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Tuesday, March 20, 2018
Melissa Kuklin is Executive Director, Friends of UNFPA
NEW YORK, Sep 6 2017 (IPS) - As we watch disasters unfold – the flooding in Houston, Texas as well as the floods in India, Bangladesh, and Nepal that have killed over 1,200 people – we are grateful for the many humanitarians who risk their lives to help others.
In today’s world it seems as if we are always facing new catastrophic emergencies. Thankfully there are always aid workers there, risking their lives in these humanitarian crises. In addition to providing the food, water, and shelter that we see on the news, aid workers also provide reproductive care for women whose needs are often overlooked during disasters.
Workers like midwife Marie Lyrette Casimir, who risked her own life to deliver six babies in waist-deep water when Hurricane Matthew struck Haiti.
Marie Lyrette was trained by UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, the lead United Nations agency working to ensure every pregnancy is wanted, every childbirth is safe, and every young person’s potential is fulfilled.
In addition to training midwives, UNFPA provides services often overlooked in the aftermath of an emergency. Because emergencies make it impossible for women to go to the closest clinic or hospital to give birth, UNFPA works on ensuring safe delivery services and emergency obstetric care are available. It also provides contraception and basic hygiene items, such as underwear and menstrual pads. Since sexual violence increases in humanitarian circumstances, UNFPA also provides counseling and safe spaces for women and girls.
This summer at Friends of UNFPA, we asked our supporters to write notes of thanks to the individuals who work at clinics, such as the one in Zaatari, and we were overwhelmed by the outpouring of support. Hundreds and hundreds of Americans wrote to say how much they value this work and the people who carry it out, regardless of the daunting circumstances.
By cutting all U.S. funds to UNFPA, the Trump-Pence Administration indicates it does not value this work. It doesn’t value the brave people risking their own lives to deliver care. And it doesn’t value the women, children, and families who depend upon it for their very lives. In fact, the claim that Donald Trump cares about women and their health would be farcical if the impact of the Administration’s policies wasn’t so tragic. For example, without the U.S. contribution to UNFPA, 48,000 women in Syria and the surrounding countries will now have even greater difficulty accessing safe delivery services.
The Trump-Pence Administration’s decision to withhold appropriated funding from UNFPA was based on the long-debunked lie that the agency supports coercive abortion and family planning in China. This preposterous claim was disproven over a decade ago by the State Department when it was made by the George W. Bush Administration. Even worse this time around is that the claim by the Trump-Pence Administration lacked any supporting arguments or facts. They simply stated that because UNFPA operates in China, it is therefore safe to assume that it supports the country’s population control policies.
But at Friends of UNFPA we see right through this absurdity for what it is: a political move to win points from those in the President and Vice President’s base who ideologically oppose any form of modern family planning whatsoever.
Members of Congress have claimed that the money withheld from UNFPA will be used in similar programs by USAID. But this simply isn’t true; UNFPA works in more than three times as many countries as USAID; countries that are home to more than 80 percent of the world’s population. One telling example: USAID recently released its 2017 Acting on the Call report, which highlights U.S. efforts to end preventable maternal deaths. The report noted that USAID-Yemen had “fully evacuated staff and suspended development activities” and therefore was unable to achieve targeted goals for providing water, sanitation, skilled birth attendance, and contraception.
But while USAID-Yemen evacuated, UNFPA has never stopped working to meet the urgent reproductive health and protection needs of women and girls since the crisis in the country began more than two years ago. With local authorities, non-governmental partners, and other UN agencies, UNFPA has supplied sexual and reproductive to health care to nearly one million people.
Millions of Americans value the work of humanitarians and have empathy for the world’s most vulnerable. This Administration does not speak for those Americans. I encourage anyone moved by the stories above to contact their Members of Congress and urge them to support the work of UNFPA. Contact them on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook – this engagement makes a huge difference. You can also visit FriendsofUNFPA.org for more ways to help.
Through these actions, we can all act as humanitarians – even when the Trump-Pence Administration does not.
The statements and views mentioned in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of IPS.
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