The terms refugee or Internally Displaced Person (IDP) infer impermanence and a sense of people and communities in transit to a better, safer life. Yet since the Second World War the opposite has been true. Rather than a short-term situation, it is a full-time reality. Even more tragically, for an increasing number of children, it is the only situation they have ever known. In the IDP camps in northern Nigeria it is estimated that approximately 30 births take place a month. In Europe and the Middle East it is estimated that close to 50,000 babies have been born in exile as a result of the Syrian civil war, many in horrendous conditions.
On Humanitarian Day it is right that we mark the plight of the millions affected and displaced by humanitarian crises across the globe. But we should also talk about practical action that can be taken now to improve the lives of people displaced through such crises - none more so than mothers and children.
There are two areas where an immediate difference can be made. The first is child and maternal mortality. If a mother receives sustained pre and post-natal care her chances of survival and that of her newborn is infinitely improved. In a study by the Guttmacher Institute the proportion of women who had had four or more antenatal care visits was lower among refugee women who died (33%) than among the general refugee population where the death rate was over double (79%). If we can train and deliver more midwives and more health workers with maternal and paediatric skills then we can save lives - it is as clear as that.
On a global level, we already have the The Global Financing Facility (GFF), a key financing platform of the UN Secretary-General's Every Woman Every Child Global Strategy 2.0 - part of the Sustainable Development Goals. It is a country-driven financing partnership that brings all of the key global players together to provide smart, scaled and sustainable financing to accelerate efforts to end preventable maternal, newborn, child and adolescent deaths by 2030. If we could galvanise the international community to replicate this model directly for the millions of mothers and children who find themselves outside of normal state structures, and beyond any formal welfare system then the impact could be transformational. More can be done to certify and register refugees and displaced people and improve their rights. And organisations such as the one I chair, the Wellbeing Foundation Africa, and many others have shown at the local camp level that ramping up capacity and training for health workers within refugee and IDP camps can have a near-immediate difference in the life chances of mothers and newborns. This intervention now needs to be scaled.
If child and maternal mortality is the first crucial issue we must address, sexual and gender based violence is the second. The grim estimation by the UN is that roughly 35% of women globally have experienced physical or sexual violence at some point in their lives. While data is hard to verify, it is believed that this number jumps massively in conflict and post-conflict zones, including in refugee and IDP camps which should in theory be a relative sanctuary. The international community should prioritise the protection of women and children in conflict and post-conflict zones and ensure that it is recognised as a priority in any peace agreements or agreements signed with countries hosting refugee or IDP camps. So far this issue simply isn't addressed formally. Of the 1168 peace agreements signed between 1990 to 2013 less than a fifth referenced women or gender - virtually none dealt directly with the issue of sexual or gender-based violence. Yet I have seen the destructive effects of such behavior with my own eyes in visits to Nigeria's IDP camps. It is an issue we have been grappling with for many years but it is a global problem.
Humanitarian crises, especially in the current context, are seemingly near-impossible to solve due to their vastness and complexity. But these crises are a reality and we must look to make incremental improvements to the lives of those suffering from them at the same time as solving the problem as a whole. For my part, I believe there is no better point to start than by improving and protecting the lives of those at most risk: mothers and children. There is no time to lose.