At a glance: Panama

UNICEF and WFP chart ‘a new way’ to achieve development goals in Latin America and the Caribbean

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF Panama/2006/Ochoa
At the meeting in Panama (left to right): City of Knowledge Foundation Director Jorge Arosemena, World Food Programme Executive Director James Morris, UNICEF Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean Nils Kastberg, Panamanian Vice President Samuel Lewis Navarro, UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman and City of Knowledge Foundation President Juan David Morgan.
By Robert Cohen

PANAMA CITY, Panama, 10 May 2006 – UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman and World Food Programme (WFP) Executive Director James Morris paid their first-ever joint visit to Latin America yesterday for a historic meeting with the heads of both agencies’ regional and country offices. Their focus: to develop a joint plan for accelerating achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and improving the lives of the 118 million children who live in poverty in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Ms. Veneman and Mr. Morris said nothing less than a regional movement will be necessary to end widespread child poverty and hunger, as well as the increasing levels of HIV/AIDS, which Mr. Morris termed “shameful” and “unacceptable”.

The agency chiefs stressed the importance of UN agencies speaking with a single voice in support of public policies that promote systemic rather than piecemeal change. They stressed the need to catalyze action in support of the region’s most impoverished and excluded populations.  

“Because of inequality and poverty, millions of children are excluded from progress – particularly indigenous children and those of African descent,” said Ms. Veneman. “When children are raised in extreme poverty, they – and their countries – can suffer lasting repercussions.”

Referring to the chronic malnutrition that affects 16 per cent of the region’s children, Mr. Morris noted that “eradicating the problem in ten years is perfectly do-able.” The price tag for doing so is “not very much…but the price societies will have to pay for not doing so is beyond comprehension. We don’t have the luxury of waiting,” he said.

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF Panama/2006/Ochoa
UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman arriving at the session with UNICEF Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean Nils Kastberg.
Bringing agencies together

Ms. Veneman added that no place in the world better exemplifies UN reform in action than Panama, which has become a regional UN hub at the invitation of the Panamanian Government. She described the coming together of agencies around common strategies at the regional and country levels as “a new way of doing business” in support of development and humanitarian action.

In that spirit, the UNICEF and WFP teams affirmed efforts to reach all the region’s children and, in some cases, push for targets that exceed development goals set by the international community.

For example, while much of Latin America and the Caribbean is on track to achieve the MDG target for child undernutrition – halving the proportion of underweight children by 2015 – the two agencies have agreed to pursue ‘zero chronic malnutrition’ among the region’s children within 10 years. And while the MDGs call for halting and beginning to reverse the spread of HIV/AIDS by the target date, the UNITE FOR CHILDREN  UNITE AGAINST AIDS campaign in Latin America and the Caribbean is targeting ‘zero mother-to-child transmission’ of HIV and universal provision of paediatric HIV/AIDS treatments. 

UNICEF and WFP, plus several other UN agencies, have established their regional offices in the City of Knowledge next to the Panama Canal, and negotiations are under way to bring together all the agencies in what would be the world’s first UN Regional Office. 

Ms. Veneman and Mr. Morris met with Panama’s President Martin Torrijos and Vice-President and Foreign Minister Samuel Lewis Navarro to thank them for the country’s open attitude toward the UN presence.


 

 

Video

9 May 2006:
UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman and World Food Programme Executive Director James Morris talk about cooperating to fight hunger and disease.

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