Beyond the media spotlight, the drought is continuing…
The severity of the drought in inland eastern parts of Australia is undeniable and continuing, despite the rainfall experienced by our coastal communities. Australia’s drought-affected communities are experiencing extreme long-term rainfall deficits, intensely hot temperatures and severe water shortages. The media has reported regularly on the enormous pressure facing farmers and their families.
All indications are suggesting this natural disaster will continue for the foreseeable future. What is less known, and discussed, are the specific ways in which children and young people are being impacted by the drought. UNICEF Australia initiated this important project as part of our mandate to be a voice for children – to focus on their wellbeing, healthy development and rights. Our decision to talk with primary and high school students and their communities was driven by UNICEF’s global approach, anchored in the Convention in the Rights of the Child. As part of our ongoing work consulting with children across the country, it is key to UNICEF Australia’s efforts to listen to children and involve them in problem solving – to help ensure a fair chance for every child.
It is clear, from our discussions in these drought-affected communities, that children and young people are making reasoned, informed, adult decisions – based on real lived experience - on a daily basis. They have been forced to grow up prematurely. Among other things, these decisions concern the running of the farms, the lives of their families, their own education and management of their relationships with others. Their insights are therefore informed and valuable.
The chief purpose of this report is to encourage government stakeholders to listen to and consult with these children and young people who are living with drought, and in doing so, to protect them and take action to strengthen the broader drought response. Since our consultations for this report were completed, media and government attention has naturally been drawn to new emergencies, such as flooding across northern Australia and acute fires across southern Tasmania.
Yet, while national attention and media reporting on the drought has waned, children and families are continuing to experience the significant stressors and hardship that flow from it. We encourage government stakeholders at all levels to adequately consider and prioritise the wellbeing of children and young people affected by natural disasters in Australia. The onset of natural disasters inevitably creates circumstances of disrupted education, displacement from their homes and multiple economic and social stressors.
During natural disasters such as drought, risk factors that already exist for children in rural and remote areas - such as mental health and suicidality, family violence, social isolation and poor education outcomes - can become exacerbated. Coordinated and whole-of-government approaches are, therefore, required to ensure that this does not take place.
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