Note to Editors: To view the full set of papers published in the “Children, Youth and Environments” special issue on children and disasters, visit http://www.colorado.edu/journals/cye/18_1/index.htm.
The number of natural disasters recorded globally has increased fourfold during the past three decades, growing from fewer than 100 in 1975 to more than 400 in 2005. Colorado State University researcher Lori Peek is guest editor of the new issue of the journal, "Children, Youth and Environments," which explores the vulnerability and resilience of children in natural disasters.
Most scientists agree that economic losses and fatalities caused by disasters will continue to rise during the 21st century, and children are among those most at risk for death, injury and trauma.
A recent report by Save the Children estimates that by the second decade of the 21st century, up to 175 million children will be affected each year by climate-related disasters.
The issue contains a collection of 20 papers from around the world that explore children’s reactions to drought, tsunamis, hurricanes, volcanic eruptions, climate change and the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Some of the contributions also consider the experiences of children who live in a constant state of disaster as a result of chronic poverty, violence or unsafe living conditions.
Peek, assistant professor of sociology at Colorado State, noted that the primary motivation for publishing the special issue was to improve the health and well-being of children living at risk in both developed and developing countries.
"Several recent catastrophes, including the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the 2005 Pakistan earthquake and 2005’s Hurricane Katrina, brought into sharp relief the pain that disasters may cause for the youngest victims," Peek said.
Researchers estimate that the tsunami claimed the lives of as many as 60,000 children, the Pakistan earthquake resulted in 18,000 child fatalities and destroyed 10,000 schools, and Katrina displaced over 160,000 children from the city of New Orleans.
"With disaster risk on the rise, it is of critical importance that we focus our attention on the special vulnerabilities of children while also working to understand how children can contribute to disaster preparedness and response activities in their homes and communities," she said.
The papers in the special issue explore various ways that children are psychologically, physically and educationally vulnerable to extreme events. However, Peek noted that the authors do not simply depict children as "passive victims." Instead, they also consider children’s special capacities and strengths.
For example, bilingual Vietnamese children in New Orleans helped warn their parents and other adults to ensure their safe evacuation before Hurricane Katrina. In the hazard-prone nation of Jamaica, school children participate in an innovative disaster-themed culinary competition where students prepare recipes and meals using only foods that would be available after a disaster – those with a long shelf life that do not require refrigeration.
"Taken as a whole, this work clearly shows that, while children are vulnerable and do rely on adults for support and protection during times of disaster, they also are creative and innovative," Peek said.
"Children, Youth and Environments" is an online journal published by the University of Colorado-Boulder. Check http://www.colorado.edu/journals/cye/ for a list of papers and other resources that appear in the special issue on children and disasters.