New study shows poor urban children are hit hardest in disasters

A new report says street and slum children in Asian cities are among the most vulnerable to environmental hazards, climate change and natural disasters – with girls at particular risk. The report says aid agencies often fail to address the specific risks that children face.
Press release, 03 March 2014

The International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) and children's charity Plan International will launch the report in London today. The study was co-authored by Donald Brown of Plan International and David Dodman of IIED. 

More than 340 mostly street children were interviewed for the report. Children were interviewed in four large Asian cities: Dhaka in Bangladesh, Manila in the Philippines, Jakarta, Indonesia and Kathmandu in Nepal. 

Many of the children expressed concerns about the daily hazards they faced, such as violence and disease.  

The study paints a disturbing picture of the living conditions of the poorest children:

  • In Manila, ALL of the children interviewed in depth had witnessed at least one murder (13 children)
  • Child workers in Dhaka and Kathmandu identified their workplaces as the most unsafe places to be, due to the risk of building collapse, and
  • Children in Jakarta were surviving on 60p-£1 per day for food, leaving them malnourished and more susceptible to deadly illnesses.

Asian cities are home to tens of millions of street children. Their numbers are expected to grow with increasing urbanisation.  

The report says street and slum children remain at the margins of society, often without a legal identity and unable to access basic services. It sets out key priorities for child-centred organisations wishing to work on disaster risk reduction in Asian cities. These include enhancing access to housing and other buildings with adequate infrastructure and services, and building the capacity of families and communities to cope with shocks and stresses.


Report co-author David Dodman says: "Girls and boys are often badly affected by disasters because of their stage of physical and psychological development. This report illustrates how the poorest children are affected in different ways and the importance of their surroundings in shaping this. 

"The majority of disaster risk reduction programmes in urban Asia fail to address this issue. Therefore efforts must be made to engage, not only with children, but also with the institutions that are responsible for providing risk-reducing infrastructure and services."

Chief executive of Plan UK, Tanya Barron, says: "In our experience children – and especially girls – are the most vulnerable in disasters and emergencies. Those living in overcrowded urban environments already have many hazards to contend with on a daily basis. They are exposed to even greater risks in disaster situations, including exploitation, violence and neglect.

"More needs to be done to provide the basic services poor urban children need in order to grow up healthy and safe so they can fulfil their potential, but also so they are better able to cope when disasters strike."

Further details:

Download the full report: Understanding children's risk and agency in urban areas and their implications for child centred urban disaster risk reduction in Asia.


For interviews, contact:

David Dodman ([email protected]), acting head, IIED's Human Settlements Group; team leader, cities and climate change

Notes to editors

Plan International is a global children's charity that has been working with children for more than 75 years. It works in 50 of the world's poorest countries across Africa, Asia and Central and South America to promote child rights and lift children out of poverty.

The International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) is an independent, non-profit research institute. Set up in 1971 and based in London, IIED provides expertise and leadership in researching and achieving sustainable development (see:

For more information or to request an interview, contact Simon Cullen: 
+44 7503 643332 or [email protected]