week 2008 focuses on sanitation, health and hygiene
 flecheIndia and China hold the key to world meeting MDGs, says UNICEF flagship report
 flecheWorld Breastfeeding Week: supporting mothers to breastfeed will improve children’s chances of survival, says UNICEF
 flecheFar too few using improved sanitation but more people use drinking-water from safe sources
 flecheLa gente celebra el día internacional de la lengua materna en América Latina y el Caribe
 flecheHumanitarian Action Report 2008
 flecheUNICEF issues annual appeal to meet needs of children and women in global emergencies
 flecheUN launches International Year of Sanitation to address global crisis
 flecheVeneman, Ann M.
 flecheReport on the State of the World’s Children 2007 : "Women and Children. The Double dividend of gender equality"
 flecheEmpower women to help children
 flecheUNICEF zum Welt-AIDS-Tag: AIDS-Gefahr vor unserer Haustür wächst
 flechePrevention efforts too little, too late; prosecution of traffickers not sole solution
 flecheThe State of the World's Children 2006: Excluded and Invisible
 flecheChildren: The Missing Face of AIDS
 flecheUNICEF to launch global campaign on children and AIDS
 flecheFood crisis in Malawi compounded by HIV/AIDS
 flecheNew global partnership calls for immediate action to help women and children Survive
 flecheWomen, Water and Hygiene Are Key to Change in Africa
 flecheSeven million children to be vaccinated as Aghanistan strives to eradicate polio
 flecheJapan announces US$ 5.16 million to improve children’s health
 flecheFood and vaccines saving children’s lives
 flecheFamine in Niger threatens 800,000 children
 flecheThe state of the World's children
 flecheUNICEF-supported projects open girls’ eyes to gender equality
 flecheEncuentro Iberoamericano sobre Derechos de la Niñez y Adolescencia Indígena
 flecheEncuentro Iberoamericano sobre Derechos de la Niñez y Adolescencia Indígena
 flecheScotland: UNICEF’s first-ever C8 Children’s Forum brings together young advocates from around the world
 flecheEl Foro de la Infancia C8: "Es hora de que la pobreza infantil pase a la historia"
 flecheUNICEF-Kinderkonferenz zum G-8-Gipfel in Schottland
 flecheOn the Day of the African Child: Africa’s chronic emergencies struggling for attention
 flecheChildren must be at the heart of development efforts
 flecheDes centaines de milliers de personnes manquent d'eau
 flecheRegional consultation in Buenos Aires on violence against children
 flecheUNICEF calls for action on Congo terror
 flecheUNICEF identifies key steps to save children of "Tsunami Generation"
 flecheBellamy, Carol
 flecheUNICEF calls for aid to tsunami-struck countries
 flecheConflict in eastern DR Congo has forced millions to flee homes
 flecheTodesursache: Mädchen
 flecheThe State of the World's Children 2005: childhood under threat
 flecheReligious and traditional leaders from across Africa rally for child survival
 flecheEastern Europe & Central Asia: Millions of children bypassed by economic progress
 flecheWorld facing silent emergency as billions struggle without clean water and basic sanitation
 flecheAfrica's Orphan Crisis: Worst Is Yet to Come
 flecheMaternal deaths disproportionately high in developing countries
 flecheUNICEF Chief urges UN General Assembly to focus on young people in deliberations on HIV/AIDS
 flecheChild abuse leads to 3,500 annual deaths in developed nations
 flecheSchools open again, but where are the children?
 flecheLa Directrice de l'UNICEF exhorte les dirigeants politiques a investir en faveur des enfants, qui détiennent les clés du développement mondial et de la stabilité
Other items
where is published this article:
Keywords   go