Children in Latin America and the Caribbean face the threat of high climate risk, crushing poverty and conflict
October 26, 2022 - A new Save the Children study reveals that 774 million children and adolescents worldwide - or one-third of the world's child population - live at risk from poverty and high climate risk.
Generation Hope: 2.4 billion Reasons to End the Global Climate Crisis and Inequality is a study by Save the Children, an organization that defends and promotes children's rights, with researchers from the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB).
The report reveals that 39 million children and adolescents in Latin America and the Caribbean face the double threat of being impacted by extreme weather events and living in poverty. One out of every three children and adolescents in the region who suffer from this double threat also faces conflict, that is, a third threat in which they are often forced to move, exposing them to further violence, exploitation, and abuse.
Among the report's findings, it is estimated that 80% of children and adolescents are affected by at least one extreme weather event per year, some are at particular risk because they also face poverty and therefore have less capacity to protect themselves and recover. In addition, around the world, 183 million children and adolescents face the triple threat of high climate risk, poverty, and conflict.
Oriana*, a 15-year-old teenager living in Colombia, is a passionate environmental activist in her community. She shared with Save the Children that:
"I would like adults to learn that we can do a lot with the things that are thrown away. I would show them all the great things that can be done with what they throw away, so that would convince them. (…) I would tell them about all the things we can achieve, and I would also tell them about all the damage we are doing to the planet and that we can still save it because we still have time to save it. (...) My house, where I live, is mainly made of scrap metal and plastic. There is plastic stuck on the walls, on the floor, and you can make a house out of this, out of garbage."
“One day there was a storm. It rained so heavily that the house where I lived collapsed and some friends helped us to rebuild part of the house because the rains were just too strong. Sometimes it rains more inside than outside and houses flood. In my case, sometimes, when it rains a lot, my uniform gets wet, and I can’t wear it to school, and the teachers are cross because they don’t understand. Also, we’re affected because pipelines flood and we can’t go to school because we can’t cross over. Or there are lots of cliffs with rocks that fall all over the place. So, we have to be very careful when we go past because one of those rocks could squash us if it fell on us!”
Save the Children says the climate and inequality crisis is a risk-multiplier, eroding children’s and communities’ resilience to shocks. If it is not urgently addressed, the frequency and severity of humanitarian and cost of living crises are set to increase in the years ahead.
Drawing on insights from the 54,000 children Save the Children heard from in a major consultation conducted between May and August 2022, the report also shows how these multiple, overlapping risks are linked to and exacerbate the current global food, nutrition and cost of living crisis that is causing 345 million people in 82 countries to face a severe lack of food.
"Climate change affects people who grow crops and live off the harvest, as the weather can have sudden changes that limit access to a good harvest and so families would not have a lot of essential food (...) I have seen many people with their children living on the street, without even having money for their food and that is a serious issue, and I think no one should have such a difficult childhood" - 16 year old boy from Peru.
Inger Ashing, CEO of Save the Children International, said:
“As leaders prepare to travel to the COP27 and G20 summits, they should have the rights and voices of children at the front of their minds. It is imperative that they secure ambitious outcomes, ensuring children have safe and meaningful ways to input into decision making. In particular, the world’s richest countries, whose historic emissions have driven the climate and inequality crisis, must lead the way in unlocking financing for countries that are struggling to protect children from its impacts".
"The authorities, together with us, adolescents and children, can work together to come up with proposals for improvement, so that together we can change the situation, plus a healthy environment is part of our rights and is something we demand." says a 15-year-old girl from Peru,
Victoria Ward, Save the Children's Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean, highlights:
"More than 70% of children and adolescents who responded to our global survey believe that adults should do more to address the issues and 35% said they were already campaigning on the climate crisis or inequality or would like to start doing so. But many feel they are being ignored. Now is the time to listen to their voices and make the changes necessary for them to have a greener and fairer world."
The new report builds on ground-breaking research published by Save the Children in partnership with Vrije Universiteit Brussel in 2021, which found that children born in 2020 will on average face seven times more scorching heatwaves during their lives than their grandparents, and newborns across the globe will on average live through 2.6 times more droughts.
The report comes as families across the world battle the worst global hunger crisis this century, fuelled by a deadly mix of poverty, conflict, climate change, and economic shocks, with the lingering impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and the crisis in Ukraine further driving up food prices and the cost of living. One million people are facing famine across five countries, with estimates that one person is dying every four seconds of hunger.
- To estimate the number of children living in poverty and affected by high climate risk, Save the Children estimated the proportion of climate-affected children and children affected by poverty in 1,925 subnational regions across 159 countries, covering 98% of the total child population (2.32 billion children). The poverty measure used in most countries is multi-dimensional, with children classed as living in poverty if they suffer deprivation in at least one of the following areas: health, nutrition, education, housing, water or sanitation. We estimated the proportion of children which are experiencing at least one extreme climate event per year (wildfires, crop failures, droughts, river floods, heatwaves, and tropical cyclones) based on an analysis by the Vrije Universiteit Brussel for Save the Children, using the largest multi-model climate impact projections database available to date.
- When combining the share of children in poverty and affected by high climate risk on a subnational level, we assumed that poverty is equally distributed within those regions, likely leading to an underestimate given that poorer households often live in more risk-prone areas.
- In this report, we refer to low and lower middle-income countries as “lower income”, and high and upper middle-income countries as “higher income”.
- More information can be found in the full methodology note.