Helping in emergencies
Responding quickly to prevent the rise of sexual violence, the spread of HIV, unintended pregnancies and pregnancy-related deaths in emergency situations
In Port-au-Prince, Haiti, UNFPA enlisted the help of youth volunteers to assemble clean clothes, toothbrushes and other supplies for families housed in temporary shelters after Tropical Storm Fay and hurricanes Gustav, Hanna and Ike struck the country in 2008. Jocelyn, 20, was among the volunteers. "Others weren't as fortunate as us, so we want to contribute where we can," she says. Many of the other volunteers had lost their homes or family members as a result of the catastrophic weather. The initiative in Haiti was just one of UNFPA's efforts worldwide to encourage young people to become advocates for positive change.
In a heartbeat, an emergency—whether tsunami or war—can leave families without food, clean water, shelter and medical care.
When emergencies or crises strike, women and girls, men and boys are affected differently but all have needs that should not be overlooked or forgotten.
Women face special risks, and their needs often increase as situations worsen. Fewer family planning services lead to unintended pregnancies. Malnutrition, disease and the sudden loss of prenatal and obstetric care compound the normal risks of pregnancy and childbirth.
In line with the Strategic Plan for 2008–2011, UNFPA advocates and supports the institutionalization of sexual health in emergency preparedness, humanitarian response and during post-conflict recovery.
In 2008, UNFPA responded to humanitarian crises in 50 countries by providing medical supplies and equipment, and technical assistance to vulnerable women, men and youth, many of whom were internally displaced or refugees. UNFPA also worked with partners to ensure that the needs of women—particularly those who were pregnant and requiring emergency obstetric care or medical supplies and services for safe deliveries—were factored into the planning of all emergency assistance. Rape, which may increase during conflicts, leaves deep psychological wounds and may result in unwanted pregnancies or sexually transmitted infections, including HIV. UNFPA helped ensure that temporary shelters for rape survivors were designed with the safety of women and girls in mind.
UNFPA's responses benefited from partnerships with United Nations entities, such as the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, UNAIDS, and the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, as well as NGOs and ministries of health. UNFPA and UNICEF share responsibility for responding to gender-based violence in humanitarian crises within the United Nations "protection cluster." The United Nations established the "cluster approach" in 2005 to ensure timely, effective and coordinated action in crisis situations. As a result of this cluster approach, there is a clear division of labour among various United Nations entities involved in responses to each major type of humanitarian crisis. The Fund's work in the areas of reproductive health and gender-based violence in emergencies received substantially more funding from the United Nations Central Emergency Response Fund: $9.3 million in 2008, compared with $1.7 million in 2006.
Leadership for Reproductive Health in Emergencies
UNFPA advocates for the inclusion of reproductive health programming into emergency responses worldwide. The Fund achieves this objective through training and capacity-building and by supporting better policies and practices. In 2008, UNFPA worked with entities as diverse as universities, governments, uniformed services and youth to improve the capacityof countries to address reproductive health needs in crisis situations. Some 250 UNFPA staff received training in integrating the principles of the International Conference on Population and Development into crisis response during regional workshops in Bangkok, Cairo, Dakar, Panama City, Suva and Tashkent.
UNFPA responded to sexual violence in Sudan, particularly in Darfur, by providing medical services and supplies, supporting the strengthening of the health-care system, and establishing referral systems and counseling services. From 2007-2008, UNFPA trained nearly 130 doctors, assistants, nurses and midwives on the clinical management of rape.
In Syria and Jordan, UNFPA continued to provide support for reproductive health and gender-based violence programming for Iraqi refugees.
In Kenya, UNFPA, in collaboration with UNIFEM, the Government of Kenya and NGOs, organized training to promote the integration of gender issues, such as the prevention of gender-based violence, into emergency-response strategies.
UNFPA organized a five-day conference in Ukraine for 90 participants from 24 countries on working with uniformed services (armed forces, peacekeepers and police) to ensure that these groups address issues of reproductive health, HIV prevention and gender-based violence in their work in emergencies.
As a member of the United Nations Inter-Agency Working Group on Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR), UNFPA assumed leadership for a sub-working group on HIV and implemented joint programmes with the United Nations Development Programme, peacekeeping missions and national DDR commissions in Sudan, Côte d'Ivoire, Liberia and Niger. In collaboration with these partners, UNAIDS and others, UNFPA also provided training and peer education to police, the armed forces and demobilized soldiers to encourage them to become positive agents for change to prevent HIV infections and raise awareness about gender issues in Sudan and other countries.
As part of the Sexual and Reproductive Health Programme in Crisis and Post-Crisis Situations in East, Southeast Asia and the Pacific, UNFPA, with the International Planned Parenthood Federation and other partners, conducted training on how to address sexual and reproductive health in emergency situations.
UNFPA supported events to increase local and regional capacity to respond to emergencies and improve "South-South" collaboration. These included a meeting in Egypt of the Inter-agency Working Group on Reproductive Health in Crisis Situations and a conference in Uganda on reproductive health in emergencies.
As part of an inter-agency initiative with the International Rescue Committee and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, UNFPA developed and piloted the first-ever system to safely collect, store, share and analyse data on reported gender-based violence.
Within the United Nations "early recovery cluster," UNFPA provided technical assistance for the design of census projects in Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Togo, and to support the implementation of census projects in Burundi, Chad, Djibouti, Liberia and Madagascar. Within the"protection cluster," UNFPA collaborated with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and other partners to finalize Internally Displaced Persons Profiling Guidelines and applied them in Chad and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The guidelines were designed to help obtain a better picture of who and where displaced people are and how to compile accurate estimates to guide protection programming and advocacy.
UNFPA expanded its ability to deliver urgent and effective health care to women and families in the Pacific Islands through the Joint Country Presence Initiative, established jointly with UNICEF and the United Nations Development Programme.
UNFPA and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies agreed to extend their worldwide partnership to provide advocacy, deliver services and develop capacity in disaster areas.
Reacting to Disasters
In 2008, UNFPA and its partners responded to more natural and climate-related disasters than ever. UNFPA responses included the provision of health care, medicines and medical equipment. Where needs were not immediately known, UNFPA conducted emergency reproductive health assessments. UNFPA provided pregnant women with basic supplies needed for clean deliveries: soap, a plastic sheet and a razor blade to cut the umbilical cord. Others received hygiene supplies, including toothbrushes, soap and sanitary napkins. To lessen the impact of such disasters in the future, UNFPA helped countries develop emergency-preparedness plans.
After a deadly earthquake shook China's Sichuan Province, UNFPA provided $550,000 of its own funds and secured an additional $114,000 from the United Nations Central Emergency Response Fund to protect maternal health through emergency obstetric services. UNFPA also distributed reproductive health supplies and services to displaced people.
Immediately following Cyclone Nargis, which displaced millions of people, including thousands of pregnant women in Myanmar, UNFPA provided basic maternity supplies to health facilities and distributed basic supplies for clean deliveries. The Fund sustained its support months after the crisis by opening four waiting homes close to hospitals. The homes enabled expectant mothers to reach services quickly and served as bases for mobile clinics.
A succession of hurricanes and tropical storms in Haiti displaced tens of thousands of people, including many pregnant women. UNFPA responded with supplies for clean deliveries and for personal hygiene. UNFPA funded and deployed health professionals to serve pregnant women, monitor cases of sexual violence and provide psychological support both in hospitals of the most affected areas and in temporary shelters.
In response to a massive earthquake in Pakistan's Baluchistan province, UNFPA deployed four mobile clinics equipped with emergency medicines and provided emergency obstetric care and other services. The Fund also distributed reproductive health and hygiene supplies.
UNFPA worked with the Ministry of Health in Yemen, where devastating floods affected 700,000 people, to provide emergency health supplies, ensure that reproductive health services are included in future emergency plans and offer training on the needs of women and girls in crisis situations.
Mitigating the Impact of Conflict on Women and Girls
During wars and other conflicts, humanitarian assistance often ignores the special needs of women and girls. In 2008, UNFPA filled critical gaps by providing equipment, supplies and other assistance, such as emergency obstetric care and medicines to treat sexually transmitted infections. UNFPA is a member of Stop Rape Now: UN Action to Stop Sexual Violence in Conflicts and works with partners to implement Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security. The Security Council in 2008 unanimously adopted Resolution 1820, which called for an immediate halt to all acts of sexual violence against women in conflict situations. UNFPA was one of 12 United Nations entities that advocated for the passage of this resolution and for including text to mandate services for survivors.
The Fund also led the way in offering treatments and counselling to survivors of sexual violence.
UNFPA collaborated with the Ministry of Health, other United Nations entities and local NGOs to provide supplies and services to survivors of sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. UNFPA delivered 11 tons of emergency reproductive health and hygiene commodities for obstetric care and clinical management of rape in North Kivu.
UNFPA provided medical supplies and care as well as psychosocial and legal support to survivors of sexual violence in Kenya after the post-election crisis.
UNFPA provided personal hygiene supplies to people displaced or affected by the conflict in Georgia. The Fund also worked with UNIFEM, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the World Health Organization and others to prevent and respond to gender-based violence.
UNFPA provided supplies to ensure clean deliveries to expectant mothers in Chad and supported local health facilities in providing emergency obstetric care.
UNFPA intensified support for emergency obstetric care in crisis-affected hospitals in Zimbabwe. UNFPA provided essential supplies and offered financial assistance to underpaid health workers in maternity units to ensure a continuity of emergency service, especially to expectant mothers with complications.
UNFPA, with other United Nations partners, delivered medicines, intravenous fluids and medical supplies to hospitals in Gaza, where violence in late December compromised the health and safety of 1.5 million inhabitants, especially women and children.
UNFPA provided medical supplies, equipment, reproductive health kits and hygiene supplies to flood victims in Togo.
UNFPA and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees strengthened their combined efforts to respond to the sexual and reproductive health needs (with a focus on HIV prevention and care) of women and girls who engage in sex work to survive in the aftermath of disasters. The skills required of staff and partners in Eastern Europe and East Africa were developed to address these needs.