An unprecedented disaster is unfolding as the fiercest bush fires on record continue to wreak havoc across large parts of Australia. A total of 26 people have died, more than 2,000 homes have been destroyed and an estimated 1 billion animals have been killed.
Thousands have been forced from their homes by the Australian bushfires; air quality is hazardous
First responders are struggling to contain the massive fires, which have scorched millions of acres of land across Australia since October. The most affected state, New South Wales, is having its worst fire season in 20 years. Thousands of residents have fled their homes, and smoke from the bush fires is darkening the skies, creating hazardous air quality in Sydney, Australia’s largest city.
As first responders battle the blaze, UNICEF Australia is working with partners to help traumatized children recover and get back to school
In a humanitarian emergency, children are always the most vulnerable. UNICEF Australia is working at the local level with both individual state ministries and NGOs to provide support for Australia’s children in three areas:
- Helping children in very vulnerable families affected by the fires get back to school by replacing their personal electronic and other school materials
- Developing a trauma kit to be distributed to teachers, parents and others providing emotional and psychological support for children
- Extending advocacy and inclusion work that began during the severe drought season, bringing together young people to understand how the climate emergency is affecting them and helping them advocate for their needs to the government. This has already resulted in commitments to improve child-focussed support through schools — including mental health first aid in every school
Extreme weather conditions exacerbated by climate change are fueling the flames — and the passion of young environmental activists
Climate change has exacerbated weather conditions in Australia, paving the way for this year’s devastating fires. The country is experiencing one of its worst droughts in decades and this past spring was the driest on record.
Michael Mann, Director of the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University, said, “If anything, 2019 saw even more profound extreme weather events around the world than , including wildfires from the Amazon through to the Arctic, devastating out-of-season, simultaneous wildfires in California and Australia, winter heat waves and devastating superstorms. With each day now we are seemingly reminded of the cost of climate inaction in the form of ever-threatening climate change-spiked weather extremes.”
Climate change will only bring more severe weather events, and young people want to be a part of the solutions and plans that are devised and funded. UNICEF will be there every step of the way to support the rights of young people to be heard and to help them advocate for the changes needed to protect the environment and create a world fit for children.
UNICEF disaster preparedness and risk reduction programs help protect communities from the impact of climate change
UNICEF has decades of experience responding to and preparing for emergencies. Working with partners around the world, UNICEF protects children from the impact of climate change-related crises and supports disaster preparedness and risk reduction programs to make vulnerable communities more resilient.
“The biggest reason for hope,” UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore wrote in an Open Letter to the World’s Children in 2019, “is because you — the children and young people of today — are taking the lead on demanding urgent action, and empowering yourselves to learn about and shape the world around you. We want to work together with you to find the solutions you need to tackle the challenges of today, to build a better future for yourselves and the world you will inherit.”
Sarah Ferguson is the Senior Editor for Content and Social Media at UNICEF USA. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times Book Review, The Guardian, New York Magazine, Vogue and Elle, among other publications.