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What they are, and how we help

What is an earthquake?

An earthquake is a suddden jolt followed by strong shaking that can last a few seconds or up to a couple of minutes. It's caused when tension is released from inside the crust and pressure builds along plate boundaries. When this pressure is eventually released, an earthquake can occur.

The most severe damage caused by an earthquake will happen close to the epicentre, the point where the pressure is released on the Earth’s surface.

Earthquakes can happen at any time of year, day or night. Each year, there are about a million earthquakes around the world. However, only about 100 of these will cause serious damage.  

How is an Earthquake measured?

An Earthquake's magnitude is measured using the Richter scale:

4.2 - Resembling vibrations caused by heavy traffic.

4.5 - Felt by people walking; rocking of free standing objects. Dishes, windows, and doors rattle. Walls creak. Parked cars rock. 

4.8 - Sleepers awakened and bells ring. 

5.4 - Trees sway, some damage from overturning and falling object.


6.1 -  People have trouble standing. Plaster and bricks may crack and fall. Considerable damage to poorly built buildings.

6.5 - Walls, chimneys, and tree branches break and fall. Some poorly built buildings may collapse. Tall structures may twist and fall. 

6.9 - Ground begins to crack and pipes break. Well-built buildings considerably damaged. 

7.3 - The ground cracks. Water splashes over the banks of rivers. Railroad tracks bend. 

8.1 - Highways, railroads tracks, bridges and underground pipelines are destroyed. Most buildings collapse. Large cracks appear in the ground. 

> 8.1 - Destruction of buildings and transportation systems. Almost everything is destroyed. The surface of the ground moves in waves or ripples. The ground is covered with cracks and holes. 

How do Save the Children help children affected by Earthquakes?

In general, when responding to an earthquake we will:

Distribute shelter materials and essential household items to families who have been forced to evacuate or seen the destruction of their homes and belongings. Items can include tarpaulin, rope, kitchen utensils, mats, solar lamps, gas stoves and mosquito nets for example.

Water, sanitation and Hygiene
Improve water, sanitation and hygiene facilities and establish clinics in remote locations to bring vital healthcare to hard-to-reach communities by: 

  • building latrines
  • distributing hygiene items 
  • raising awareness of safe hygiene practices and the importance of maintaining water and sanitation facilities to promote cleanliness and help stop the spread of disease.

We may also deploy our Emergency Health Unit if the country’s health system has suffered severe destruction.

Child Protection
Set up child friendly spaces and temporary learning centres to provide children with a safe space to continue their learning and receive specialist emotional support to help them recover and come to terms with the traumatic experiences they have been through. Read more about child protection here.

Haiti Earthquake 2021

Riccardo*, a boy from Haiti whose home was damaged by the Haiti earthquake, smiles at the camera. Photo credit: Rebecca Davies/Save the Children

A major 7.2 magnitude earthquake struck off the coast of Haiti in August 2021, followed by an estimated 900 aftershocks - damaging or destroying thousands of homes, schools and hospitals, and leaving children and their families to live on the streets.

The earthquake hit during extreme food insecurity and the country's worst wave of the COVID-19 epidemic. Haiti is also still recovering from the devastating 2010 earthquake.

Our teams in Haiti helped children and families get the basics they needed - like tarpaulins, blankets, jerry cans and baby kits. And right now, we're helping to rebuild schools - with 20 under construction as of October. 

Riccardo's* home was one of the thousands damaged in the earthquake. We're helping his family with a cash transfer and waterproof tarp for their temporary shelter, so they can rebuild their lives. 

*name changed

Philippines earthquake 2019

A Save the Children staff speaks with evacuees - Philippines earthquake October 2019

Five powerful earthquakes hit Mindanoa Island in the Philippines between October and December 2019. The series of earthquakes damaged homes, roads, schools, hospitals, and put thousands of lives at risk.

Children are most vulnerable when natural disasters happen due to breakdown of basic services to health, clean water, hygiene and sanitation, missing school and are in need of protection from all forms of abuse.

Save the Children Philippines delivered family hygiene kits and plastic tarpaulins to ease the suffering of children and their families affected. 1,051 family hygiene kits and 130 plastic tarpaulins were distributed to children and their families in the most affected towns to protect them from contagious diseases while in cramped evacuation centers and while temporary taking shelter in makeshift tents outside their damaged houses.

Page last updated: 01 November 2021

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