Building Safe Spaces: Studies Highlight Trends in Usage of Public Spaces and Climate Change Impacts on Children

In India, young children (especially in the under-five age group) and their caregivers are becoming increasingly vulnerable to the health impacts of climate change and air pollution, particularly in urban areas.  To better understand these challenges and their impact on the public space usage by this demographic, ICLEI South Asia conducted two studies supported by the Van Leer Foundation (VLF), and came up with recommendations and strategies for the local governments and policymakers to make more informed decisions. Their findings were shared at two workshops held in Guwahati and Kochi recently.

The Study on Young Children and Climate was conducted in collaboration with Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), and Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT) at Gandhinagar, Kharagpur, and Roorkee. It evaluated the vulnerability of young children and caregivers to air pollution and climate change and assessed primary data from four Indian cities, namely, along with secondary data, as well as primary data on air pollution from selected early childhood development sites. This research was conducted to identify existing issues, barriers, and opportunities concerning young children, which could be taken into consideration in urban climate action.

The second study, conducted in partnership with IPSOS, explored the time spent by young children, caregivers, and pregnant women in public spaces. Conducted across 18 cities with varying population sizes, including Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, and Kolkata, it evaluated public space usage trends through household surveys and interviews with city officials and municipal councillors. The study aimed to identify barriers and opportunities at the city level, leading to recommendations to enhance public space utilisation by young children and caregivers.

Interactive Workshops

Following the studies, ICLEI South Asia held workshops in Guwahati and Kochi to showcase the key findings to engage stakeholders and encourage local actions. More than 50 participants, including urban planners, child development practitioners, and representatives from NGOs attended the Guwahati workshop, held jointly with the Guwahati Municipal Corporation on November 28, 2023. The speakers included experts, government officials, and policymakers such as Mr. Megha Nidhi Dahal, Commissioner, Guwahati Municipal Corporation; Dr. Ajay Khera, Country Representative, EngenderHealth, India, and Member of Technical Advisory Group for Studies; Dr Bhargav Krishna, Fellow, Centre for Policy Research, and Member of Technical Advisory Group for Studies; Mr. Ashish Rao Ghorpade, Urban Sector Expert at ICLEI South Asia; Mr. Keshav Jha, Manager (Research & Advocacy), ICLEI South Asia; Ms. Avantika Arjuna, Assistant Programme Coordinator, ICLEI South Asia; Ms. Pragya Jain, Senior Manager, Ipsos Research Pvt. Ltd.; and representatives from IITs and JNU.

The second workshop was held in Kochi with support from the Kochi Municipal Corporation on December 6, 2023. In his address, Kochi Mayor Adv. M Anil Kumar emphasised the importance of acknowledging child rights in urban settings. Distinguished speakers included experts such as Dr. Anubha Rajesh, former Chair Professor at Centre for Early Childhood Development and Research, Jamia Milia Islamia; Mr. Prakash Kumar Paul, Senior Technical Advisor, Van Leer Foundation; Mr. Ashish Rao Ghorpade; Ms. Avantika Arjuna; Ms. Pragya Jain; and Ms. Medha Prakash, Associate, ICLEI South Asia.

Key Findings

The climate change study has revealed the high vulnerability of young children and pregnant women to climate-related risks like heat waves, flooding, and air pollution. Surveys conducted in a slum area with a significant child population under 5 highlighted parental concerns about the adverse effects of climate change on their children. However, existing climate action plans lack a targeted focus on these vulnerable groups. The second study found that nearly 60% of children covered by the survey primarily use neighbourhood streets for play due to better accessibility and safety, in comparison to parks and playgrounds, as Indian urban planning tends to concentrate more on spaces for teenagers. Recommendations from both studies emphasise the need for integrated policies, funding sources, better planning and design, infrastructure enhancements, evaluation, and community engagement.

The studies underscore the urgent need for a more inclusive approach in urban planning and to prioritise the needs of children, pregnant women, and caregivers in climate change adaptation and public space development initiatives.

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