Nearly half a billion children in South Asia are exposed to extremely high temperatures as potentially deadly heat waves caused by the climate crisis become stronger and more frequent, according to the United Nations agency for children.
In a press release on Monday, UNICEF said its analysis of 2020 data showed that approximately 460 million children in countries including Afghanistan, India and Pakistan were exposed to temperatures where 83 or more days a year exceeded 35 degrees. Celsius (95 Fahrenheit), making South Asia the most affected region for those under 18 years of age.
The analysis showed that 76% of children in South Asia were exposed to extremely high temperatures compared to 32% globally, UNICEF said.
“Countries in the region are not the hottest in the world right now, but the heat here poses life-threatening risks for millions of vulnerable children,” said Sanjay Wijesekera, UNICEF regional director for South Asia. “We are especially concerned about infants, young children, malnourished children and pregnant women, as they are the most vulnerable to heat stroke and other serious effects.”
Temperatures in some parts of India shot up to 47 degrees celsius (116 degrees Fahrenheit) in June, killing at least 44 people and sickening hundreds with heat-related illnesses.
Some cities in Pakistan also recorded similarly high temperatures that same month, raising fears, especially among workers who spend hours working outdoors and among poor populations with few or no refrigeration options.
In parts of the southern Sindh province, around 1.8 million people were exposed to temperatures of 40 degrees Celsius (104 F) or higher, UNICEF said, posing short-term health risks. long-term, including dehydration and organ failure.
UNICEF warns that the situation is exacerbated for children, as they cannot quickly adapt to such temperature changes.
The risks can be life-threatening: from fainting spells and poor mental development to neurological dysfunction, seizures, and cardiovascular disease.
Pregnant women are particularly susceptible to heat and can suffer premature births and stillbirths, UNICEF said.
Experts say the climate crisis will only trigger more frequent and prolonged heat waves in the future, testing the region’s ability to adapt.
India, the world’s most populous nation with 1.4 billion people, often experiences heatwaves during the summer months of May and June, but in recent years they have come earlier and become longer.
In April 2022, India experienced a heat wave that saw temperatures in the capital, New Delhi, exceed 40 degrees Celsius for seven consecutive days. In some states, the heat closed schools, damaged crops and put a strain on power supplies, as officials warned residents to stay indoors and stay hydrated.
Experts have also warned The threat facing Afghanistan is particularly serious. Not only is there a record high potential for extreme heat, but the impacts are compounded by serious social and economic problems.
At the same time, extreme weather has had deadly effects in other parts of the region.
Floods Caused by Record Monsoon Rains and Melting Glaciers in Pakistan submerged a third of the country Last year, it killed nearly 1,600 people, more than a third of whom were children.
As the water swept away homes and destroyed villages, water-related diseases began infecting children, sparking a new disaster in this nation of 230 million people.
In its report, UNICEF warned that ultimately children, adolescents and women are among those who pay the highest price for extreme weather events.
“Little children just can’t take the heat,” Wijesekera said. “Unless we act now, these children will continue to bear the brunt of more frequent and severe heat waves for years to come, through no fault of their own.”