Emergency Response | UNICEF USA

How UNICEF helps children in emergencies

War, natural disasters and other crises often uproot large numbers of children and families, leaving them struggling to survive. Extreme weather events have become more frequent and more intense due to climate change, causing widespread devastation and displacement.

Children who live in a conflict or disaster zone are more likely to be living in poverty. They are more vulnerable to malnutrition and disease. And they are more likely to be out of school.

UNICEF, a global leader in humanitarian relief, responds to hundreds of emergencies every year — focusing on meeting immediate needs and mitigating harmful impacts. With a presence in over 190 countries and territories, UNICEF works with governments and other partners to mobilize a rapid and efficient response when disaster strikes.

UNICEF is committed to reaching the most vulnerable children and families wherever they are, operating in difficult conditions and hard-to-reach places. UNICEF's humanitarian emergency response activities cut across all of UNICEF's major program areas, from health and nutrition to education and child protection to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH). Regional offices work with individual country offices to coordinate initiatives and interventions.

How UNICEF delivers emergency and disaster relief

UNICEF is on the ground before, during and after an emergency to:

  • preposition and prepare to deliver relief supplies to meet urgent needs for safe water, sanitation and hygiene, nutrition and medicine
  • care for children separated from parents and help reunite them with family 
  • when schooling is interrupted, get kids back to learning as quickly as possible
  • provide mental health and psychosocial support for children with trauma

Emergency relief supplies can be shipped anywhere within 48 to 72 hours from UNICEF’s supply hub in Copenhagen, the largest humanitarian warehouse in the world.

UNICEF works with governments, civil society, NGOs and local partners to speed delivery of urgently needed supplies in the wake of disasters like Tropical Cyclone Yasa. Above, supplies are loaded onto a tourist boat for delivery to Fiji’s northern island of Vanua Levu. © UNICEF/UN0384349/Stephen/Infinity Images 

UNICEF has also forged stronger ties between humanitarian work and development efforts — linking emergency relief to long term interventions to gird against future shocks. In areas affected by disaster and crisis, UNICEF makes it a priority to:

  • support community rebuilding and recovery to increase community resilience, making sure children’s rights are upheld at every turn
  • strengthen health and social systems so children are better protected from vaccine-preventable diseases and chronic conditions such as malnutrition
  • rehabilitate weak or damaged water and sanitation systems and other critical infrastructure to better serve communities over the long term
  • ensure social safety nets are in place and available for impoverished families

Complex, prolonged emergencies — such as the global COVID-19 pandemic and conflicts in Syria and Yemen — require all hands on deck. 

UNICEF's $9.4 billion emergency funding appeal for 2022 is the largest ever, reflecting the impact of the pandemic and other intersecting crises. Learn more about UNICEF's plan for Humanitarian Action for Children.

Daniel Timme, Chief of Communications for UNICEF Mozambique, checks in with families in the Praia Nova neighborhood of Beira, Mozambique, as Cyclone Eloise bears down on the area. © UNICEF/UN0403969/Franco