Children's environmental health

Disasters and conflicts

children playing on a tank

Children are among the most vulnerable to the health aspects of crises. Both human-made crises and natural disasters can debilitate or destroy the lifelines--water supply, power, and food supply systems, etc.--needed for day-to-day survival, well-being, and growth. Children often bear the brunt of the health consequences of broken systems. For example, when water supply systems are contaminated, diarrhoeal diseases can disproportionately affect children. Crises can also damage health services and de-activate vital immunization campaigns needed to protect children against diseases to which they are particularly susceptible.

Ongoing violent conflict, as well as natural disasters, can cause mass population displacements and expose children to the unhealthy physical and psychological environments. Crises can also severely weaken the capacity of caretakers (family members or others) to address the needs of children. Children left without adequate caretakers, such as streetchildren or orphans, are the most vulnerable.

Currently, WHO is working with partners--including UNICEF, UNFPA, UNHCR, and ICRC--to ensure that the health needs of all children and their caretakers are met in disaster situations. For more information on WHO's work in crises, please see Health Action in Crises web site.