UNICEF warns of heat waves affecting 94% of children in Portugal

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Heat waves affect 94% of children in Portugal, equivalent to 1.5 million, with half of children in Europe and Central Asia exposed to a high frequency of heat waves, warns UNICEF.

The high exposure is double the global average, which indicates that one in four children is exposed to high frequency of heat waves, indicates a report released today by the United Nations children’s agency.

In Europe and Central Asia alone, 92 million children are exposed to excessive heat, analysis of the latest data from 50 countries shows.

The document, entitled, “Beat the heat: Protecting children from heatwaves in Europe and Central Asia”, highlights that children are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of heatwaves, putting them at risk of serious illnesses, including heatstroke.

The vulnerability of babies and children is due in particular to the fact that their body temperature rises significantly and faster than that of adults.

UNICEF also warns that heat waves also affect children’s ability to concentrate and learn, putting their education at risk.

Quoted in a statement on the report, Regina De Dominicis, UNICEF Regional Director for Europe and Central Asia, says: “Half of the region’s children are now exposed to a high frequency of heat waves. This number is expected to increase by 2050. The many implications for the current and future health of such a significant proportion of children in the region should be a catalyst for governments to urgently invest in mitigation and adaptation measures.”

UNICEF stresses that heat waves are expected to increase in the coming years, and says that based on more conservative scenarios of a global temperature increase of 1.7 degrees Celsius (relative to pre-industrial times), “all children in Europe and Central Asia, including Portugal, will be exposed to a high frequency of heat waves by 2050”.

In this scenario, 81% of children are estimated to be exposed to high heat wave duration, and 28% are estimated to be exposed to high heat wave severity.

“In Portugal, heat waves are also happening more frequently and UNICEF estimates that currently 94% of children, equivalent to 1.5 million children, are exposed to a high frequency of heat waves,” the statement said.

To help protect children, UNICEF calls on governments in Europe and Central Asia to incorporate heat wave mitigation and adaptation into Nationally Determined Contributions (set out in the Paris Agreement), National Adaptation Plans and Disaster Risk Reduction and Management policies, keeping children at the center of all plans.

It also calls for investment in primary health care to support prevention, early action, diagnosis and treatment of heat-related illness among children, and for investment in national climate change early warning systems.

Governments should also, UNICEF suggests, adapt water, hygiene and sanitation, health, education, nutrition, social protection and child protection services to cope with the impacts of heat waves.

Recalling that scientific evidence shows that rising temperatures are a result of climate change, UNICEF also calls on governments in Europe and Central Asia to reduce carbon dioxide emissions to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius and to double adaptation funding by 2025.

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