Frequently Asked Questions

Is there an increase in natural disasters?

The total number of natural disasters reported each year has been steadily increasing in recent decades, from 78 in 1970 to 373 in 2010, according to EM-DAT. The Center for Research on Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED) suggests that a portion of that increase is artificial. However, about two-thirds of the increase is real and is the result of rises in hydro-meteorological disasters, such as droughts, tsunamis, hurricanes, typhoons and floods.

Scientists believe the increase in hydro-meteorological disasters is due to a combination of natural and man-made factors. Global warming is raising the temperatures of the Earth’s oceans and atmosphere, leading to more intense storms of all types, including hurricanes, typhoons and cyclones. Rapid, unplanned urbanization in flood-prone regions is increasing the likelihood that towns and villages will be affected by flash floods and coastal floods. The straightening of waterways and the increasing areas of paved land reduce the absorbent capabilities of the earth and multiply the damage that is caused by run-off water and flooding. With more people, particularly vulnerable populations at increased risk, there are more casualties and losses from earthquakes and from all natural disasters.

What are the human and economic losses?

In 2010, 373 natural disasters were recorded. More than 296,000 people were killed, 207 million people were affected and economic costs were over US$109 billion. The good news is that the number of deaths from natural disasters has decreased substantially in recent decades thanks to better disaster preparedness and prevention programs. But this statistic is tempered by the fact that many more people are being injured, displaced or left homeless.

How are children affected by natural disasters?

Children often suffer most from the devastating effects of natural disasters. They experience:

  • death or injuries within their family and loved ones, their friends and community
  • destruction of their home, community and school
  • interruption of their patterns of daily life
  • reduced access to food, education, health services and other resources
  • increased instability in their lives due to loss of income and livelihoods of parents and community
  • increased risk of health problems, violence and child trafficking
  • traumatic memories, emotional scars and shock

Many children exhibit behavior including crying, fear, inability to express their reactions and emotions to the event, and generalized difficulty with communication and emotional expression.

What steps need to be taken to help children recover?

Governments and agencies agree that the most effective humanitarian aid to children involves the reconstruction of schools that are enriched by needed services: food, health consultation and the provision of clothes or other essential supplies. Children develop resiliency when they are supported by a quality educational experience that allows them to return to a partial state of normality. They begin to replace emotional crises with the joy of learning and playing, to develop restorative connections to children and teachers, and to become productive and hopeful.

After a natural disaster, it is vital that the situation of children is monitored to ensure that they are protected from all forms of exploitation and that they continue to enjoy their basic rights, including the right to education.

Are there any other benefits of school rebuilding?

Communities also benefit from the reconstruction of schools. While children are attending classes, parents and community members are able to focus on rebuilding their lives, returning to work and providing for their families. The return to productivity allows a community to begin to the rebuild the devastated economy. Hopeful, happy children are an immeasurable resource!

What is “the gap” between first response and the rebuilding phase?

A disaster is an event that overwhelms the resources of a community or country. When disasters occur, community (firefighters, police officers), government (civil defense and disaster agencies) and international organizations and agencies (Red Cross, government aid) are usually the first to arrive to address the immediate, emergency needs on the ground. But, emergency aid is time limited. Around the world, it is common for emergency relief to end often years before permanent recovery plans are made and solutions implemented. It is this time period – between the first response and the rebuilding phase – that Happy Hearts calls “the gap”.

Typically, “the gap” between first response and recovery lasts from two to ten years, and during this time, organized intervention and philanthropic support is usually absent. The longer “the gap” lasts before real recovery, the more trauma, pain, sadness and dysfunction take root, adversely shaping the lives of the children, families and communities.

What is the Happy Hearts approach?

Happy Hears Fund works during “the gap” period, when other efforts have slowed to a stop. It identifies schools that have been devastated in communities of significant need. By rebuilding schools, it provides islands of stability, around which a community can begin to heal.