Humanitarian situations and fragile communities are going to increase, and in the Pacific region, this will be compounded by population movements as the tentacles of climate change reach into the heart of personal and food security. As it is, root crops typically grown in smaller Pacific islands and atolls are being progressively damaged and already indicating the high cost of living as salinized water tables, pushed up by rising sea levels, propel people to imported food, inevitably changing nutrition and dietary habits.
The causes of such expected scenarios are well known and documented; many lament that those already impacted by climate change contributed the least to the human causes of such weather pattern changes, which now threatens the very essence of Pacific communities’ livelihoods.
As we lament imminent life-changing events, most island nations are witnessing progress on adaptation and climate change-related responses which for the most part, have largely been physical or infrastructural if you will: seawall constructions or mangrove planting being the most common and all of which very important and responsive to people’s needs as identified by local communities.
One must however ask of the basic needs of the people particularly in terms of reproductive, maternal, newborn, children’s and adolescents’ health (RMNCAH), which if done well can be the game-changer to the adaptive capacities of communities, thus strengthening resilience.
According to the Towards a New Global Strategy for Women’s, Children’s and Adolescents’ Health report published by the British Medical Journal, the worst mortality and morbidity rates for women and children occur in “chaotic environments that are caused by and create breakdowns in governance, rule of law and support systems”.
More than 74 per cent of the 84 million in need for humanitarian assistance in 2014 were women and children; generally-speaking, 95 per cent of disaster fatalities occur in low and middle income countries. Evidence affirm that 60 per cent of preventable maternal deaths, and 53 per cent of preventable deaths of under 5 deaths occur in conflict settings and during natural disasters.
At any given time, four per cent of population reeling from some form of natural disaster are pregnant, 15 per cent of whom will experience an obstetric complication that will either end in death or life-long injury; this is compounded by forced or transactional sex. In the Pacific, 8 in 10 children and 7 in 10 women experience violence or abuse at some point in their lives: this worsens in fragile settings.
Fundamental to the realization of and access to reproductive, maternal, newborn, children’s and adolescents’ health in humanitarian situations or fragile times is gender equality. In ‘normal’ times, inequality impedes access to sexual and reproductive health and services and perpetuates harmful practices like early marriages, risks increases for women or young girls during humanitarian situation or in fragile communities.
When you consider that typically, women and young people are first responders after a natural disaster, ensuring they are at the center of national responses and recovery plans couldn’t be more emphasized. Being considerate in this manner, with the inclusion of newborn and children’s health, one can arguably say that the approach cements inclusivity and sustainability although structural and social determinants across the Pacific continue to undermine the health status of women, newborn, children and adolescents.
Two weeks ago on September 28 (2015) the Global Strategy for Women’s Children’s and Adolescents’ Health (RMNCAH) was launched by the United Nations (UN) Secretary-General. The initiative, representative of commitment of more than US$25 billion in the next five years, includes new policies and ground-breaking partnerships from 40 countries and over 100 international organizations, philanthropic foundations, UN agencies, civil society and the private sector.
From Monday (October 26, 2015), stakeholders (including Governments, civil society, UN agencies and other regional development organizations) in the areas of RMNCAH and climate change will converge in Nadi for a three-day talanoa which in itself addresses an existing gap in the climate change adaptation discourse.
“Many of us are aware of the various climate change adaptation occurring in our communities which themselves would have been decided upon after consultation with stakeholders,” Dr Laurent Zessler said.
“The Creating Waves on the Sustainable Development Goals discussions is a similar consultation but in the area of reproductive, maternal, newborn, children’s and adolescents’ health in the context of the climate change, the latter will also mean increased humanitarian or fragile situations.
“It is a preparatory gathering as well for a collective Pacific stance on these issues to other global meetings.”
Discussing it at this level will ensure that the Pacific voice will be loud and potentially cause ripples across global conversations come COP21 (21st session of the Conference of Parties to the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris, France, December 2015), the first World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul, Turkey in May 2016 and/or the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development in Quito, Ecuador, October 2016.
As we embark on the journey to realize Sustainable Development Goals, priorities must also not miss the unfinished business of the Millennium Development Goals, particularly the achievement of MDGs 4, 5 and 6.
Apart from capitalizing on the momentum of MDGs’ gains, let us not forget that just as important is the specificity of addressing reproductive, maternal, newborn, children’s and adolescents’ health in all our national and regional planning for it is an imperative.
Investment in the health, wellbeing and dignity of women, young people and children have a powerful role in shoring up the resilience of Pacific communities: we know what to do to ensure that no one is left behind.