What is a cyclone?

A cyclone, also known as a tropical cyclone, occurs when winds rotate inwards to low atmospheric pressure over warm tropical or subtropical waters. Because of the Pacific Ocean’s consistent warm water, tropical cyclones form year-round with peak season occurring from November to next year’s April in the South Pacific.

The situation for children

Over 500 million children live in extremely high flood occurrence zones. When a cyclone hits, heavy rains and flooding can devastate coastal and inland areas and cause landslides, conditions that can easily turn fatal for children. 

While cyclones can develop at any point, most are common around harvest season, which can have a major impact on agriculture. If crops are destroyed, kids are most likely to suffer from malnutrition, especially when damaged roads and bridges keep humanitarian aid from reaching the families and children who need help.

Further, flooding can also disable sanitation facilities and contaminate water supplies, breeding grounds for deadly waterborne diseases. Without adequate supply, sewage systems fail and there is insufficient water for basic hygiene needs. Access to safe water to maintain proper hygiene and sanitation is critical, and even more so amid COVID-19.  

With entire communities and cities swallowed whole, children have no choice but to leave their homes in search of safety — sometimes even orphaned and alone.

Cyclones rob kids of the security they need to stay healthy, develop and grow. In times of disasters, children are disproportionately affected. "This is not business as usual," said Gautam Narasimhan, UNICEF Senior Advisor on Climate Change. "Climate change is linked to rising sea levels and the increase in rainfall associated with cyclones, thus causing more devastation in coastal but also inland areas. In the short term, the most vulnerable children are at risk of drowning and landslides, deadly diseases including cholera and malaria, malnutrition from reduced agricultural production and psychological trauma — all of which are compounded when health centers and schools are impacted. In the long term, cycles of poverty can linger for years and limit the capacity of families and communities to adapt to climate change and to reduce the risk of disasters."

After Cyclone Winston slammed into Fiji, UNICEF delivered water, hygiene and sanitation (WASH) supplies to Koro Island, one of the hardest hit areas. ©UNICEF/UN011310/Hing

How UNICEF helps cyclone victims

UNICEF responds to an average of 300 emergencies a year, including some of modern day’s worst cyclones.

When cyclones and other natural disasters strike, UNICEF is among the first on the ground — sometimes even days before to preposition supplies — and the last to leave. UNICEF hosts the largest humanitarian supply warehouse in the world, and through its network, UNICEF is able to deliver lifesaving supplies to anywhere within 48­–72 hours. 

Working with local partners, UNICEF provides safe drinking water, hygiene and sanitation kits, medicine, clothes, psychosocial services and more. On the ground, UNICEF is known for its Child-Friendly Spaces and temporary classrooms: safe spaces that encourage learning and play to help children cope and work through trauma. UNICEF protection teams also help care for lost and orphaned children while searching for surviving family members.  

Once the immediate crisis has passed, UNICEF works to prepare communities for the next emergency by assessing risks and helping strengthen health care systems, schools and other community services to become more extreme-weather resilient. 

“We are witnessing a worrisome trend. Cyclones, droughts and other extreme-weather events are increasing in frequency and intensity," said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore. "As we have seen in Mozambique and elsewhere, poorer countries and communities are disproportionately affected. For children who are already vulnerable, the impact can be devastating.” 

Learn more about how UNICEF works to address climate change and its impact on children. 

Help cyclone victims rebuild their communities and prepare for the next emergency here.