Speech

Annual High-Level Pledging Conference for the United Nations Central Emergency Response Fund

7 December 2018

Remarks by UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Natalia Kanem [as delivered]

The Central Emergency Response Fund is a lifeline for women and girls, whose unique needs have long been neglected and underfunded in crises.

To face a woman or adolescent girl who has lost everything, to feel her desperation and yet to have to buckle down and work together as a United Nations team seamlessly with our partners, to help her find ways to rekindle her hope that the future can get better, that is the hardest work we do!

Maleka Ali, who was pregnant when fighting hit her home in Taizz, Yemen, describes the disproportionate toll of crises on women and girls this way: “We are displaced. We are dispersed. Our situation is not normal. We are impoverished. We suffer in every way.”

Some 500 women and girls die each day in countries affected by humanitarian and fragile contexts from complications due to pregnancy and childbirth.

Gender-based violence, already widespread in times of peace, is exacerbated during crises, with severe–and even fatal–consequences for survivors. Just this week, we learned of the rape and sexual assault of more than 150 women and girls in Bentiu, South Sudan, which is a harsh reminder of that devastating reality.

CERF funding enables UNFPA to respond quickly with life-saving gender-based violence and sexual and reproductive health interventions. It helps us provide equipment and medicines for safe deliveries and for protection against gender-based violence and to bring response services to women who need them.

We of the United Nations Population Fund, UNFPA, are enormously grateful for the generous contributions to the Central Emergency Response Fund. These contributions allow us the flexibility to swiftly attend to the special requirements of women and girls, for example by providing them with UNFPA dignity kits, as we did within 48 hours when the catastrophe hit Sulawesi, Indonesia, some months ago. 

UNFPA proudly partners with CERF because acute hunger and malnutrition are inextricably linked with sexual and reproductive health.

Malnutrition during pregnancy increases the risk of obstetric and neonatal complications, and poor pregnancy outcomes such as obstructed labour, premature or low-birth weight babies, and postpartum hemorrhage. And when food and water are scarce, gender-based violence often increases.

In Yemen, an estimated 2 million pregnant and lactating women will be at risk of death if famine strikes. Some 1.1 million are already acutely malnourished, and this heightens the risk of miscarriage and stillbirth.

CERF recently allocated $6.2 million for Venezuela, which faces a devastating health crisis compounded by severe food shortages. The latest statistics from the Venezuelan Ministry of Health indicate that, in 2016, maternal deaths rose 65 per cent.

Many of these women who are at risk of dying in childbirth live in remote, rural areas and have difficulty getting to large health centres. Women in labour commonly have to walk several miles and sometimes to more than one health centre if the facility is closed or if it lacks medical supplies.

Thanks to CERF, UNFPA will be able to provide life-saving sexual and reproductive health services and supplies for 36 health facilities in the country, and that means thousands of women will deliver safely, without fear of dying while giving life.

This is why we call CERF a lifeline for women and girls and this is why UNFPA fully supports an increased CERF allocation. We look forward to seeing the Fund achieve the ambitious $1 billion target.

Experience has shown us that sexual and reproductive health and gender-based violence interventions are often overlooked and commonly considered secondary to what are seen to be more urgent needs. Larger CERF allocations will enable a more comprehensive humanitarian response that reflects the full scale and range of the needs of women and girls.

CERF also serves as a catalyst for improvements in the humanitarian system, and it embodies many of the aspirations of the Grand Bargain. Each year, for example, a large portion of CERF funding reaches local and national responders worldwide through the extensive partnership networks of UN agencies

UNFPA shares at least a quarter of our funding with local and national responders such as midwives. In 2016 alone, over a third of such contributions went to international non-governmental organizations, the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and government partners.

To close, when a girl has had to flee her home, to be availed of soap, a useful cloth and monthly menstrual supplies upholds her dignity in her time of need. We deploy midwives, who provide care with caring, and psychosocial counseling, to a woman or girl who may have been subjected to the indignity of sexual violence, as has been happening all too often even now, during the current 16 Days when we campaign to Orange the World and advocate against gender-based violence. 

When we speak of leaving no one behind, there can no more compelling example of who it is we are talking about than women and girls affected by crises. CERF is there for them – even in the world’s most neglected, underfunded, underreported and protracted crises.

By all, for all! Without CERF, the urgent needs of millions women and adolescent girls would go unmet. Simply put, CERF funding is saving women and girls’ lives.