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How can you protect children after an emergency

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.

A girl in the Philippines following Typhoon Haiyan
A girl looks at the devastation caused by Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines

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.

When we’re looking at a response, we need to take into account that children have different needs. Children, especially girls, are far more vulnerable to abuse and exploitation.

Isabelle Risso-Gill, Disaster Response Team, Plan International UK
Children play in a mobile shelter in Indonesia
A Plan International staff member leads games in a child friendly space, following the 2018 Indonesia earthquake

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.

Children play in front of a primary school constructed by Plan International in Ethiopia
Children play in front of a primary school constructed by Plan International in Ethiopia, which is hosting many of the 1.5 million refugees who have fled conflict in neighbouring South Sudan

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.


Help us reach children and their families when they need us most

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