With the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic having led to various degrees of restrictions around the world – often for extended periods – keeping an active body and mind emerged as a key challenge. This is of particular importance for children and teenagers, whose active lifestyles were in some cases abruptly halted by stay-at-home limitations and school closures.
With two billion people in the world lacking access to toilet facilities, poor sanitation is a global problem responsible for the transmission of diseases, malnutrition and an estimated 432,000 deaths annually. This issue is easily preventable, with investment in improved sanitation reaping significant long-term benefits on health and well-being.
An estimated one billion people around the world are living with disabilities, and while great strides have been made towards inclusion, people of determination remain at a higher risk of poverty and social exclusion. As a result of physical barriers, unsuitable tools and discrimination, the employment rate is significantly lower than the overall average.
When faced with challenges, we naturally turn to experts, scientists, engineers and researchers to find and create appropriate solutions. But what if we also asked and listened to children for their ideas on improving the world?
For rural and pastoral communities in cross-border regions, restrictions on mobility as well as limited resources can pose a major challenge to livelihoods. Coupled with the impact of climate change and intercommunity tensions, the situation can rapidly hamper the whole region’s economic and social well-being.
Half the world’s population does not have access to essential health services, a figure that is all the more dramatic in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. With many of the world’s poorest countries having less than one doctor per 1,000 people, improving access to healthcare is a global priority.
About half of the wood cut down every year around the world is used to produce energy, mostly as fuel for cooking and heating. While this significant and unsustainable use of wood fuel perpetuates deforestation and contributions towards carbon emissions, the livelihoods and survival of many of the world’s poorest people relies on such energy, with one third of the global population dependent on wood or charcoal for cooking.
Around the world, almost half of all deaths in children aged under five are caused by poor nutrition. Chronic malnutrition in children stunts the development of the brain and body, increasing the likelihood of illness and negatively affecting the child's chances of staying in education – leading to lower earnings and ultimately trapping people in a cycle of poverty.
Early childhood care and education offers pre-primary-school-age children the opportunity to develop emotional and social capabilities required to thrive in school, and increases their chances of reaching their full potential later in life. Yet only about one in five young children in low-income countries are enrolled in pre-school, and many working parents have little choice but to leave their young children with informal or inadequate care providers.
Around the world, the continuous growth of cities puts pressure on the environment and particularly on water resources; it is estimated that 80 per cent of wastewater is released into the environment without adequate treatment. With two thirds of the world’s population living in severe water scarcity at least one month per year, it is vital to manage water resources in a sustainable manner.
The production of construction materials has a significant negative environmental impact: cement alone accounts for between five and 10 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions (UNEP). In addition, plastic waste is an increasing global problem, oceans expected to contain more plastic than fish by 2050. With the world’s rising population, plastic waste and demand for construction materials are also set to grow.
Only nine per cent of all plastic ever produced has been recycled; 12 per cent has been incinerated and 79 per cent has ended up in landfill or the natural environment. Global production of plastic waste is about 300 million tonnes every year, almost equivalent to the weight of the entire human population. Plastic waste related to food and beverages – including plastic bottles, bags, straws, wrappers, cups and utensils – are a significant portion of this total.
When people are forced to flee their homes due to war, persecution or natural disaster, the provision of basic necessities is the utmost priority, but their welfare is also heavily dependent on the environment of where they settle. Deforestation, soil erosion and the depletion and pollution of water resources are among the most significant challenges that can be associated with the arrival and residency of internally displaced people and refuges.
Around the world, a staggering one billion people suffer from some form of preventable or treatable vision impairment. This ranges from moderate and severe vision impairment to blindness, with the leading cause being uncorrected refractive errors and cataracts. A lack of access to necessary medical equipment and professionals means that visual impairment is four times higher in in low- and middle-income countries compared to high-income regions.
The FAO estimates that around one third of global food production is lost or wasted each year, a subject that was at the heart of the most recent World Expo – Expo 2015 Milan, themed “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life”. This challenge is a global one – rich countries waste around the same amount of food as the entire net food production of sub-Saharan Africa. At the same time, hunger remains a global problem with around 9% of the world’s population lacking access to sufficient food.
Accessing mental health services can be a major challenge, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa, where more than 65 million people suffer from mental health issues. Care providers are stretched thin, with as few as one psychiatrist per 100,000 people in the MENA region, while social stigma, discrimination and neglect often prevent people from attending psychotherapy clinics or seeking help. With two-thirds of global population not seeking treatment because of these challenges, and suicide the second-highest cause of death among young people, the need for mental health services is greater than ever.
The impact of climate change, infrastructure projects and increased population means that 2 billion people around the world are expected to be vulnerable to flood disaster by 2050. While addressing the causes of flooding is essential, it is also imperative to improve flood resilience in the most affected areas, with people’s lives and livelihoods increasingly threatened by intense and unpredictable weather events.
Education is perhaps the most effective way to pull children out of poverty and addressing social problems, yet 260 million children around the world are out of school. This is why a group of concerned citizens in Pakistan created The Citizens Foundation (TCF), a non-government organisation aimed at improving access to education as a way of reducing social barriers and making students become agents of positive change.
Climate change, unsustainable farming practices and deforestation not only pose serious challenges for biodiversity and the protection of nature, but in many places also threaten the livelihoods of indigenous communities.
Only about 0.007 per cent of the planet’s water is available for human consumption, with the vast majority of water – in frozen glaciers or seawater – of no use for drinking, cooking, bathing or cleaning. Furthermore, the scarcity of freshwater is exacerbated by polluted rivers, lakes and groundwater, and the depletion of these water sources in many populated areas.
Around the world, 785 million people lack access to safe water and children are amongst the most affected by the threats linked to a lack of safe water, sanitation and hygiene services. While these diseases are preventable, every 90 seconds, a child dies from a water-related disease.
Desertification, and specifically the loss of fertile arable land, is a phenomenon that poses a major threat to global food production, particularly in the developing world. About 12 million hectares of arable land is lost to erosion each year, and it is estimated that land degradation in the next 25 years has the potential to reduce global food production by up to 12% (UNCCD).
Vaccine wastage is a global problem: WHO estimates that up to half of all vaccines are lost every year, largely due to the vials not being stored at the right temperature during storage and transport.
For this reason, many children miss out on essential vaccinations. To help combat this issue, Expo 2020 Dubai’s Global Best Practice Programme selected the UNICEF Drones Programme, which works towards efficiently delivering vaccines via drones, as a way to spotlight and expand the initiative on a global scale.
At least 2.2 billion people are blind or visually impaired. That’s more than a third of the global population who may have difficulties with daily tasks that are dependent on the ability to see correctly: checking expiration dates, distinguishing colours, reading instructions, etc.