Welcome to the first blog by UNICEF’s regional office for East Asia and the Pacific. The purpose of our blog is to highlight different development issues facing the region’s children, as well as taking a more in-depth look at how they are being tackled beyond the ubiquitous human interest story you have all come to know and love. I won’t go into detail about who UNICEF is and what we do in the region, but if you would like to find out more, feel free to visit us a www.unicef.org/eapro or follow us on twitter @UnicefAsiaPac.
Climate change and its potential impact on human development is an issue of global concern and research continues to further our understanding on the issue. For UNICEF, our primary concern is to examine what impact climate change could have on the lives of children here in Asia and the Pacific, and whether government policies and strategies adequately take the specific vulnerabilities of children into account.
To get a better sense of this, UNICEF commissioned five country studies in Indonesia, Kiribati, Mongolia, the Philippines and Vanuatu. The UNICEF report presents an analysis of the climate change trends and potential impacts on children in East Asia and the Pacific drawing on findings from these country studies, as well as children’s own perspectives on climate change and other research. The research was supported by Reed Elsevier, which works in partnership with the global science and health communities to publish more than 2,000 journals, including The Lancet and New Scientist.
One of the lead researchers for the Indonesia study is Mia Urbano. Mia is a member of the research team from the Nossal Institute for Global Health at the University of Melbourne in Australia and worked with the National Institute of Health Research and Development in Indonesia. We talked to her about her research on climate change impacts on migration and nutrition in Indonesia, which is part of a UNICEF series looking at climate change and children in East Asia and the Pacific.
As Mia points out, what really struck the research team was that children could speak about the impacts of climate change immediately, it wasn’t an obscure topic. The children Mia met were experiencing bridges being washed out at a time of year when there shouldn’t be heavy rains; their fathers’ corn crops failing for the third time in a row because the rains returned too early; children describing more hardship, change, displacement, damage to their school and their home – very direct impacts.
Mia, what does this study add to the existing body of information on climate change that is already out there?
MU: We did a similar study last year looking at the Pacific, in Fiji, Kiribati and Tuvalu, and the most important part of that study, and this Indonesian one, is the discussion of adaptation. There is a lot of focus on climate change at the moment and on Indonesia in particular, with emissions-reduction schemes rolling out in relation to forest areas. But it is a disproportionate focus at the moment – with good reason – on mitigation and emissions reductions. But the protective response for kids lies in adaptation strategies. We found in both our studies that the focus isn’t yet on adaptation, and children’s issues within that discussion are silent or missing. What UNICEF has done through this study is to highlight the impacts and to initiate conversations with governments about them. Many of the good comprehensive sector policy documents on climate change have very little reference to children, if any. In terms of nuanced strategies that will make a difference, these UNICEF studies are good for raising that agenda and awareness.
Why did you focus on migration and nutrition?
MU: I think it’s a reflection of the visionary aspect of this series of studies commissioned by the East Asia-Pacific Regional Office of UNICEF. Our study looked at nutrition and migration because of the development indicators – Indonesia has a moderately high malnutrition rate among children, and it’s a country with a long tradition of both overseas and internal migration. There are likely to be child protection implications due to parents who migrate because of environmental factors and an aggravating impact of climate on nutritional levels. It’s not a well-documented and linear link yet but it was great for UNICEF to provide exploration of that.
Where did you go in the research?
MU: After looking at both the scientific literature and other relevant information available about Indonesia, such as The Lancet study on malnutrition and climate change, we looked in-depth and talked with children in two sites: first in East Java, which is a very populous. That included hopping across to Madura Island, which is just off the coast and one of the largest sending areas for migrant workers. And for the sake of comparison and diversity, we then looked at the province of Nusa Tenggara Timur, or NTT. It has a very different geography and environment, much lower population density, lower child development indicators across the board and people there are experiencing much more hardship because of the compound effect of poverty. The province is in the grip of droughts but is also having flash floods, at freak, anomalous times of the year.
We interviewed various adults and did some up-close work with children, giving them cameras in a method called Photovoice and asked them to depict the significance of climate in their lives. They came back with compelling images. We also administered an online and in-person survey with urban and rural children – we talked to a 100 kids through the survey.
Is there any indication that there is already much migration because of environmental issues?
MU: We were only able to scratch the surface because it was a brief assessment. But children and parents, particularly in NTT, talked about both parents – not just the father – migrating seasonally to cities for work. Mothers were doing it as well because of successive crop failures and children were left in the care of grandmothers. In our survey we asked if people had experienced either withdrawal from school because of financial impacts due to weather-related events or if parents had migrated due to weather-related events. We didn’t have a large sample size but we got confirmation of this.