Children and youth are greatly affected by disasters, and as climate instability leads to more weather-related disasters, the risks to the youngest members of societies will continue to increase. Children are more likely to live in risky places, such as floodplains, coastal areas, and earthquake zones, and more likely to be poor than other groups of people. While children and youth in industrialized countries are experiencing increased risks, the children and youth in developing countries are the most at risk to disasters.
Children and youth are vulnerable before, during, and after a disaster. In a disaster, many children and youth experience simultaneous and ongoing disruptions in their families, schooling, housing, health and access to healthcare, friendships, and other key areas of their lives. Many are at risk to separation from guardians, long-term displacement, injury, illness, and even death. In disaster planning, there is often an assumption that parents will protect their children in a disaster event, and yet children are often separated from their parents when they are at school, childcare centers, home alone, with friends, and at work. Children do not have the resources or independence to prepare for disasters, so they are often reliant on adults to make evacuation decisions, secure shelter, and provide resources. Children also may hide or have trouble articulating their distress to adults after a disaster. In the disaster aftermath, it has been found that children and youth—no matter how personally resilient—cannot fully recover without the necessary resources and social support.
Social location—such as social class, race, gender, neighborhood, resources, and networks—prior to a disaster often determines, at least in part, many of the children’s post-disaster outcomes. In other words, age intersects with many other factors. Girls, for example, are at risk to sexual violence and exploitation in some disaster aftermath situations. In addition, a child’s experience in a disaster could also be affected by language, type of housing, immigration status, legal status, and disability issues. Those living in poverty have more difficulties preparing for disasters, do not have the resources to evacuate, and live in lower quality housing that is less able to withstand a disaster. Thus, it is crucial to consider the child’s environment before and after the disaster, to realize that some children experience cumulative vulnerability, or an accumulation of risk factors, and that disasters may occur on top of other crises, such as drought, epidemics, political instability, violence, or a family crisis such as divorce or death.
Even as children and youth are vulnerable, they also demonstrate important and often unnoticed capacities, skills, and strengths, as they assist themselves and others before and after disaster strikes. Frequently, children are portrayed as helpless, fragile, passive, and powerless. But children and youth are creative social beings and active agents, and they have played important roles in preparedness activities and recovery for their families and communities. Thus, both children’s vulnerabilities and capacities in disasters should be a research and policy priority.
A range of environmental and social dimensions of disasters occur in or are affected by the mountain cryosphere (MC). Core areas have glaciers and permafrost, intensive freeze-thaw, and seasonally abundant melt waters. A variety of cryospheric hazards is involved, their dangers magnified by steep, high, and rugged terrain. Some unique threats are snow or ice avalanches and glacial lake outburst floods. These highlight the classic alpine zones, but cryospheric hazards occur in more extensive parts of mountain ecosystems, affecting greater populations and more varied settings. Recently, habitat threats have become identified with global climate warming: receding glaciers, declining snowfall, and degrading permafrost. Particularly dangerous prospects arise with changing hazards in the populous mid-latitude and tropical high mountains. Six modern calamities briefly introduce the kinds of dangers and human contexts engaged. Disaster style and scope differs between events confined to the MC, others in which it is only a part or is a source of dangerous processes that descend into surrounding lowlands. The MC is also affected by non-cryospheric hazards, notably earthquake and volcanism. In human terms, the MC shares many disaster risk issues with other regions. Economy and land use, poverty or gender, for instance, are critical aspects of exposure and protections, or lack of them. This situates disaster risk within human ecological and adaptive relations to the predicaments of cold and steepland terrain. A great diversity of habitats and cultures is recognized. “Verticality” offers a unifying theme; characterizing the MC through ways in which life forms, ecosystems, and human settlement adjust to altitudinal zones, to upslope transitions, and the downslope cascades of moisture and geomorphic processes. These also give special importance to multi-hazard chains and long-runout processes including floods. Traditional mountain cultures exploit proximity and seasonality of different resources in the vertical, and avoidance of steepland dangers. This underscores sustainability and changing risk for the many surviving agro-pastoral and village economies and the special predicaments of indigenous cultures. Certain common stereotypes, such as remoteness or fragility of mountain habitats, require caution. They tend to overemphasize environmental determinism and underestimate social factors. Nor should they lead to neglect of wealthier, modernized areas, which also benefit most from geophysical research, dedicated agencies, and expert systems. However, modern developments now affect nearly all MC regions, bringing expanding dangers as well as benefits. Threats related to road networks are discussed, from mining and other large-scale resource extraction. Disaster losses and responses are also being rapidly transformed by urbanization. More broadly, highland–lowland relations can uniquely affect disaster risk, as do transboundary issues and initiatives in the mountains stemming from metropolitan centers. Anthropogenic climate warming generates dangers for mountain peoples but originates mainly from lowland activities. The extent of armed conflict affecting the MC is exceptional. Conflicts affect all aspects of human security. In the mountains as most other places, disaster risk reduction (DRR) policies have tended to favor emergency response. A human ecological approach emphasizes the need to pursue avoidance strategies, precautionary and capacity-building measures. Fundamental humanitarian concerns are essential in such an approach, and point to the importance of good governance and ethics.