UNICEF Australia Statement on the Australian Bushfire Crisis

6 January 2020

UNICEF Australia offers its sincere condolences to children and families affected by the unfolding bushfire crisis across our country. We wish to acknowledge the selflessness, professionalism and dedication of the first responders, the Rural Fire Service, the Australian Red Cross and other organisations already working on the ground.

We also acknowledge and share the very real desire among many Australians and people around the world to be able to assist in any way they can, both as the immediate threat continues to unfold and throughout the long process of recovery. To this end, UNICEF Australia has offered support to government agencies and our friends at the Red Cross and continues discussions as to how our expertise can be best utilised in collaboration with partners and in the best interests of children affected.

UNICEF Australia (as an Australian non-government organisation) is in the unique position of being able to access significant expertise from UNICEF’s global experience.

We know that children are always among the most vulnerable in circumstances such as these. In response to this current crisis, UNICEF Australia will provide crucial support where possible to children through the three stages of relief, recovery and rehabilitation over the long term.  

In many of these situations, we know that the influence of climate change is only making these scenarios worse and more enduring. UNICEF Australia’s recent experience in working with children and young people affected by the drought in New South Wales brings this current bushfire crisis into sharp focus and that is why UNICEF Australia is re-prioritising internal domestic resources, speaking with partners and other agencies to ensure that UNICEF Australia can continue to be a back-up to first-responders and committing support where possible to the immediate and long term needs of children.

It is vitally important for children who have lived through disasters to return to normal life as quickly as possible, and one of the most effective ways to do this is to assist them to resume their education. In the longer term it is also vital that the views of children are taken into consideration when decisions are being made. These conditions within our own country are unprecedented; hence UNICEF Australia has been in discussion with other local organisations and government agencies already deployed, to plan the provision of our support and expertise into the future.

The situation is still unfolding, and needs are yet to be fully determined. The key initiatives planned are likely to focus on:

  • Assisting relief partners to ensure the necessary support and resources are available for affected children to return to school
  • Supporting recovery by working with partners to provide access to psychosocial support for affected children
  • Contributing to rehabilitation efforts by convening appropriate forums to ensure children’s voices shape future responses.

As well as those who have been directly affected there have also been high levels of concern for children witnessing traumatic events indirectly through the media and social media. We encourage all parents to consider talking to their children about what is happening and to take steps to make their children feel safe.

UNICEF Australia also acknowledges that this could be a difficult time for some of our regular supporters who may be directly affected or living in or near bushfire affected areas. If they are feeling financially squeezed during this period of time and would like to lower or suspend their monthly donations, please contact our supporter relations team on unicef@unicef.org.au or 1300 884 233.

The recovery process from such an unprecedented disaster will take a long time and UNICEF Australia calls for more child-centred responses and for the needs of children to continue to be prioritised. Disaster response and planning should include the views and experiences of children and UNICEF Australia intends to ensure that children who have been affected by this disaster are consulted as a consequence, and their views and opinions taken to decision-makers.