Children and Sustainable Development

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Sustainable development

A definition of Sustainable development commonly applied is that of the Brundtland Report of 1987 which describes it as "development which meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs". [1]

Sustainable development refers to concern for the capacity of natural systems to support their populations along with the social challenges facing humanity. As early as the 1970s "sustainability" was employed to describe an economy "in equilibrium with basic ecological support systems."[2] The term covers a broad range of topics which can be conceptually categorised into three principal areas: environmental sustainability, economic sustainability and sociopolitical sustainability. In this respect it cuts across environmental issues such as the use and management of natural resources, combatting climate change, disaster risk reduction and the protection of biodiversity, as well as social and economic aspects of poverty reduction, promoting health and sustainable human settlements. Finally in regards to sociopolitical sustainability, democracy and citizen participation are also crucial to sustainable development.

Sustainable development and child well-being

There is a direct link between the environment and [child well-being]. Environmental quality is a key factor determining a child's likelihood of survival in their first years of life and has a strong influence on their physical and mental development. Environmental threats to children include: lack of safe water and sanitation; chemical pollution and radiation; Indoor and outdoor air pollution; and natural resource degradation.[3]

Children are more vulnerable to environmental hazards because of their physical size, immature organs, metabolic rate, behaviour, natural curiosity, and lack of knowledge. Up to one-third of the global burden of disease can be attributed to adverse environmental factors, including polluted air, dirty water, poor sanitation, and insect-transmitted diseases such as malaria and, an estimated two-thirds of the global burden of environment-related disease is borne by children.[4]

In terms of social and economic impacts, child well-being can be impacted upon through increased poverty and poorer health outcomes due to a family's reduced food production capacity, limited access to [freshwater] and food insecurity. At least 3.5 million under-five deaths annually and more than 10% of global disease can be attributed to under nutrition.[5]

Excessive and wasteful consumption, social inequities and inefficient resource use perpetuate a vicious cycle of pollution and resource degradation that contribute to poverty and the erosion of livelihoods. Poor people most commonly inhabit ecologically fragile areas such as arid or near desert areas, flood prone and low lying regions, overcrowded urban slums and refugee camps where natural resources are scarce and environmental conditions arduous.[6] [Inequality] has become increasingly severe both between and within countries since the 1980s as a a small proportion of the world's population continue to consume a larger share of resources than their poorer counterparts intensifying poverty and aggravating environmental pollution and having a disproportionate impact on children whose health and developmental well-being are more exposed by poverty.[7]

Children and disasters

Children aged 0-8 represent the highest percentage of persons affected by global emergencies today. Poor health, neurological damage, antisocial behaviours, violence, and cognitive regression can result from acute stress and distress during the early years (Grantham-McGregor et al., 2007). For these reasons young children have been identified as one of the most vulnerable populations when contexts become disrupted or fragile.[8]

Families, caregivers and safe environments are critical for well-being and the loss or disruption to social supports and protective systems further increase children's vulnerability. During emergency situations the risk of abuse, exploitation and violence towards children is increased, particularly for girls and children with disabilities, due to a breakdown in law and order systems. [9]

Two thirds of the world's child population live in the 42 countries affected by some crisis between 2002-2006. Over 40% of the 16 million refugees and 26 million internally displaced persons are children and they often constitute more than one third of the death toll from disasters.[10]

Measuring the impact on children

Certain social indicators can be used to derive some measurement of the impact of environmental degradation and disasters on on society, including children, based on a methodology that examines the gap between what existed prior to the disaster or impact and what was destroyed.[11] In regards to children, These relevant indicators include infant, under 5 and maternal mortality rates; child malnutrition rates and rates of stunting.

The role of children in sustainable development

As stated by Agenda 21, the plan of action of the United Nations for organizations of the UN System, Governments, and Major Groups in every area in which human impacts on the environment, 'youth comprise nearly 30 per cent of the world's population and their involvement in environment and development decision-making and in the implementation of programmes is critical to the long-term success of Agenda 21 and ultimately in achieving sustainable development. [12]

See also

Sustainable development
Child well-being
Freshwater
Childhood poverty

References

  1. [http://www.un-documents.net/ocf-ov.htm#I.3 UN documents: Our Common Future, From One Earth to One World From A/42/427. Our Common Future: Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development
  2. Stivers, R. 1976. The Sustainable Society: Ethics and Economic Growth. Philadelphia: Westminster Press
  3. UNICEF report Children in the New Millenium: Environmental Impact on Health
  4. UNICEF report Children in the New Millenium: Environmental Impact on Health
  5. United Nations MDG Fund Children, Food Security and Nutrition
  6. UNICEF report Children in the New Millenium: Environmental Impact on Health
  7. UNICEF report Children in the New Millenium: Environmental Impact on Health
  8. [http://www.arnec.net/ntuc/slot/u2323/publication/Disaster%20Risk%20Reduction3_small.pdf ARNEC publication Hayden J, Cologon K, 2011, Disaster Risk Reduction and Young Children: Assessing needs at the community level, ARNEC, UNICEF, Macquarie University
  9. http://www.arnec.net/ntuc/slot/u2323/publication/Disaster%20Risk%20Reduction3_small.pdf ARNEC publication Hayden J, Cologon K, 2011, Disaster Risk Reduction and Young Children: Assessing needs at the community level, ARNEC, UNICEF, Macquarie University]
  10. ARNEC publication Hayden J, Cologon K, 2011, Disaster Risk Reduction and Young Children: Assessing needs at the community level, ARNEC, UNICEF, Macquarie University
  11. ECLAC Notes, Natural Disasters Cause Nearly US$7 billion in Material Losses a Year, November 2009
  12. UNEP Agenda 21, Section III Strengthening the Role of Major Groups, Chapter 25 Children & Youth in Sustainable Development

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