Statement by UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Natalia Kanem on the crisis in Somalia

11 November 2022


“A catastrophe is unfolding in Somalia. The country has been blighted by the longest and most severe drought in recent history, which is expected to continue well into 2023. Entire communities are bearing the brunt of the worsening food crisis, but as is often the case women and girls are paying an unacceptably high price.

“Across the country, conflict and more frequent extreme weather have created a perfect storm to deprive women and girls of their rights. They face more invisible threats to their survival than just hunger.

“I met Fatuma at Kabasa Internally Displaced Persons camp in Doolow, near the Ethiopian border. The landscape is parched and barren, with flimsy makeshift shelters stretching for miles. The number of people arriving at the camp is increasing on a daily basis. The majority are mothers who have walked for days and weeks from across Somalia and neighbouring Ethiopia to escape the unrelenting drought.  Fatuma, a midwife, told me that women are exhausted and losing hope. She is concerned that their internal scars will be difficult to heal. In addition to food and water, she says there is an urgent need for mental health and psychosocial counselling, but services are in short supply.

“Access to health care, including family planning and maternal health, has also been severely compromised in districts at risk of famine. An estimated 240,000 women are currently pregnant and 80,000 will give birth in the next three months – an average of 900 deliveries a day – in a country where maternal mortality rates are already high. Malnutrition among pregnant and lactating women is also soaring, posing severe risks to their health and well-being.

“In addition to the daily struggle to survive, women and girls face another crisis – violence. Perilous journeys to displacement sites, and longer distances to collect water, are heightening their vulnerability to rape, which has increased by more than 20 percent in the first six months of the year in drought-affected areas – although likely to be underreported. Incidents of gender-based violence, including harmful practices, are rising. Reports of girls dropping out of school, female genital mutilation and child marriage have become more widespread.

“While there is a desperate need to get food and water to people in need, services that are critical to women and girls’ health, survival and future cannot be nice-to-haves. These services are the difference between life and death.     

“UNFPA is working with UN agencies and partners to scale up the delivery of life-saving reproductive health and protection services and is appealing for US$79.4 million in Somalia for the remainder of 2022 and through 2023 as part of our Horn of Africa drought response.

“We call on the international community to fund reproductive health and gender-based violence prevention and response services, including mental health and psychosocial support. There is still some hope, but unless we act now, thousands of Somali women and girls will die and countless more will face violations of their rights and suffer needlessly.”

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