On the Front Lines of Climate Change


“We cannot know exactly what disasters climate change will bring about in the future, but it will be the poorest countries, and the most vulnerable people in those countries, who will be most adversely affected.” (In the Face of Disaster: Children and Climate Change)[1]

Climate change is dangerous to children in low-income countries. Access to education is a key part of the solution and is at the core of Happy Hearts Fund’s mission. As global temperatures rise, climate scientists project an increase in extreme weather events. The effects of these events will be unevenly felt across the world, with lower-income countries and their most vulnerable populations on the front lines.[2] Children are at special risk in disasters “not only because of the physical peril disasters pose but also because disasters can have debilitating long-term indirect effects on children.” Research shows that attending school mitigates the negative effects these children experience, bringing a sense of structure and normalcy to their lives and leading to better outcomes post-disaster.[3]

Who suffers most from climate change?
Lower Income Countries
Lower-income countries have been facing, and will continue to face, an inordinate share of the effects of climate change and the subsequent increase in extreme weather events. These countries already struggle with “limited social safety nets, widespread poverty, fragile health care systems, and weak governmental institutions”. This means they are less resilient in the wake of natural disasters. Lower-income countries are also, on average, located in warmer areas. “Because of their locations,” wrote The Future of Children, a Brookings Institution and Princeton University collaboration, “developing countries are likely to face a disproportional share of extreme changes in weather.”

In the case of natural disasters, lower-income countries aren’t positioned well to deal with the onset of an emergency and “are ill-prepared in terms of coastal protection, early warning and disaster response systems”.[4] When disasters strike, buildings and infrastructure of poor construction are more likely to be severely damaged or destroyed. Finally, governments of lower-income countries are often ill-equipped and lack funding to respond to the disaster, relying on outside aid for recovery efforts.

First the numbers; The Future of Children group reports that 85% of the world’s children live in lower-income countries and are already experiencing the effects of climate change firsthand. The number of children affected by climate change is expected to increase to 175 million per year in the decade 2010-2020, up from 65 million per year in the late 1990s.[5] These are worrisome numbers as children are both physically weaker than adults and in a sensitive stage of development where hardship can impact the rest of the their lives.

Children living in lower-income countries are especially vulnerable in emergencies. Besides the physical risks from the disaster incident itself, children face great danger in the period following the event. In humanitarian disasters when children’s routines and safety nets are disrupted, they face potential injuries, disease, physical violence, sexual violence, psychosocial distress, recruitment into armed groups, early marriage, trafficking and child labor.[6] Finally the pre-disaster stresses of poverty, poor nutrition and poor sanitation conditions may exacerbate these risks.

Flooding from Typhoon Ondoy (Ketsana), Philippines 2009. Photo: AusAID

“During an emergency, at the very time when children face increased vulnerabilities, aspirations for the future are likely to be put aside. Postponing learning until ‘the emergency is over’ means that many children will never attend school again. They may never learn to read, write, or be fundamentally numerate…Uneducated children are vulnerable to a future of poverty…In long-term crises, education can be a critical part of providing meaning in life.” (Education in Emergencies)[7]

Schools Save
The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) calls schools “lifesaving and life-sustaining” for children in disasters.[8] While not a perfect “panacea”, restoring access to education helps mitigate the above risk concerns to children.[9] Education creates structure and routine which is highly important for child development and brings a healing sense of normalcy to children whose lives have been disrupted by crises.[10] Critically, education restores hope: hope for a child’s future, hope for a family and hope for the community at large.

Happy Hearts Fund
Since 2005 Happy Hearts Fund has responded to communities devastated by natural disasters through the rebuilding of safe, resilient schools for children. With the threat of increased extreme weather events due to climate change, and with lower-income countries and their vulnerable children suffering the worst aftereffects, the need is now greater than ever.

Join us in rebuilding schools to bring hope and empowerment to children and communities for generations to come.

Juan Maldonado school_students

Learn more about our global impact.

Photo Credits
Banner Image:
Flood Damage in Manila, Philippines 2002. Credit: AusAID via Flickr

Photo 1:
In Villahermosa, parts of which were covered by more than seven feet of water, residents carted off donated water and supplies. Credit: Alfredo Estrella/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images via The New York Times

Photo 2:
Flood Damage in the Philippines 2009. Credit: AusAID via Flickr

Photo 3:
Children at the newly constructed Juan Maldonado School, rebuilt by Happy Hearts Fund after flooding in 2007. Credit: Happy Hearts Fund



[1] International Save the Children Alliance. (2008). In the Face of Disaster: Children and Climate Change, 2.

[2] Save the Children UK Humanitarian Policy Team. (2007). Legacy of Disasters: The Impact of Climate Change on Children

[3] USAID. (2014). Guide to Education in Natural Disasters: How USAID Supports Education in Crises, 18.

[4] London School of Economics Consultancy Project for The Overseas Development Institute. (2002). Poverty and Climate Change: Addressing Impacts in Developing Countries and the Initiatives of the International Community, 6.

[5] The Future of Children. (2016). Executive Summary: Children and Climate Change. Future of Children, 26(1), 1.

[6] United Nations Children’s Fund. (2011). Disaster Risk Reduction and Education, 2.

[7] The Child Protection Working Group. (2015). A Matter of Life and Death: Child Protection Programming’s Essential Role in Ensuring Child Wellbeing and Survival During and After Emergencies, 10

[8] Save the Children. (2003). Education in Emergencies: A Tool Kit for Starting and Managing Education in Emergencies, 9-10.

[9] USAID. (2014). Guide to Education in Natural Disasters: How USAID Supports Education in Crises, 23.

[10] The Child Protection Working Group. (2015). A Matter of Life and Death: Child Protection Programming’s Essential Role in Ensuring Child Wellbeing and Survival During and After Emergencies, 10