Children on the frontline: natural disasters in Asia-Pacific (part 1)

No other part of the world is more at risk from natural disasters than the Asia-Pacific region, and children are among the most vulnerable. Children, families and communities are often ill-prepared to deal with earthquakes, floods, typhoons and other risks, and the poorest are hardest hit.

In the run up to the UN’s Global Disaster Risk Reduction Conference in Sendai, we reflect on some past stories about the devastating impact natural disasters have on children’s lives. They help demonstrate why it is critical we help vulnerable communities and children be better prepared for future disasters.

Sea level rise, Kiribati: “We’re are on the front-line of the front-line”


A village is engulfed by sea water due to raising tides© UNICEF Pacific/2014/J Alcock


Children in Kiribati are now facing the reality of the sea-level rising and swallowing up portions previously inhabited land. In a few decades they may have to flee the islands to find a new home.

Raising sea levels, declining rain fall and dying reefs are all impacting communities throughout the island. Children born today may be among the last generation of I-Kiribati born there.

“Children are on the front line of the front line. We want the world to listen to what is happening to us,” says local student Teako Otia.

Find out more with this video produced by some of the young islanders

Tsunami, Indonesia: Rebuilding lives


© UNICEF/NYHQ2005-1699/Estey


Seven months after the 2004 tsunami, this boy and his mother were reunited at a UNICEF field office in the town of Meulaboh.

The boy was on holiday with his father and three siblings in Banda Aceh, when the tsunami struck. Separated from his family, he sought refuge in a settlement for displaced people. In April, he registered at a Child Center. His mother had not heard from her family until she was contacted by the field office.

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Earthquake, China: “Braver and more outgoing”


Five-year-old Suonandaiji came to the Ganda Village Child Friendly Spacewith her younger brother nearly every day. ©UNICEF/China/2011/Zhao Jia


Five-year-old Suonandaiji regularly came to the Ganda Village’s Child Friendly Space and she likes to sing and dance. The area was severely affected by an earthquake in 2010.

“Before, whenever I wanted to take the children out, they would get anxious. They just wanted to stay at home. Now, they seem braver and more outgoing. They ask me to bring them here every morning!” said Suonandaiji’s mother.

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Flash floods, Solomon Islands: Brave little Isiah, 8


Isiah Andrew at West Kola-Ridge, Solomon Islands© UNICEF Pacific/2014/ATahu


Eight-year-old Isiah went on holiday with his family in 2014, but soon after arriving their holiday home was suddenly struck by flash floods. “I was shocked to see how fast the river rose, I could not run anywhere because the house was now surrounded with water and there were pieces of metal and scraps all over the place.”

“I was trying my best to hold on to the coconut tree trunk but the current was so strong, pieces of metal, grass, mud, and plastics were all over me. I could also see our house collapsing. It was then that I decided to let go because the house might collapse on me.”

“I kept on saying in my mind swim, swim, swim, and don’t stop.”

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Typhoon, Philippines: Nothing left for millions of children


Apple Joy stands amid the rubble that used to be her house©UNICEF/2013/Philippines/Diana Valcarcel


When Typhoon Haiyan (also known as Yolanda) tore through the Philippines, nearly 6 million children were affected by its devastating impact.

Ten-year-old Apple Joy stands in the place where her house used to stand. There is nothing left. Only the toilet bowl is still there as it was the only part of the house set in concrete, standing out in the devastated landscape like a memorial. Apple showed us where she used to play with her sisters and friends, in the courtyard of her house, where her mother used to hang her clothes.

UNICEF created a child friendly space for children like Apple to help get them back on track.

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Floods, Cambodia: Food shortages


Chantou, top left, at home with her mother, younger sister and baby brother© UNICEF Cambodia/2012/Andy Brown


Thirteen-year old Loinh Chantou attends Preak Cham School in Cambodia. In September 2011, both her school and home were engulfed in the worst floods to strike Cambodia in a decade.

Chantou’s family struggled with food and water shortages. “People with boats were able to fish but it was very hard for us,” says Chantou’s mother, Chuon Sean.

“The well was spoiled and the flood water was dirty, with dead animals in it. We drank river water but we had no wood to boil it. The children got ill with diarrhea, skin rashes and fever.”

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Tsunami, Thailand: The memory never goes away


Nong Bee stands in front of a photo of Koh Phi Phi which was struck by the tsunami© UNICEF Thailand/2014/Jingjai N


“Ten years have passed, but the memory of the tsunami never goes away,” 23-year-old Nong Bee says, her voice shaking.

“I heard people shouting that a big wave was coming. At first, I ran towards the ocean. But then I changed my mind and started following everyone up the hill. It was chaos. People were looking for their loved ones. There were dead bodies everywhere and adults were covering children’s eyes with their hands so they didn’t see them.”

The tsunami, which struck Thailand’s Andaman coastline on 26 December 2004, killed more than 5,300 people in Thailand, with some 2,800 others missing.

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Emergency preparedness, Papua New Guinea


Ten-year-old Nellie Koko at the school’s assembly area during an earthquake drill© UNICEF PNG/2014/Alcock


In early 2014, more than 1,000 Okiufa Primary School students and their teachers rushed out of their classrooms in a panic when a big earthquake hit the township of Goroka in Eastern Highlands Province.

Six months later, the students experienced another earthquake, but no one ran out of their classrooms this time. Instead most students went under their desks or against a wall in their classrooms. Thanks to UNICEF-supported emergency preparedness training, students and teachers are now prepared to react appropriately for any future disasters.

Read more

Click here to read part 2 of Children on the Frontline

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