Confronting the humanitarian challenges of the next decade

Since our founding 100 years ago, Save the Children has seen tremendous progress in the advancement of children’s rights. There has been a huge reduction in the number of children who live in extreme poverty. A massive drop in child mortality. A major increase in the number of girls in school. And, just as momentous as those milestones, the adoption of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child 30 years ago which guarantees all children have equal right to survive, to learn, to be protected from violence and to participate in decisions that affect them.

In the last century, we have also seen the barriers children face in realizing their rights evolve and change. While the challenges facing are shifting, they are no less serious or compelling than before. This can be seen in the increasing frequency of climate-related crises such as the bushfires in Australia and the flash flooding, drought and locusts in the Horn of Africa over the past few months.

Canada is warming at twice the rate of the global average. Climate change is changing the way we prepare for and respond to natural disasters, which cause serious harm, in particular, to Indigenous communities which are 28.7 times more likely to be internally displaced as a result of disaster than their off-reserve Canadian counterparts.

Today, nation-to-nation war is uncommon and yet there is no lack of conflict in the world and children are the severely and disproportionally affected. Crises resulting from conflicts and war are now often measured in decades rather than months. These shifts create new consequences, such as high concentrations of refugees or displaced people in urban slums or tent cities which are poorly protected against harsh weather and are vulnerable to extreme poverty, disease and violence.

There are currently around 70 million refugees and internally displaced people [IDP] in the world, more than half of them children. These “displaced societies,” will only become larger as more people become displaced due to conflict and climate-induced natural disasters. The majority of these people will never go back to their homes or their former lives.

In 2019, Save the Children used its 100 years of experience to further adapt and react to our changing humanitarian landscape. The hurricane in Mozambique and the war in Syria made headlines across Canada.  While fewer people heard about the enormous efforts being made to control and extinguish the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo.  By the end of 2019, Save the Children responded to more than 80 emergencies reaching 24 million people, 13 million being children.

In the coming decade, humanitarian agencies like ourselves need to focus not only on keeping refugees and IDPs alive, but on helping families find sustainable futures, and on ensuring the girls and boys we are working with today have opportunity tomorrow.

Working with Global Affairs Canada and other agencies and partners, we launched a series of new-generation projects dedicated to educating girls in acute but protracted crises. These projects recognize the need to go beyond traditional “life-saving” humanitarian programming, to introduce longer-term approaches that focus on learning outcomes even in during a humanitarian emergency, while also empowering girls in these contexts. There needs to be a future of recovery and personal development for these girls.

In the 2020s, we will be intensifying our work to promote greater gender equality through our programming, campaigns, advocacy and partnerships with children and communities in Canada and around the world.

We will continue advocating for greater recognition and application of children’s rights.  Here in Canada, we will further advance children’s rights by working with First Nation, Inuit and Métis communities suffering from child poverty, unequal opportunity, and climate-related crises. Drawing on our partnerships with First Nations in Ontario, Manitoba and Alberta, we are working to expand through partnerships in Saskatchewan and Québec, to support the children of these communities in realizing their rights to survive and thrive.

Confronting the new challenges to children’s rights this new decade will require imagination, initiative and dedication. Only by mustering the goodwill and political will of Canadians will we fulfil the rights that every child is due.  This is not about charity, these are human rights ratified in the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child and passed into law by the Government of Canada.

196 countries around the world have also signed this Convention. The same good and political will is needed globally. In the 100 top solutions to reduce greenhouse gasses and reverse climate change, the sixth most effective solution is educating girls. Fulfilling the rights of all children to basic education is in our global collective interest.  Beyond that, fulfilling these rights is not optional, it is the legal obligation of duty-bearers, of the UN, of governments, national and local.  It is the moral obligation of people everywhere.

One of the daunting challenges of this decade will be delivering those rights to the almost 40 million children, more children than the entire population of Canada, who are on the move, who are displaced, who can only be reached through wildfires and mortar fire, the denizens of displaced societies.  This is a challenge Save the Children Canada will embrace.  The history of the last decades shows us that, if we set our imagination, initiative and dedication to it, we can and will meet this challenge.

By Bill Chambers, President and CEO of Save the Children

If you wish to help children in crisis this year, please consider donating to our Annual Campaign for Children in Crisis