You are here

The lights are flashing red as we look at the cascade of humanitarian crises in Asia
and the Pacific. The economic crisis in Sri Lanka is just the latest in a staggering list
of complex crises from Afghanistan to Tonga. These emergencies have a common
thread: marginalised groups face greater barriers to access basic services,
especially when it comes to their sexual and reproductive health and rights.
The expanding list of humanitarian responses demonstrates the inability of current
systems to adequately meet the needs of all people in ongoing disasters, from
climate change induced natural hazards to economic and political meltdowns.
Devastating floods in Bangladesh have displaced millions since the start of the year
and left tens of thousands without access to basic sanitation and menstrual hygiene.
In Sri Lanka, pregnant women are waiting in fuel queues and hoping that hospitals
have staff, supplies and medicine for them to have a safe delivery.
On World Humanitarian Day, we celebrate the courageous humanitarians
responding to today's emergencies across Asia and the Pacific region. But we need
to do more than expand our calls for funding; we need to expand our understanding
of humanitarian crises, present and future. As we lurch from crisis to crisis that
disrupt normality and security for millions in the region, we need to accept that we
are all humanitarians in the age of emergencies and we all have a role to play to
help our communities prepare and respond effectively.
This requires a societal mind-set shift. It means civil society and the private sector
must be given space to take the lead in preparing communities with the resources
and training they need to protect everyone, particularly the most vulnerable, before,
during and after a disaster. Governments are key partners that can provide funding
to empower schools, religious institutions, healthcare networks and women's
groups with the supplies and skills to respond when emergencies happen.

Already today's humanitarians are our neighbours, teachers, colleagues and
families. In the emergencies of tomorrow, it will be our community that provides
frontline solutions and life-saving care. Supporting communities with the services
and skills that uphold human dignity is everyone’s project for our collective good.
Earlier this week I visited Cox’s Bazar where I met with Rohingya refugees, the host
communities and UNFPA’s partners, both governmental and civil society
organizations. The Women Led Community Centre, supported by UNFPA and our
donors, and run by partners on the ground, offers both girls and boys life-skills that
empower them and the knowledge to tackle gender-based violence. This is only
one example of how various stakeholders come together, placing the notion of ‘It
Takes a Village’ at the heart of our humanitarian response.
A collaborative mindset is critical in discussions about how to deliver, protect and
maintain sexual and reproductive health services for the most vulnerable before and
after emergencies happen. We should learn from the under-utilised power of civil
society. Governments need to include more voices of health professionals,
educators, business and community leaders, female entrepreneurs, young people
and IT professionals in their emergency planning process. These diverse groups can
take positive actions if they are included in planning and response.
More open and agile technology, like the Tupaia project that Beyond Essential
developed in partnership with UNFPA creates transparency for sexual and
reproductive health services and supplies in the Pacific, fused with the knowledge
of frontline community groups will lead to better-informed partners for
governments that can help solve the problems that future disasters will present.
An empowered civil society is important but it is just one part of a mosaic of
solutions. Governments still need to support the skills, infrastructure and
communications platforms that will be lifelines when floods, droughts, political
crises or armed conflicts impact communities. Countries most impacted by disasters
need to expand investments in government solutions like midwives, training and
health centres. As we have seen in the response to the earthquake in Afghanistan,
empowering midwives with emergency obstetric training saves lives, especially in
remote areas.
In present and future emergencies, the collaboration of governments, civil society
organisations and the private sector is absolutely vital. This resilient ecosystem of
partnerships built on preparedness will continue to transform the future of
humanitarian response and we all have a role to play in transforming how we handle

emergencies. We need a seat for everyone to be at the table to ensure no one is left
behind when disasters hit.


Björn Andersson is the Director of Asia Pacific Regional Office of the United Nations
Population Fund, the UN sexual and reproductive health agency.