In the aftermath of devastating tsunamis that struck several South and South-East Asian countries on Sunday, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) is calling on governments, sister United Nations agencies and other humanitarian partners to ensure that the special needs of women and girls are factored into all short- and medium-term relief planning.
Tens of thousands of people are feared dead and hundreds of thousands have lost their homes and livelihoods as a direct result of the giant waves triggered by an undersea earthquake in the Indian Ocean. But the United Nations warns that a “second wave” of the disaster could be even deadlier than the first, as millions of people face health risks due to contamination of drinking water and devastation of health infrastructure.
To help meet immediate needs, the UNFPA has committed up to $1 million and additional staff for rapid health assessments, hygiene needs and health supplies, including water purification tablets. The UNFPA is collaborating closely with governments and other United Nations agencies and humanitarian partners to assess immediate and longer-term needs and to develop an inter-agency flash appeal to be issued to major donors in the coming days.
UNFPA Executive Director Thoraya Obaid said on Monday that “while the magnitude of this disaster may be unprecedented, we already know from our experience in previous crises –- such as last year’s earthquake in Bam, Iran, and the hurricanes that struck the Caribbean earlier this year -– that women and girls will be hit especially hard”.
Among the affected are tens of thousands of pregnant and nursing women, who are especially susceptible to waterborne diseases and may require supplementary feeding, prenatal care and delivery assistance. Even in ideal circumstances, some 15 per cent of pregnant women require emergency obstetric care to avoid maternal and infant deaths. The UNFPA warns that physical and psychological trauma will mean even more pregnant women in need.
To address these concerns, the UNFPA is working with partners to ensure that all humanitarian assistance addresses the special vulnerability of women and girls in disaster-affected areas. Priority areas to be addressed by the UNFPA in a soon-to-be-issued donor appeal will include emergency obstetric care, the establishment of temporary health facilities, and the provision of equipment and supplies.
The UNFPA is the world’s largest multilateral source of population assistance. Since it became operational in 1969, the Fund has provided substantial assistance to developing countries, at their request, to address their population and development needs.