Latin America and the Caribbean: the number of children in need of humanitarian assistance has more than tripled this year - UNICEF

03 December 2020
Alejandro (9 years) wears a mask in the shelter at the José Simon Azcona sports complex.
Alejandro (9 years) wears a mask in the shelter at the José Simon Azcona sports complex. Together with his mother, they were evacuated from their house in the Altos de Edén neighbourhood in Tegucigalpa, due to the rains left by the entry of Hurricane Iota in Honduran territory.

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PANAMA CITY, 3 December 2020 - In Latin America and the Caribbean, the number of children in need of humanitarian assistance has more than tripled in just a year, UNICEF said today when releasing its largest ever regional emergency appeal on record. 

At least 23.4 million children are in need of humanitarian assistance across the region, compared to only 7 million last year. This spike is largely driven by the devastating impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, the growing migratory flows and an increase of extreme natural disasters exacerbated by climate change, such as hurricanes and droughts. UNICEF is urgently seeking over US$500 million to provide lifesaving assistance to 17.4 million people, including 11.7 million children across Latin America and the Caribbean next year.

“Latin America and the Caribbean is in the eye of not just one, but many storms at the same time this year,” said Jean Gough, UNICEF Regional Director for Latin America and Caribbean. “Stronger hurricanes, larger migration flows, and the COVID-19 pandemic have left millions of children without schooling, without protection, without water, and without immunization. The region today is more unequal and more dangerous for children than it was a year ago. Like never seen before, so many children were hit by multiple large-scale emergencies simultaneously across so many countries in Latin America and the Caribbean.” 

All the 36 countries and territories of the region are struck by one or more emergencies for the first time on record. With now over 12.5 million cases of COVID-19, Latin America and the Caribbean is the region hardest hit by the pandemic. The region is struggling with one of the longest lockdowns in the world and is also suffering with the biggest contraction in the last 100 years, according to the Economic Commission on Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC). 

Furthermore, millions of children have been uprooted from their homes and are in desperate need of protection, humanitarian assistance and integration support across the region. Both major migration outflows -from Venezuela and across Central America and Mexico - reached unprecedented peaks this year. It is estimated that next year, 4.3 million children from Venezuela in host countries and 6.8 million other migrant children in Mexico and Central America will be in need of humanitarian assistance.

After six consecutive years of economic contraction, the humanitarian situation in Venezuela continues to intensify. Some 3.2 million children inside the country and 4.3 million children on the move urgently require humanitarian assistance. Approximately 2.3 million people are now food insecure. To reach almost 4 million people, including 2 million children, UNICEF is seeking US$200 million. 

Over the past few years, countries in Latin America and the Caribbean have battled hurricanes with increasing frequency and impact. Last November, countries in Central America were hit by two powerful hurricanes, Eta and Iota, in less than 10 days. Together with our partners, UNICEF is responding to the needs of more than 646,000 people, including 327,000 children, with lifesaving supplies and services, in shelters and communities, and in the most affected areas in Belize, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua.

If urgent action is not taken, a bulk of progress made in protecting and promoting the rights of children in recent decades could be lost and even reversed. The economic impact of the pandemic has pushed millions of families and their children into poverty. Over 123 million children are still out of the classroom and have lost over four times more school days than children in the rest of the world. Nearly 21 million and 83 million people lack access to basic drinking water and basic sanitation, respectively. Faced with this dire situation, there is a risk that an entire generation will be lost.

“For the first time, UNICEF teams are responding to emergencies in every single country across Latin America and the Caribbean,” said Jean Gough. “COVID-19, climate change and migration together, have turned each of us into ‘firefighters’ in a region where children could be caught in a humanitarian situation almost anywhere and at any time. Humanitarian needs are immediate but will persist over time. Getting better prepared for the next emergency is critical. Now is our chance to create resilient solutions and build back a better Latin America and the Caribbean, where children will be safe.” 

In an extremely volatile and sensitive environment such as Latin America and the Caribbean, adapting and responding to unexpected yet pressing humanitarian needs as they evolve is critical. Risk is the reason why raising flexible and multi-year funding is essential to rapidly reach every child, everywhere and anytime, at every stage of a humanitarian emergency and its aftermath.  With presence in almost all countries and territories in Latin America and the Caribbean, UNICEF’s work goes beyond lifesaving humanitarian assistance to include building shock-responsive social services and keeping the protection and well-being of children at the center. 

“When a devastating pandemic coincides with conflict, climate change, disaster and displacement, the consequences for children can be catastrophic,” said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore. “Today we are facing a child rights emergency in which COVID-19 and other crises are combining to deprive children of their health and wellbeing. This unprecedented situation demands a similarly unprecedented response. We are urging our donors to join us so that together we can help the world’s children get through this darkest of times and prevent a lost generation.” 

At the global level, UNICEF seeks US$6.4 billion to help 300 million people, including more than 190 million children. 


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Notes to editors:

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In 2021, working alongside its partners across Latin America and the Caribbean, UNICEF targets include:

  • 2 million children receiving the minimum set of vaccines.
  • 1,3 million people reached with critical WASH supplies (including hygiene items) and services.
  • 375,000 children, adolescents and women receiving gender-based violence response services, including risk mitigation interventions and prevention.
  • 1,7 million children accessing formal or nonformal education, including early learning.
  • 91,500 households reached with cash transfers through an existing government system where UNICEF provided technical assistance and funding.
  • 15,000 unaccompanied and separated children reunited with their primary caregiver or provided with family-based care/alternative care services.

Media contacts

Laurent Duvillier
Regional Chief of Communication
UNICEF Latin America and Caribbean
Tel: + 507 3017393
Tel: + 507 6169 9886
Alfonso Fernández Reca
Regional Communication Specialist
UNICEF Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean
Tel: +507 69412277,


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