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Water Stress, Climate Change and Childrens at Crossroads

  • 20 Nov 2023
  • 7 min read

For Prelims: UNICEF, Water stress, Falkenmark Indicator, United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Loss and Damage Fund, Child malnutrition 

For Mains: Issues Related to Childrens and Potential Solutions, Climate Change and its Impact on Childrens. 

Source: DTE

Why in News? 

The latest United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) report states that nearly half of the world’s children faced high to extremely high water stress in 2022

  • The report also captured how the various climate and environmental shocks driven by climate change are impacting the lives of children.

What are the Major Highlights of the Report? 

  • Water Stress and Climate Impact on Children: In 2022, 953 million children encountered high or extremely high water stress, while 739 million experienced water scarcity, and 436 million lived in areas with high water vulnerability.
    • Climate change is intensifying these challenges, with projections indicating that by 2050, over 2 billion children could face the impacts of frequent heat waves.
  • Factors Contributing to Water Vulnerability: It includes inadequate drinking water services, elevated water stress levels, interannual and seasonal variability, groundwater decline, and drought.
  • Health and Nutrition Impacts on Children: Climate-related events like floods compromise access to safe water and sanitation, leading to diseases like diarrhea among children.
    • Rising temperatures and erratic rainfall patterns affect food production, worsening child malnutrition due to crop failures and increased food prices.
  • UNICEF's Call for Child-Centric Climate Action: UNICEF emphasizes the criticality of 28th Conference of Parties (COP28) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, urging a shift in focus to prioritize children in climate agendas. 
    • Advocacy for integrating children and climate-resilient essential services into decisions related to the Global Goal on Adaptation (GGA).
    • Emphasizing the need for child-responsive funding arrangements and governance within the Loss and Damage Fund to support climate-impacted countries.

What is Water Stress? 

  • About: 
    • Water stress occurs when the demand for water exceeds its available supply or when poor quality limits its usability. 
      • A region is considered water stressed if there is less than 1,000 cubic meters of water available per person per year.
    • According to the World Resources Institute report, globally at least 50% of the world's population live under highly water stressed conditions for at least one month of the year, the WRI report noted. 
      • And by 2050, that number could be closer to 60%. 
  • Factors Responsible for Water Stress: 
    • This condition arises due to factors such as population growth, inefficient resource management, climate change, and pollution, leading to challenges in accessing clean water for societal, economic, and environmental needs, impacting agriculture, industry, and overall well-being.
  • Falkenmark Indicator or Water Stress Index:  
    • The Falkenmark Indicator (which is mostly used for measuring water scarcity throughout the world) or Water Stress Index gauges the strain placed on a country's freshwater reserves by relating the total available water resources to its population. 
    • It reflects the pressure exerted on water resources, encompassing the requirements for natural ecosystems. When the renewable water per person falls:
      • Under 1,700 m3, the country is deemed to face water stress.
      • Under 1,000 m3, it's classified as experiencing water scarcity.
      • Under 500 m3, it's deemed to be facing absolute water scarcity within its borders.
  • Impact on Childrens: 
    • Health Risks: In areas facing water scarcity, children often bear the brunt of health risks associated with inadequate access to clean water.
      • They face a higher likelihood of waterborne diseases such as diarrhea, cholera, and dysentery due to using contaminated water sources.
    • Long-term Developmental Impact: Chronic water stress during critical developmental stages can have long-term effects on children's growth, cognitive development, and overall health, potentially affecting their future opportunities and quality of life.
    • Impact on Gender Roles: In many societies, gender roles dictate water-related responsibilities. 
      • Water scarcity often places a disproportionate burden on girls and women, affecting girls' education and perpetuating gender inequalities.
      • This can shape children's perceptions of gender roles and social expectations.

Way Forward

  • Hygiene Education Programs: Develop comprehensive hygiene education programs in schools and communities. Teach children about proper handwashing, sanitation practices, and personal hygiene to prevent waterborne diseases.
  • School-Based Initiatives: Integrate water-saving practices into school curricula. Create student-led water conservation clubs or initiatives to raise awareness and implement water-saving measures within schools.
  • Education and Awareness: Integrate climate change education into school curricula to raise awareness among children. Teaching them about climate science, sustainability, and actions they can take part in to mitigate and adapt to climate change.
  • Children Centered Policies: Strengthen global policies and frameworks that protect children's rights in the face of climate change and water stress.
    • Incorporate child-centered approaches in international agreements, ensuring their voices are heard and their needs considered in related policies.

UPSC Civil Services Examination, Previous Year Question (PYQ)


Q 1. What is water stress? How and why does it differ regionally in India? (2019)

Q 2. Suggest measures to improve water storage and irrigation system to make its judicious use under the depleting scenario. (2020)

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