Children are extremely vulnerable in emergencies. Whether the emergency causes physical or psychological harm, or loss of family or social support, children have the greatest susceptibility and the least capacity to deal with those risks. Even a temporary loss of school, home or security can cause lifelong damage to a child.
Children in poor, remote communities are especially vulnerable. They tend to face greater exposure to harsh weather conditions, and infrastructure in their communities may be less developed.
These conditions increase the likelihood that, during an emergency, children may find themselves without parental care or adult supervision. Natural disasters also may damage schools or render them unusable, and children then confront interruption in their education.
During an emergency, children may lack access to necessary items for daily living, including shelter, clothing and food. In addition to these upheavals, disasters and emergencies often leave children in need of counseling, comfort and psychosocial support.
Meeting children’s urgent needs in emergencies
UNICEF China and its partners respond rapidly to protect and support children affected by major emergencies.
First, we help meet immediate needs. After the Wenchuan earthquake, we assisted more than a million people by providing housing tents and quilts, school tents and classroom supplies, health kits and medical equipment, and clean drinking water. Along with providing similar support after the Yushu earthquake, we also supported an emergency immunization campaign for children.
Second, in cooperation with our partners, we evaluate the emergency situation to determine the recovery needs of children. For instance, after our Wenchuan earthquake assessment revealed that children needed safe places to play and learn, we contributed to establishing 40 children’s resource centers, called Child Friendly Spaces, throughout the earthquake-affected area.
Third, we collaborate to promote long-term reconstruction. Rebuilding after a disaster is an opportunity for sustainable development, what we term “building back better.”
For example, after the devastating drought in Southwestern China, we are supporting the construction of water cellar storage space, water supply pipelines to schools and hand-washing facilities in pilot areas. Equally important is our work to ensure the sustainability of this infrastructure development, including building capacity for water management, training on regular water monitoring, and promoting hygiene education.
Making a difference
UNICEF’s work responding to emergencies is helping expand capacity for emergency response, as well as increasing resiliency in populations affected by emergencies in China. For example: