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Global climate change is projected to bring about an increase in temperatures, extreme weathers and sea level rise. It can affect various impacts on human health through a variety of ways as a consequence of frequent and intensive heat weaves, increased droughts and flood risks and effects by disasters (Haines et al., 2006). These effects will disproportionally affect vulnerable populations such as children and the elderly (Sheffield and Landrigan, 2010). Children are acknowledged as particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and disasters because they can be victims of natural events, which they are in need of the protections by adults (Tanner, 2010). In addition, the elderly are considered as one of the most vulnerable groups since weather-related conditions can cause them to have cardiovascular and cerebrovascular, resulting in increasing their mortality rate more compared to other age groups (Haines et al., 2006).
This paper will evaluate vulnerable populations’ vulnerability levels and factors; children in developing countries in Southeast Asia and the elderly in developed countries in the United States (U.S.), and their needs of adaptation to climate change. The first section of this paper will examine their vulnerability level and drivers of their vulnerability, and climate change adaptation methods for them, defining vulnerability with relevant literature review. The second and the third section will argue how children in Southeast Asia and the elderly in the U.S. are extremely vulnerable to climate change, explaining the background and effective adaptation methods for them, respectively. Then conclusions will be presented.
Vulnerability and Adaptation to Climate Change: Children and Elderly people
The word of ‘Vulnerability’ has been conceptualised in various ways by scholars depending on the field of study, resulting in that there is no universal definition (Paul, 2013). In climate change research field, ‘Vulnerability’ has been regarded as concepts like resilience, adaptability, fragility and risk (Liverman, 1990). Füssel (2007) added concepts such as exposure, sensitivity, coping capacity, criticality, and robustness to Liverman’s definition. Since an uncertainty of the definition of vulnerability can lead to misunderstanding and unclarity to understanding who can be vulnerable to climate change and the results of climate change, it is essential to define vulnerability. Therefore, in this essay, ‘Vulnerability’ can be defined as the characteristics and conditions of a person, community, system or assets that are susceptible to climate change and other hazards (Unicef, 2011).
Under this definition, children, who can be defined under the age of 18 years old in this essay, are widely recognised that they are extremely vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. This is because children can experience 3 types of vulnerabilities; psychological vulnerability, physical vulnerability and educational vulnerability (Peek, 2008). Also, Mitchell and Borchard (2014) claim that the most obvious reason why they are more vulnerable than adults to climate change is physiological. Their physiological vulnerability and physical vulnerability such as metabolic capacities are lower than that of adults. When they are exposed to impacts of climate change during their infancy, those impacts cause children to be harmed or damaged, resulting in that they might suffer from the disease over a lifetime and over generations (Akachi et al., 2009). Therefore, they are in great danger of being injured or killed in disasters caused by climate change. In fact, Save the Children (2009) anticipates that 175 million children would be affected every year by various kinds of natural disasters caused by climate change. Also, they are estimated to carry a burden of 88% of the disease brought about by climate change (Philisborn and Chan, 2018). The impact of climate change on children is immense if the mental illness such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression and anxiety, is taken into consideration, which can be called psychological vulnerability (Dyregrov, et al., 2018). In terms of educational vulnerability, they might miss school because of the destruction of the schools or supporting their household works after the disasters, which in turn influencing their academic performance and delaying their academic progress (Peek, 2008). As explained above, children are particularly vulnerable, and climate change adaptations, especially for children, are needed. They are not just vulnerable to climate change. They can play an key role in adaptation strategies to climate change. Yet, children’s participation and implementation of climate change adaptation have been limited although there can be seen high benefits of children-centred climate change adaptation approaches (Mitchell and Borchard, 2014). There can be seen child-centred programmes and disaster risk reduction activities to learn about disaster and climate change at school and communities. However, there seems to be a gap between children’s actual capacities of climate change adaptation and policymaker’s understanding children’s skills, resulting in a lack of children’s participation and decision-making of climate change adaptation.
On the other hand, older adults, who can be defined as aged 65 over, are more vulnerable to a range of health impacts related to extreme weather events, especially heat waves, icy conditions and cold season than other age groups (Carte et al., 2016). The reason for this can be comprised of physiological, psychological, and social and economic components (McCracken and Phillips, 2016). With regard to physiological vulnerability, since the elderly are more sensitive to high temperatures because of the decline of their self-regulating mechanism. For example, in 2003, due to an extreme heat wave, France had around 15000 death and most of them were elderly people (Vandentorren et al., 2006). Psychological vulnerability is originally from the decline of mental functioning due to ageing such as Alzheimer, which in turn that they would not be able to cope with the immensity of climate change impacts. Social and economic vulnerability also influence older people in terms of where they live, their lack of education level and poverty (McCracken and Phillips, 2016). Whilst other age groups might experience these circumstances, elderly people prone to face them more due to their aged physiological and psychological functions. In light of their high vulnerability, some adaptations for the elderly are introduced. For instance, creating ‘age-friendly’ environments, which encourages the elderly to be socially active and enables them to be less susceptible to climate change impacts (Raju and Bammidi, 2016). However, there seems various approaches are needed to reach the elderly because of their various backgrounds and characteristics (Rhoades et al., 2017).
Children and Vulnerability and Climate Change Adaptation in Southeast Asia
Southeast Asia, especially, Indonesia, Philippines and Thailand, is one of the most vulnerable areas to the impact of climate change. Children in those countries are particularly vulnerable because they can tend to be in poor income family, resulting in being excluded from essential services such as health care, water and social protection (Lawler and Patel, 2012). Geography could be a factor to impede children from accessing basic services. Children in poor urban areas have difficulties in obtaining health facilities since they live in the area gathered by informal squatters. On the other hand, children in rural areas prone to be influenced by crop shocks as they are reliant on agriculture and natural resources for their livelihood (Unicef, 2011). Therefore, in Indonesia, flooding can be a serious issue rather than a drought for urban children because of a poor drainage system in the city centre. In contrast, a drought can affect rural children since they may depend on wells and hand pumps for water (Lawler and Patel, 2012). In terms of educational vulnerability, in Indonesia, 20% of rural children who joined the survey answered that they had to quit school because of a lack of money which is caused by a crop failure related to flooding or drought. Yet, only 1% of urban children claimed that impact (Unicef, 2011).
Children show that they have a keen awareness of the risks facing their lives, recognising a combination of hazards. According to the research by Lawler and Patel (2012), children who joined the study in the Philippines reported that they are sensitive enough to have already realised heavier rainy seasons, an increase of flooding, crop failures and increase of food prices because of climate change. In addition, Back et al. (2009) show that children can be strong proponents to help their families, schools and communities adapt to climate change. For example, in Philippine, after they obtain information about climate change and disaster reduction at school or through media, children can have a distinct understanding of climate change adaptation and disaster risk. As a result, children can be more familiar with climate change impacts than adults. Based on the obtained knowledge in this way, children who had studied at school in a high-risk landslide zone were able to succeed in relocating their school in a safer location lobbying their school headmasters and communities (Mitchell et al., 2009). Also, children in community groups in Philippine, could identify some benefits of restoring mangroves and adapt to sea level rise mixing local knowledge and school textbooks and training sessions (Tanner, 2010). These case studies are successful examples of children-led approaches to adaptation. Hence, children can play a positive role to process climate change adaptation policy. However, it is crucial for them to have networks and corporate with locals and leaders who could listen to and support them.
Although children can lead to effective methods of climate change adaptation in some cases in spite of their vulnerabilities, it would be impossible for children to do so without education which can be said a crucial driver to enable them to take action for climate resilient sustainable development (Mitchell and Borchard, 2014; Anderson, 2010). Due to education, children can increase their knowledge, skills and understanding of successful climate change adaptation require. The Hyogo Framework for Action 2005-2015 (UNISDR, 2007) suggests that focusing on education and knowledge is a priority for climate adaptation and disaster reduction. Yet, this suggestion seems to be limited to penetrate into every school in Southeast Asia. Mitchell and Borchard (2014) claim that it is because that issues relevant to climate change can be ‘niche’ issues, it prevents them from incorporating into the national curriculum. Also, it can be said the suggestion by UNISDR is not a legally binding, resulting in that it depends on countries’ choice if they would follow this suggestion. Therefore, some countries think that their educational program does not have enough space to put in a climate change program. Moreoever, Unicef (2011) points out a lack of political will which means that the speed of governments’ implementation and development of robust technological and financial systems to advance policies and initiatives has been slow. If the government does not take action on incorporating climate change programs into their education programs because of these reasons on above, it would be difficult for children to be resilient to climate change and would take time to improve the capacities of climate change adaptation. Therefore, it can be crucial to make it legally binding. Indeed, in developing countries, even if it is legally binding, it may be suspicious about the effectiveness of its enforcement. Nevertheless, it could be a more effective program by involving NGOs and community members. For example, 2 global child-centred NGOs; Plan International and Save the children have actively engaged in building up of children and communities’ adaptation capacities (Mitchell and Borchard, 2014). Also, it can be said essential to set different programmes for children depending on their age. Regarding children as a homogenous group even within aged under 18 groups is a risk because of their different level of vulnerability (IPCC, 2012).
The Elderly and Vulnerability and Adaptation to Climate Change in the United States
Adults aged 65 and older made up about 15% of the U.S. population in 2017 and has been expected to increase to 20% (World Bank, 2019). In the U.S., in particular, extreme heat events (EHE) or heatwaves are the main factors to increase mortality rate, bringing about more deaths of the elderly than other weather-related situations (Luber and McGeehin, 2008; Ebi and Meehl, 2007). Looking at the factors of the elderly exposure to EHE and heatwaves in the U.S., there can be seen 2 main drivers; socioeconomic characteristics and urbanisation. Gamble et al. (2012) point out older people in lower income are reluctant to purchase or utilise air conditioners because of operating costs, resulting in increasing more opportunities for them to exposure extreme heat waves. The rapid urbanisation has created an urban heat island and a demanding dramatic increase in electricity. In New York City in 2006, this demand led to brownouts to even public transport that older people tend to depend on (Luber and McGeehin, 2008). Focusing on their adaptive capacity, their living situation can be a key determinant, which is different from that of children. Older people are more prone to live alone. In fact, in 2016, more than one-fourth of aged 65 and over live alone (Andrew et al., 2018). This situation may cause older people to face frauds and scams relevant to repairs and refurbishment of houses.
Considering their vulnerability to heat waves, education and community capabilities are essential strategies of climate change adaptation for older people. Al-Rousan et al. (2014) found out that two-thirds of participants had no emergency plans, never joined any disaster preparedness programmes and were unaware of available resources. As mentioned above, since the U.S. has a large number of older people living alone, education can contribute to informing them of relevant information and making them acknowledge their vulnerability level. Also, it can provide opportunities with them to get together with other people because they tend to be isolated from society. Those who face social isolation, in particular with mental illness, might miss receiving emergency information, which in turn bring about more deaths (Gamble et al., 2012). The older belong to the community and strengthen communities’ capabilities can reduce their vulnerability to climate change. As a way of example, developing early warning systems in communities could decrease the elderly’s mortality rate and heat-related illness (Ebi et al., 2007). The elderly can also learn how to reduce the health impacts on themselves owing to belong to the communities. Moreover, they would play a valuable role in sharing their past climatic histories with other members in communities. Therefore, these 2 adaptation strategies would be crucial especially for the elderly.
The impacts of climate change on people has become more and more serious all over the world. Children and the elderly are extremely vulnerable to climate change because of various vulnerabilities; psychological, physical, physiological and educational vulnerability. Also, children, who are defined under 18 years old, and older people, who are defined aged 65 and over should not be treated as homogeneous groups because their vulnerable levels and adaptation capacities can be different. Children in Southeast Asia are more sensitive to natural hazards and can play a key role to support families and communities to adapt to climate change if they are given climate change programmes. Therefore, the government should set environmental programmes as mandatory modules for them to increase their vulnerability levels and avoid young victims. In the U.S., where ageing society is a serious problem, the elderly tend to be more vulnerable because of living situations and urbanisation. To protect them from not only heat waves but also other various natural disasters, education and developing climate resilience methods by involving them in communities can be the most effective climate change adaptation strategies. However, their background and characteristics are diverse enough to need more research to develop adaptation strategies that can decrease their vulnerability to climate stressors.
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