Report shows how climate change affects children in SA’s access to healthcare, basic education

Moroccan Foreign Minister and COP22 president, Salaheddine Mezouar (left), and French Minister for the Environment, Segolene Royal, launch the opening of the UN Climate Change Conference 2016 (COP22) in Marrakech, Morocco in 2016. REUTERS/YOUSSEF BOUDLAL

Moroccan Foreign Minister and COP22 president, Salaheddine Mezouar (left), and French Minister for the Environment, Segolene Royal, launch the opening of the UN Climate Change Conference 2016 (COP22) in Marrakech, Morocco in 2016. REUTERS/YOUSSEF BOUDLAL

Published Jun 21, 2024


Durban – Human rights organisation, Section 27, released a new report, entitled "Climate Change as a Human Rights Risk: A Resource for Health and Education Rights Activists in South Africa", yesterday.

In the report, the focus is on the impact of climate change on children's access to healthcare and basic education.

According to a press release by the organisation, the report explores the current state of children’s rights in the context of climate change adaptation and mitigation efforts and examines policies aimed at protecting children’s rights in a changing climate.

Climate change is not merely an academic issue, but a real and significant threat. In 2021, South Africa experienced devastating floods in KwaZulu-Natal, resulting in the loss of life and property damage. More recently, a tornado caused destruction and fatalities in the province in June.

Those who were in vulnerable economic and social situations were the hardest hit. The destruction of school infrastructure and healthcare facilities had a ripple effect on the national budget.

The report underscores the importance of children's health in the context of climate change, as they are particularly vulnerable to both direct and indirect effects of climate change, including floods, temperature fluctuations, droughts, wildfires, infectious diseases, food insecurity, and air pollution.

Children and infants have specific nutritional and hydration needs that are essential for their growth and development. Furthermore, their respiratory systems are more susceptible to being constricted by pollutants due to their narrower pathways. Children can also experience significant psychological stress due to climate change.

The report also reveals the education sector as one of the sectors most susceptible to the effects of climate change. This vulnerability is evident in the direct impacts on basic education, including the destruction of school infrastructure caused by extreme weather events like floods, as well as the hindered educational achievement resulting from excessive heat.

Additionally, there are indirect consequences on education, such as those related to food insecurity, air pollution, and health.

Some recommendations from the report to address these issues include the construction of schools that are more resilient to climate change, using appropriate materials for infrastructure.

It also suggests remote learning systems be implemented to ensure continued education in the event of extreme weather, when schools may be inaccessible due to damage to infrastructure. Allocation of adequate funding to prepare for and respond to such events is paramount, says the report.

Additionally, it proposes retrofitting healthcare facilities, such as painting roofs white to reduce heat absorption. It also proposes personalised early-warning systems for disasters, such as mobile applications that alert pregnant women to high temperatures.

It offers advice on protective measures. Global warming can result in previously cooler areas becoming warmer, attracting mosquitoes and increasing the spread of malaria. This can put additional strain on healthcare facilities in those areas.

Therefore, healthcare systems should be adaptable and early-warning systems should be implemented to mitigate the impact on people without exacerbating climate change.

This report also outlines the key discussions held at a conference hosted by SECTION27 of public interest law organisations, social movements, community-based organisations, youth organisations and activist academics to unpack the climate crisis and its impact on socio-economic rights.

During the collaboration session on education, several key areas were identified, including infrastructure, climate change education, and scholar transport. The focal point of school infrastructure was the urgency of addressing its vulnerability to climate change.

This is because the existing Norms and Standards for School Infrastructure do not take this aspect into consideration. Climate change education was deemed essential in empowering young children with the knowledge and abilities to mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change. It was also noted that scholar transport policies should factor in the influence of climate change.

The health-related discussions underscored the necessity of conducting health impact assessments. The participants recognised the importance of providing training to healthcare workers regarding the effects of climate change. Stress testing health facilities was seen as essential to evaluate their capacity to withstand climate-related shocks.

Another important issue to address is the proper management of medical and pharmaceutical waste, particularly given the significant contribution of the healthcare sector to carbon emissions. The discussion also addressed the growing use of e-cigarettes and vapes, emphasising the environmental consequences of their non-recyclable plastic and metal batteries.

Finally, the report serves as a vital resource to identify the impacts of climate change on health and basic education, and to comprehend the legal framework about the intersection of climate change and socio-economic rights.

The report also aims to catalyse urgent and collaborative action from civil society human rights and socio-economic rights organisations dedicated to advancing justice in health and education. It also calls on the relevant state institutions in health and basic education to develop appropriate mitigation and adaptation measures that respond to the impacts of climate change for these sectors.

No longer can matters of climate justice be left to environmental organisations. Climate change is a human rights issue. Looking ahead, now more than ever, collaboration will be crucial to addressing the multi-faceted challenges posed by the climate crisis.

UNICEF deputy executive director, Kitty van der Heijden, said: "The climate crisis is not just changing the planet. It is changing children. Children’s bodies and minds are uniquely vulnerable to climate impacts and children are disproportionately affected by this crisis, not of their making.”

In the report, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) signed was signed by South Africa in 1994 but only ratified it in 2015, with a reservation regarding basic education.

The ICESCR established an international framework for the protection and realisation, by state parties, of socio-economic rights such as the rights to food, housing, healthcare and education.

State parties that have ratified the ICESCR have a legal obligation to work towards the realisation of the socio-economic rights set out in the ICESCR. In 2018, the UN Committee on Economic Social and Cultural Rights released a statement which expanded on the implications of climate change on human rights.

The committee noted that: “Climate change already affects, in particular, the rights to health, food, water and sanitation; and it will do so at an increasing pace in the future.”

WhatsApp your views on this story at 071 485 7995.

Daily News