New York, 7 September 1999
Mr. President, Excellencies, Distinguished Delegates, Colleagues, Friends:
It is a pleasure to welcome you to this second regular session of UNICEF's
Executive Board. Before anything else, I have two personal messages to convey.
First I want to pay tribute to Ambassador Ibrahim Gambari of Nigeria, who will be passing the gavel in January after a distinguished term as Executive Board President.
Mr. President, your wisdom and steady hand have been of pivotal importance as UNICEF has begun charting its future course -- and I am confident that I speak for everyone in this room in thanking you sincerely for a job well done.
Second, I want to take this opportunity to express my deepest appreciation to Stephen Lewis -- who, as all of you know, has decided to move on to new pursuits after four years as Deputy Executive Director and five years as Special Representative of the Executive Director. Mr. President, it is impossible to overstate Stephen Lewis's contributions to this organisation -- and to the cause of children the world over. Indeed, he has left an indelible mark on literally every aspect of UNICEF's work. From his guidance in the transition to rights-based programming to his advocacy of the rights of children and women in armed conflict, Stephen has always served up analytical brilliance, stirring eloquence and passionate commitment in equal measure -- all of it leavened by a wonderfully wry sense of humour.
Stephen, you will be greatly missed.
Distinguished Delegates, this is our last regular gathering of the Board in the 20th Century -- and the dwindling calendar is at once a reminder of the urgency of our work, and of the vulnerability of the many millions of children we are pledged to serve.
There are 115 days remaining before the year 2000, and on each of those days -- today and tomorrow and every day -- some 32,000 children under the age of 5 will die of preventable causes; brought down, in one way or another, by poverty and inequity and its consequences, including disease and poor nutrition, unsafe water and inadequate sanitation, illiteracy and the lack of education, and by violence and exploitation, much of it gender-based.
Mr. President, the certain deaths of these children -- some 12 million of them a year -- are emblematic of the ongoing challenges to child survival and well-being that we face as the old century falls away -- challenges made even more daunting by the relentless spread of HIV/AIDS, and by the proliferation of armed conflict and instability, all of which continue to bring about vast changes in the way UNICEF works at the country level.
Distinguished Delegates, our Annual Meeting in June marked the opening of a dialogue with you on the course of UNICEF's path into the 21st Century -- a path already paved by a decade of dramatic progress for children, all of it growing out of the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child 10 years ago this November and the pursuit of the goals of the World Summit for Children.
Yet it is clear that we must do more -- much more -- to ensure that these formal commitments become reality before the end of the year 2000.
Mr. President, only by renewing and strengthening our commitment to the Summit goals can we hope to complete the child survival agenda that was set in the 1990s.
This includes increasing global immunization coverage and improving access to education as well as its quality, especially for girls.
It also means ending the human rights violations perpetrated against children in situations of armed conflict, including forcible recruitment, abduction and forced displacement and sexual violence -- outrages that the Security Council ringingly condemned in its groundbreaking Resolution of 25 August.
Needless to say, accelerating progress toward the goals while setting a course for the 21st Century is an enormous undertaking, one which which will require, as I have said, nothing less than a Global Alliance for Children. For that, we will need the active and generous support of partners old and new -- support that we intend to mobilise through UNICEF's Leadership Initiative for Children as we move toward the Special Session of the General Assembly in 2001.
Mr. President, in my opening statement in June, I outlined the major elements of a proposed new global agenda for children, an agenda designed to ensure the well-being of societies by ensuring the fundamental rights of all children -- and all women.
This morning, I want to report to you on the concrete steps that we must take to start putting that far-reaching agenda into effect -- including steps that you, the members of the Board, can take this very week.
I am pleased to report that there is already evidence of accelerated progress toward the Summit goals, especially in the majority of the 161 countries and territories served by UNICEF that are not gripped by humanitarian crises. But even in the countries most affected by instability, there are glimmerings of hope.
Exciting new initiatives are under way. For example, UNICEF and its partners, including the World Health Organisation, the World Bank, various foundations, bilateral donors and the private sector, are moving to establish a new alliance to promote immunization and vaccine development, aimed at low-income countries where child mortality rates are high.
This new entity, to be called the Global Alliance for Vaccines and immunization (or GAVI), is designed to speed the introduction of the new, cost-effective vaccines against hepatitis B, which is a cause of liver cancer, as well as against hib -- a major cause of pneumonia and meningitis in children. It will also work to accelerate the development of new vaccines for the developing world, especially against HIV, malaria and tuberculosis.
Since the new Alliance will address at least some of the areas of work of the 7-year-old Children's Vaccine Initiative, UNICEF and the other CVI co-founders have decided that the CVI will come to an end this year. It has been agreed that Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland, Director-General of WHO, will chair the Board of the Alliance for the first two years. The Executive Director of UNICEF will serve as Chair for the subsequent two years.
An offer by UNICEF to host the new alliance in its Office for Europe in Geneva has been accepted by all of the partners, and a secretariat has been established and an executive secretary appointed for the first two years.
One of the new financial instruments that all of the partners believe can play an important role in accelerating efforts to improve immunization will be the establishment of a children's vaccine fund, which will be used to help selected low-come countries with high child mortality strengthen their immunization programmes and introduce the new vaccines.
Given UNICEF's long-standing commitment to funding immunization and vaccines, and our long experience with vaccine procurement, we have indicated to our GAVI partners that UNICEF is prepared to undertake the operation of such a fund. It is hoped that foundations and bilateral donors will contribute -- and that it may be possible to launch the fund in the very near future.
There will be an informal Board session later this week during which interested delegations will be able to learn further details of these new initiatives, and at which Dr. Tore Godal, the newly appointed Executive Secretary of GAVI, will be present.
Mr. President, the world remains tantalisingly close to eradicating polio by the end of the year 2000, the result of major immunization efforts by UNICEF, carried out in close coordination with WHO and Rotary International.
UNICEF has taken the lead in organising essential immunization activities in countries convulsed by armed conflict, including those where polio is still endemic. In this connection, I have just appointed a senior UNICEF staff member (and former Representative) to begin working closely with WHO on polio eradication efforts, with special emphasis on countries in conflict -- the very places where the ultimate success of the fight against polio will be determined.
Distinguished Delegates, the polio eradication campaign in strife-torn countries like Angola is a perfect illustration of the extent to which UNICEF has been able to carry on its work to ensure the survival, protection and full development of all children, even when it involves those hardest to reach.
As I told the Security Council last month during its consultations on the situation in Angola, it remains UNICEF's business to be on the ground before, during and after every conflict, building capacity and working to restore stability -- whether in Angola, Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan -- or any of the scores of other countries that are gripped by conflict and instability.
UNICEF's constant presence explains why we have been able to combine humanitarian relief efforts with long-term development work, ensuring special protection for children in situations of high risk; reducing under-5 and maternal mortality while focusing on preventative health and nutrition interventions like immunization, hygiene, sanitation and micro-nutrient supplementation; and contending with scourges like HIV/AIDS and malaria.
It explains why, in the bleakest of circumstances in Angola last April, UNICEF, in cooperation with the Angolan Ministry of Health, was able to help protect 634,000 children by completing an emergency vaccination campaign in response to a polio outbreak -- and why WHO, UNICEF and Rotary International participated in a National Polio Immunization Days campaign aimed at reaching 2.7 million children.
It is why UNICEF continues to stress how important it is to assert the right to education in countries that are struggling to recover from humanitarian emergencies -- as UNICEF is doing at this moment for some 250,000 school-age children in Kosovo, where we are helping to rebuild hundreds of school buildings while proving everything from desks and blackboards to notebooks and writing tools.
Mr. President, in Kosovo, as elsewhere, schools are vitally important, not only because of their educational function, but as centres around which communities can begin to heal themselves, while serving as entry points for interventions like health education, psychosocial support, and nutritional assistance.
Indeed, in every country, UNICEF has made the right to quality basic education for all, especially for girls, a centrepiece of our work, in collaboration with UNESCO and other partners -- a fact that UNICEF will highlight during tomorrow's observance of International Literacy Day.
Mr. President, the Security Council's powerful condemnation of the targeting of children in armed conflict is only one of the latest signs that the issue of child rights is being moved, step by step, to the very heart of the international peace and security agenda.
The Council's Resolution is in line with the recommendations of the Graça Machel Report, as well as UNICEF's Anti-War Agenda, and the Peace and Security Agenda for Children that we first described to the Security Council in February.
UNICEF, with its mandate as the world's leading advocate for the protection of child rights, welcomes these developments -- and we will participate fully to ensure that child protection becomes an integral component of all humanitarian and development activities, as well as UN peace-keeping missions.
Mr. President, the same sense of urgency that is transforming UNICEF's work in countries affected by armed conflict is also motivating our efforts to cope with the HIV/AIDS pandemic.
As you know, in many regions, the virus is well on its way to wiping out the substantial reductions in child mortality that were achieved in the 1980s and the first part of this decade -- and is making orphans of tens of millions of children. In eight sub-Saharan countries, more than 25 per cent of children under 15 have already lost their mother, their father or both parents.
In Eastern Europe, UNAIDS reported just last month that the number of people infected with HIV increased nine-fold in just three years, from fewer than 30,000 to an estimated 270,000 by the end of 1998. Some 80 per cent of the infections are the result of intravenous drug use, mostly among young people.
Indeed, of the 6 million people newly infected with HIV in the last year alone, half are between the ages of 15 and 24. That represents five young men and women every minute, nearly all of them in the developing world. That is why it is among young people, Mr. President, that the battle against HIV/AIDS must be focused.
The key is prevention. We must do everything necessary to arm young people with the knowledge they need to protect themselves and their communities - and as you will see this week, we have begun realigning our efforts to address these needs, beginning with increases in technical staff in parts of sub-Saharan Africa.
Distinguished Delegates, in the face of such challenges, we need your help and support -- both in achieving substantial progress on the child survival and development goals laid down at the Summit -- and in completing a definitive new vision for children that will guide UNICEF's work in the 21st Century.
You have before you three vital tools to help move that process forward:
First, the Country Programme Recommendations (CPRs), which are at the very heart of what we do. As you will see, the CPRs reflect new analysis, new strategies and proposed new funding for 21 countries. All of them take into account the enhanced coordination and efficiencies brought about by work within the UN System and UN reform. But most importantly, the recommendations put children at the centre of development. Indeed, they embody, in practical form, the basis for the new vision for children that together we will define.
Second, you have before you UNICEF's biennial support budget for the years 2000 to 2001, which is key to accelerating progress toward the Summit goals. We say that with confidence for several reasons: A: It increases Regular Programme Resources by $140 million over the 1998-99 biennial budget. B: It reduces the cost of supporting programmes to 23.8 per cent of total resources -- a significant reduction since the last biennium. C: It is a strategic budget, designed to maximise programme operations by re-focusing and strengthening all areas in conjunction with the priorities set out in the Medium-Term Plan. And D: It is a no-growth budget, for the third biennium in a row.
The third tool before you, Distinguished Delegates, is the report on internal audit activities, which clearly demonstrates the strength of UNICEF's internal controls and highlights the achievements of our Management Excellence Programme (MEP).
Mr. President, all three of these tools show the extent to which UNICEF has built a solid foundation for progress in achieving the remaining goals of the decade -- while positioning ourselves to take on the challenges of the years beyond.
Our biennial support budget reflects those commitments. It is a reflection of our determination to reaffirm the centrality and priority of programmes and programme delivery -- to ensure effective evaluation of programme results and achievement of Summit goals -- to mobilise increased support for regular resources from both existing and new sources at a time of declining ODA -- and to provide a continued high level of response to the spread of humanitarian crises.
Distinguished Delegates, we stand on the brink of a historic opportunity to alter the course of human development by devoting the national resources necessary to ensure the well-being of children and families.
Together let us build the global alliance to realise that goal, secure in the knowledge that in serving the best interests of children, we serve the best interests of all humanity.