Humanitarian emergencies

During conflicts, natural disasters and other emergencies, sexual and reproductive health needs are easily overlooked – yet these needs are often staggering.

In crisis situations, one in five women of childbearing age is likely to be pregnant. Without access to reproductive health services, these women face an increased risk of life-threatening complications. Many women also lose access to family planning, exposing them to unwanted pregnancies in perilous conditions. Women and young people also become more vulnerable to sexual violence, exploitation and HIV infection. And the hygiene needs of women and girls are often neglected.

UNFPA works closely with governments, UN agencies, community-based organizations and other partners to ensure that reproductive health is integrated into emergency responses. UNFPA deploys hygiene supplies, obstetric and family planning supplies, trained personnel, and other support to vulnerable populations, and works to ensure the needs of women and young people are served through both an emergency and the reconstruction phase.


Heightened vulnerabilities

Even under normal conditions, reproductive health issues are a leading cause of death and illness among women of childbearing age. When a crisis strikes, skilled birth attendance and emergency obstetric care often become unavailable, exacerbating the vulnerability of pregnant women.

Women face other threats as well. The absence of health services and other factors can increase the risks of contracting HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. And the breakdown of protection systems often leads to a rise in gender-based violence. In addition, the burden of care women assume for children and others can make it difficult for them to take proper care of themselves. Women may neglect their own needs as they care for their families and neighbours.

UNFPA in emergencies

Antenatal, safe delivery and post-partum care: UNFPA’s emergency response includes supplies for prenatal care; clean delivery kits to help prevent infections among women who cannot reach a medical facility during delivery; equipment and medicines for clinical deliveries; supplies for emergency obstetric care; and support to address post-partum complications that can arise for both mothers and newborns. UNFPA also provides on-the-ground training for health workers and midwives.

Responses are tailored to the circumstances of each crisis. Ad hoc delivery rooms may be set up in damaged buildings, mobile health clinics may be dispatched, and midwives are sometimes provided with motorcycles. More comprehensive services are organized when the worst of the crisis has passed.

Family planning: Many couples want to avoid pregnancy and childbearing during crisis situations, but lack the means to do so. The absence of voluntary family planning in emergencies means higher risks of unintended pregnancies, greater health risks for pregnant women, and possible health consequences for those who resort to unsafe abortions. Restoring access to safe, effective contraception protects the lives and well-being of women and enables crisis-affected couples to manage scarce family resources more effectively.

UNFPA ships male and female condoms and other family planning supplies to affected areas within the first hours of an emergency. When the situation stabilizes, UNFPA conducts rapid assessments to determine local needs and preferences and supports efforts to make a wide range of modern contraceptive methods available.

Addressing gender-based violence

UNFPA addresses gender-based violence in humanitarian settings with a wide range of services, including counselling, post-rape treatment, legal support, assistance with livelihoods, and support through its sexual and reproductive health programmes.

UNFPA also incorporates violence prevention in its humanitarian response, reaching out to vulnerable adolescents and youth, sending messages to men and boys about gender equality, and working closely with faith-based networks and cultural leaders to reinforce support systems.

UNFPA also supports the interagency GenCap initiative, which deploys gender advisors on short notice in the initial stages of sudden-onset emergencies as well as in protracted or recurring humanitarian situations.

Young people

Young people often represent a large proportion of those affected by crises. In some countries, two thirds of the population is under 25, and half of the world's out-of-school children live in conflict or post-conflict countries. Displaced young people are particularly vulnerable to HIV, and they urgently need information and services to protect themselves from disease and unintended pregnancies.

UNFPA places a high priority on safeguarding young people's well-being and supporting their successful transition to adulthood. UNFPA raises awareness of and addresses the specific needs and concerns of young people affected by war or crisis, often using innovative and participatory approaches.

Data collection

Data is crucial for assessing the extent of a crisis and determining how to respond. Yet in the rapidly changing environment of an emergency, data can quickly become irrelevant and unreliable for humanitarian programming.

UNFPA collaborates on rapid initial assessments, and helps to gather and analyse fresh data. UNFPA also provides tools for data generation and analysis. When large numbers of people are displaced by a crisis, UNFPA helps to generate estimates of the affected population, and disaggregates this data by age, gender and disability. UNFPA also coordinates the provision of information for quick decision-making. For instance, UNFPA is responsible for managing information about gender-based violence, which requires sensitive and confidential handling.

Resources

Ebola Virus Disease Outbreak in West Africa - November 2014 update
The infographic shows UNFPA's response to the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) Outbreak in West Africa
South Sudan Country Office Situation Report #49 – 17 - 22 November 2014
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Publications

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Guidelines on Data  Issues in Humanitarian Crisis Situations

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Videos

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Protecting women post-Haiyan
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Healing the Wounds of War in Bosnia
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Birth Amid Chaos in Gaza