Health and protection concerns for flood-displaced women in Nepal

Among the 7,000 families living in camps for the displaced since the Koshi River – the country’s largest – burst its banks on 18 August, women and girls are most vulnerable, say agencies, as facilities in Sunsari and Saptari districts lack adequate healthcare and protection.

A principal concern is lack of privacy for women treated in health centres, and the dearth of specialised health services for children and female medical workers, according to the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Nepal. “There is a lack of separate maternal healthcare and this could risk the health of pregnant women, new mothers and their newborn,” said Hemlalta Chaudhary, a village facilitator from Sabal, a local NGO supported by the UN Children’s Agency (UNICEF).

According to the government’s District Public Health Offices (DPHO) in both Saptari and Sunsari districts, there are almost 1,000 pregnant women, with more than half of them in Saptari camps.

More than 15 are said to be about to give birth, the DPHO reports, and officials maintain that provisions for safe deliveries were being made. However, women on the ground remain sceptical. “I hope the government will come to help on time,” Sabitri Mukhia, who is seven months pregnant, said. “This is my first child and I don’t want her to be born in this camp,” she added, concerned by the lack of maternal care facilities almost a month after the camps were established. Her worries were shared by health workers.

To date, no separate site for delivery has been erected, ambulance service remains erratic, and most serious of all, there is a shortage of female healthcare workers, they say. Once the baby is born, it will be forced to live in the tiny and cramped shelters with low ceilings, making it difficult to ward off the scorching heat or get fresh air.

The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) is planning to offer transport to health services away from shelters to ensure pregnancy-related complications are responded to quickly.

Several aid agencies and NGOs working with women and children have requested that the government boost security in the area due to possible risks and reported cases of violence and abuse of women, they told IRIN in Saptari District.

According to UNFPA, women and adolescent girls are highly vulnerable to gender-based violence due to inadequate lighting and security at night. The agency has therefore been advocating for the deployment of female police officers to the shelters for both day and night duty. There have been unverified reports of between five and 11 rape cases in Saptari over the past few days, OCHA said. “Young women and girls are living under vulnerable conditions and the weak security is putting many of them at sexual risk,” said Avha Setu Singh, a rights activist from a local NGO, Setu Community Development and Human Rights Forum.

Although government authorities maintain they have taken this issue on board, women on the ground more than one week later said no serious action had yet been taken.


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