UNITED NATIONS, New York —UNFPA is scaling up its efforts to respond to the humanitarian crisis caused by famine and displacement in the Horn of Africa. “We are deeply concerned by the gravity of the situation in the region,” said UNFPA Executive Director, Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin. “We call upon the international community to urgently look after the unique needs of pregnant women and mothers whose families’ survival are particularly at risk.”
The lives of starving children depend heavily on their mothers’ capacity to feed and provide for them. When a woman suffers from hunger and exhaustion, her children’s survival is even more at risk. Famine also leads to complications during pregnancy and childbirth and increases the risk of maternal deaths and infant illnesses. Experts estimate that eliminating malnutrition among mothers can reduce disabilities in their infants by almost one third.
Given that 80 per cent of refugees in the region are women and children, UNFPA is focusing on providing care for pregnant women and lactating mothers. UNFPA country offices in Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia and Djibouti are carrying out emergency measures to distribute reproductive health care supplies, medical equipment and dignity kits to affected populations. This will ensure life saving treatment for mothers and their children, while also facilitating safe deliveries of newborns.
“The small income that women may have is mostly used for limited day to day food supplies, making health care a last priority for their families,” said Dr. Osotimehin. UNFPA is therefore distributing dignity kits in affected regions to address women’s unique needs. These kits include hygiene items such as sanitary pads, underwear and soap. Because of strict dress codes for women in Somalia, headscarves are included in these kits to ensure women’s mobility so that they can access food distribution centres and provide for their children. Over 3,500 kits have already been distributed in North and North East Kenya.
UNFPA is also alarmed by overcrowding in Dadaab (Kenya), the largest refugee settlement in the world, with a population of nearly 380,000 people. As health services are overstretched, UNFPA is working with local partners to provide targeted reproductive health care to those in urgent need.
Moreover, women, young girls and boys in such situations are increasingly vulnerable to sexual violence and exploitation, including trafficking. UNFPA is ensuring that medial and psychosocial services are provided to survivors of sexual violence.
As the drought continues in the region, famine and its consequences will continue to affect women for the foreseeable future. “While a short-term and immediate response is urgently needed,” explained Dr. Osotimehin, “UNFPA is working on a strategy for long-term support to the region.”