A Haitian girl searches through the remnants of her home for possessions after it was destroyed by Hurricane Matthew in 2016




What is a hurricane?

A hurricane is a super storm that forms in the North Atlantic and the central and eastern North Pacific from warm ocean waters that create a tropical cyclone. The tropical cyclone is classified as a hurricane once its circulating winds reach a sustained 74 miles per hour. Hurricanes are categorized in five levels, determined by wind speed and in accordance with the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale:

  • Category 1 (74-95 miles per hour)
  • Category 2 (96-110 miles per hour) 
  • Category 3 (111-129 miles per hour)
  • Category 4 (130-156 miles per hour)
  • Category 5 (157 miles per hour or more) 

Hurricanes most frequently occur around June through November, though they can form at any point.

Hurricanes and typhoons are both forms of tropical cyclones. The difference is the location in which they occur. When the storm system originates in the northwestern Pacific Ocean, it is called a typhoon. 

The situation for children

Over 500 million children live in extremely high flood occurrence zones. Hurricanes wreak havoc in developed nations and are even more catastrophic in countries where there is widespread poverty, deforestation and inadequate emergency services. Strong winds, heavy rain, tidal surges, flooding and mudslides can kill or injure thousands, and children are most likely to drown.  

Children and their families who live in coastal areas or in poorly constructed housing can become homeless for months. Ineffective evacuation plans can also put children and their families in danger. 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.

Further, flooding can 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 amidst COVID-19. 

Additionally, children are most likely to suffer from malnutrition, especially when food sources are damaged and unnavigable roads and bridges keep humanitarian aid from reaching the families and children who need help.

Hurricanes rob kids of the security they need to stay healthy, develop and grow. In times of disasters, children are among the worst affected.

How UNICEF helps hurricane victims

UNICEF responds to an average of 300 emergencies a year, including some of modern day’s worst hurricanes like 2005 Katrina2016 Matthew2017 Harvey2017 Irma2017 Maria2019 Dorian2020 Eta and Iota and more.

When hurricanes 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. 

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

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