UNICEF helps children in Croatia recover after a devastating series of earthquakes

Delivering emergency supplies, hygiene products and providing psychological support

Marin Ilej
UNICEF Croatia/2021
03 February 2021

Following the most devastating earthquakes in the last 140 years to hit Central Croatia on 28 and 29 December 2020 the UNICEF Office in Croatia urgently delivered 13.5 tons of emergency supplies from the UNICEF Supply Division and approximately 30,000 packages of hygiene products to 24 institutions - schools, kindergartens, general hospitals and health centres in Petrinja, Glina, Sisak and other affected areas. UNICEF has also deployed mobile teams to provide psychological support to the most vulnerable children and their families and donated notebook computers to the social welfare centres in Glina and Petrinja to ensure the immediate continuation of their services.

"It was awful. We got scared, the kids started crying. Now I'm afraid to go into the house. It feels like I'm going to my grave, not to my house. The house was in bad condition before, and the earthquake just made it worse. Corners broke, bricks collapsed, the chimney fell off. Here, in the sports hall we have food and everything we need, people are very nice, but we are all together – families with children, the elderly and the sick, and we are afraid of corona. Shared accommodation is not a permanent solution, but our house has not yet been inspected" - Stanislav, a father of four, shared with UNICEF’s team in the first days after the shock.

A group of young people
UNICEF Croatia/2021
Stanislav and his four children in temporary accommodation

The earthquake affected directly as many as 70,000 people, including 13,750 children, devastating schools, kindergartens, social welfare institutions and the region’s largest hospital. The Government declared a state of disaster in that part of the country, and the ministry responsible for families and social policy received more than 10,000 requests for one-off cash benefits.

"I play football, games and walk around the yard. I don't have any friends around. I had one before, but that boy left. I'm fine here in the container. I'm warm and safe", says nine-year-old Gabriel responding how he spends his days. His family's home was damaged in the earthquake. Until they repair the cracked walls in the house, they can't feel safe and that's why their temporary home is now a residential container expanded with the tarpaulins donated by UNICEF.

Thanks to UNICEF Global Humanitarian Thematic Funds and the resources raised by the UNICEF National Committee in Slovenia and the UNICEF Office in Croatia, primarily from individual and corporate donors, more than USD500,000 have been allocated for the immediate emergency response.  A remaining USD860,000 are needed to provide relief and support for the first six months to address the critical needs of children and adolescents affected by the earthquakes in Croatia.

"It feels like I'm going to my grave, not to my house"

Stanislav, a father of four

Guided by the Core Commitments for Children in Emergencies, UNICEF Croatia has been working with the Government in overcoming this crisis from the very beginning and identifying the means to improve the protection of children and their families, especially the most vulnerable ones.

“We know that the needs of children will be long-term, and we plan to be there to ensure that children overcome trauma, receive quality education and healthcare and find joy in playing. As UNICEF, we are working closely with the Government, the municipal authorities and the non-governmental organizations to provide services to the most vulnerable children particularly, children from minority groups, children with disabilities and children in institutions or in foster care.  – said UNICEF Representative in Croatia Regina Castillo.

UNICEF Representative in Croatia Regina Castillo
UNICEF Croatia/2021

Recommittment with Government and partners to achieve results for children, in the midst of the emergency response in Croatia

Less than a month after the most devastating earthquake that has hit Croatia in 140 years, the meeting was another opportunity to remember the lives lost and the livelihoods destroyed, reconfirming UNICEF’s support.  “We know that the needs of children will be long-term and we plan to be there in support of the Government’s and local authorities’ efforts - to help children overcome the trauma, to receive quality education, healthcare and opportunities to play.” – said Ms Castillo.

UNICEF’s timely provision of emergency supplies was appreciated also at the very beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic in March 2020, when UNICEF delivered the first batch of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) from the UNICEF Supply Division in Copenhagen. Thanks to its donors and corporate partners, this office continued to deliver tons of protective and medical equipment to health and social workers, a large Server to CarNet to ensure steady access to online education, computers, SIM cards, hygiene kits and recreational materials to children in need.

COVID-19 has made UNICEF Croatia far more innovative as well -  for example, to create an on-learning platform on early childhood -interventions - connecting service providers to children with developmental delays or disabilities, without leaving their home. So far more than 5000 users, no matter if people live on an island or in a farm, benefitted from e-courses for future parents on childbirth, postpartum preparation and breastfeeding offered due to UNICEF’s partnerships and collaboration with the World Bank. The pandemic forced the conversion of support services online – such as peer support to foster care parents via an info-phone line and a new parenting support program for families at risk.


“If there is one thing that we have learned about 2020 is that we can still achieve amazing results for children; we have learned to work differently to reach out those in need.”

UNICEF Representative in Croatia Regina Castillo

Fulfulling the last year’s promise to work more with youth in 2020, during the Croatian EU Presidency, UNICEF engaged more than 27,000 adolescent boys and girls through various platforms, including Junior Ambassadors, U-report (ZABUM voice). The Digital Hub on Mental Health, the Children’s Rights Festival and the Schools for Africa Programme. “Besides the skills, knowledge and new friendships we gain through workshops that UNICEF enables, I am thankful for the  warm feeling of acceptance and humanity created this way.” - stressed Youth Ambassador Barbara Vukas. Young people were engaged in the prevention of Covid-19 in their communication with peers and in their efforts to preserve their mental health during the pandemic and after the earthquakes.

The pandemic moved the traditional humanitarian street race into digital space, creating an unprecedented interest and awareness engaging more than 7200 participants who biked, ran, sailed, and walked with and for children with disabilities! The race was held under the auspices of the President and the Government, recognizing the need to address the fact that only 1 out of 8 children age of 0 to 5 who might have a developmental delay, or a disability has access to early childhood intervention services in Croatia.

Overwhelming acknowledgment from UNICEF’s national partners expressed in this meeting illustrated the significance and relevance of UNICEF’s work. “We are immensely grateful for investing your time, energy, knowledge and skills in early intervention. We believe that if we change the beginning, we can change the while story, both for developmental and social risks.”;“We are grateful for your contribution to a society that cares for every child”; ”We are looking forward at contributing not only to the implementation but also to the sustainability of UNICEF-supported initiatives embedding them into the national strategic documents that are currently being developed.” – are just some of comments shared on this occasion.

For the first time in 2020,  UNICEF Croatia received funding from the European Commission. A set of interventions should improve quality and access to social services in one county, supporting the arguments for future decisions about resource allocation in the European Union.  This joint effort would contribute to the fulfilling of the Child Guarantee, ensuring that no child in Europe experiences consequences of poverty and social exclusion, especially coping with the ongoing economic fallout of the pandemic. As always, the commitment to gender equality remains strong to ensure that every boy and girl receives the support she or he needs.

At the beginning of a new year in which UNICEF celebrates 75th anniversary and legacy with a new spirit of innovation, optimism and pride in its mission for children, UNICEF in Croatia continues to work for the most vulnerable children, engaging young people as partners and developing their skills needed to make a difference in their communities.