The unprecedented drought in the Horn of Africa is affecting whole communities, but it is women and girls who are paying “an unacceptably high price”, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) said on Wednesday, launching a $113.7 million appeal to meet their needs.
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, more than 36 million people across Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya require humanitarian assistance because of the drought.
Safeguarding critical services
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, said Dr. Natalia Kanem, the UNFPA Executive Director.
“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 stressed.
Forced to seek food
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.
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, according to UNFPA.
Most are mothers, who often end up walking for days or even weeks.
Lives at risk
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.
Concern for mothers-to-be
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.
Stepping up support
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.
Safe spaces for survivors
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.
Source: UN News Centre