Children and Disasters

Issue #20: May 4, 2015


  • NEPAL EARTHQUAKE – On April 25th a massive earthquake struck Nepal with an epicenter approximately 80 km northwest of Kathmandu. The results have been catastrophic with a current death toll of 6,250, the number of injured 14,357, and over 160,000 destroyed and 143,000 damaged homes. The event occurred at 11:56 AM local time on a Saturday which meant that children were not in school. Even though efforts have been made to retrofit and/or build new earthquake-ready school buildings, ensuring compliance and enforcing building codes is a major issue in Nepal. However, because of the timing it is likely many children’s lives were spared. This generation of children has never experienced an earthquake of this magnitude and it is estimated that over 1.5 million children live in the zone which experienced “strong” or “very strong” shaking as a result of the earthquake. The children of Nepal will undoubtedly need immediate medical care, short- and long-term sheltering, a continuation plan for education, as well as engagement in activities which promote health recovery after such a tragedy with such a wide-scale impact. As time progresses concerns around clean water and preventing infectious diseases will be paramount to un-hindered recovery.
  • EBOLA – In the latest UNMEER situation report the total number of cases was 26,277 and the total number of reported deaths was 10,884. The latest new case count for the week of April 26th included 22 newly confirmed cases across West Africa. Schools in Sierra Leone recently re-opened after remaining closed for one year. This step signifies the start of a country-wide recovery but also raises new issues. For instance, pregnant girls are not allowed to re-join their cohort in school highlighting a gender bias in Ebola recovery which should be addressed immediately. Additional concerns grow over the potential risk for sexual transmission of the Ebola Virus which could lead to a second wave of infection if proper contraceptive methods are not applied.
  • CHILDCARE CENTERS AND DISASTER PREPAREDNESS  – “Center for Disaster and Risk Analysis at Colorado State University releases report on childcare centers and disaster preparedness in Colorado”. In the state of Colorado, about half of all children age 0-5 are cared for in licensed childcare centers and in-home childcare settings on any given weekday. Yet, information about the relationship between childcare center location and natural hazards risk is limited. This represents an important gap because the number of disasters is on the rise in Colorado. The youngest children are those who are most vulnerable to these events, as infants and children age 0-5 are partially or totally dependent on adults for protection, support, comfort, and care. Colorado also only meets two of the four standards recommended as “essential” for basic disaster preparedness and safety in schools and childcare centers. This puts Colorado in the bottom half of all the states in the nation in terms of disaster planning for children, making it a location worthy of additional attention and study. This work was funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), National Preparedness Division, Region VIII. It is designed to focus attention on the number, location, and preparedness levels of licensed childcare centers and in-home childcare settings in the state of Colorado. The information included in this report provides an overview of the demographic composition of young children age 0-5 in Colorado; a summary of the number and location of licensed childcare facilities and in-home care settings throughout the state; and data on the types, frequency, and impacts of natural hazards in Colorado from 1960-2010. Click for infographic.
  • THE LOST CHILDREN OF KATRINA  – As we approach the 10-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina many are asking the question, “where are we now?” Researchers and advocates from the National Center for Disaster Preparedness, the Children’s Health Fund, and Colorado State University have paid close attention to the specific needs of children in a post-disaster environment. Their research consistently supports efforts to provide resources and opportunities to get children back in school as soon as possible after a disaster to establish a sense of normalcy and routine. Extended displacement, multiple moves, pre-existing poverty, and complex family structures were all predictors of children experiencing emotional distress and poor school performance. The author points out that the adolescents of Katrina are now in their 20s and an independent researcher has pointed out lasting development and behavioral issues.


  • CHILDREN AND YOUTH AND DISASTERS: VICTIMS OR ‘AGENTS OF CHANGE’? – In March, 187 country governments, including UN leaders and staff from organizations and businesses, came together to agree on the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030.  The conference was the first of four important UN meetings this year. Its framework aims to reduce “disaster risk and loss of lives and livelihoods from disasters”. ChildFund, an organization that aids children and families after devastating events like disasters, advocates that “children and young people should be seen as agents of change in any DRR framework”, rather than victims needing refuge. While they of course do need protection, youth also can be participants in preparing their communities to be more resilient in the aftermath of a disaster. In this article, ChildFund provides criticisms of the new framework along with examples of its work.
  • IOM REPORT: HEALTHY, RESILIENT, AND SUSTAINABLE COMMUNITIES AFTER DISASTERS: STRATEGIES, OPPORTUNITIES, AND PLANNING FOR RECOVERY (2015) – IOM released a report on that is described as both a call to action and an action guide for disaster planning and recovery. The report focuses on the importance of engaging all community stakeholders, and for leveraging the existing capabilities and capacities within community organizations. The committee found an increase in resilience building efforts being integrated into recovery efforts nationally, however these efforts are too often focused on physical infrastructure, and do little to strengthen the resilience of individuals and communities as a whole. This report provides 12 recommendations and sector specific guidance. It also presents a framework for recovery planning focused on the steps of: 1) Visioning, 2) Assessment, 3) Planning, and 4) Implementation.


  • TRAJECTORIES OF POST-TRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER SYMPTOMS AMONG YOUTH EXPOSED TO BOTH NATURAL AND TECHNOLOGICAL DISASTERS (2015) – Published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, this multi-wave longitudinal prospective study examined children (n=4,619)  in the Gulf Coast Region for PTSD symptoms over a period of 4 years following Hurricanes Katrina and Gustav, and the Gulf Oil Spill. Consistent with developmental theories describing the long term impact of disasters on youth, hurricane exposure and oil spill stress predicted a child’s PTSD symptoms. Older youth, female sex, and dose effect were also positively correlated with more PTSD symptoms. The severity of the symptoms of PTSD followed one of four different trajectories: 52% were described to have stable-low level symptoms (resilient), 9% were described to have stable-high level symptoms (chronic impact) , 18% with increasing symptoms (delayed distress), 21% with steep decrease in symptoms (recovered). Given the impact of disasters on the mental health of children over time, future research should focus on identifying variables associated with “recovery,” and optimizing this in interventions delivered long-term.

Edited by: Dr. Bob Kanter

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