Tullio Santini, Coordinator of UNICEF North Caucasus Programme
Working in the North Caucasus - An interview with Tulio Santini, UNICEF's coordinator for the North Caucasus
Would you like to describe a typical work day, if there is such a thing?
And then monthly visits to the North Caucasus (NC) region?
What are the biggest challenges facing UNICEF in the implementation of projects?
Therefore, raising sufficient funds has always been a serious challenge, to which I have devoted considerable energies throughout my last three-and-a-half years in Moscow. Thankfully, our programme has consistently been one of the best-funded UNICEF humanitarian/recovery operations around the world. By now key donors are confident that UNICEF is an agency that ‘knows what it is doing’ in the North Caucasus and is therefore worth investing in. The recent signing of a € 9.5m contract with the EU/TACIS, for our health and education programmes in the NC, is an encouraging confirmation of the solid reputation built by UNICEF in the region and a promising development for the future.
The second overarching challenge is security. The environment in the whole region remains volatile and unpredictable and UN agencies have to work under a particularly strict and heavily-regulated security regime, which includes the use of armoured vehicles (for Chechnya) and mobile armed escorts. Recently, it’s true, there have been significant positive developments in Chechnya, where the situation is progressively stabilizing. On the other hand, the entire region remains volatile; since my arrival in spring 2003, in fact, the security situation has even worsened in Chechnya’s neighbouring republics, Dagestan and Ingushetia.
You mentioned the transitional work plans, could you explain more about this transition from humanitarian aid to development assistance?
As confirmed by a recent VAM (Vulnerability Assessment Mapping), jointly conducted by UNICEF and WFP, key gaps in health, education and water & sanitation (including malnutrition, immunization levels, child and infant mortality and school attendance) continue to affect the lives of a large number of crisis-affected children and mothers, particularly in Chechnya and Ingushetia. UNICEF, therefore, still has programmes in these key areas, together with mine action. At the same time, more attention is being paid to longer term issues that also need to be addressed, such as the psychosocial rehabilitation of children, child protection issues as well as the promotion of peace and tolerance among children and youth.
It is also important to stress that UNICEF exercises a key leadership role in the region. Our agency, in fact, is currently acting as coordination focal point in four important sectors: education, mine action, water & sanitation as well as peace & tolerance.
What progress is being made regarding internally displaced children?
How is violence influencing the lives of the children in the region?
In addition, landmines and unexploded ordinance (UXO) continue to kill and wound children. According to the database that UNICEF supports – the only existing database that records landmines and UXO incidents involving civilians – more than 750 children have been either killed or wounded in the last 10 years in Chechnya.
Occasional reports produced by local human rights NGOs also refer to children who are allegedly abducted, detained or even taken hostage, particularly in Chechnya.
The psychosocial trauma of children is another impact of the violence that has affected Chechnya over the last 12 years. This has recently been recognized by the Chechen authorities, also thanks to UNICEF’s intense advocacy efforts, as one of their key priorities for the near and mid-term future. In addition, one should not forget all the serious impact on the normal physical, intellectual and psychological development of children from not having access to basic social services, such as health care, education, water, sanitation facilities.
How do you work around the political sensitivities of being based in Moscow but working on behalf of the North Caucasus region?
In addition, I invested considerable time and energy in studying the complex history, culture and anthropology of the North Caucasus region, as well as of Russia in general. Knowing the particularly complex relationship that has unfolded between the North Caucasus and Moscow over the last 300 years is a fundamental prerequisite to understand what has happened in the region over the last 15 years.
Finally Tullio, what are your hopes for the region? What keeps you going when things look bleak?
Moreover, now that the federal authorities in Moscow are investing more in human security in the North Caucasus - and with the continued support of the international community - my hope is that the future of the region, and that of its children and mothers, can be different.