The 7.2 magnitude earthquake to most recently wreak havoc on Haiti sent the island nation into further distress after the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse left the country reeling in a state of political instability. With aftershocks from the earthquake still pulsing through the island, Tropical Storm Grace brought Haiti to its knees with heavy rainfall and flooding.
When these disasters strike, the reproductive health needs of people become even more dire. And that’s why it’s crucial that we support the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). During and after disasters, UNFPA deploys hygiene materials, contraception, and obstetric supplies, as well as training for health personnel to address the reproductive health needs of women and young people.
The regions most vulnerable to climate disasters are home to the populations that have contributed the least to climate change. Per capita, carbon emissions are extremely low in countries such as Haiti, but that doesn’t stop Haitians and other marginalized people around the world from bearing the brunt of the climate crisis.
As a result of climate change, island countries in the Caribbean are experiencing more frequent and severe storms and flooding, and they don’t have adequate resources and people power to respond and recover. These already fragile countries, economically dependent on tourism and agriculture, are often totally devastated by natural disasters.
It is women and girls who often suffer the most in the face of climate disasters. As most women in low-income countries tend to be economically disadvantaged, due to limited educational and employment opportunities, they are generally less prepared to meet the financial demands of recovery from disasters. Additionally, they are more likely to be victims of discrimination for disaster assistance and aid during the recovery phase.
Loss of life, food insecurity, and displacement from disasters are compounded by lack of access to family planning, safe abortion services, prenatal care, and increased risk of sexual violence for women and girls.
The crisis of Haiti’s 2010 earthquake resulted in pregnancy rates that were three times higher in displaced person camps than in urban areas before the earthquake and rates of maternal mortality that ranked among the world’s worst. Though the 2010 earthquake further imperiled women and girls, they were already an incredibly vulnerable group in the country; women in Haiti died during pregnancy and childbirth at alarmingly high rates even before the earthquake.
They were also victims of domestic and sexual violence, crushing poverty, and a stark disparity in access to education compared to men. Strides made to improve the lives of women and girls since the 2010 earthquake have been jeopardized once again, this time by a devastating combination of political instability, natural disaster, and climate change.
We do, however, have the advantage of having learned from the mistakes made during the recovery response of the past earthquake in Haiti. This is an opportunity to approach this disaster in a well-coordinated and timely manner that prioritizes reproductive health and gender justice.
The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) plays a vital role in providing humanitarian aid during conflicts, natural disasters, and public health emergencies. The agency does so by establishing safe spaces for women and girls, providing basic emergency obstetric and newborn care, and engaging affected communities with effective family planning methods.
This is why it’s so important that the U.S. increase funding for UNFPA. The House of Representatives recently passed the FY 2022 State Department and Foreign Operations Appropriations bill. The bill included a total of $830 million for international family planning programs, $70 million of which is to be directed to UNFPA. This represents the first funding increase for the program in more than a decade.
As the Senate turns to its appropriations process this September, we must call on our elected officials to support an increase of funding to UNFPA so that it can carry out its vital programming in the most disadvantaged places around the world.