Humanitarian Emergencies

During conflicts, natural disasters and public health emergencies, sexual and reproductive health needs are often overlooked – with staggering consequences. Pregnant women risk life-threatening complications without access to delivery and emergency obstetric care services. Women and girls may lose access to family planning services, exposing them to unintended pregnancy in perilous conditions. Women and girls also become more vulnerable to sexual violence, exploitation and HIV infection.  

UNFPA is on the ground before, during and after crises, working closely with governments, local NGOs, UN agencies and other partners to ensure that sexual reproductive health and rights and responses to gender-based violence are integrated into emergency responses. Every day, UNFPA ships hundreds of hygiene supplies and reproductive health kits to crisis settings, providing core life-saving services. UNFPA also deploys trained personnel and provides other crucial support to affected populations, working to ensure the needs of women and girls are served through preparedness, emergency and reconstruction phases.

A unique, integrated approach

Addressing gender-based violence in humanitarian contexts is a priority for UNFPA. Gender-based violence is one of UNFPA’s primary areas of intervention, both as a stand-alone focus and as an integrated – and critical – element of our work in the following areas: sexual and reproductive health, gender equality, the rights of adolescent girls, and the generation of high quality population data to drive evidence-based programmes.

UNFPA’s comparative advantage lies in its unique approach to preventing and responding to gender-based violence, which bridges protection, gender equality and sexual and reproductive health and rights in humanitarian action. Health facilities are often critical entry points for survivors to receive support and be referred to other life-saving services. UNFPA is distinctive in its capacity to equip health facilities and train health staff to address the health implications of gender-based violence while providing post-rape treatment kits for the clinical management of rape survivors. 

UNFPA also establishes safe spaces for women and girls, provides holistic response through one-stop centres for survivors, and engages affected communities in prevention and response.

Heightened vulnerabilities

Even under normal conditions, reproductive health issues are among the leading causes 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 supplies can increase the risks of contracting HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs). In situations of conflicts, forced migration and disasters, sexual violence is known to escalate as community’s protection systems break down. In addition, the burden of care women assume for children and others can make it difficult for them to take proper care of themselves.  

UNFPA in emergencies

Basic emergency obstetric and newborn care: This is critical to reducing maternal and neonatal death. UNFPA is the leading organization around the world providing access to maternal health care during crises. 

The response is tailored to the circumstances of each crisis. Ad hoc delivery rooms may be set up in damaged health 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. UNFPA also provides on-the-ground training for health workers and midwives.

UNFPA provides training for health care workers on safe delivery and basic and comprehensive emergency obstetric care. We also provide equipment, medicine and supplies. UNFPA is the global custodian of reproductive health kits that are provided to visibly pregnant women, and health centres and hospitals. 

Family planning: Many couples want to avoid, or delay, pregnancy and childbearing during crisis situations, but lack the means to do so. The absence of voluntary family planning in emergencies, including condoms and emergency contraception, increases the risk of unintended pregnancies, 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 make their own choices, exercise their rights and manage scarce family resources more effectively. UNFPA provides modern contraception and training for health workers and community outreach workers.

Clinical management of rape: Sexual violence occurs in all types of humanitarian settings, especially in conflict situations. Survivors of sexual violence can be of any sex, gender or age, though they are disproportionately women and girls. Rape can have severe negative physical, mental and social consequences for the survivors as well for their families and the larger community. Survivors may suffer from depression and anxiety, HIV or other STIs, unintended pregnancies, or stigma from family and community members. UNFPA supports health care providers so they are trained to provide compassionate and confidential medical treatment, counseling and care for survivors. UNFPA provides post-rape treatment kits and other life-saving supplies and ensurses that survivors receive mulitsectoral services including mental health and psychosocial support, legal support, and other services. 

Sexually Transmitted Infections: In times of crisis, many factors – including the breakdown of social and information networks, the separation of families, a lack of condoms, and an increase in sexual violence and high-risk behaviour – leave individuals especially vulnerable to contracting STIs, including HIV. UNFPA is the largest international supplier of condoms and supports the prevention and treatment of STIs through the provision of condoms, drugs and other supplies. UNFPA also supports the training of health care providers to recognize and diagnose symptoms, provide effective and confidential treatment, and conduct outreach and information campaigns.

UNFPA provides health facilities with supplies and equipment for safe blood transfusion and sterilization of instruments, instructions for maintaining universal precautions for HIV prevention. This also includes the provision of the medication, testing equipment and training needed to administer post-exposure prophylaxis and to protect health workers who may have been exposed to infected blood.

Humanitarian supplies: Since 1998, UNFPA has played a critical role in ensuring the availability of life-saving sexual and reproductive health supplies in emergencies on behalf of the international community. UNFPA procures and manages reproductive health kits for use in humanitarian crises, which include all of the pharmaceuticals, medical devices and supplies needed for the sexual and reproductive health for women, men, boys and girls in the first days of a humanitarian emergency. 

These kits are designed to respond to various population sizes and needs. Family planning kits contain condoms, oral and injectable contraceptives, and intrauterine devices. Maternal and neonatal health kits cover clinical delivery assistance and basic and comprehensive emergency obstetric care, with essential equipment and medical supplies. Other kits contain supplies used in the treatment of sexually transmitted infections, the management of miscarriage and blood transfusions.

The smallest kit is the clean delivery kit that is provided to pregnant women in humanitarian situations, including displaced women and refugees. 

The largest reproductive health kit is the comprehensive emergency obstetric care kit, which weighs over a tonne and supports the establishment of a surgical maternity ward capable of providing Cesarean sections to save the lives of women and newborns. As part of integrated sexual and reproductive health and gender-based violence services, UNFPA also provides post-rape treatment kits to health centres, hospitals and trained providers. 

Dignity kits: UNFPA distributes dignity kits, which are accompanied by information on available gender-based violence services, including where and how to access those services. In times of crisis, women and girls often struggle to obtain essential materials,. including soap, culturally appropriate menstrual hygiene supplies, and basic clothing items, which are needed to maintain personal dignity and mobility. Dignity kits may also include items that may help mitigate the risk of gender-based violence, such as radios, whistles and flashlights.

UNFPA ensures the availability of these kits, as well as other medical and non-medical supplies, to affected areas within the first hours of an emergency. When the situation stabilizes, UNFPA conducts assessments to determine local needs and preferences and supports efforts to ensure a responsive, demand-driven and sustainable supply chain, working in close partnership with other international and local actors including the World Health Organization, World Food Programme and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. 

Addressing gender-based violence

Gender-based violence is widespread in times of peace and exacerbated during crises, whether due to natural disasters or conflict. Women and girls may face reduced access to health services, including sexual and reproductive health services, and an environment where perpetrators enjoy impunity. To address these needs, UNFPA is present before, during and after a crisis to prevent and respond to gender-based violence, to ensure access to life-saving services and information, and to put in place coordination mechanisms for effective prevention and response. For example, women’s and girls’ safe spaces offer an entry point for women and girls to access care and support. UNFPA also provides psychosocial support, community awareness sessions, vocational trainings for survivors, group support, and –applicable – legal counselling.

Since 2017, UNFPA has had sole leadership of the Gender-based Violence Area of Responsibility (GBV AoR), the global-level forum for coordination on gender-based violence prevention, risk mitigation and response in humanitarian settings, which functions as part of the Global Protection Cluster. The GBV AoR coordinates and provides global level inter-agency policy advice and guidance to gender-based violence sub-clusters in the field, supports responses to gender-based violence in non-refugee humanitarian crises, and leads standard- and policy-setting work related to gender-based violence in humanitarian emergencies. 

Young people

Half of the 1.4 billion people living in countries affected by crises and fragility today are under the age of 20. Many of these young people are among the first to step up to help their communities rebuild. However, too often their unique needs are not specifically addressed in humanitarian response, and their energy, leadership, knowledge and creativity go untapped.

The Compact for Young People in Humanitarian Action is a global call to prioritize the needs and rights of young people affected by emergencies. Co-led by UNFPA and the International Federation of the Red Cross, the Compact was launched at the World Humanitarian Summit in 2016, an unprecedented collective commitment of over 50 humanitarian actors to ensure that the priorities of young people are addressed. The signatories commit to, and are accountable for, transforming humanitarian action for and with young people to prevent and end conflict, safeguard human rights and the rule of law, and invest in young people now and in the future – leaving no one behind.

In 2018, guidelines were developed to help organizations design, implement and evaluate age- and gender-responsive and inclusive humanitarian programmes. The guidelines will be launched in 2019 and a training module will be developed for young first responders and practitioners. 

Data collection

UNFPA plays a critical role in collecting data during emergencies. This work helps guide crisis responses, enabling humanitarian organizations and affected populations to better understand how needs evolve under rapidly changing circumstances. UNFPA is uniquely well suited to perform this work. The Fund collaborates with national statistical organizations in developing and middle-income countries, facilitating the collection, analysis, dissemination and use of reliable data and information. UNFPA also has a wealth of experience, from the country and regional levels to the global level, on population and development issues. During emergencies, data and information on gender-based violence can be limited, but it is vital to ensuring adequate and appropriately tailored services, responding with evidence-based programming, highlighting increases in risk, and providing evidence to advocate for more to be done to prevent and respond to violence. UNFPA has been a leader in safe and ethical service data collection and management, including coordinating the Gender-based Violence Information Management System.

UNFPA also collaborates in humanitarian programming, normative and strategic policy work  through the Inter-Agency Standing Committee, the primary mechanism for inter-agency coordination of humanitarian assistance. It is a unique forum involving the key UN and non-UN humanitarian partners. 

News From Emergencies

South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo have seen particularly widespread sexual and gender-based violence, both during and in the aftermath of conflict. © UNFPA DRC
News
“Much more needs to be done," said Dr. Kanem at a panel discussion on the sidelines of the United Nations General...
26 September 2019
A displacement camp in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced by crises within the country. © UNFPA DRC
News
Thousands of women and girls have been subjected to gender-based violence.
4 September 2019
Police Officer Chrestine Espinorio, Dr. Nadhira Abdulcarim and social worker Umme Limbona work together to support survivors of violence at a hospital-based crisis centre. © UNFPA Philippines/Mario Villamor
News
Umme Limbona remembers when she had to leap from a third-storey window – onto a neighbouring terrace – to escape a...
16 August 2019

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  • L1: Humanitarian crises in which the national and international resources available in the affected country are sufficient for the required response.
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Situation Reports and Resources

Resources
This poster shows the 16 Minimum Standards for the prevention of and response to gender-based violence in emergencies.
1 November 2019
Resources
During September, fighting sporadically escalated in different parts of the country leading to spikes in displacement and civilian casualties....
30 September 2019
Resources
The security situation in Syria remains volatile and unstable. Idlib, Aleppo, Daraa, Al-Hassakah, Deir-ez-zor, North Lattakia and North Hama...
31 August 2019

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