People's Stories Children's Rights

One in three children globally face double threat of high climate risk and crushing poverty
by Save the Children, agencies
Oct. 2022
An estimated 774 million children across the world – or one third of the world’s child population - are living with the dual impacts of poverty and high climate risk, according to a new report by Save the Children.
The country with the highest percentage of children impacted by this double burden is South Sudan (87%), followed by the Central African Republic (85%) and Mozambique (80%).
Generation Hope: 2.4 billion reasons to end the global climate and inequality crisis, developed by the child rights organisation with climate modelling from researchers at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB), found that while 80% of children are estimated to be affected by at least one extreme climate event a year, some are at particular risk because they also face poverty and so have less capacity to protect themselves and recover.
The analysis revealed that India has the highest total number of children both living in poverty and bearing the brunt of the climate crisis — up to 223 million children in total. It is followed by Nigeria and Ethiopia, with 58 million and 36 million children, respectively, living with this double burden.
A significant number of children – 121 million – experiencing the double threat of high climate risk and poverty live in higher income countries, with 28 million of them in the world’s most affluent countries. More than two out of five of these children (12.3 million) live in the US or the UK.
In addition, across the globe, 183 million children face the triple threat of high climate risk, poverty and conflict. Out of the total child population experiencing this triple burden, the children in Burundi (63%), Afghanistan (55%) and the Central African Republic (41%) are the most affected.
Save the Children says the climate and inequality crisis is a risk-multiplier, eroding children’s and communities’ resilience to shocks. If it is not urgently addressed, the frequency and severity of humanitarian and cost of living crises are set to increase in the years ahead.
Drawing on insights from the 54,000 children Save the Children heard from in a major consultation conducted between May and August 2022, the report also shows how these multiple, overlapping risks are linked to and exacerbate the current global food, nutrition and cost of living crisis that is causing 345 million people in 82 countries to face a severe lack of food.
Luciano, 12, lives in a displacement camp in Malawi. His family lost their home after cyclone Ana ripped through the island where they lived. His family climbed out of the house and onto a tree, but Luciano’s younger brother was washed away by the floods. Luciano said:
“We moved to the camp because water flooded on the other side of the river and it surprised us at night, when we were sleeping. Our ducks begun getting out of the house including our chickens. They all started being pushed in circles by the waters. We tried to save the ducks and the chickens, but all we managed to save was a few of our clothes. We tried to save more items, but we couldn’t. My little brother was on top of the house. Whilst he was on top, the house collapsed, and suddenly he was gone.”
“At the camp we do not eat enough food. When I used to live on the other side of the river, I was not like this. Now I have lost some weight. But I have hope and I would like to live the life I lived before the floods, again.”
“I am always anxious that the floods will hit again because when they hit last time, they created a stream near our house that can easily flood when it rains.”
Inger Ashing, CEO of Save the Children International, said:
“Across the world, inequalities are deepening the climate emergency and its impacts, most notably for children and low-income households.
“Given the scale of the challenge, it would be easy to fall into despair. But we, as today’s generation of adults, must learn from children such as Luciano and dig deep into our reserves of hope for a greener and more just world. We must use this hope to drive action with children, putting our capacity for creativity and collaboration to work to end the climate and inequality crisis and push for the protection and fulfilment of children’s rights.
“As leaders prepare to travel to the COP27 and G20 summits, they should have the rights and voices of children at the front of their minds. It is imperative that they secure ambitious outcomes, ensuring children have safe and meaningful ways to input into decision making. In particular, the world’s richest countries, whose historic emissions have driven the climate and inequality crisis, must lead the way in unlocking financing for countries that are struggling to protect children from its impacts, including through fixing the global debt relief system and through climate finance - particularly for adaptation and loss and damage”.
The new report builds on ground-breaking research published by Save the Children in partnership with Vrije Universiteit Brussel in 2021, which found that children born in 2020 will on average face seven times more scorching heatwaves during their lives than their grandparents, and newborns across the globe will on average live through 2.6 times more droughts.
The report comes as families across the world battle the worst global hunger crisis this century, fuelled by a deadly mix of poverty, conflict, climate change, and economic shocks, with the lingering impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and the crisis in Ukraine further driving up food prices and the cost of living. One million people are facing famine across five countries, with estimates that one person is dying every four seconds of hunger.
Oct. 2022
New Unicef report finds that in even best-case scenario 2 billion children will face four to five dangerous heat events annually by 2050.
The climate crisis is also a children’s rights crisis: one in four children globally are already affected by the climate emergency and by 2050 virtually every child in every region will face more frequent heatwaves, according to a new Unicef report.
For hundreds of millions of children, heatwaves will also last longer and be more extreme, increasing the threat of death, disease, hunger and forced migration.
The findings come less than a fortnight before the Cop27 UN climate talks get underway in Egypt, and after a catastrophic year of extreme weather events – heatwaves, storms, floods, fires and droughts – have demonstrated the speed and magnitude of the climate breakdown facing the planet.
According to Unicef, 559 million children currently endure at least four to five dangerous heatwaves annually, but the number will quadruple to 2 billion by 2050 – even if global heating is curtailed to 1.7 degrees, currently the best-case scenario on the table.
In the worst-case scenario – a 2.4-degree rise caused by burning too many fossil fuels for too long – an estimated 94% of children will be exposed to prolonged heatwaves lasting at least 4.7 days by 2050 compared with one in four children right now.
Children and infants are less able to regulate their body temperature, making them more vulnerable to the pervasive impacts of extreme and prolonged heat than adults. This includes a myriad of health problems such as asthma, cardiovascular diseases and even death.
Additionally, as intense heat exacerbates drought, it can also reduce access to food and water, which can stunt development and increase exposure to violence and conflict if families are forced to migrate. Studies have also shown that extreme heat negatively affects children’s concentration and learning abilities.
“While the full force of the climate crisis will take some time to materialise, for heatwaves it is just around the corner and looking incredibly grim,” said Nicholas Rees, the Unicef environment and climate expert.
Unicef’s report, The Coldest Year of the Rest of Their Lives, is a call to action for political leaders who continue to dither and pander to big business interests, even though the past seven years have been the hottest on record.
From the polar regions to the tropics, dangerous heatwaves are increasing in frequency, duration and magnitude, and already kill almost half a million people each year.
This year alone, heatwaves in China dried up rivers and damaged crops, while temperatures hit 48C (118F) in Pakistan before unprecedented rains left a third of the country underwater. Record-breaking temperatures throughout Europe led to tens of thousands of preventable deaths and drastically reduced crop yields, while more than 100 million Americans were under heat advisories over the summer. In Africa drought and failed rains have dramatically impacted the lives of some 50 million people. The hotter the planet gets, the more catastrophic will be the consequences.
“The climate shocks of 2022 provide a strong wakeup call about the increasing danger hurtling towards us,” said Vanessa Nakate, climate activist and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador. “Heatwaves are a clear example. As hot as this year has been in almost every corner of the world, it will likely be the coldest year of the rest of our lives. The dial is being turned up on our planet and yet our world leaders haven’t begun to sweat. The only option is for us to continue to turn up the heat - on them - to correct the course we are on. World leaders must do this at COP27 for children everywhere, but especially the most vulnerable children in the most affected places. Unless they take action, and soon, this report makes it clear that heatwaves will become even harsher than they are already destined to be.”
Given that within three decades virtually every child will be exposed to extreme heat even under the best-case fossil fuel reduction pledges, Unicef is calling on governments to cut emissions faster and further, and help communities prepare for what is coming.
“We have to expand funding for adaptation as the impact depends on the coping capacities of families and communities … Having access to shelter, water and air conditioning will mean life or death,” Rees said.
“The mercury is rising and so are the impacts on children,” UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell said. “Already, 1 in 3 children live in countries that face extreme high temperatures and almost 1 in 4 children are exposed to high heatwave frequency, and it is only going to get worse. More children will be impacted by longer, hotter and more frequent heatwaves over the next thirty years, threatening their health and wellbeing. How devastating these changes will be depends on the actions we take now. At a minimum, governments must urgently limit global heating to 1.5 degrees Celsius and double adaptation funding by 2025. This is the only way to save children’s lives and futures – and the future of the planet.”
Heatwaves are especially damaging to children, as they are less able to regulate their body temperature compared to adults. The more heatwaves children are exposed to, the greater the chance of health problems including chronic respiratory conditions, asthma, and cardiovascular diseases. Babies and young children are at the greatest risk of heat-related mortality.
Heatwaves can also affect children’s environments, their safety, nutrition and access to water, and their education and future livelihood.
The report found high heatwave duration currently impacts 538 million, or 23 per cent of, children globally. This will rise to 1.6 billion children in 2050 at 1.7 degrees warming, and to at least 1.9 billion children at 2.4 degrees warming, emphasising the importance of urgent and dramatic emissions mitigation and adaptation measures to contain global heating and protect lives.
Millions more children will be exposed to high heatwave severity and extreme high temperatures depending on the degree of global heating reached. To avoid climate catastrophe we must drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions and keep to 1.5 degrees Celsius warming pledge.
Yet alarmingly, greenhouse gas emissions are projected to rise by 14% this decade, putting us on a path to catastrophic global heating. All governments must revisit their national climate plans and policies to increase ambition and action. They must cut emissions by at least 45% by 2030 to keep heating to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius.

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Act to secure a more sustainable, safer future for every child
by UNICEF, Education International, UNESCO, agencies
Act to secure a more sustainable, safer future for every child, by Catherine Russell - Executive Director, UNICEF
Children everywhere are facing interlocking crises including hunger, lack of access to education and conflict — many of which exacerbate each other.
The interlocking crises of COVID-19, conflict, and climate change mean millions of children are being uprooted and pushed into poverty and starvation.
Disruptions in routine immunization and healthcare threaten a resurgence of life-threatening diseases like measles, while a global learning crisis risks becoming a global learning catastrophe for an entire generation of children.
But this can be prevented with a concerted global push to protect, support, and educate every child.
It is a dangerous time to be a child. In Ukraine, millions of children and families have fled the violent war that has engulfed their country — and exacerbated a global food crisis.
Years of conflict and crises in Afghanistan, Syria, and Yemen have shattered economies along with all the systems children rely on to survive and thrive.
The worst climate-induced crisis in 40 years is threatening 10 million children in the Horn of Africa — 1.7 million of whom could die without urgent treatment for severe acute malnutrition.
The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated threats to the world’s most vulnerable children – and created new risks to their lives and futures. Millions more children are living in poverty, millions more girls are at risk of child marriage, and millions more children are falling into learning poverty, lacking even the most basic skills.
Around the world today, more children are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance than at any time in UNICEF’s 75-year history.
The evidence is clear: we cannot meet our global development goals unless we reach these most-excluded children and invest in their potential.
System strengthening and humanitarian action
Currently, more than 400 million children live in conflict zones. Millions of them are out of school, without access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene. Millions are suffering from malnutrition — including its most severe and deadly forms.
The war in Ukraine has driven up food prices in places where children are already going hungry, like Yemen and Syria.
Our humanitarian response must not only meet these urgent needs. It should also help communities prepare for future shocks.
If we want to ‘future-proof’ our children, both public and private sectors need to invest in more resilient systems that help children cope, including health, nutrition, education, water and sanitation and social protection systems. Helping families to remain stable in crises yields cascading benefits, especially for children.
Primary health system strengthening
The pandemic has made clear that well-functioning and resilient primary health systems are the foundation of our ability to respond to health emergencies.
A fully resourced primary healthcare facility — staffed by well-trained, properly remunerated healthcare workers equipped with essential products and equipment — is the first line of defence against pandemics. It is also the most effective point of delivery for other essential health services, including nutrition and immunization.
Now is the moment for global action. Investing in primary health care can achieve three goals at once: healthier children, a more equitable end to the pandemic, and a lasting legacy of more resilient health systems and more sustainable societies.
Climate resilience and adaptation
UNICEF estimates that nearly 1 billion children are already at extremely high risk from the impacts of climate change. Without urgent action, it will be every child.
Governments have a responsibility to reduce emissions and invest in mitigation strategies. But we also need to work across sectors to help communities adapt to the immediate realities of climate change.
These investments will pay off. UNICEF estimates that $1 invested in adaptation may yield up to $10 in economic gains.
This area is primed for public partnerships to drive innovation — and especially partnerships with young people. Businesses can also help by investing in new technologies and green skills building, changing energy and water consumption practices and exerting influence through operations and supply chains.
The global learning crisis
Even before COVID-19, more than 260 million children were out of school. Half of all children living in low- and middle-income countries were unable to read a simple sentence at the age of 10.
Pandemic school closures and related disruptions in learning are turning a crisis into a catastrophe, with serious implications for children today — as well as the future workforce.
The impact of school closures could cost as much as $17 trillion in lifetime earnings for an entire generation.
We need to bring every child back into the classroom, assess their learning, help them catch up and support their wellbeing. Every child who needs it must have access to a remedial programme focused on basic reading and maths, the foundation of all future learning.
Business can help by investing in innovative ways to reach children and improve learning. They can also invest in skills training for young people, including transferable, digital, entrepreneurial and job-specific skills.
Mental health of children
COVID-19 lockdowns and other effects of the pandemic have had a deep impact on the mental health of adolescents and young people.
The pandemic has also revealed the gap between mental health needs and access to support services. Too many young people are not receiving treatment and support. Mental health challenges remain stigmatized and underfunded.
The cost of inaction is enormous: the estimated annual loss in human capital arising from mental health conditions in children and adolescents up to the age of 19 is $387.2 billion. We need a “whole of society” approach to promote mental health, engaging all sectors.
These are just a few areas where we can make a difference in the lives of millions of children. With so much evidence demonstrating the inseparable connection between the wellbeing of children and sustainable development, it is time to put children at the center of the public agenda.
Nelson Mandela famously said that “there is no keener reflection of a society than how it treats its children.” By extension, there can be no greater measure of a society’s sustainability than the investments it makes in the wellbeing of its children.
May 2022
Soaring food prices driven by the war in Ukraine and pandemic-fuelled budget cuts are set to drive up child hunger.
UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell on the global food security crisis.
"This crisis is getting worse – and the lives of millions of children hang in the balance. "The combined force of conflict, climate change, and the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic was already wreaking havoc on families’ ability to feed their children. Food prices had already hit all-time highs. The war in Ukraine has only made this worse, driving food, fuel, and fertilizer shortages.
"Over the last few months as Executive Director of UNICEF, I have seen with my own eyes what food insecurity means for the most vulnerable children and women.
"It means more than a shortage of food. It means hunger. Malnourishment. Disease. Excruciating pain. Death.
"In April, I visited Gode, in Ethiopia, where I met children suffering from severe wasting – the most lethal form of acute malnutrition. These children were so thin and frail, they seemed skeletal. It was painfully clear that without treatment, some of them might die.
"The month before, I travelled to Kandahar in Afghanistan, where I met the mother of a newborn. "She was so malnourished that when I put my arm around her shoulders, I could feel her bones through her wrap. When I held her baby, I could barely feel its weight in my arms.
"Most people have never heard of wasting, the most lethal form of malnutrition. But it is one of the leading underlying causes of preventable deaths in children – and it is on the rise, even in comparatively stable communities.
"Children suffering from wasting can’t eat normally. You can’t save starving babies with a bag of wheat. They need urgent therapeutic nutrition, delivered in the form of a paste we call RUTF – ready to use therapeutic food.
"RUTF can literally mean the difference between life and death for a child. "But this year, around 10 million children who desperately need it are not receiving it. To make matters worse, the price of RUTF has already risen by 16 per cent. If funding doesn’t increase immediately to meet these rising costs, hundreds of thousands of children will not receive this lifesaving treatment.
"A child malnutrition catastrophe is not inevitable. We know what works, and we know how to deliver it. But we need to come together – and we need to act now.
World a ‘virtual tinderbox’ for catastrophic levels of severe malnutrition in children.
The number of children with severe wasting was rising even before war in Ukraine threatened to plunge the world deeper into a spiralling global food crisis - and it’s getting worse, UNICEF warned in a new Child Alert.
Just released, Severe wasting: An overlooked child survival emergency shows that in spite of rising levels of severe wasting in children and rising costs for life-saving treatment, global financing to save the lives of children suffering from wasting is also under threat.
“Even before the war in Ukraine placed a strain on food security worldwide, conflict, climate shocks and COVID-19 were already wreaking havoc on families’ ability to feed their children,” said UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell. “The world is rapidly becoming a virtual tinderbox of preventable child deaths and children suffering from wasting.
Currently, at least 10 million severely wasted children – or 2 in 3 – do not have access to the most effective treatment for wasting, ready-to-use therapeutic food (RUTF).
UNICEF warns that a combination of global shocks to food security worldwide – led by the war in Ukraine, economies struggling with pandemic recovery, and persistent drought conditions in some countries due to climate change – is creating conditions for a significant increase in global levels of severe wasting.
Meanwhile, the price of ready-to-use therapeutic food is projected to increase by up to 16 per cent over the next six months due to a sharp rise in the cost of raw ingredients. This could leave at least 600,000 additional children without access to life-saving treatment at current spending levels. Shipping and delivery costs are also expected to remain high.
“For millions of children every year, these sachets of therapeutic paste are the difference between life and death. A sixteen per cent price increase may sound manageable in the context of global food markets, but at the end of that supply chain is a desperately malnourished child, for whom the stakes are not manageable at all,” said Russell.
Severe wasting – where children are too thin for their height resulting in weakened immune systems – is the most immediate, visible and life-threatening form of malnutrition. Worldwide, millions of children under five suffer from severe wasting, resulting in 1 in 5 deaths among this age group.
South Asia remains the ‘epicentre’ of severe wasting, where roughly 1 in 22 children is severely wasted, three times as high as sub-Saharan Africa. And across the rest of the world, countries are facing historically high rates of severe wasting.
In Afghanistan, for example, 1.1 million children are expected to suffer from severe wasting this year, nearly double the number in 2018. Drought in the Horn of Africa means the number of children with severe wasting could quickly rise from 1.7 million to 2 million, while a 26 per cent increase is predicted in the Sahel compared to 2018.
The Child Alert also notes that even countries in relative stability, such as Uganda, have seen a 40 per cent or more increase in child wasting since 2016, due to rising poverty and household food insecurity causing inadequate quality and frequency of diets for children and pregnant women.
Climate-related shocks including severe cyclical drought and inadequate access to clean water and sanitation services are contributing to the rising numbers.
The report warns that aid for wasting remains woefully low and is predicted to decline sharply in the coming years, with little hope of recovering to pre-pandemic levels before 2028. Global aid spent on wasting amounts to just 2.8 per cent of the total health sector ODA (Official Development Assistance) and 0.2 per cent of total ODA spending.
To reach every child with life-saving treatment for severe wasting, UNICEF is calling for:
Governments to increase wasting aid by at least 59 per cent above 2019 ODA levels to help reach to help reach all children in need of treatment in 23 high burden countries.
Countries to include treatment for child wasting under health and long-term development funding schemes so that all children can benefit from treatment programmes, not just those in humanitarian crisis settings.
Ensure that budget allocations to address the global hunger crisis include specific allocations for therapeutic food interventions to address the immediate needs of children suffering from severe wasting.
Donors and civil society organizations to prioritize funding for wasting to ensure a diverse, growing and a healthy ecosystem of donor support.
“There is simply no reason why a child should suffer from severe wasting – not when we have the ability to prevent it. But there is precious little time to reignite a global effort to prevent, detect and treat malnutrition before a bad situation gets much, much worse,” said Russell.
Apr. 2022
23 countries – home to around 405 million schoolchildren – are yet to fully open schools
As the COVID-19 pandemic enters its third year, 23 countries – home to around 405 million schoolchildren – are yet to fully open schools, with many schoolchildren at risk of dropping out, according to a new UNICEF report released today.
Are children really learning? features country-level data on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and related school closures on children, as well as an updated analysis of the state of children’s learning before the pandemic. It points out that 147 million children missed more than half of their in-person schooling over the past 2 years. This amounts to 2 trillion hours of lost in-person learning globally.
“When children are not able to interact with their teachers and their peers directly, their learning suffers. When they are not able to interact with their teachers and peers at all, their learning loss may become permanent,” said Catherine Russell, UNICEF Executive Director. “This rising inequality in access to learning means that education risks becoming the greatest divider, not the greatest equalizer. When the world fails to educate its children, we all suffer.”
In addition to data on learning loss, the report points to emerging evidence that shows many children did not return to school when their classrooms reopened.
Data from Liberia show 43 per cent of students in public schools did not return when schools reopened in December 2020. The number of out-of-school children in South Africa tripled from 250,000 to 750,000 between March 2020 and July 2021. In Uganda, around 1 in 10 schoolchildren did not report back to school in January 2022 after schools were closed for two years. In Malawi, the dropout rate among girls in secondary education increased by 48 per cent, from 6.4 per cent to 9.5 per cent between 2020 and 2021. In Kenya, a survey of 4,000 adolescents aged 10-19 years found that 16 per cent of girls and 8 per cent of boys did not return when schools reopened.
Out-of-school children are some of the most vulnerable and marginalized children in society. They are the least likely to be able to read, write or do basic math, and are cut off from the safety net that schools provide, which puts them at an increased risk of exploitation and a lifetime of poverty and deprivation.
The report highlights that while out-of-school children suffer the greatest loss, pre-pandemic data from 32 countries and territories show a desperately poor level of learning, a situation that has likely been exacerbated by the scale of learning lost to the pandemic. In the countries analysed, the current pace of learning is so slow that it would take seven years for most schoolchildren to learn foundational reading skills that should have been grasped in two years, and 11 years to learn foundational numeracy skills.
In many cases, there is no guarantee that schoolchildren learned the basics at all. In the 32 countries and territories examined, a quarter of Grade 8 schoolchildren – around 14 years old – did not have foundational reading skills and more than half did not have numeracy skills expected of a Grade 2 student, around 7 years old.
“Even before the pandemic, the most marginalized children were being left behind. As the pandemic enters its third year, we can’t afford to go back to “normal.” We need a new normal: getting children into classrooms, assessing where they are in their learning, providing them with the intensive support they need to recover what they’ve missed, and ensuring that teachers have the training and learning resources they need. The stakes are too high to do anything less,” said Russell.
Jan. 2022
More than 635 million students remain affected by full or partial school closures. On the International Day of Education and as the COVID-19 pandemic nears its two-year mark, UNICEF shares the latest available data on the impact of the pandemic on children’s learning.
“In March, we will mark two years of COVID-19-related disruptions to global education. Quite simply, we are looking at a nearly insurmountable scale of loss to children’s schooling,” said Robert Jenkins, UNICEF Chief of Education.
“While the disruptions to learning must end, just reopening schools is not enough. Students need intensive support to recover lost education. Schools must also go beyond places of learning to rebuild children’s mental and physical health, social development and nutrition.”
Children have lost basic numeracy and literacy skills. Globally, disruption to education has meant millions of children have significantly missed out on the academic learning they would have acquired if they had been in the classroom, with younger and more marginalized children facing the greatest loss.
In low- and middle-income countries, learning losses to school closures have left up to 70 per cent of 10-year-olds unable to read or understand a simple text, up from 53 per cent pre-pandemic.
In Ethiopia, primary school children are estimated to have learned between 30 to 40 per cent of the math they would have learned if it had been a normal school year.
In the US, learning losses have been observed in many states including Texas, California, Colorado, Tennessee, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia and Maryland. In Texas, for example, two thirds of children in grade 3 tested below their grade level in math in 2021, compared to half of children in 2019.
In several Brazilian states, around 3 in 4 children in grade 2 are off-track in reading, up from 1 in 2 children pre-pandemic. Across Brazil, 1 in 10 students aged 10-15 reported they are not planning to return to school once their schools reopen.
In South Africa, schoolchildren are between 75 per cent and a full school year behind where they should be. Some 400,000 to 500,000 students reportedly dropped out of school altogether between March 2020 and July 2021.
Follow-on consequences of school closures are on the rise. In addition to learning loss, school closures have impacted children’s mental health, reduced their access to a regular source of nutrition, and increased their risk of abuse.
A growing body of evidence shows that COVID-19 has caused high rates of anxiety and depression among children and young people, with some studies finding that girls, adolescents and those living in rural areas are most likely to experience these problems.
More than 370 million children globally missed out on school meals during school closures, losing what is for some children the only reliable source of food and daily nutrition.

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