United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has charged the Federal Government to strengthen the education sector by increasing funding and investing in a climate-smart system.
It advised the President Bola Tinubu administration to prioritise climate change in education plans and budgets. Education Consultant, UNICEF Nigeria Country Office, Sarah Fuller, in a chat with The Guardian, decried impact of global warming on school enrolment, learning and attendance in the country.
She observed that climate change was destroying schools, homes and livelihoods, as well as interrupting access to education by wiping out needed infrastructure.
Fuller regretted that of the 163 nations under consideration, Nigeria ranks second in terms of risk that climate change poses to children.
Quoting the 2021 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS6), the UNICEF official noted that natural disasters in the country interrupted access to education for approximately 14 per cent of all children in the 2020/2021 academic calendar alone.
She stressed the need to leverage the protective power of education by re-enrolling children, improving learning quality and guaranteeing continuous education.
Fuller implored government to ensure that climate-related hazards and school safety are fully integrated in education plans and budgets, in addition to operationalising the minimum standards on safe schools.
She submitted that climate change directly threatens children’s ability to survive, grow, thrive and learn, adding that they are the most vulnerable to diseases such as malaria and dengue fever, being promoted by the weather crisis.
Her words: “Indeed, this is child rights crisis. Nigeria scores 8.5 on UNICEF’s Children’s Climate Risk Index (CCRI), placing it in the ‘extremely high’ category for climate risks, both overall and for both pillars of which the index is comprised, including climate and environmental shocks (8.8) and child vulnerability (8.1). Nigeria scores significantly higher than its peers of similar size and development status. Of Nigeria’s population of 206 million people, more than 103 million are children. This means that Nigerian children account for approximately four per cent of the global child population and 10 per cent of the children globally living in extremely high-risk countries.
“Moreover, children bear the greatest burden of climate change, especially as their environment becomes increasingly uninhabitable.”
Referencing current growth rate of Nigeria’s child population, the education consultant feared that by 2050, one in 13 births would take place in the country, thus expanding the number of children at risk, increasing competition for limited resources and putting additional pressure on social systems, such as health and education, which are already overburdened.
Fuller said UNICEF data indicate that reducing these risks would require significant investment in critical sectors, including education.
Investments that improve educational outcomes can considerably reduce overall climate risks for 275 million children around the world, she noted.
The expert added that reducing the exposure of critical systems such as education would require improved physical infrastructure like schools and roads.
She continued: “We must have effective mitigation measures in place, such as weather forecasting and disaster warning techniques and early warning systems, which can help schools, communities and authorities to detect, prepare for and respond to threats, such as climate-induced disasters. The intense flash flooding that we see in Nigeria, for example, is associated both with the climate change-induced increases in rainfall and the dumping of solid waste in water channels. Mitigation and response measures must involve working with other sectors to strengthen land, water and resource management and to prioritise reforestation, revegetation and soil restoration.
“Finally, mitigation and adaptation alone are not enough. Every child and young person in Nigeria must have access to comprehensive environmental and climate change literacy education. They must be empowered with the green skills needed to take action and must be engaged in decision-making. Young people need to be seen as partners and leaders in our transition to an equitable, just and life-sustaining future.”