The head of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said greater attention should be paid to the negative impact of climate change on the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people, especially children, as she toured the West African nation of Mali.
Ann M. Veneman, Executive Director of UNICEF, discussed child health and climate change with President Amadou Toumani Toure and other officials in the landlocked country, where over half the population lives below the poverty line.
“One in five children in Mali do not survive to see their fifth birthday. Most of these children are dying from preventable diseases like pneumonia, diarrhoea and malaria, often exacerbated by under nutrition. In Mali, 32 per cent of children under 5 years old are under weight.”
As part of her 5 to 8 November visit, Ms. Veneman visited Timbuktu which has been severely impacted by climate change. Situated in the Sahel region of northern Mali, the city’s branches of the Niger River have dried up due to drought and much of the land is now arid and unable to yield crops.
She praised a food-for-work programme in Timbuktu, supported by the World Food Programme (WFP), where women grow vegetables and rice on land that has been reclaimed from the advancing desert. The women are also planting trees as part of a reforestation programme.
“These women are empowered to produce needed food while adapting to the impact of climate change,” said Ms. Veneman. “As the Copenhagen climate change summit approaches, it is important to recognize that climate change is adversely affecting the lives of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people.”
Countries will meet next month in the Danish capital to agree on a new climate change agreement that would enter into effect after the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol on greenhouse gas emissions expires in 2012.
The Executive Director and President Toure also launched a month of activities commemorating the 20th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.