By Joyce Chimbi
DUBAI, Dec 4 2023 (IPS)
Across the globe, the number of crisis-affected school-aged children facing climate shocks amplified by climate change keeps rising. The Somalia region of Ethiopia is facing the worst drought in 40 years. Last year in Pakistan, unprecedented flooding damaged more than 26,000 schools. Tropical Cyclone Tej recently made landfall in Yemen, affecting thousands of people.
Kenya experienced fatal floods in November, which disrupted access to education. The climate crisis is robbing millions of children and adolescents of their right to learn today and lifelong learning and earning opportunities. Futures are at risk for an estimated 62 million children and adolescents affected by climate shocks who have been in desperate need of education support since 2020.
This year, the global fund for education in emergencies and protracted crises, Education Cannot Wait (ECW) is at COP28 with a USD 150 million emergency appeal to support education for children and adolescents affected by hazards. The fund is appealing to the represented states and the 97,300 registered participants to respond to the call for funds to save the future of millions of vulnerable children.
“It is a double tragedy for children in crises. More than 62 million children, which is nearly one-third of the 224 million crisis-affected children globally, need urgent educational support due to the compounding impact of climate shocks, conflict, and displacement. Education Cannot Wait is here to actively participate in COP28 and launch our climate education appeal—Right Here, Right Now,” Yasmine Sherif, ECW’s Executive Director, told IPS.
“Our message is that we must invest now. This is not only important to preserve future generations but also for what we can do today for millions of children and adolescents on the frontlines of climate-induced disasters in the Horn of Africa, Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, and the Central African Republic, ongoing desertification in the Middle East, and recurring climate shocks in Afghanistan.”
Sherif says that the $150 million appeal aims to ensure a continuous and holistic education for two million children and adolescents. The holistic education package entails building back better—setting up structures for anticipatory action, developing climate-resilient schools, and training teachers and subsequently students on prevention, mitigation, and tackling climate change. Ultimately, when children stay in school, it helps take forward the climate agenda and set up sustainable responses to save Mother Earth as they later pursue careers that build climate action.
“It is important to stress that countries grappling with the double tragedy of climate-induced disasters and conflict are often those that contribute the least to climate change. We have a moral, legal, and ethical obligation to invest in climate action for crisis-impacted children,” Sherif explains.
It is time to overhaul the climate agenda by ensuring that it takes into account the specific education needs of vulnerable children, she says, while stressing that it is no longer tenable to separate climate and conflict from education because these issues are intertwined: climate change can cause and exacerbate conflict, and conflict situations are worsened by climate change. Children caught in the middle are left furthest behind the education system.
She spoke about the large investments and funds set up to support climate action and that there is a need to, in tandem, support education action today, for tomorrow may well be too late for at least 62 million children around the world.
Sherif urged strategic partners to put a caveat on their climate pledges that a certain percentage should go to funding education for vulnerable children affected by conflict and climate change.
“Education Cannot Wait looks at everything we do from a holistic perspective, connecting the dots and engaging with issues from a multisectoral level, whether it is psychosocial and mental health support, human security, famine, or floods. Education is the foundation of the Sustainable Development Goals. All these goals are anchored on education and knowledge management. It is impossible to have sustainable and effective climate action without factoring in the human component, and this means putting education front and center,” she emphasizes, suggesting that it was time for these issues to be tackled holistically.
Sherif further stressed that climate change and conflict are interrelated, as they are multiplying threats for mankind and must be tackled with multiplied investments and responses.
“This is what the appeal is about. To support a strong climate, conflict, and education action to ensure learning continuity and mental health and psychosocial support amidst interconnected crises,” she says.
Sherif told IPS that the funds will also support access to water and sanitation systems, gender-based violence (GBV) prevention, and child protection because climate disasters frequently make these issues worse. She also says ECW is working with partners to enhance disaster risk reduction and build back better.
“Anticipatory action is urgently needed, and it is about taking steps to reduce the impact of a disaster before it happens. We are also focused on crisis modifiers, such as in South Sudan, where, as part of our new multi-year programme, ECW partners have money set aside to respond quickly and flexibly to new emergencies, including those driven by climate change. We want to scale up crisis modifiers to support partners in responding quickly to the rapidly unfolding climate crisis,” she observes.
The appeal will also support education coordination systems to be ready to respond to climate disasters and displacements. The UN works closely with the education cluster and UNHCR at global and country levels to strengthen the preparedness of education and protection systems to be prepared for future emergencies.
IPS UN Bureau Report