As impact of climate crisis worsens, Caribbean islands see six-fold increase in number of children displaced by storms, new UNICEF report shows

Spike in displacement could be new norm as climate change predicted to cause more Category 4 and 5 hurricanes in the region

05 December 2019
 Anguilla. A girl stands near a partially destroyed brick building.

NEW YORK/PANAMA, 6 December 2019 – The estimated number of children displaced by storms and flooding in the Caribbean islands* saw a six-fold increase in the past five years, a new UNICEF report said today.

Part of UNICEF’s Child Alert series, ‘Children Uprooted in the Caribbean: How stronger hurricanes linked to a changing climate are driving child displacement’ found that an estimated 761,000 children were internally displaced by storms in the Caribbean between 2014 and 2018 – the hottest five-year period on record. This is an increase of nearly 600,000, compared to the 175,000 children displaced in the preceding five-year period from 2009 to 2013.**

“This report is a stark reminder that the climate crisis is a child rights crisis,” said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore. “Children in storm and flood-prone nations around the world are among the most vulnerable to having their lives and rights upended. They are already feeling the impacts of climate change, so governments and the international community should act now to mitigate its most devastating consequences.” 

The report notes that the primary cause of the dramatic increase in forced displacement was a series of catastrophic tropical cyclones or hurricanes that hit the region between 2016 and 2018 – including four Category 5 and two Category 4 storms. More than 400,000 children in the Caribbean islands were displaced by hurricanes during 2017 alone.

The report warns that without urgent action to mitigate the effects of climate change, the increasing proportion of severe storms would likely result in similarly high levels of forced displacement in the coming decades.      

Forced displacement from hurricanes can be relatively short term or last for years as communities rebuild homes, roads, bridges, power networks, agriculture, schools, hospitals, and water and sanitation systems. Children are particularly vulnerable during population displacements, especially if their parents are killed or they are separated from their families. Displaced children are also at increased risk from opportunistic diseases such as measles and respiratory infections, which can thrive in overcrowded conditions in emergency shelters.

Displaced children might also be left with limited or no access to the essential services they need to thrive including education, protection and health care.

The report also calls on governments to take steps to help communities prepare and recover from catastrophic storms and protect children displaced by disasters related to climate change. Some of the recommendations include:

  • Put children at the heart of climate change strategies and response plans;
  • Reduce carbon emissions and pollution;
  • Protect children from the impacts of climate change and environmental degradation;
  • Provide displaced children with protection and access to essential services like education and healthcare;
  • Help displaced families stay together; and
  • Ensure that uprooted children have legal status if they are forced to cross borders.

Before, during and after disasters strike, UNICEF works with partners throughout the Caribbean to protect and support children. With climate change mitigation, development policies and resilience planning, UNICEF focuses on children and works to establish disaster-risk reduction strategies that limit forced displacement and shorten rehabilitation time – so families can return home. This work includes:

  • Providing lifesaving humanitarian assistance for children and families affected by the 2017 Atlantic hurricane season in Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Cuba, Dominica, the Dominican Republic, Haiti and across the Caribbean;
  • Working with partners on affected islands to rehabilitate public services and infrastructure, including health, water and sanitation systems, education and child protection; and
  • Working with governments to advocate for policies that mitigate climate change and its effects; invest in data and research; track disease and increase vaccine coverage; and promote cash transfers, public work schemes and other social protection safety nets.


Notes to editors:

*The report looks at displacement in the Small Island Developing States of the Caribbean which include: Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Aruba, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Cuba, Curacao, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Grenada, Guadeloupe, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, Martinique, Montserrat, Puerto Rico, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Sint Maarten, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, Turks and Caicos Islands, and U.S. Virgin Islands.

**These estimates are based on data from UNICEF and the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre.

Media contacts

Christopher Tidey
Tel: +1 917 340 3017
Laurent Duvillier
UNICEF Latin America and the Caribbean
Tel: + 507 6169 9886

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