Youth Disaster Preparedness

Youth play a vital role in disaster preparedness efforts as generational change leaders. As youth are disproportionately affected by the impacts of disasters and have unique risks that cannot be ignored, they also have tremendous strengths to influence positive preparedness actions and build resilience at home and in their communities.

A teacher is standing at the front of a classroom, holding up a hazard map of the United States, while students of diverse backgrounds are seated at desks, listening attentively and raising their hands.
Building youth disaster preparedness: A dedicated teacher equips an engaged class of students with knowledge and skills for emergency readiness

Youth Disaster Risk

While there is no universally accepted definition of “youth,” the IFRC follows the Sphere Standards to define three distinct groups of youth under the age of 30; children (ages 5-12); adolescents (ages 13-17); and young adults (ages 18-30 ). Youth make up more than half of the world’s population, yet they are disproportionately affected by the current and future impacts of disaster and climate change. As disasters, including those that are climate-related, are becoming increasingly severe, UNICEF reports:

“Approximately one billion children worldwide are at extremely high risk... When disaster strikes, children get cut off from schooling, nutrition and health care. They can lose critical social services and protection, while finding themselves in hazardous environments. In some places, this is especially the case for girls and children with disabilities. Children whose families live in poverty are also more impacted by disasters and the consequences of climate change. ”

Child Protection

Youth worldwide, especially children under 18, are vulnerable to abuse, exploitation, neglect, and violence. These forms of abuse can happen in any setting in and outside of the home. Girls are especially vulnerable to cultural practices that support Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV) such as, genital mutilation and child marriage. This vulnerability only increases in times of emergencies, where young people may be displaced from their homes, be separated from their families, have their human rights violated, be forced into labor, and/or be trafficked.

The PAPE Guide states that, “child protection in disasters and emergencies refers to the prevention and response to [harm] against children in times of emergency caused by natural or manmade disasters, conflicts, or other crises. This includes all forms of physical and psychological abuse, sexual and gender-based violence, and deprivation of basic needs.

Teen Prep Kit

Created by teens for teens, this toolkit offers a fun and accessible way to learn about disaster preparedness

Sexual and Gender-Based Violence

The issue of Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV) against children is pervasive across the globe. SGBV is defined by the UNHCR as, “any act that is perpetrated against a person’s will and is based on gender norms and unequal power relationships. It includes physical, emotional, or psychological and sexual violence, and denial of resources or access to services.” While both boys and girls can be victims of SGBV, girls are disproportionately affected as many of these human rights abuses may be culturally ingrained. As noted by Save the Children, “Violence against girls includes sexual violence, child marriage, sexual harassment, female gender mutilation, intimate partner violence, trafficking, sexual exploitation, and abuse.”

While 1 in 3 girls and women are estimated to experience some form of SGBV in their lifetime, it must be understood that disasters and emergencies can heighten the vulnerability of certain groups. Along with children and adolescent girls, displaced persons, persons with disabilities, elderly, and LGBTI persons are increasingly vulnerable to violence. Youth have the right to grow up in a protected, safe, and healthy environment that is free from violence. Working to dismantle norms that encourage the proliferation of SGBV is integral to humanitarian protection work.

Diversity Inclusion

Emergency settings exacerbate risk vulnerabilities, which place youth with disabilities as the most at-risk population. Challenges that arise in crisis situations create obstacles for youth with disabilities to be able to access vital resources such as accessible evacuation routes, shelter, transportation, and WASH facilities. They are more likely to be cut off from social services, health care and be ensured continuity of their education. UNICEF notes:

“They are more likely to experience discrimination and violence; more likely to be left behind – abandoned or neglected; and more likely to face barriers accessing protection and aid, especially when forced to flee their homes. Girls with disabilities and children with intellectual disabilities are particularly vulnerable to exploitation and violence, including sexual violence. ”

Effective Disaster Risk Reduction cannot exist without the inclusion of the most marginalized. Ensuring the protection of their rights and safety through the integration of child-centered and child-participatory methods is paramount to achieving disability inclusion.

Red Cross workers wearing red vests and masks provide assistance to a young boy in a wheelchair on a damaged street lined with dilapidated buildings and exposed wires, illustrating humanitarian relief efforts after the 2023 earthquake in Syria
Hassan Al-Shughri, 14, received a wheelchair from the Red Cresent after his home was damaged in the 2023 earthquake in Syria, enabling newfound mobility and disability inclusion. Photo: © IFRC


Youth should be able to live without fear of abuse, harassment, or violence against them, yet worldwide one in three youth are affected by bullying . With today’s youth having greater access to the internet through digital technologies, cyberbullying has become a great concern. Through constant digital connectivity, cyberbullying can make victims feel as if there is no escape to the relentless harassment and attacks.

As UNICEF notes, the effects of bullying can last a lifetime, and may affect victims emotionally, mentally and physically . These effects have proven to be extremely harmful and have even led to youth taking their own lives. Lack of provision of mental health support and anti-harassment protocols, along with cultural acceptance of bullying inside and outside of the classroom leads to the pervasion of bullying. Protection of youth must also include anti-harassment measures to ensure their health and safety.

Child Safeguarding

Humanitarian organizations responding to disasters are on the frontline working with vulnerable children, and as such, there must be policies in place for communications, personnel, and programs to follow the principle of “do no harm,” ensuring that beneficiaries are not subjugated to abuse or exploitation. The IFRC notes that child safeguarding commits to ensuring, “the best interests of the child, [that] do not expose children to adverse impacts, including the risk of violence, abuse, exploitation, or neglect and that any concerns about children’s safety with the communities where they work are appropriately reported and responded to.”

To find out how IFRC keeps children safe from violence, abuse, exploitation in its program, check out the IFRC Child Safeguarding Policy.

School Safety

The Global Alliance for Disaster Risk Reduction and Resilience in the Education Sector (GADRRRES) is a multi-stakeholder platform that advocates and supports child rights, resilience, and sustainability in the education sector. The efforts of GADRRRES, its members, and Regional Affiliates are guided by the Comprehensive School Safety Framework (CSSF). The CSSF 2022-2030 released in June 2022, takes an “all-hazards, all risks” approach to provide strategic guidance to promote safe, equitable and continuous access to a quality education for all. According to GADRRRES, the goals of CSS are "to take a participatory risk-informed approach to:

  1. Protect learners, educators and staff from death, injury, violence and harm in schools and other learning spaces.
  2. Plan for education protection continuity, and limit disruptions to learning in the face of shocks, stresses, hazards, and threats of all kinds.
  3. Promote knowledge and skills of learners and duty-bearers, to contribute to risk reduction, resilience building, and sustainable development.”
A large group of schoolchildren holding red posters with a Red Cross logo stating "In an emergency, this poster could save lives."
Villagers in disaster-prone Natutu, Fiji participate in an emergency preparation and response training, covering essentials for survival and community resilience against floods, cyclones, earthquakes and tsunamis. Photo: © IFRC.

Youth as Change Agents

Youth have the motivation and potential to be incredible change agents in disaster risk reduction (DRR) but have historically been discounted in their ability to take effective action. In recent years, youth across the globe have been standing up and advocating for their right to be meaningfully and equally included in humanitarian governance and programming.

The Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030 and the UN Youth 2030 strategy emphasize the necessity of meaningful inclusion and engagement to mobilize the power of youth. Meaningful inclusion is more than just representation and being present but includes valuing the diversity of young people worldwide, embracing their varied backgrounds, experiences, opportunities, and skillsets. Meaningful engagement builds off this to address the factors of diversity that affect young people’s ability to access opportunities and resources to ensure their active participation in all facets of humanitarian planning, decision-making and implementation.

Within Red Cross Red Crescent (RCRC) National Societies, youth are seen as leaders, volunteers, and beneficiaries. The IFRC’s Youth Engagement Strategy (Y.E.S.) implores RCRC youth education, youth empowerment, and creating enabling environments for youth as the building blocks to foster the integral role of young people as change agents to support resilience efforts.

In 2022, the RCRC Climate Centre together with the IFRC launched the RCRC Strategy on Youth-Led Climate Action. The strategy was developed in consultation with RCRC youth from across the globe, raising a clear voice on youth priorities to address the impacts of climate change. With over 6 million youth volunteers from 192 National Societies, youth are championing strategic direction to enable meaningful and effective youth-led climate action.

Youth Preparedness Programs

Explore the world of youth disaster and emergency preparedness education with the American Red Cross.

Effective Youth Strategies

Youth’s Role in DRR

As noted above, youth make up more than half of the global population, yet they are often not included as equal contributors in Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) efforts. Resilience for everyone cannot be achieved without the inclusion of youth. Young people recognize that increasing disasters, especially related to climate change, are issues they will have to deal with throughout their lives. They bring unique experiences, perspectives, and skillsets to help make their communities more resilient - they just need support and guidance to help them lead their future. The UN’s Words into Action report notes:

“Children and youth around the world are envisioning safe, healthy and prosperous futures for themselves, their friends, families and the wider society. When provided with the tools, resources and support they need in ways that uphold their fundamental and legal rights, they can actively contribute to meeting this vision - even when faced with multiple threats to their well-being due to increasing hazards. A child- and youth-centred approach to DRR values their opinions, energy, innovations and insights to ensure all children and youth can be healthy and live free from harm. It aims to ensure that their voices are equally valued and heard on decisions that affect them and that they are able to safely learn, rest, work and play as they grow, no matter where they live and who they are.”

Member of PMI Youth Volunteers participated in Youth Journalism activity during Youth Gathering in Pangkep, South Sulawesi, July 25, 2016.
Member of PMI Youth Volunteers participated in Youth Journalism activity during Youth Gathering in Pangkep, South Sulawesi, July 25, 2016.

RCRC Youth Leadership Opportunities

The IFRC supports youth’s active role in DRR through a variety of education programs and activities at the National Society level, as well as leadership opportunities at the international level. The IFRC Youth Commission is comprised of elected youth representatives from member National Societies to advise the Governing Board on all matters related to youth engagement.

The IFRC’s Solferino Academy is a hub that focuses on leadership, strategic foresight, and innovation to help address current needs. Through their Future Fellows and Limitless programs, Solferino invests heavily to support the leadership development potential of young people across National Societies and helps foster youth’s innovative ideas for humanitarian action. The Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre is paving the way for youth engagement related to the climate and environmental crises.

The RCRC Climate Centre has several resources and avenues to engage youth on topics related to climate change, such as their annual Climate and YOUth Summit, Y-Adapt training, and through their vibrant Youth Advisory Group that works to support the Movement’s youth-led climate action. New programs and opportunities are constantly popping up across the RCRC, so it’s a great reason to subscribe to stay in the loop with the great work youth are doing.