Spotlight on vulnerable groups in humanitarian emergencies for World Population Day

28 July 2015
Orange Fest concert in Almaty
A band plays at Orange Fest, an annual rock festival organised by UNFPA in Almaty’s Central Park.

ISTANBUL – The latest UNFPA delivery of humanitarian aid in Ukraine, a shipment of Reproductive Health Kits for the provision of obstetric and gynaecological care, was made on the eve of World Population Day to a regional perinatal centre in Kharkiv, Ukraine. This was just one of many activities in the region that highlighted the needs of vulnerable populations in emergencies, the theme of the 2015 edition of the annual international event.

Marked each year on 11 July, World Population Day seeks to focus attention on the urgency and importance of population issues. Events organised this year all around Eastern Europe and Central Asia sought in particular to raise awareness about the special role, needs, and rights of women and adolescent girls in emergency preparedness and disaster response.

‘During crisis situations, women and girls are at much greater risk of reproductive health problems, sexual abuse, and other forms of gender-based violence, forced marriage, and even death,’ UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin wrote in an op-ed to mark World Population Day. ‘For women and girls, part of being safe during humanitarian crises — whether natural disasters or man-made conflicts — means ensuring safe birth, safety from unintended pregnancy, and protection from violence.’

In Ukraine, where an estimated 1.3 million people have been internally displaced by on-going conflict, UNFPA has been distributing thousands of ‘dignity kits’ for individuals and families, containing supplies such as toothbrushes, toothpaste, shampoo, soap, sanitary pads, toilet paper, and laundry detergent. The new shipment to the Kharkiv perinatal centre will help vulnerable women whose reproductive health needs often go unmet in times of crisis. And helping women helps entire communities recover from conflicts and disasters.

‘Placing the protection and health of women and girls at the centre of humanitarian response also makes communities more resilient and helps with recovery,’ Osotimehin wrote in his op-ed. ‘Time and again, women, including young women, rise to the challenge of sustaining their households during difficult times and are often at the forefront of responding to disasters in their communities.’

The UNFPA Executive Director also called for the special needs and roles of women and girls to be incorporated in strong recommendations at the World Humanitarian Summit Regional Consultation, which is gathering governments, civil society representatives, and other humanitarian actors from Central and South Asia in Tajikistan’s capital Dushanbe on 28-30 July.

A World Population Day press conference in Kazakhstan highlighted the fact that women and children are estimated to be up to 14 times more likely than men to die in a natural disaster, an ‘alarming’ statistic, according to UNFPA Sub-Regional Director Nikolai Botev. ‘The special needs of vulnerable people should not be ignored during the planning of emergency preparedness,’ Botev said. Several hundred people attended the Orange Fest, an annual rock festival organised by UNFPA in Almaty’s Central Park, which this year also served to engage the audience through role-plays and discussions on what they can do to stay safe and be prepared in the event of an emergency.

Youth in Kosovo prepared and presented a theatrical play to audiences in three different municipalities that focused on migration issues, while local TV programmes discussed civil registration, family planning, and other population-related topics.

The growing number of refugees from Syria crossing into the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia lent a special urgency to World Population Day activities there highlighting efforts by UNFPA and other UN agencies to help migrants meet their basic needs, protect their health, and have their human rights respected. During a panel debate in Skopje, UN Resident Coordinator Louisa Vinton noted that one in five women refugees is pregnant and asked people to consider ‘the difficulties facing a pregnant woman from Syria who must travel thousands of miles from her home in Damascus, without any legal status, to reach safety’.

In Moldova, World Population Day 2015 saw the launch of the country’s first Demographic Barometer, a project carried out by the Demographic Research Centre in partnership with UNFPA and the Ministry of Labour, Social Protection, and Family. The initiative aims to make available more comprehensive and objective demographic data about Moldova’s population in order for more sustainable public policies to be developed.

There was a celebratory side to World Population Day commemorations too: In Uzbekistan, folk dances and songs, children’s games, and sports were among the highlights of the day’s events, with a women’s marathon and other competitions and performances held at Bobir Park in the capital city of Tashkent.