UN urges help for women victims of Tsunami

Posted: 4 January 2005

With over 5 million people in the Indian Ocean region directly affected by the earthquake-triggered tsunamis, it is becoming increasingly clear that the particular needs of women require urgent response.

According to the UN Population Fund, there are at least 150,000 women among those who have been injured or made homeless or are in need of food, water and sanitation, who are who are currently pregnant or who may be facing complications of pregnancy, including trauma-induced miscarriage. They need urgent medical and nutritional support.

Over 50,000 women within the affected communities will give birth in the next three months, says UNFPA. The damage to health facilities and loss of basic delivery care supplies has jeopardized their chances to deliver under clean and safe circumstances. Many of the midwives who traditionally provide home-based delivery support have been displaced and no longer have even basic supplies. Women who experience obstructed labour or other birthing complications (15 per cent of pregnancies, even under normal conditions) will require urgent assistance to ensure their health and the survival of their babies.

Special needs

Other special needs are often overlooked. Women and girls, in addition to needing access to water, food, shelter and medical care, have particular hygiene needs which must be considered if they are to be able to carry on their daily lives with dignity, yet these needs are often overlooked in the larger emergency response. In some of the affected communities, women who have lost all possessions do not have access even to the most basic of clothing items which are required in order for them to participate fully in community life. Yet, in many cases, it is women and girls who assume the primary burden of caring for other family members and for obtaining the survival needs for the family.

In initial response to the crisis, UNFPA has made available $3 million for the provision of the most basic maternity and hygiene support for women throughout the region. The Fund is also asking donors for additional funds to support the reestablishment of basic reproductive health care in affected communities in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and the Maldives.

Hygiene kits

In Sumatra and Aceh, it is estimated that some 25,000 pregnant and nursing women - many of whom are suffering from a combination of illness, injury and severe trauma - will need emergency care to avoid maternal and infant deaths.

Immediate UNFPA response has included supplying simple provisions for safe child delivery. These clean delivery kits include soap for washing hands, a piece of plastic sheeting to lay on the ground, a clean razor blade for cutting the umbilical cord, a piece of string for tying it, and a cloth to wrap the baby immediately after delivery. The Fund has also provided hygiene kits, including soap, washcloths and sanitary supplies, for women who have lost all their possessions and is working to provide sarongs and basic clothing needs.

A joint Ministry of Health/UNFPA/WHO/UNICEF operations centre has been established in the Indonesian region to coordinate the response to the health emergency.

In Sri Lanka UNFPA, working with the Ministry of Health, has distributed 25,000 hygiene kits for women and girls and is appealing to donors to support the provision of an additional 100,000.

In the Maldives, a team of UNFPA specialists is help to develop a comprehensive plan for relief and rehablitation of services in that island nation.

The agency is asking donors to ensure continued support for this urgent work, and to help it to participate fully in the rebuilding and replenishing of devastated health facilities, and the reestablishment of full maternity and reproductive health services in the contries affected by the disaster.