Dr. Julitta Onabanjo, the Country Representative of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), on Tuesday applauded humanitarian workers in Tanzania for their support during emergencies and disasters, a time when civilians are most vulnerable.
“Humanitarian workers offer first-line support at times of greatest need, when individuals and communities suffer hardships sometimes beyond our imagination or expectations, and most often beyond our control,” Dr Onabanjo said.
Dr Onabanjo made these remarks during her key note address at the start of a four-day orientation workshop on addressing the Sexual Reproductive Health (SRH), Gender and Population Concerns in Emergency and Refugee situations.
She said that more than half of the countries in African are in, or emerging from, some form of natural disaster, man-made crises or complex emergency.
Although natural disasters make up a significant proportion of emergencies, most man-made crises in sub-Saharan Africa are due to socio-political instability associated with human rights violations, poor governance, ethnic or tribal conflicts and generalized poverty.
A new UNHCR report on Global Trends launched to mark this year’s World Refugee Day, shows that many of the world’s poorest countries, are host to large refugee populations, both in absolute numbers but also in relation to the size of their economies.
Further, the 2010 Global Trends report highlights that 43.7 million persons worldwide are now displaced of which 15.4 million are refugees, 27.5 million are people displaced within their own country due to conflict and nearly 850,000 asylum-seekers, nearly one fifth of them in South Africa alone.
In situations of conflict and humanitarian emergencies accessibility to sexual and reproductive health services becomes a significant challenge.
“At the best of times, and in the best of situations, issues related to sexual and reproductive health and rights including HIV and AIDS and gender dynamics can be challenging. In times of crisis these challenges are escalated,” Dr. Onabanjo pointed out.
She further elaborated that sub-Saharan Africa remains home to the highest rates of maternal deaths and disabilities, teenage pregnancies, HIV infection rates and gender inequities that result in various forms of gender and sexual based violence, and in times of crisis, while these issues remain and many times increases, the response in terms of access to quality health and psychosocial care particularly for mothers and children tend to get set aside as focus is concentrated on shelter, water and sanitation, food and infrastructure reconstruction.
While these issues are extremely important the key message is that sexual and reproductive health, gender and population concerns must also be integrated into national efforts of disaster preparedness and emergency response.
The intention of the four-day workshop is to sensitise key humanitarian experts who are at the frontline of Tanzania’s disaster preparedness and refugee situations to these issues and collectively discuss the best approaches to ensuring sexual and reproductive health, gender and population issues are part of the policy and programmatic responses of key national and non-state actors.
Capacity and resource gaps and issues around implementation, coordination and partnerships will also be discussed.
Data shows that in the few emergency situations that have occurred in Tanzania, the risk of sexual violence, sexual transmitted illness including HIV transmission tends to increase during social instability.
Lack of family planning and other reproductive health services and information during crisis increases the risks of maternal, newborn and child illness and deaths and unintended pregnancies.
Persistent socio-cultural practices which evolve in different manners in refugee settings continue to disadvantage and discriminate against young girls. And timely and accurate population data which is critical to support preparedness and response plans is a challenge to obtain and remains inadequately disaggregated.
As part of the early warning systems, comprehensive data collection on disaster prone areas will facilitate the targeting of specific needs of vulnerable groups in response and recovery plan.
UNFPA, as part of the UN system Delivering as One UN in Tanzania and in collaboration with other UN agencies working in the emergency and refugee fields, have placed a high priority and commitment to supporting Tanzania to address among others, the sexual and reproductive health, gender and population concerns under their new cooperation the 2011-2015 UN Development Assistant Plan to Tanzania (UNDAP).
The signing of the UNDAP is planned for this Friday, 24 June 2011 and will begin the new cooperation for all the UN agencies in Tanzania for the next four years. Resources earmarked for emergency preparedness and refugees represent around 26 percent of the overall four-year budget of the UNDAP.
The orientation workshop on addressing Sexual Reproductive Health (SRH), Gender and Population Concerns in Emergency and Refugee situations is being conducted by UNFPA Regional Office in South Africa, UNFPA Country Office, other UN agencies and partners.
It involves participants from the government, local and international NGOs, UN staff and other development partners working in the areas of health, SRH, social support/protection, data management, emergency preparedness and disaster management.