Thousands Of Reasons For Climate Action Urgency On Our Doorstep

I was working in Vanuatu in 2015 when Tropical Cyclone Pam devastated the country. We had just launched a new livelihoods project working with coffee farmers when the category 5 cyclone damaged their plantations.

When I returned to the communities, I saw trees stripped bare, corrugated iron roofing wrapped around trunks and homes destroyed.

Last year, I was heartbroken to see images of the same people I had worked with on the TC Pam response sitting with their families outside their destroyed homes after they were hit by Severe Tropical Cyclone Harold. This category 5 cyclone caused widespread destruction in the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Fiji, and Tonga during April 2020.

A new report from Save the Children, Born into the Climate Crisis states that today's 1-year-olds will experience, on average, twice as many wildfires, 2.8 times the exposure to crop failure, 2.6 times as many drought events, 2.8 times as many river floods, and 6.8 times more heatwaves across their lifetimes, compared to their grandparents.

Cyclones, not included in the analysis, will increase in intensity – particularly in the Asia-Pacific region.

A boy looks out at the flooded street in Somalia.

 

Across New Zealand, Australia and the Pacific we are already experiencing the impacts of climate change with floods destroying homes and farmland, drought, devastating bushfires and cyclones increasing in frequency and intensity.

Cyclone Harold was the second Category 5 Tropical Cyclone to have wreaked havoc in Vanuatu in just five years.

Rising sea levels are making parts of islands uninhabitable because of the threat to homes and the contamination of fertile land and drinking water by the salt water. This has serious implications for our children's futures.

The Ni-Vanuatu are incredibly resilient. After TC Pam, as well as destruction, I also saw hope in the rebuild. I watched as men and women worked tirelessly to replant crops to ensure their families and communities had enough food and a source of income for the future. Saplings and root crops were bought and transported from the less-affected islands, which in turn helped to support the local economy.

I encountered children excited to return to school and communities working together to rebuild their homes, adapting both traditional and new building techniques to make them stronger. I watched the local theatre group Won Smol Bag perform in communities severely impacted by the cyclone, providing entertainment during the difficult recovery work while also sharing important messages about how to protect children, people with disabilities and the elderly during and after disasters.

Homes damaged by Cyclone Kenneth, Ibo Island, Mozambique

Since Pam, there has also been a strong focus at the national and community levels on disaster preparedness.

This year, Save the Children, with the support of the New Zealand Government and in collaboration with the Vanuatu Ministry of Education and Training, started the Seif Skul (Safe Schools) project to ensure that children in all schools across Vanuatu learn about Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) and have a safe school environment in which to learn.

With today's 1-year-olds in Vanuatu likely to face some 4.4 times more heatwaves, 2.9 times more droughts and 1.6 times more wildfires than their grandparents, this will be a life-changing set of skills for the future.

On Sunday, the UN Climate Change Conference COP26 begins. We call on New Zealand to take the lead in ensuring that our global response to the climate crisis has a comprehensive focus on children.

As we move into the next Pacific cyclone season, we need to be thinking increasingly about the impact climate change is having on children in New Zealand and across the Pacific.

We have already seen children around the world stand up for their rights and demand global action against the climate crisis to protect their futures. We commend the New Zealand Government's $1.3 billion plan to support our Pacific neighbours to adapt and respond to the climate crisis.

This is a good start but it's vital decision makers here and around the world join together to help protect the future of children born today and tomorrow.

Grace Savage is Save the Children's International Programmes Manager

 

*Originally published in NZ Herald