Leveraging Data to Unlock Solutions for Children Uprooted by Climate Change

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By: UNICEF and Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre

In partnership with the Patrick J. McGovern Foundation (PJMF) Accelerator Program, UNICEF is refining climate displacement data models to generate more profound insights into the needs of children impacted by climate mobility and enabling governments, along with UNICEF and its partners, to prevent better, plan, and prepare for the impacts of climate change on children.

Climate change is a direct challenge to children’s rights and well-being. One billion children — nearly half of all children globally — are now considered at ‘extremely high risk’ of climate impacts. From wildfires to floods, droughts to cyclones, extreme weather events will continue to intensify. This will profoundly impact children’s protection, health, access to services, and opportunities to learn and earn.

Children on the move in the context of climate change are often statistically invisible. Existing data on migrants, refugees, and internally displaced persons are usually derived from registers, censuses, administrative data, and surveys. All too often, these data do not include information on age, sex, origin, or travel situation, making it impossible to estimate the global numbers of children uprooted or determine how climate change contributes to their decisions to move.

The latest data published by Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre(IDMC) suggests that around 2.4 million children were internally displaced due to disasters as of December 31. This number is likely underestimated, and the lack of precise age disaggregation within existing displacement data and risk models limits our understanding of these children’s experiences.

This research aims to shine a light on who are children on the move in the context of climate change, where they are, and how to best address their needs.

Success will mean leveraging existing data to unlock new insights on climate and weather-related displacement of children, to inform UNICEF’s work to prepare for and minimize the risk of child displacement. This will help demonstrate the impact of data, increase access to data and data-driven solutions across the 190 countries in which UNICEF works, and support governments’ and partners’ engagement toward better protection of children on the move. It will also empower youth to be partners in co-creating solutions to address their most significant needs and priorities.

Preparing for the work

Together, UNICEF and IDMC have unique information and datasets that offer insights into the needs of children impacted by weather-related displacement. Once UNICEF was accepted into the PJMF Accelerator cohort, the project team reflected on the best data for this research — drawing from IDMC’s database and UNICEF’s Children’s Climate Risk Index. Additionally, the team analyzed its skills and experience on displacement, climate change, and children’s rights to identify opportunities to work to its comparative advantage and build on UNICEF and IDMC’s existing work and strengths.

Tools and data approaches
Displacement data
IDMC’s Global Internal Displacement Database comprises almost 39,000 data points on displacement related to weather-related events. In addition to data wrangling and a revision of the oldest facts’ locations, filters need to be applied to retrieve only the best and latest estimate for each disaster.

Almost 135 million internal displacements triggered by weather-related disasters were recorded between 2016 and 2021. In absolute numbers, most of them occurred in Asia — with China, the Philippines, and India topping the list. When viewing displacement figures relative to the countries’ population, small island states — such as the Dominican Republic or Pacific islands (including Vanuatu and Fiji) — were the most affected by internal displacements.

This original dataset was imported to GIS software, mapping all displacement events recorded by IDMC across the globe. The project team ran different studies such as visual and statistical hotspot analyses to highlight areas with high levels of displacement where efforts should be targeted to prevent and respond to displacement.

Demographic estimates and projections
To explore displacement’s impacts on children, granular estimates of the human population by age and sex from CIESIN’s Gridded Population of the World, Version 4 (GPWv4) were added to the mapping software. The age structure is based on population censuses and registers from around 2010. The team will further explore methods to update this age structure and make projections until 2050.

IDMC’s risk model
The project will draw on IDMC global displacement risk data built upon the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction’s risk model to estimate future displacements associated with sudden-onset hazards such as earthquakes, tsunamis, cyclonic winds, floods, and storm surges.

Displacement risk metrics developed at the global level have low granularity, which presents a challenge because the model’s resolution does not allow for a proper risk assessment at the local level and has not been disaggregated by age group. For this, data will need to be disaggregated by location, and filters will need to be applied at the sub-national level to estimate regional hotspots of displacement. Building on this analysis, the project team is importing the data into the Cloudera Platform to support faster analysis and develop deeper insights through machine learning. This online solution will enable replication of the data model and automatization of the analysis and will improve the efficiency to support new learning.

Children’s Climate Risk Index
The research results and model will inform UNICEF’s Children’s Climate Risk Index to display how many children have been displaced or are at risk of being displaced in the future, in combination with data on essential services (e.g., healthcare, education, child protection and water and sanitation) to shed light on the impacts the climate crisis is already having and how UNICEF should best focus its efforts.

Developing relationships for data access and ground truthing the findings with local communities
Given that the project will generate a global model at a small scale, it is crucial to verify and complement the analysis by looking deeper into the impacts of child displacement at the local level. To achieve this, UNICEF will present its findings to internal stakeholders, country offices, and external partners working on climate mobility.

The team will also collaborate with Yoma (youth agency marketplace) and UNICEF Country Offices in Uganda, Nigeria, and Malawi to engage young people impacted by climate displacement to ground truth data in selected hotspots. Yoma is a digital platform that supports youth to develop their skills, find opportunities, and achieve impact while connecting with peers in a supportive community. UNICEF uses this platform to co-create and empower young people as data sources and data collectors to support the crowdsourcing and ground-truthing of data.

Capitalizing on technical syncs with PJMF
Bi-weekly discussions with PJMF colleagues during the technical syncs are particularly enlightening. They allow the team to verify the logic and potential of the model during its infancy, develop and refine it, and find innovative ideas to export and use the data. PJMF colleagues have provided technical advice and questions to support the development of the project, which have allowed the project team to “dream big” while working within the scope of what’s feasible.

To ensure an integrated approach, colleagues from across UNICEF’s data and analytics, migration and displacement, climate, and innovation teams provided input into the drafting of the tactical roadmap along with input from IDMC data experts. The team then discussed the tactical roadmap during technical syncs with PJMF, which further developed it through clearly defining the steps in the analysis and identifying key milestones and needs. This roadmap resulted in a detailed timeline that guides the analysis weekly. The project team also refers to the tactical roadmap and timeline during technical syncs to discuss and mitigate any risks that may delay the project.

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The Patrick J. McGovern Foundation
Patrick J. McGovern Foundation

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