By: Rati Bishnoi, Special Projects Intern
The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) is intensifying its efforts to assist mothers affected by famine and displacement in the Horn of Africa.
“We call upon the international community to urgently look after the unique needs of pregnant women and mothers whose families’ survival are particularly at risk,” UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin said in an agency release.
After two poor rainy seasons, the east African region is experiencing one of the worst droughts since 1950 and 1951, according to the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization. The famine has already killed tens of thousands of people and risks having long-lasting damage on a generation of children, the U.N.’s World Food Program states. Hunger and exhaustion can cause complications during pregnancy and childbirth and increase the risk of maternal deaths. Poor nutrition can also cause infant illness, disabilities, and even death. In addition to the wide-spread famine, the militant group al-Shabab is blocking the World Food Program from providing emergency food to starving people.
With 80 percent of refugees in the region being women and children, UNFPA is focusing on caring for pregnant women and lactating mothers. The agency is distributing reproductive health care supplies, medical equipment, and 3,500 “dignity kits” to women in famine-affected areas. Dignity kits are designed to meet women’s unique needs and include hygiene items such as sanitary pads, underwear and soap. They also include headscarves to ensure that women can travel in public to food distribution centers while still abiding by the strict dress code for women in Somalia.
Sexual violence and exploitation are a very real danger for women and girls traveling to and living in refugee settlements, such as Dabaab refugee settlement in Kenya. The camp has a population of nearly 380,000 people, making it the largest refugee settlement in the world.
“While a short-term and immediate response is urgently needed,” explained Osotimehin, “UNFPA is working on a strategy for long-term support to the region.”