Thoraya Ahmed Obaid

UNITED NATIONS (WOMENSENEWS)–Trucks carrying life-saving medicine and surgical supplies have been arriving in Pakistan-administered Kashmir, the area worst hit by Saturday’s devastating earthquake.

The United Nations Population Fund is joining this effort and paying particular attention to the needs of women in the affected region.

Four of our trucks, loaded with medicine and supplies, were sent almost immediately after the quake struck to Mansehra, Pakistan.

With the re-opening of the road to Muzzafarabad, the capital of Pakistan-administered Kashmir, the fund has dispatched four additional trucks of supplies and mobilized medical staff in other districts to assist local officials in humanitarian response and the assessment of additional health needs.

But this response is not enough. The fund now needs $3.2 million in new contributions to meet the urgent needs of women, including pregnant women and those with newborns.

We need $2.2 million to help provide immediate maternal health and emergency obstetric care. On top of that, we need $1 million for emergency hygiene supplies. The fund’s operational partners include the Pakistan Ministry of Health, the World Health Organization and UNICEF.

Anyone watching the devastating coverage on CNN or the BBC knows of the desperation and fear engulfing those affected by this natural disaster. The U.N. Population Fund is responding swiftly and immediately to address the humanitarian needs of women, children and their families.

Emergency Obstetric Care

Even in the best of circumstances, some 15 percent of pregnant women also require emergency obstetric care to avoid maternal and infant deaths. We are now concerned that the physical and psychological trauma caused by Saturday’s devastating quake could push this figure even higher.

Many hospitals in Pakistan-administered Kashmir and Northwest Frontier Province were completely destroyed or made unusable by the 7.6 magnitude earthquake.

Tens of thousands of women in the affected areas are currently pregnant, and need adequate nutrition, medicines and antenatal care to deliver safely.

Once the immediate humanitarian crisis has been addressed, women must be a part of both initial response and longer-term planning.

Our experience in responding to the earthquake in Bam, Iran, and to the tsunami shows us that needs relating to pregnancy and hygiene must be addressed from the outset.

Maternal care–including emergency obstetric care–saves lives. Hygiene supplies–including soap, washcloths and clothing–are important to help people who have lost everything to maintain their dignity and to ensure that the mobility of women is not impeded at this critical time.

Today’s Population Report

Today, the United Nations Population Fund releases our report, “State of World Population 2005.”

In many ways, this report details how the world is falling short of ambitious and important targets–known as the millennium development goals–for lifting women out of poverty, disease, illiteracy and other hardships.

As part of this report, we outline concrete examples of interventions that have resulted in real improvements in the lives of individuals, families and the countries in which they live.

The report can be found on our Web site and it provides a complex picture of the state of the world. There, we can also find clear-cut directives including how to best help the women imperiled by this horrendous earthquake.

Great, 60-Year-Old Vision

Sixty years ago, in the ashes of World War II, leaders of the world came together to create a great vision for the future: the United Nations, where people could agree upon very basic and simple ways of helping all branches of the same human family grow in a healthy, just and equitable way.

Today, that vision still seems futuristic.

As we contemplate the immediate crises of people caught in earthquakes and in wars, we must also acknowledge that billions of people live every day in fear or want.

Hundreds of millions go to bed hungry each night. Vast education gaps persist between women and men. Legal systems deny many women their human rights. Disease is a constant companion for billions: every minute of every day, a woman dies somewhere from complications of pregnancy and six people die of AIDS.

It has been clear for decades that the key to solving many of these global challenges lies in fulfilling the promise of equal rights for women and girls.

Today’s reality is that reproductive health problems account for one-third of the burden of disease worldwide among women of childbearing age (15 to 44). In Africa, the figure is two-thirds. More than half a million women die from pregnancy-related causes every year, nearly all of them in poor countries.

The world cannot afford to neglect the women who need our immediate help in Pakistan. Nor can it continue on a slow track for gender equality.

Over and over again, in global conferences dating back to 1994 and in study after study, leaders and scholars have agreed that meeting women’s needs generates progress in every indicator of social and economic well-being. Over and over again, they have promised to make the necessary investments in women’s health care, rights and education. But those promises have simply not been fulfilled.

It is not understanding we lack; it is political will. With the commitment to the rights and health of women by the largest-ever gathering of world leaders, I hope political will would more readily be available in countries where it is lacking.

Let us not fail to help the women in Pakistan now. Let’s be wise and generous toward them, knowing that they are only the most conspicuous recipient of a global rescue effort of women that is long overdue.

Thoraya Ahmed Obaid is under-secretary-general of the United Nations and executive director of UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund.

For more information:

United Nations Population Fund: