UNFPA partners with civil society to ensure inclusive response to Cyclone Pam

24 March 2015

UNFPA Pacific, Port Vila, Vanuatu, (March 23, 2015) - The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and grassroots Vanuatu non-government organizations (NGOs) in the Cyclone Pam-ravaged Pacific island nation of Vanuatu, have agreed on a general framework of collaboration Monday, that will drive assistance by and for their communities.

The gathering marked the first time that over 20 community-based NGOs committed to sexual and reproductive health and gender protection converged to plan lifesaving responses.

UNFPA Pacific Sub-Regional Office Team Leader, Gideon Mael said the meeting was to mobilize critical local partners for a SRH response to Cyclone Pam, and to share information on UNFPA's humanitarian mandate and capacity as a partner.

"The UNFPA has always engaged civil society in its programming and we recognize that their participation was crucial - they know the local context and they have their networks which reach deep into communities all the way to the most vulnerable, and the most resilient," Mr. Mael said.

"The meeting was a dynamic discussion, they all knew what their communities needed and they submitted their priorities and budgets, for action over a three-month period."

The discussion which included the Ministry for Health, National Youth Council and Department of Women, and affiliate organizations of the civil society umbrella body, Vanuatu Association of NGOs (VANGO) revolved around four main areas: Sexual Reproductive Health in Emergencies, Adolescence Sexual Reproductive Health, Gender-Based Violence Prevention and Response and Community-Based Psychosocial First-Aid.

With assessment results now providing more clarity on Vanuatu's national disaster situation, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) team began arriving March 22 with critically-needed maternal health and family planning supplies; further expertise in the area of gender and protection in humanitarian situation, and sexual and reproductive health medical staff will continue to arrive progressively in the next weeks.

The UNFPA team met with the National Disaster Management Office (NDMO), Director Shadrick Welegtabit who welcomed UNFPA's contribution, particularly the provision of dignity kits adding: "Having agencies like you addressing specific needs has been an enormous help to us; we are doing what we can but if you see any gaps or areas that need to addressed, please let us know."

One of the strategies discussed was "community conversations" and outreach to pregnant and lactating women and youth.

Dignity kits with hygiene supplies are prepared for women in humanitarian situations, the impact of which is experienced differently by women and girls though their needs are not usually prioritized in national responses. Kit distribution in evacuation centers will be complimented by antenatal care and screenings as well monitoring of protection concerns.

A 2012 study on the prevalence of violence against in Vanuatu reported 60 per cent intimate partner violence and 48 per cent non-partner violence. Gender-based violence (GBV) can be exacerbated in emergency evacuation centers and host-family accommodation. Vanuatu civil society partners had concrete and safe ways for supporting GBV prevention and response.

"We know there are high incidences of GBV from the 2012 Family Health and Safety Studies. We are monitoring this aspect very carefully because if women are not reporting or unable to access health care then we want to understand what the barriers are and be able to respond," Maha Muna, UNFPA Gender Adviser said.

The NDMO notes that evacuation centers have begun to shut down as people return home; 35 remain open, housing over 3000 people. UN agencies, coordinated by the Gender and Protection Cluster, are supporting the Government to ensure safe, informed and voluntary return.

Based on the findings of the 2013 Demographics Health Survey, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) estimates there are 56,000 women of reproductive age of which 6700 are estimated to be pregnant. It's estimated that 300 women may experience pregnancy-related complications over the next three-month period.

Support for ensuring sexual and reproductive health is included in national responses to ensure an inclusive recovery came from high quarters March 22 when during a meeting with the Vanuatu Prime Minister Joe Natuman, Australia's Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop emphasized her government's support for mechanisms related to sexual and reproductive health.

Ms Bishop said the importance of addressing reproductive health-related issues in response was a "lesson learnt" for her Government from the humanitarian situation in Haiyan, in the Philippines.

Ms Bishop commended the Government of Vanuatu for recognizing and establishing within its response system a Gender and Protection component. The Gender and Protection Cluster is chaired by the Department of Women, Ministry for Justice and supported by the Pacific Humanitarian team.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) is compiling a flash appeal - a planning and resource-mobilization mechanism - outlining the priority humanitarian life-saving needs over the next three months.

UNFPA initiatives in the Flash Appeal, to be announced today, March 24, will provide $480,000 in emergency reproductive health services and $200,000 GBV prevention and response programming which supplements the current UNFPA response.

For more information, please contact:

Gideon Mael, Programme Analyst - +678 7774412
Maha Muna, Gender Adviser - +678 7118023
Claire Davies, Family Planning & Youth Sexual Reproductive Health Specialist - + 678 5433557
Ariela Zibiah, Communication Analyst - +678 5467176