Latin America and the Caribbean: 2.3 million children displaced by weather-related disasters over six years

In the region, floods alone are projected to displace 4.6 million children over the next 30 years, new UNICEF analysis shows

06 October 2023
Una madre, con su hijo y su hija caminan por un camino de tierra.

Panama City, 6 October 2023In Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC), weather-related disasters, such as riverine floods and storm surges, caused 2.3 million internal displacements of children over a six–year period or approximately 1.050 child displacements a day- according to a new UNICEF analysis released today.

Children Displaced in a Changing Climate is the first global analysis of the number of children driven from their homes between 2016 and 2021 due to floods, storms, droughts and wildfires, and looks at projections for the next 30 years.

According to the analysis, in the LAC region Cuba and Honduras recorded the highest numbers of displaced children due to weather-related hazards combined in absolute numbers between 2016 and 202112.

“Every day, flooding, mudslides and hurricanes are uprooting more and more children across Latin America and the Caribbean,” said Garry Conille, UNICEF Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean. “When families are hit hard by these climate-related disasters, children lose their homes but also their access to education, health, water and protection. Their entire future is in jeopardy and their only option is to flee because there is nothing left. In the next years and decades, this worrying trend will only further accelerate, leading to a generation of ‘climate migrant children’ across the region”.

“Waiting for the storm to pass is a waste of valuable time. It’s in everybody’s interest to build more resilient communities in the region, including strengthening climate education, protecting children and families at risk of displacement, and supporting those already on the move”, added Conille.

Decisions to move can be forced and abrupt in the face of disaster, or as the result of pre-emptive evacuation, where lives may be saved. However, many children still face the dangers and challenges that come with being uprooted from their homes, often for extended periods.

Children are especially at risk of displacement in countries already grappling with overlapping crises, such as conflict and poverty, where local capacities to cope with any additional shocks on children are strained.

Haiti, for example - already at high risk of disaster-related child displacement - is also plagued by violence and poverty, with limited investment in risk mitigation and preparedness. In countries– where the number of vulnerable children at risk of future displacement is the greatest and coping capacities and financing is limited – is where risk mitigation, adaptation, preparedness efforts and financing are most urgent.

Using a disaster displacement risk model developed by Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre3, the global analysis projects riverine floods have the potential to displace almost 96 million children over the next 30 years, based on current climate data*. Over the LAC region, floods alone are projected to displace 4.6 million children in the same period. If there are more frequent and more severe weather events as consequence of changing climate, the actual numbers will almost certainly be higher.

In Brazil, for instance, riverine floods and storm surges could displace an estimated 1.5 million children over the next 30 years. In Mexico, as many as 672,000 children could be displaced due to these hazards during the same period of time.

UNICEF works with governments in countries most at risk to better prepare for and mitigate the risk of displacement, develop and implement child-responsive disaster risk reduction climate change adaptation strategies, and design resilient and portable services to protect and reach children before, during and after disaster strikes, catering solutions to address context-specific vulnerabilities.

As leaders prepare to meet at the COP28 Climate Change Summit in Dubai in November, UNICEF urges governments, donors, development partners, and the private sector to take the following actions to protect children and young people at risk of future displacement and prepare them and their communities:

· PROTECT children and young people from the impacts of climate change-exacerbated disasters and displacement by ensuring that child-critical services – including education, health, nutrition, social protection and child protection services – are shock-responsive, portable and inclusive, including for those uprooted from their homes.

· PREPARE children and young people to live in a climate-changed world by improving their adaptive capacity and resilience, and enabling their participation in finding inclusive solutions.

· PRIORITIZE children and young people – including those already uprooted from their homes – in disaster and climate action and finance, humanitarian and development policy, and investments to prepare for a future already happening.

1 Cuba recorded 670,00 child displacements due to storms between 2016 and 2021; following by Honduras 370,000 child displacements recorded.
2 Data do not distinguish between preemptive evacuation and displacement in response to disaster. Pre-emptive evacuations are more likely to be implemented (and recorded) for floods and major storms such as cyclones, typhoons and hurricanes – and in countries with effective early warning, disaster risk reduction (DRR) and data systems in place.
3 Based on the disaster displacement risk model developed by IDMC in 2017. The risk model uses information on hazards (e.g., cyclones), exposure (people and buildings) and vulnerability (fragility of buildings) to estimate displacement risks in the future.

*Because the definition of the hazards considered in the projections are different to those in the historic analysis it is not possible to directly compare the two. The projections also do not include pre-emptive evacuations.

UNICEF analysed data from the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) to determine historical child displacements linked to weather-related disasters and projected the estimated risk of child displacement in the future using IDMC’s risk model. The work was completed with support from the Patrick J McGovern Foundation.

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