Every year Save the Children publishes, in conjunction with Mother’s Day in the US, its report on the State of the World’s Mothers. In this, the 15th report, the focus is on the millions of women and children living in fragile communities beset by conflict and natural disasters, and the effective solutions and recommended policy changes needed to support mothers living in such precarious environments.
More than 60 million women and children are in need of humanitarian assistance this year and over half of maternal and child deaths worldwide occur in crisis-affected places. 800 women die every day because of preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth and 56% of maternal and child deaths take place in fragile settings. Worldwide, women and children are up to 14 times more likely than men to die in a disaster. During the course of a pregnancy, almost 225,000 women and over 5 million children will die.
To understand the geographic pattern of threats to women and children, Save the Children has, since 2000, published its annual Mothers’ Index, which shows those countries where mothers and children fare best, and where they face the greatest hardships, using data on health, education, economics and female political participation. Over the years it has become clear that armed conflict, political instability and natural disasters play a major role in undermining the well-being of mothers and children in the world’s poorest countries. The 10 toughest places to be a mother in this year’s Mothers’ Index all have a recent history of armed conflict and are considered to be fragile states. Six of the bottom 10 countries suffer from recurring natural disasters.
Violence and conflict have uprooted more families than at any time on record. By the end of 2012, more than 45 million people worldwide were forcibly displaced due to conflict or persecution. In addition, natural disasters, displaced more than 32 million in 2012. Of the more than 80 million people projected to be in need of humanitarian assistance in 2014, over three-quarters are women and children.
This report looks in depth at four different countries impacted by humanitarian emergencies – civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo, civil war in Syria, Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines and Hurricane Sandy in the US.
Despite failings to protect and support mothers and children, the report believes progress is possible, even in countries suffering from devastating humanitarian crises. and recommends we:
- Ensure that every newborn and mother living in crisis has access to high quality healthcare;
- Invest in women and girls and ensure their protection;
- Build longer term resilience to minimise the damaging impacts of crises on health;
- Design emergency interventions with a longer term view and the specific needs of mothers and newborns in mind; and
- Ensure political engagement and adequate financing, coordination and research around maternal and newborn health in crisis setting.
This report acts as a powerful call to action to focus on issues of maternal and child health and protection. But there is less emphasis on nutrition and diet, critical factors in the health of women and their children. For every person killed directly by armed violence, between 3 and 15 die indirectly from diseases, medical complications and malnutrition, factors that can be prevented through the provision of nutritious food, education on nutrition and quality, accessible healthcare. All of these things are made harder to come by in times of turmoil, hardship and disaster. While improving maternal and child health in poor countries is of utmost importance, this report reminds us that this challenge is made harder but no less important in times of humanitarian disaster, times that look set to increase under future climate change and resource scarcity.