Press Release

Women Survivors of Indian Ocean Disaster Face Urgent Needs, Warns UNFPA

31 December 2004
Author: UNFPA

UNITED NATIONS, New York—Amid reports that over 5 million people in the Indian Ocean region have been directly affected by the earthquake-triggered tsunamis, local authorities and humanitarian agencies are racing against time to assist survivors who urgently need clean water, food, shelter and medical care. As emergency assessments are underway in many of the areas affected, it is becoming increasingly clear that the particular needs of women require urgent response.

Among the 5 million people directly affected in the region, there are at least 150,000 women who are currently pregnant or who may be facing complications of pregnancy, including trauma-induced miscarriage, and need urgent medical and nutritional support. Over 50,000 women within the affected communities will give birth in the next three months; the damage to health facilities and loss of basic delivery care supplies has jeopardized their chances to deliver under clean and safe circumstances. Many of the midwives who traditionally provide home-based delivery support have been displaced and no longer have even basic supplies. Women who experience obstructed labor or other birthing complications (15 per cent of pregnancies, even under normal conditions) will require urgent assistance to ensure their health and the survival of their babies.

Other special needs are often overlooked. Women and girls, in addition to needing access to water, food, shelter and medical care, have particular hygiene needs which must be considered if they are to be able to carry on their daily lives with dignity, yet these needs are often overlooked in the larger emergency response. In some of the affected communities, women who have lost all possessions do not have access even to the most basic of clothing items which are required in order for them to participate fully in community life. Yet, in many cases, it is women and girls who assume the primary burden of caring for other family members and for obtaining the survival needs for the family.

In initial response to the crisis, UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, has made available $3 million for the provision of the most basic maternity and hygiene support for women throughout the region. The Fund is also asking donors for additional funds to support the reestablishment of basic reproductive health care in affected communities in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and the Maldives.


In Sumatra and Aceh, UNFPA estimates that an approximately 25,000 pregnant and nursing women -- many of whom are suffering from a combination of illness, injury and severe trauma – will need emergency care to avoid maternal and infant deaths.

Immediate UNFPA response has included supplying simple provisions for safe child delivery. These clean delivery kits include soap for washing hands, a piece of plastic sheeting to lay on the ground, a clean razor blade for cutting the umbilical cord, a piece of string for tying it, and a cloth to wrap the baby immediately after delivery. The Fund has also provided hygiene kits, including soap, washcloths and sanitary supplies, for women who have lost all their possessions and is working to provide sarongs and basic clothing needs.

A joint Ministry of Health/UNFPA/WHO/UNICEF operations centre has been established in the region to coordinate the tracking of health logistics and to help coordinate health interventions by international and local NGOs. The agencies have worked together to assess immediate and medium-term health needs in the region of Aceh, which has been hardest hit by the disaster.

Sri Lanka

Among the million displaced in Sri Lanka, many are women who have now become the head of their household due to the deaths of their husbands. The Sri Lankan authorities are particularly concerned about the effects of trauma on the population, and local organizations are working with humanitarian agencies to consider how best to provide immediate psychosocial support to victims. It will be especially important that the women who have not only lost so much, but who now bear the full burden for their families, get appropriate social support and psychological care.

UNFPA is working closely with the Ministry of Health to provide basic supplies needed for maternity care and to establish early support for community based trauma treatment. The UNFPA office in Colombo has procured supplies locally and produced and distributed 25,000 hygiene kits for women and girls and is appealing to donors to support the provision of an additional 100,000 of these to meet current needs. An assessment team is currently reviewing the needs for health facility resupply and rehabilitation for the resumption of reproductive health services in the affected areas.


UNFPA staff in the Maldives is working with the Ministry of Health and other UN agencies to assess the impact of the disaster and to plan for immediate support for women’s health needs. Emergency supplies, including clean delivery kits, clinical delivery equipment and materials for safe blood transfusion, have been deployed. A team of UNFPA specialists will arrive this weekend to help develop a comprehensive plan for relief and rehabilitation of services.

In the upcoming United Nations Inter-Agency Flash Appeal, UNFPA is asking donors to ensure continued support for basic reproductive health and for psychosocial support services which are urgently needed. In the longer term, UNFPA will participate fully in the rebuilding and replenishing of devastated health facilities, and the reestablishment of full maternity and reproductive health services.


UNFPA is assisting governments and local populations in all the countries affected by the devastating earthquake and tsunami. To support the Fund's emergency response to the disaster or learn more, please visit

Contact Information:

David del Vecchio
Tel.: +1 (212) 297-4975

Omar Gharzeddine
Tel.: +1 (212) 297-5028