Climate Disasters Expose Pregnant Women To Unimaginable Risks

THE world is experiencing a shift in climatic conditions and with this shift a number of natural disasters are occurring, leaving millions exposed to various unhealthy conditions.

By Michael Gwarisa

Two months ago, Zimbabwe witnessed what has been termed the world natural disaster in Africa South of the Sahara by climate experts following the devastation and loss of lives that was experienced as a result of Tropical Cyclone Idai.

Even though government and Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) ramped up efforts to provide the affected victims with basic necessities ranging from food, shelter, sanitary wear amongst a whole list of other amenities, it has been noted than climate disasters causes systems to break down, increasing multiple needs for protection and services.

Pregnant women however at the receiving end of the disasters. According to the State of the World Population (SWP19), during the initial rush to provide food and shelter, responders may overlook the particular ways a crisis can increase the vulnerability of women and girls and threaten their lives.

“Experiencing a natural disaster or fleeing violence can be extremely harrowing for pregnant women and mothers of small children.

“Trauma and malnutrition are dangerous during pregnancy, and during emergencies many women miscarry or deliver prematurely. The lack of even basic conditions for a clean delivery increases the risk of a fatal infection for both mother and child (UNFPA, 2004),” said the SWP19.

The report further indicated that complications of childbirth in the absence of skilled birth attendants or emergency obstetric care often lead to death or serious injury such as obstetric fistula. In Zimbabwe however, government with assistance from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) has been airlifting expecting mothers affected by Cyclone Idai to referral hospitals that include Chipinge and Mutambara.

“The disruption of family planning is also life-threatening. Sexually active women without access to contraceptives, due to a lack of services or legal restrictions, risk unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections including HIV.

“Many who become pregnant resort to unsafe abortion, a leading cause of maternal death and injury. Safe abortion services are often minimal or non-existent in crisis settings, even where allowed under the law, and lifesaving post-abortion care is often unavailable.”

Meanwhile, recent research indicates that at least one in five refugees or displaced women in complex humanitarian settings have experienced sexual violence, though it is often unreported (Vu and others, 2014).

Survivors usually suffer psychological and  physical trauma, as well as unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections,  including HIV. People with disabilities are particularly vulnerable to sexual violence, and may have more difficulty accessing help after an attack.

“Men and boys are also at risk, and the norms that discourage women and girls from reporting assaults can be even more of a deterrent to coming forward in their case (IFRC, 2018).

“Fear of sexual assault or exploitation and abuse restrict the mobility of many refugee and displaced women. Some families in dire circumstances resort to child marriage, hoping that marrying their daughters off will protect the girls from violence,” added the report.

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