New York – 15 September 2003Mr. President, Excellencies, Distinguished Delegates, Colleagues, Friends:
I am delighted to join our Board President in welcoming you to this Second Regular Session of 2003.
My Friends, we have our work cut out for us. For we meet at a time of deepening crisis in much of the world. From sub-Saharan Africa to the Middle East, and from South Asia to Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, an awful mosaic of disease, war and intolerance not only threatens the lives and well-being of untold millions of children – it has now brought targeted terrorist violence to the very corridors of the United Nations.
Last month’s devastating truck-bomb attack on the UN Headquarters in Iraq killed more than 20 people, including Sergio Vieira de Mello, Nadia Younes, Rick Hooper and UNICEF’s own Christopher Klein-Beekman. All died in service to an ideal – the vision of a better world enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations.
That knowledge is no small source of comfort. It is what unites us all as we struggle to understand how friends and colleagues could be so cruelly and senselessly taken from us.
Chris’s dedication to the cause of children was deep and pure – but he knew from previous experience, in Kosovo and Ethiopia, that building a world fit for children can be regarded him as one of its most capable staff members.
The task of assisting endangered civilian populations has always involved a higher-than-average risk of life and limb. But in recent years, the risks have grown sharply, and they have done so in direct proportion to the spread of armed conflict and instability. Our courageous staff members accept that, and they have always accepted it. What none of us can ever accept, Mr. President, is deliberate harm done to UN personnel through criminal acts.
All of us have a role to play in ensuring the safety of UN personnel. But it is the Member States, as host governments, that have the principal responsibility for ensuring the safety and security of UN personnel and their dependents. And it is governments that must see to it that those accused of acts of violence against UN personnel are vigorously prosecuted.
To those willing to believe that the UN would use what happened in Baghdad on Aug. 19 to cut and run, we say, with the Secretary-General, that “the option of withdrawing from Iraq is not something we can consider.”
Mr. President, UNICEF will never turn away from our humanitarian mission, in Iraq or anywhere children are suffering. Nearly 60 years after its creation, UNICEF remains unshakeably committed to the view of Maurice Pate, UNICEF’s first Executive Director, that the well-being of the world’s children is everybody’s business, from the grassroots to the highest offices in the land.
Pate’s words resonate wherever UNICEF and all our partners on the ground, from UN sister agencies to NGOs to the Red Cross Movement, are working tirelessly to protect and assist endangered civilians, the vast majority of them women and children. It is a task made all the more difficult as the issue of humanitarian access has become politicised. But it is one to which we remain totally, and unshakeably, committed.
The enduring strength of collaborative efforts with our closest UN partners will be underscored at this Session when Dr. Lee Jong-wook, Director-General of the World Health Organisation, and James Morris, Executive Director of the World Food Programme, will address the Executive Board as guest speakers.
Distinguished Delegates, I draw your attention to the very full agenda before us, which includes several items of particular interest. These include the first Report to the Board on implementation of the modified system for allocating regular resources since 1997; and two items that speak to key aspects of UNICEF’s ongoing commitment to child survival.
The first, Item 8, is a presentation that will underscore the importance of clean water and adequate sanitation in meeting the objectives of UNICEF’s Medium-Term Strategic Plan – under the broader rubric of the Millennium Development Goals.
Three overarching UNICEF priorities are involved: ensuring that children get the best possible start in life, which hinges in large part on safe water, adequate sanitation and hygiene for families; UNICEF interventions in humanitarian emergencies; and, to improve the learning environment, water and sanitation facilities at primary schools.
I also want to mention Item 9, a presentation on the imperative of rolling back the scourge of malaria, which will come about if UNICEF, WHO and our many partners succeed in strengthening global and country support to mobilise more resources to control that dread disease, which remains the leading killer of children in Africa.
Mr. President, Distinguished Delegates: we live in a world with a global economy worth more than $30 trillion – but one in which nearly 11 million young children die every year of preventable causes. A world where more than 150 million children are malnourished – and 125 million, most of them girls, never see the inside of classroom.
They are among the hundreds of millions of children whose well-being must be a paramount concern. For if we have learned anything in the last half-century, it is that we cannot build a thriving global community without educating every child, promoting their health and nutrition, and guaranteeing their safety and participation.
My Friends, that is their right and their dream – and it is our sworn mission.