Conflict-Hit Women Need More Reproductive, Sexual Health Aid: UN Agency Head

By Joseph Durso 3 December 2015

LONDON — Around a quarter of the 100 million people globally who need humanitarian aid are women or teenage girls of childbearing age, but sexual and reproductive health services are underfunded, the United Nations said on Wednesday.

More than 500 women die each day from complications arising from pregnancy and childbirth in states facing conflict or disaster, the UN population fund (UNFPA) says, three fifths of maternal deaths today occurring in these “fragile” countries.

“The health and rights of women and adolescents should not be treated like an afterthought in humanitarian response,” said Babatunde Osotimehin, executive director of UNFPA.

“For the pregnant woman who is about to deliver, or the adolescent girl who survived sexual violence, life-saving services are as vital as water, food and shelter.”

Women in need of aid because of conflict or disaster are more vulnerable to sexual violence, sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies, he said.

“Having the means to prevent a pregnancy and being safe from sexual violence—these are basic human rights. Women don’t stop giving birth when a conflict breaks out or disaster strikes.”

Some 59.5 million people worldwide are currently displaced by conflict—around a fifth of them Syrians, the largest number since the end of World War Two, the UNFPA study said.

While sprawling refugee camps like Dadaab in Kenya and Zaatari in Jordan get much of the media’s attention, two in three refugees live in urban areas. For the minority who do live in camps, the average stay is 20 years, UNFPA says.

Directing humanitarian aid to protect women of childbearing age is crucial, both to lessen present suffering and reduce it in the future, but current resources are insufficient, Osotimehin said.

“We need to do a much better job of helping the most vulnerable, especially adolescent girls. But we must also do a much better job of investing in a more stable world, capable of withstanding the storms ahead.”