Children on the frontline of the climate crisis

Children born over the past year are estimated to face seven times more scorching heatwaves and almost three times more crop failures than their grandparents.

Newborns globally will also live through more droughts, wildfires and river floods, according to research from Save the Children.

Despite many incremental changes in the climate, there are a growing number of young voices sending warnings from the very frontline of the planet’s global crisis.

MengHy, 12, swimming by his grandfather’s floating house

(Lim Sokchanlina/Save the Children)

MengHy’s grandfather relies on the Tonlé Sap lake for fishing, but the climate crisis has made times hard

(Lim Sokchanlina/Save the Children)

One of the most polluted cities in the world is Lahore in Pakistan, where rubbish is routinely burned in the streets, releasing toxic gases.

Air pollution in the region has reached 12 times more than World Health Organisation (WHO) guideline levels. They also estimate that almost 1 in 10 child deaths under the age of five are caused by toxic air globally.

In this photo series, photographers focused on three locations and documented the stories of children and their families in Cambodia, Australia and Pakistan.

Working with chemists from the University of Brighton the images were then treated with chemicals and conditions commonly found in these locations.

Mariam, 12, and Abdullah, 13, are both passionate about protecting the environment in Lahore

( Nad É Ali/Save the Children)

A wastewater canal in Lahore, Pakistan

(Nad É Ali/Save the Children)

Nad E Ali’s photographs of Pakistan were exposed to pollutants often found in Lahore.

“There is a lot of pollution. People burn trash in the street,” said a 12-year-old girl named Zahra who lives in the city. “It affects my family because pollution can make us sick in our homes.”

Zahra is part of an “eco club”, where a group of children are fighting back and planting trees in the community to battle pollution.

“I try to spread the word,” she said. “It’s important for our future. We plant trees – we water them, protect them.”

Zahra, 12, at home with her father and younger brother in Lahore

(Nad É Ali/Save the Children)

A smoking brick kiln on the outskirts of Lahore

(Nad É Ali/Save the Children)

On Tonle Sap lake in Cambodia, 15-year-old Chenla lives in a small houseboat with her parents and three siblings. Increased droughts, pollution and illegal fishing means depleting fish stocks have pushed many families into poverty.

Chenla’s father, Sambath, has lived on the lake for decades. He has noticed changes in the environment throughout the years.

“People who live on the river can’t make a living anymore,” he said. “There’s only death and starvation, because we lost all the fish, the natural resources, including trees and forests that have been cut down, and we have nothing left.”

Chenla, 15, stands in the water near her houseboat on Tonle Sap lake

(Lim Sokchanlina/Save the Children)

Chenla (far right) on the houseboat with parents Sambath and Youn, and siblings Ratin, aged 5, Din, 11, and Oudung, who is 12

(Lim Sokchanlina/Save the Children)

Chenla describes conditions as ‘difficult’ living with a large family in such a small space

( Lim Sokchanlina/Save the Children)

The family earn around £3.50 per day from selling the fish they catch from the lake

(Lim Sokchanlina/Save the Children)

When asked about her life, Chenla said: “It’s very difficult … I have lived here for five or six years now, and we don’t have a house to live in. We only have a small boat for all of my family.”

Photographs taken by Lim Sokchanlina were treated with chemicals found in the lake to represent the changing climate in the region.

In Australia, 11-year-old Harry lives with his family in coastal New South Wales. In November 2019 they were driven from their home by some of the worst bushfires in living memory, now known as the “Black Summer”.

Harry with mum Margie and siblings Oscar, 13, and Romy, 9, in the backyard of their fire-damaged family home

(Matthew Abbott/Save the Children)

Describing the fire, Romy said: ‘The sky was orange… like, seeing a blood orange, splatter all over’

( Matthew Abbott/Save the Children)

The family drove directly through a bushfire to reach an evacuation centre

(Matthew Abbott/Save the Children)

Bushfires in Australia have been made 30 per cent more likely due to the impact of the climate crisis, while children across the world now face twice the risk of wildfires as their parents, according to Save the Children.

Harry said: “I remember seeing metal fly up through the smoke. We saw burnt leaves just falling on the ground. I started crying because everyone was trying to call [emergency number] 000.”

The family sheltered from the blaze with hundreds of others on a beach which was the only place they thought was safe. From there they drove directly through a bushfire before finding sanctuary in an evacuation centre.

Harry’s mother Margie said: “Hopefully, we’ll do more and look after the planet, like to reduce our waste and have a better impact on the environment. I think I have a newfound respect for Mother Nature.”

Matthew Abbott’s images from Australia were exposed to extreme sunlight to reflect the destruction of the bushfires.

Gwen Hines, CEO of Save the Children, said: “These stories show the devastating impact the climate crisis is already having on the lives of children across the world.

“Each one is a powerful reminder that children are at the heart of this crisis, being robbed of their childhood today and their futures tomorrow.”


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