We are in the midst of what the United Nations has called the largest humanitarian crisis since World War II. The threat of famine and severe food insecurity in Somalia, South Sudan, Yemen, and Nigeria mean that 20 million people – more than the population of the entire state of New York – are facing starvation and the ripple of consequences that come alongside it.
The UN is responding: Agencies across the UN system are coordinating to mobilize support for the countries and people at risk, from the World Food Programme delivering critical food and medical supplies, to the Food and Agriculture Progamme supporting rural families and agriculture activities, to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs mobilizing funds and urging greater access to deliver humanitarian aid.
But crises like these are not gender neutral – and that’s why the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) plays a critical role in humanitarian response. Girls, boys, women and men experience disaster differently. Girls and women have the least power and status, and often at times of crisis, their basic needs are de-prioritized or neglected, and the fulfillment of their essential health and rights – including the ability to plan their family and futures – is left by the wayside. These rights are not only fundamental for a woman to survive in a crisis, they are critical in helping her and her family rebuild their lives afterwards – and eventually thrive.
The girls and women facing these looming “four famines” are no exception. Their sexual and reproductive health and rights are at risk every step of the way. In many places, access to family planning services and information is limited or nonexistent for girls and women who wish to delay or prevent pregnancy.
If and when a woman does become pregnant, her health and that of her future child are at risk: Women who are on the brink of starvation are at greater risk of pregnancy-related complications, death, and disability.
In the midst of conflict and famine, accessing quality medical care is difficult or impossible. In South Sudan, UNFPA estimates that more than a million women of reproductive age are in need of humanitarian aid and, of these women, almost 200,000 are pregnant. In Yemen, some 3 million women and girls of reproductive age need aid, and more than 500,000 are pregnant women who are not getting proper nourishment and do not have reliable access to prenatal care. Globally, 61 percent of maternal deaths worldwide occur in fragile states, many of them affected by conflict and recurring natural disasters.