Living in a developing nation like Pakistan has made me keenly aware of the pervasive exposure to climate change. It's a cold, hard truth, and it hurts my heart. Temperatures as high as 52 °C have been recorded in our territories during recent heatwaves. Our urban and rural communities have been ravaged by torrential rains, washing away our houses and our dreams of a secure future. As a result of these disasters, our harvests are wiped off, and the price of necessities like food and water skyrocket. I am deeply saddened and worried about the future of my country as I see its people struggle to meet their most fundamental needs.
But the destruction isn't merely on the surface. In all the mayhem, it's easy to overlook the impact on our mental health, especially our children. While the rest of the world is beginning to realise the seriousness of climate change, we must bring attention to the psychological damage it is doing to our children. The uncertainty they've been carrying around for generations is heavy. The realisation breeds worry, stress, and a crushing sense of powerlessness that their future is in the balance.
Please think of the questions running through their young, impressionable heads. They worry about the safety of their families, the reliability of their food supply, and the steadiness of their community as a whole. They have a long shadow cast over their fragile emotions by thoughts of natural calamities and harsh weather events. It's a lot to ask of young minds. In 2022, in Pakistan alone, more than 400 children were killed in the floods, and many more were injured. UNICEF reports that at least 3.4 million children need urgent humanitarian assistance and are at increased risk of waterborne diseases, drowning, and malnutrition. Most of the approximately 16 million affected children are without homes, lack access to safe drinking water, and live in unsanitary conditions.
As a result of climate change's devastating effects on the ecosystem, experts have coined the phrase "ecological grief" to describe the profound sense of loss young people feel. Forests burn to the ground, and glaciers recede, and creatures that people have come to love become extinct before their eyes. The sheer gravity of these tragedies serves as a rude awakening, rendering them helpless and full of sorrow. After a loved one passes away, even time spent in nature can be traumatic since it serves as a constant reminder of what was lost. They are at sea, cut off from the natural world, and desperate to find meaning in their lives. And the more isolated they feel, their risk of experiencing emotional distress increases.
Children are especially vulnerable to the harmful consequences of climate change because of their dependence on adults and lack of life experience. They lose everything when natural disasters like floods, droughts, and storms force people from their homes and towns. The lack of stability, isolation, unhappiness, and persistent concern undermines the sense of safety essential to their healthy growth. Their strength is being tried, and they are becoming discouraged.
Climate change makes life even more difficult for children and other members of society on the margins. The disproportionate impact is seen most strongly by those from low-income families or other marginalised groups. They are already disadvantaged yet have poor access to social services, education, and healthcare. Their already fragile mental health is further taxed by the stress and anguish caused by these situations, keeping them in a vicious cycle of pain that limits their present and future happiness.
Individuals, groups, and governments alike must take swift action to address this catastrophe. The mental health of our children is intrinsically related to the climatic calamity we are witnessing. We need to pull ourselves together and act boldly. We owe it to the next generation to teach them resilience in the face of adversity, to care for their mental and emotional health, and to be the agents of change that the world so sorely needs.
We must implement comprehensive climate policies that put the mental health of our youth as a top priority and that also promote sustainable practices. We have to calm their nerves while encouraging strength and optimism. By working together, we can restore the natural order and human flourishing in the world our children inherit.
Let us get together and make protecting our kids' mental health a top priority. Future generations will be able to live in a cleaner, healthier, and more sustainable environment if we take these steps now. We can alter the course of history and usher in a more optimistic tomorrow.