PANAMA CITY, 8 May 2006 – On their first joint visit to the region, World Food Programme (WFP) Executive Director James T. Morris and UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman will meet in Panama City tomorrow with the heads of their Latin America and Caribbean country offices to intensify common efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals adopted by the international community.
The focus of the inter-agency meeting will be on combating child malnutrition and HIV/AIDS, preparing for the upcoming hurricane season and strengthening UN Reform initiatives across Latin America and the Caribbean.
The two agency heads also will meet with Panama Vice President and Foreign Minister Samuel Lewis Navarro to thank the Panamanian government for turning the City of Knowledge, an international campus located next to the Panama Canal, into a regional UN hub. In addition to WFP and UNICEF, two other United Nations agencies have established their regional offices here, and others are preparing to do so, with the aim of providing fully coordinated support to the region’s governments and civil societies.
Veneman said the region has made substantial progress and is on track to meeting several Millennium Development Goals, including those focused on child hunger, gender equity in education, child mortality and access to improved water sources. But she said that “huge disparities remain hidden behind national averages.”
“Because of inequality and poverty, millions of children are excluded from progress – particularly indigenous children and those of African descent,” Veneman said. “When children are raised in extreme poverty, they – and their countries – can suffer lasting repercussions.”
She said the inter-agency meeting will strengthen existing collaboration. Morris said that in a region where many countries are likely to achieve the MDG target of halving the proportion of children who are underweight for their age by the year 2015, “it is easy to forget that an even more insidious and invisible form of hunger – chronic malnutrition – is stunting the growth and undermining the development of nine million children, fully 16 per cent of the region’s girls and boys under the age of five.”
“Commitment to eradicating child malnutrition must be everyone’s priority – from the home to the village to the provincial, national, regional and global levels,” Morris stressed.
The agency chiefs will discuss with their country directors plans for advancing the Ending Child Hunger and Undernutrition Initiative in the region, where emphasis is being placed on eradicating persistent malnutrition.
HIV/AIDS, which continues to pose a major threat to development and MDG achievement in the region, will be another topic for discussion, with special focus on linking efforts to stop the spread of AIDS with programmes to combat child malnutrition and poverty. Two million people are living with HIV/AIDS in Latin America and the Caribbean – nearly half of them children and young people – while 752,000 children have been orphaned. The situation is particularly dire in the Caribbean, which at 2.3 per cent has the highest HIV prevalence anywhere in the world after Sub-Saharan Africa. UNICEF and the co-sponsoring agencies of UNAIDS, including WFP, are currently promoting the Unite for Children. Unite against AIDS campaign, seeking to end mother-to-child transmission of HIV, among other goals.
The WFP and UNICEF teams also will review their humanitarian action strategies for this disaster-prone region, and in particular, emergency preparedness and response plans in advance of the coming hurricane season. The two agencies coordinate their efforts in emergencies in the framework of the UN Regional Inter-Agency Standing Committee.
*** About UNICEF: For 60 years UNICEF has been the world’s leader for children, working on the ground in 155 countries and territories to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence. The world’s largest provider of vaccines for developing countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, good water and sanitation, quality basic education for all boys and girls, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation, and AIDS. UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations and governments.
About The World Food Programme (WFP): WFP is the world's largest humanitarian agency: each year, we give food to an average of 90 million poor people to meet their nutritional needs, including 61 million hungry children, in at least 80 of the world's poorest countries. WFP -- We Feed People. WFP Global School Feeding Campaign– For just 19 US cents a day, you can help WFP give children in poor countries a healthy meal at school – a gift of hope for a brighter future.