MDG summit events close at UNICEF with a call to action on helping the most vulnerable
By Anja Baron and Melissa Gorelick
NEW YORK, USA, 23 September 2010 – At UNICEF’s closing event for the UN Millennium Development Goals summit last night, experts and world leaders gathered to highlight the importance of reaching the world’s most disadvantaged and hardest-to-reach children in order to achieve the MDGs with equity by 2015.
Held at UNICEF headquarters in New York, the signature event – a high-level panel entitled, ‘Children and the MDGs: Reaching the Most Vulnerable’ – focused on recent data revealing inequities that still exist for children in the developing world.
UNICEF’s latest ‘Progress for Children’ report argues that focusing on the poorest and most marginalized children and families is not only the right thing to do but also the most cost-effective way to meet the MDGs. A related UNICEF study, ‘Narrowing the Gaps to Meet the Goals,’ shows that 60 per cent more deaths of children under the age of five could be prevented by targeting aid to those in the most remote areas.
Greatest need, greatest return
“We can’t be satisfied with opportunity for anyone until there is opportunity for everyone,” said UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake during his opening statement at the panel discussion. “If we work where there is the greatest need, then we get the greatest return in real results.”
At the heart of the discussion, moderated by CNN correspondent Jim Clancy, was an assessment of the progress made by individual countries and the unique perspectives they brought to achieving the MDGs with equity.
“We should always consider that [children] are our future generation,” said the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina. She added that the international community must carefully consider “how we can assist them, how we can help them and keep the world a safe place.”
Also on hand for the panel were Slovenian President Danilo Türk, Rockefeller Foundation President Dr. Judith Rodin, UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Mia Farrow and the Minister of Brazil’s Human Rights Secretariat, Paulo Vannuchi.
Panellists at the event noted that conventional aid programming has generally aimed to assist the maximum number of recipients – rather than also seeking out those who are especially difficult to reach due to social status, extreme poverty, geographical isolation or gender.
As a result – and despite real progress made on the MDGs since world leaders committed to the goals almost a decade ago – gender and geography still play a powerful role in determining the prospects for children in developing countries. In fact, children under five from the poorest and most remote areas are twice as likely to die as their most affluent counterparts in those countries.
But inequity does not exists in developing countries alone. President Türk of Slovenia spoke to the issue of the Roma people, an ethnic minority group that frequently suffers discrimination in Central and Eastern Europe.
“There are pockets of poverty in Europe, and groups that have disadvantaged for a very long time,” he said. “Sometimes it’s very difficult to address their problems for a variety of political, cultural and other reasons.... I think that UNICEF, with equity and identification of the vulnerable, provides a point of departure for that.”
‘No acceptable reason’ for suffering
For her part, UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Mia Farrow helped to assess the situation facing the world five years before the MDG deadline.
“In today’s world,” she said, “there’s no acceptable reason for children to starve, to have no education or to be sentenced to death, or a life of disability, because they didn’t have a malaria net, or access to drinkable water, or the same polio vaccine that has been available to us in the developed world for over half a century.”
In a separate interview after the panel, Ms. Farrow spotlighted some of the most vulnerable communities she has visited in her years as a Goodwill Ambassador. She recalled seeing the remains of destroyed villages in remote areas of the Central African Republic, where civil strife had devastated the local population.
“Burned village after burned village,” Ms. Farrow said, describing the scene. “Whenever I think that, I feel a little helpless or hopeless, but I think of the courage of those people and I feel completely galvanized all over again. We must reach these people.”
Time for urgent action
Ms. Farrow further emphasized the critical importance of achieving the MDGs with equity.
“By reaching out to the poorest people on earth, the most abandoned and the most impoverished, we are really bringing up the entire standard of living for the world that we and our children are going to be living in,” she said.
After the MDG summit’s three vibrant days of events, it is clear that there remains no alternative but to act now – and quickly – to reach the world’s most vulnerable children.