– Release date: 05 January 2005
A powerful earthquake and deadly tsunamis have killed more than 100,000 people living along the Indian Ocean. Millions more have lost their homes and livelihoods and face grave health risks.
Among the affected are tens of thousands of pregnant and nursing women. Like all expectant mothers, these women need adequate nutrition and access to vitamins, medicines and antenatal care to deliver safely. Even in the best of circumstances, more than 15 per cent of these women would need emergency obstetric care. The trauma caused by the earthquake and tsunamis could push this risk even higher.
UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, is assisting governments and local populations in all the affected countries, from the devastated island nations of Indonesia and Maldives to distant Somalia.
In the wake of the disaster, UNFPA is working with partners to assess immediate needs and to supply life-saving medicines and supplies to enable pregnant women to deliver safely. The Fund is providing hygiene kits – including soap, washcloths and sanitary napkins – for tens of thousands of women and their families, many of whom lost everything but the clothes on their backs. Other UNFPA priorities include emergency obstetric care and the establishment of temporary health facilities.
UNFPA have also warned that increased security and better design of humanitarian assistance are urgently needed to minimize attacks on women in areas affected by last week’s earthquake and tsunami in the Indian Ocean.
“At a time when countless women have been left to head up households and to care for children and other survivors, their security must be a top priority of all affected governments and relief workers,” UNFPA Executive Director Thoraya Ahmed Obaid said on Tuesday.
Ms. Obaid’s comments came one day after a Sri Lanka-based women’s collective reported rape, molestation and physical abuse of displaced women and girls.
The collapse of communities and the disruption of the normal protective function of the family in the wake of last week’s disaster have left women extremely vulnerable in a region where sexual abuse, trafficking and exploitation were already issues of concern. In Sri Lanka, where more than one million people have been made homeless by the disaster, the disruption of basic policing has made the situation even worse.
According to UNFPA, the fear of sexual violence can impede the mobility of women, who often bear the primary burden of obtaining food, water and other necessary provisions for their families.
Protection of women and girls, and measures to prevent and treat cases of sexual violence, are among the special project areas UNFPA will address in urgent donor appeals to be launched later this week. The Fund has already made $3 million available for urgent health, hygiene and protection needs since the disaster struck on 26 December.