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Early Childhood

Early Childhood Development in Emergencies

Humanitarian action

© UNICEF/ Fiji/Sokhin
Keresi plays with 7-month-old Veremo in a Cyclone Winston evacuation centre.

Very young children are particularly vulnerable in situations of crisis, instability and violence. The formative years from birth to age eight (particularly in the 0-2 year age group) play a vital role in the formation of intelligence, personality and social behavior. The greatest risk for young children is a repressive environment that blocks creativity and lacks conditions for healthy physical and mental development. Natural disasters and armed conflict can severely impact the healthy physical, mental and emotional development of young children.

In the immediate stage of an emergency, UNICEF assesses the status of young children and gathers information to determine which needs are most pertinent.  The restoration of primary health care services, mother-and-child and nutrition services, as well as access to clean water and a hygienic environment are key parts of an integrated early childhood development response in emergencies.  Reaching parents and caregivers and working with them is vital for ensuring stability for young children in emergency situations.  To this end, UNICEF trains and supports caregivers.

The Early Childhood Development Kit is an integral part of UNICEF’s response for children in emergency situations.  The Kit focuses on addressing the learning needs of children 0-8 years old in emergencies and transition and can be used in regular programming for development as well. 

A guidance note on integrating ECD activities into nutrition programmes in an emergency setting can be accessed here.

Child Friendly Spaces provide children with essential health services in emergency situations.  Just as important, they offer stability in the midst of chaos and allow children to continue schooling, receive psychosocial support and play with other children.  A focus on young children’s development is a cornerstone to these spaces. Similarly, continuation of young children’s early education during a crisis situation is also another priority of UNICEF’s ECD programmes.




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