UNICEF Executive Director provides expertise to UN Economic and Social Council panel
By Elizabeth Kiem
NEW YORK, USA, 11 July 2008 – The triple punch of rising food and energy prices, climate change and lagging investment in agriculture is posing fresh challenges for international development programs and requires the United Nations to enhance cooperation worldwide, UN agency heads agreed at a panel in New York today.
The panel opened the 2008 operational activities session of the UN Social and Economic Council, also known as ECOSOC. It featured the expertise of UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman, along with the heads of the World Food Program, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).
Collaboration among UN agencies, local governments and the public and private sectors has helped bring mortality rates for children under five to record lows. It has also made inroads against polio, measles and malaria, Ms. Veneman noted in her opening remarks. But the current crisis in food stability means “we must approach our work with a collective sense of urgency,” she added.
The progress outlined by Ms. Veneman in the sphere of child survival was applauded by others on the panel.
“I wish I could report as much progress … as is being made on MDG 4 [reducing child mortality],” said UNFPA Executive Director Thoraya Obaid. “But we are not on track towards achieving MDG 5 [improving maternal health].” Ms. Obaid noted that reproductive health indicators remain troubling, with maternal mortality rates showing “the greatest gap between rich and poor countries and between the rich and poor in the same countries.”
Ms. Veneman and other panellists stressed that achieving the Millennium Development Goals require a holistic approach, as each of the targets is linked to the others.
“The health of a child is inextricably linked to the health of the mother,” said Ms. Veneman.
Action during crisis
Discussion of the current food and energy crisis dominated the three-hour panel. UNDP Administrator Kemal Dervis spoke of “environmental and energy challenges … more serious” than those seen in decades.
The impact of rising food prices alone, according to Mr. Dervis, will reduce100 million more people to extreme poverty in the next two years. “This is the other side of the coin of globalisation and rapid growth,” he said.
To address the escalation of food insecurity, UNICEF remains a leading procurer or ready-to-use therapeutic foods, which have proven to be a highly successful resource in combating severe acute malnutrition in children. In addition to buying more therapeutic foods, UNICEF is working to increase the number and quality of local health centres worldwide to distribute them.
The operational activities segment of ECOSOC will continue its discussions next week.