UNICEF Australia today warned that Australians are facing an increasing bushfire risk and greater consideration must be given to the health and wellbeing of children and their communities.
“As climate change worsens, heatwaves and bushfires are likely to become more frequent and can have dangerous and lasting impacts on the health and well-being of children, who make up nearly 25 per cent of the NSW population,” said Nicole Breeze, Chief Advocate for Children at UNICEF Australia.
“We’ve seen today’s reports that 20 schools have closed in the South Coast region of NSW due to elevated bushfire risks. School closures can impact a child’s development if they’re happening regularly and over a prolonged period. We need to adapt the services children rely on, such as education and infrastructure, to prevent the worst impacts of extreme weather events.
"What we’ve seen in previous emergencies are significant disruptions to children’s education, mental health and wellbeing, physical health, environment, recreation and play. We need to consider these impacts and for all levels of government to have a coordinated approach that help our communities prepare and respond to weather-related events."
“UNICEF Australia is calling for a greater emphasis to be placed on children’s needs when it comes to emergency preparedness and resilience.”
A UNICEF report has found that by 2050 every child on the planet will be subjected to more frequent heatwaves, while 2.2 million Australian children could experience living in areas where the average length of a heatwave is predicted to last longer than 4.7 days.
By 2050, with a projected 2.4 degrees of warming, UNICEF estimates that the number of children who live in areas where the temperature exceeds 35°C for 83+ days a year could double. Up to 2.2 million Australian children could also be living in areas where heatwaves will last longer than 4.7 days.
There is an emerging field of study around ‘climate anxiety’ and analysis of the impact of ‘natural’ or climate-related disasters. UNICEF's Report Card 17, published in 2021, found that 84% of young Australians are extremely, very, or moderately worried about climate change. UNICEF Australia is tracking the importance mental wellbeing of children and young people, including due to stressors such as climate change, through its Children’s Wellbeing Index.