More than 40 million in Latin America and the Caribbean are threatened by climate change.

Reflorestation

More than 40 million in Latin America and the Caribbean are threatened by climate change.

Adequate Measures expected

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Amsterdam, 29 May 2024 – Tens of millions of people living in low-elevation coastal areas in Latin America and the Caribbean are facing the consequences of extreme weather events that threaten their lives and livelihoods and the hospitals they depend on, according to a new study by UNFPA, the UN Population Fund. 

Using satellite imagery, geospatial data and population estimates, UNFPA identified coastal communities most exposed to hazards, such as hurricanes and other storms that are becoming more frequent and severe due to climate change. The aftermath of extreme weather events often leads to widespread flooding that destroys homes, businesses and disrupts essential services including health care. Women and girls are often disproportionately impacted – displaced from their communities and safe spaces and unable to access family planning services, safe birthing or protection from gender-based violence.

Data analysis by UNFPA reveals an estimated 41 million people – or six per cent of people in the Latin America and Caribbean Region – who live in coastal areas are exposed to life-threatening storms and flooding. The analysis also shows that 1,448 hospitals vital to maternal health and family planning are located in low-elevation coastal areas more prone to natural hazards:

  • In Aruba and Cayman Islands, Suriname, Bahamas, Guyana, over 80 per cent of hospitals are in low-lying coastal areas.
  • Elsewhere in the Caribbean and Latin America, the countries with the highest number of hospitals in low-lying coastal areas are Brazil with 519 (7.2 per cent) facilities, Mexico with 159 (5.4 per cent) facilities, Haiti with 133 (10 per cent) facilities, and Ecuador with 130 (11.9 per cent) facilities. 

“Climate change impacts women and girls the hardest and exacerbates existing inequalities. Millions of poor and vulnerable women and girls, who are the least responsible for the climate crisis, pay a heavy price when climate-related disasters strike and disrupt essential health and protection services as well as livelihoods,” said UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Natalia Kanem. 

UNFPA is launching this data at the Small Island Developing States conference in Antigua and Barbuda, where the organization is calling for greater investment and technical help to improve data collection on the impact of the climate crisis on women and girls and to support vulnerable countries to build climate-resilient health systems. 

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“We need scaled up and targeted investments that safeguard their rights and strengthen their ability to adapt,” said Dr. Kanem

The SIDS conference takes place just as the Atlantic hurricane season gets underway and is expected to be an “extraordinary one,” according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The climate crisis poses an existential threat to these Small Island Developing States. In several of them – Bahamas, Suriname, Guyana – more than 80 per cent of the population live in low-elevation coastal areas, which are up to 10 meters above sea level. 

UNFPA is using its population data with satellite imagery and geospatial data to provide humanitarian response teams with critical information about vulnerable communities, as it did in Honduras in the wake of Hurricane Iota in 2020. UNFPA population modeling has also been used to identify populations at greatest risk due to river flooding near the Panama-Costa Rica border, as well as mapping population exposure in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines to volcanic eruptions. 

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