How can you protect children after an emergency?
Our expert panel share their experiences of keeping children safe in the aftermath of a disaster
What happens to children after a disaster?
That’s the question we asked the panellists at our discussion, Earthquakes to Ebola: How can we protect childhood during emergencies?
The event marked the launch of our Children’s Emergency Fund, which will provide vital support to children and their families after a disaster happens.
The panel was made up of Kitty Paulus and Isabelle Risso-Gill, from our Disaster Response Team, and Telegraph journalist Helen Nianias, who has reported from several refugee camps across the globe. It was chaired by Sky News anchor Gillian Joseph, a long-time Plan International supporter.
Together, the panellists shared their experiences of working in disaster zones, and highlighted three key issues:
1. Collaboration and timing are crucial
We know that the first few hours, days and weeks following a disaster are critical, so efficiency and expertise really do save lives.
Immediately after a disaster, our team of experts are on the ground assessing the situation and coordinating life-saving support, often within the first 72 hours. Because of the breadth of our experience, and our 81-year history, we can immediately launch a response using tried and tested ways of working.
In the first few hours, people’s urgent needs are water, food, shelter and medical services.
To supply these effectively, our disaster response team immediately gather and share information, coordinating with other agencies to avoid duplication, sharing resources and helping people as quickly and safely as possible.
2. Even in a disaster situation, every child’s needs are different
Many children arrive in refugee camps alone and frightened. That’s why Plan International’s child-centred approach to disaster response is so important.
During crises, there is often an increase in reports of violence and abuse, due to the high levels of stress, the confined spaces in camps or emergency shelters, and the increased vulnerability of children and women.
Societal norms are often amplified in crises as well, leaving adolescent girls and children at increased risk, for example of early or forced marriage.
This is why the child friendly spaces we set up in refugee camps and disaster areas are so important – so children have a safe place to play, where they can receive counselling and support, and are free to be children without the worry and burden brought on by a disaster.
3. Statistics don’t tell the whole story
Headlines will often measure a disaster by the number of people killed, displaced or injured, the size of the area affected, or the number of homes destroyed. But behind these statistics are people suffering psychological trauma and confusion.
Children and their families struggle to rebuild their lives, be it amongst the ruins of their homes or in a refugee camp.
Communities displaced by conflict, politics or natural disasters are often frustrated and angry – and this may be what our staff encounter when they first arrive in a disaster zone.
People’s lives have been turned upside down, homes have been destroyed, and children face months if not years without schooling.
That’s why, after our initial response, we stay in the affected communities for as long as we are needed, to help people rebuild their lives in the long term.
In Ethiopia, we’re providing education in emergencies to South Sudanese refugees; in Nepal, Plan International has built 21 disaster resilient schools following the devastating earthquake in 2015; and in Sierra Leone, we’re training women to become fully qualified teachers, many of whom suffered huge losses during the Ebola crisis.
What is the Children’s Emergency Fund?
Every emergency brings with it unique demands and challenges, and we believe the youngest and most vulnerable people affected shouldn’t have to wait for help to arrive.
That’s why we’ve set up the Children’s Emergency Fund, so we can provide vital support to children and their families in the hours, weeks and months after an emergency happens.
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