Feature Story

10 February 2009

Looking Out for the Needs of Women During the Protracted Crisis in Gaza

Gaza, Occupied Palestinian Territory — The fighting in Gaza has ended, for the most part. But tens of thousands of Palestinians remain homeless, crammed into shelters or homes of friends or families, with little food or water. Many are mourning the loss of multiple family members, while dealing with their own injuries and depression.

The three-week incursion compounded a protracted humanitarian crisis in Gaza: 18 months of restrictions on the entry of goods have constrained livelihoods and many essential basic services, deepening the vulnerability of Gaza’s population. The current flow of aid and staff into Gaza is not sufficient to meet the need.

Making sure women’s needs are not forgotten

While the UN Relief and Works Agency is providing basic commodities – including drinking water, bread and blankets – UNFPA, as part of the interagency response team, is making sure that other pressing needs, especially ones that are critical to women, are not overlooked.

For example, UNFPA is pushing to ensure that sanitary supplies, diapers and clean wipes stay on the priority list of items to be trucked into Gaza, according to Pamela Delargy, chief of UNFPA's humanitarian response unit.

“These things are very important when people are crowded into shelters and homes,” said Delargy. “There’s very little water, there are lots of young children and many of the older children have reverted to bedwetting, which is a typical response to trauma.”

Soap, shampoo, menstrual supplies, head covers and clean wipes are part of the ‘dignity kits’ that UNFPA is providing in Gaza. Contents are based on what women say they need, and aim to help families maintain their hygiene and establish some sense of normalcy in the midst of so much uncertainty.

Restoring and rehabilitating obstetric and neonatal care

UNFPA is also pushing for the re-establishment of obstetric and neonatal care. The crisis left health-care centres without adequate medical equipment and health-care providers to properly attend to babies born during the incursion – 170 women deliver daily in Gaza alone − and their mothers.

“At the height of the crisis most health facilities, including maternal wards and neonatal units, turned into trauma centres in order to care for the high number of people wounded. This meant that if women were lucky enough to find an ambulance and get to a hospital there was no guarantee she would receive care,” said Laila Baker, who is currently heading up UNFPA’s humanitarian responses from Jerusalem.

She cited the example of one pregnant woman travelling in an ambulance that was hit by a shell. When the woman arrived at the hospital, she required two leg amputations and a Caesarean section in order to save her and her baby’s life. Neither a physician nor an operating room was immediately available; after some delays, surgery was finally conducted in a hallway.

“Major reconstruction and rehabilitation is needed in order to reinstate delivery and other obstetric services. The lack of appropriately equipped facilities could endanger the lives of pregnant women and their babies,” said Delargy.

Flash appeal launched

A flash appeal for $613 million was launched on 2 February in Geneva to fund the efforts of various UN agencies and NGOs to plan and implement a strategic, efficient and coordinated response to the needs of the 1.4 million Gazans affected by this crisis.

As part of the coordinated response, UNFPA is accountable for ensuring that the needs of women and girls are addressed. Because UNFPA supports clinics throughout the area, its team has a good idea of what women need.

UNFPA’s projects included in the flash appeal, which are budgeted at some $7 million,aim to improve care in maternity and newborn units of Gaza hospitals by reconstructing or rehabilitating damaged facilities and. UNFPA will provide supplies and equipment for reproductive health services including antenatal, postnatal and safe child delivery, at central hospitals.

‘We hope to offer quality newborn care during an emergency setting, but also help set a platform for longer term development of the health sector in Gaza,” explained Delargy. If projects are funded, UNFPA will collaborate with the Ministry of Health and Education and Higher Education, UNRWA, UNDP and local NGOs, and also work to establish a broad-based social network.