By Asmau Ahmad
The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) has launched a $113.7 million appeal to meet the needs of women and girls who are paying “an unacceptably high price” of unprecedented drought in the Horn of Africa.
The funding will be used to scale-up life-saving reproductive health and protection services, including establishment of mobile and static clinics in locations such as displacement sites.
Overall, the UNFPA said, no fewer 36 million people across Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya require humanitarian assistance because of the drought.
Conflict, locust infestations and the lingering impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic are worsening its effects, pushing millions to the brink of starvation.
“As the food security situation continues to deteriorate, women and girls are facing hunger and other serious threats to their health, rights and safety, Dr Natalia Kanem, the UNFPA Executive Director, said in a statement.
“We need to act now to save thousands of lives and provide women and girls with the essential support they urgently need and a chance at building a better future,” she said.
The drought is the region’s worst in four decades and is set to continue well into 2023, UN agencies and their humanitarian partners warned last week.
According to UNFPA, two districts in Somalia alone are at imminent risk of famine.
Some 1.7 million people have been forced to leave their homes to search for food, water and basic services.
Most are mothers, who often end up walking for days or even weeks.
These dangerous journeys on foot increase women’s vulnerability to sexual violence, exploitation and abuse.
Already pervasive gender-based violence is rising, UNFPA reported.
As families face desperate choices to survive, reports of girls dropping out of school, female genital mutilation and child marriage have become more widespread.
The UN agency said access to basic health services, including family planning and maternal healthcare, has been severely compromised.
The consequences could be catastrophic, including for the more than 892,000 pregnant women who will give birth over the next three months.
Malnutrition among pregnant and lactating women is acute, increasing their risk of severe, if not fatal, pregnancy complications, and there are devastating reports of mothers too weak to feed their babies.
The appeal aims to respond to the escalating needs.
In addition to setting up mobile and stationary health clinics, UNFPA will deploy trained midwives to those facilities located in areas where needs are greatest.
In Somalia, midwives will be a key resource in delivering integrated reproductive health and protection services, the agency said.
Other plans include increasing community outreach for the provision of reproductive health services, as well as strengthening referral systems to ensure pregnant women experiencing complications can access emergency obstetric care.
UNFPA will expand safe spaces, shelters, one-stop centres and hotlines so that women and girl survivors of gender-based violence have access to medical care and psychosocial support.
Healthcare providers also will be trained to provide integrated reproductive health and protection services, including for the clinical management of rape.
Further plans involve distributing life-saving reproductive health medicines and supplies to health facilities and hospitals, and providing basic hygiene items, including sanitary pads, to those in need.