TENS of thousands of children in the southern regions of Africa are dropping out of school and being forced into early marriage or child labour as a direct result of El Niño, aid agencies have warned in a new report.
The extreme-weather pattern, which affects global temperatures and ocean currents, has resulted in scorching temperatures, long droughts, water shortages, and flooding, affecting crops, livestock, and livelihoods from Ethiopia to Zimbabwe. But it has also had a “devastating impact” on the lives of children, the agencies World Vision, UNICEF, and Plan International have said.
Their joint report, Regional Child Protection Rapid Assessment, is based on an assessment and survey of child protection issues in South Africa, Lesotho, Swaziland, Angola, Mozambique, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Zambia, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It concludes that the rate of school drop-outs had increased since the start of El Niño, and that reports of sexual exploitation, violence, child labour, and psychosocial distress are also on the rise.
The senior child-rights programme adviser at World Vision UK, Tracy Shields, who co-authored the report, said: “The sting in its tail are causes of a great worry. The consequences stretch beyond hunger and food shortages, with tens of thousands dropping out of school, migrating out of impoverished areas, and facing separation from families.
“It is also clear that sexual violence driven by the impact of El Niño is a major issue; this is why it is important for communities and governments in southern Africa to design and implement awareness campaigns that address the risk factors involved.”
The report states that 26 million children across eastern and southern Africa are at risk of malnutrition, water shortages, and disease. The United Nations has confirmed that more than 60 million people have been affected by food shortages caused by droughts.
“Extreme-weather events reverse development gains. People and communities cannot escape poverty or banish hunger if their resources are wiped out by floods, storms, or droughts every few years,” the UN secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, said at the UN Headquarters in New York last week.
“This unprecedented challenge requires unprecedented changes in the way we work. It is crucial that we learn the lessons of this El Niño. We must prevent, prepare for, and mitigate the effects of climate change, which has the greatest impact on those who have least responsibility for causing it.”
The assistant secretary-general, Izumi Nakamitsu, wrote in the website World Post last week: “Even when it is over, that dramatic weather phenomenon we call El Niño is never quite over.”
Although El Niño officially ended two months ago in June, Earth is averaging a temperature of 16.4º C, which is 0.9º warmer than usual, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the United States said. June was also the hottest on record, as was each of the 14 previous months, while 2014 was the hottest year in modern records.