Multiple emergencies and a new focus on reaching the most vulnerable children
NEW YORK, USA, 30 December 2010 – For UNICEF and the world’s children, the past 12 months have been marked by unprecedented difficulties and extraordinary opportunities. As 2010 draws to a close, it’s worth highlighting some of the moments that made this a year like no other.
VIDEO: Watch highlights of UNICEF's work in 2010. Produced and edited by John Mims. Watch in RealPlayer
The year began, tragically and ominously, with the devastating earthquake in Haiti on 12 January. The quake claimed more than 220,000 lives and displaced 1.6 million people. It was also was the single deadliest disaster ever for the United Nations, which lost over 100 staff members.
As Haitians dug out from the rubble, humanitarian aid agencies responded with life-saving aid. Six months later, UNICEF was providing safe water to hundreds of thousands of people in the quake zone. More than 275,000 children had been immunized against major vaccine-preventable diseases, and nutrition programmes were providing food to some 550,000 young children and lactating women.
On 22 January, a UNICEF worker speaks with a woman holding her baby in Place Boyer, a public square in the Pétionville district of Port-au-Prince, one of many settlement areas for people displaced by the 12 January earthquake in Haiti.
More recently, however, a cholera outbreak has killed thousands and sickened many more in Haiti, driving home the need for continued vigilance against conditions that breed waterborne disease.
Spurred into action
The crisis in Haiti was just one of a series of emergencies that spurred UNICEF and its partners into action in 2010. “The number and scale of emergencies that we have to respond to are not going down,” said Director of Emergency Programmes Louis-Georges Arsenault. “In fact, they are increasing.”
Monsoon floods in Pakistan, for example, caused devastation on a massive scale. The floods, which first struck in late July, inundated a fifth of the country and affected more than 18 million people. UNICEF stepped in to help meet the urgent health, nutrition, water and sanitation needs of flood survivors – particularly children and women in remote areas.
In other emergencies tackled by UNICEF this year:
On 27 February, an 8.8-magnitude earthquake struck off the coast of Chile, causing hundreds of deaths, displacing an estimated 1.5 million people and seriously damaging the country’s infrastructure. UNICEF worked with the government to provide water, sanitation and child protection.
On 14 April, a 7.1-magnitude earthquake struck Yushu Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in Qinghai Province, China. The quake hit especially hard in Jiegu, a poor and remote town on the 4,000-metre-high Tibetan plateau. UNICEF quickly responded to requests for emergency aid from education and health authorities.
In mid-June, thousands of ethnic Uzbeks – mostly women, children and the elderly – fled violence in southern Kyrgyzstan, crossing the border into neighbouring Uzbekistan. UNICEF delivered aid to the refugees in the form of food, water, medical and sanitation supplies.
In the spring and summer, a nutrition crisis escalated in Niger, triggered by a prolonged drought and spiking food prices. UNICEF and its partners – notably the European Commission – intervened with nutrition and health assistance targeting hundreds of thousands of vulnerable children.
In October, UNICEF, other UN agencies, non-governmental organizations and the Government of Benin mounted a humanitarian response to massive flooding that covered two-thirds of that country’s land mass.
On 16 August, UNICEF Regional Director for South Asia Daniel Toole speaks with a child at a school in Pakistan's Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province during a review of UNICEF’s support for children and women affected by the country’s worst floods in living memory.
Equity and development
In all major emergencies, UNICEF remains on the ground not only for the immediate response but for the often arduous process of recovery and reconstruction – including getting education back on track for boys and girls alike.
In fact, this year UNICEF introduced a new approach to its work on helping to achieve the MDGs by their 2015 target date. Detailed in the flagship report, ‘Progress for Children: Achieving the MDGs with Equity,’ the approach is based on a simple premise: that addressing the needs of the poorest of the poor is key to meeting the development goals and reducing global injustice.
In October, Executive Director Anthony Lake gives a 'Mother-Baby Pack' - an innovative package of easy-to-use medicines and antibiotics to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV - to Pamela Adhiambo Otieno, an HIV-positive pregnant woman in Kenya.
Anthony Lake, who took office in May for as UNICEF’s sixth Executive Director, has spearheaded the equity-based strategy. He stressed it at the MDG Summit this past fall on various trips to the field, including an October visit to Kenya for the debut of the UNICEF Mother-Baby Pack.
A take-home box of drugs and antibiotics that can prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV, the pack is designed for poor and marginalized women who lack access to preventive care.
“I believe it is precisely those most vulnerable, those hardest-to-reach children, on whom we must focus,” said Mr. Lake. “We need to understand that this is not merely a statistical exercise. This is about the lives of children and mothers and boys and girls around the world.”
As 2011 begins, UNICEF remains committed to meeting the needs, upholding the rights and building a better future for every child.