UNFPA calls for urgent action to save lives of women and girls affected by longest drought in Somalia


MOGADISHU – As Somalia faces its worst drought in four decades, experts are warning of the gender-specific impacts of the disaster on women and girls.


Following a two-day visit to the country, Dr. Natalia Kanem, the executive director of the United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA), says entire communities are bearing the brunt of the worsening food crisis, as Somalia goes through the longest and most severe drought in recent history, which is expected to continue well into 2023. “A catastrophe is unfolding in Somalia, but as is often the case women and girls are paying an unacceptably high price,” Kanem says in a statement released after her visit.

Dr Kanem was in the country to draw attention to the urgent need for increased support to women and girls affected by the drought. The drought has resulted in an increased number of malnourished pregnant women, most of whom are based in camps, she told the Prime Minister of Somalia, Hamza Abdi Barre during a meeting.

The number of women having critical and life-threatening complications during births is also increasing and in the absence of qualified birth attendants and access to health services and facilities, the number of maternal and new-born deaths, which are already very high in Somalia, are likely to increase to devastating levels, especially for those in the IDP camps, she warned.

Kanem met with the prime minister to discuss areas of collaboration between the government and UNFPA, and reiterated UNFPA’s commitment to serving the women and girls affected by the humanitarian crises, especially in the internally displaced people camps and host communities. She also met with representatives of UN agencies, donors and other stakeholders.

“The current crisis has far-reaching impacts on women and girls across the region. Unless we act now, thousands will die and countless more will face other dangers and rights violations, including rape and child marriage,” Kanem said.

Niyi Ojuolape, UNFPA Country Representative for Somalia said the UN agency was committed to providing critical and life-saving support to women and girls affected by the devastating drought in Somalia.

“We are working to ensure that the dignity and wellbeing of women and girls are protected, they are safe from harmful practices and violence, have access to reproductive healthcare, and that all childbirths are safe”.

During her stay, Dr. Kanem also visited the Kabasa IDP camp in Doolow, Jubaland state, and met women and girls who had walked for days across Ethiopia and Somalia to reach the camp with their children. Dr Kanem noted that while there is a desperate need to get food and water to the people in need, services that are critical to women and girls’ health, survival and future are also critically important; adding that “these services are the difference between life and death.”

The unprecedented drought in the region has left more than 7.8 million people in need of urgent humanitarian assistance in Somalia, the majority of those displaced are women and children. Conflict and security threats are worsening the effects of the extreme weather, pushing millions to the brink of starvation.

“Women and girls are paying an unacceptably high price,” said UNFPA which is looking for $113.7 million to help scale up the delivery of life-saving reproductive health and protection services through its Response Plan for the Horn of Africa Drought Crisis 2022-2023.


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