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Briefing note

Bellamy's remarks in Seoul

SEOUL, 17 March -  UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy's remarks at press conference in Seoul.

Good morning.  Thank you all for coming.  I know there’s a little bit of other news happening here in Seoul.

 As you know I just returned yesterday from a three-day visit to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, mostly in Pyongyang, although I did have an opportunity to travel outside the city to some more rural areas.

Joining me is UNICEF’s Representative in DPRK, Pierrette Vu Thi.  She’s the leader of our staff of about 30 people in Pyongyang, where UNICEF has been present since 1996.

Both she and I will be happy to take your questions, but first I’d like to make a few general remarks.

First, I am very aware that the work of UN agencies and NGOs in North Korea is just one piece of a larger puzzle.  We are realistic about the geopolitical issues at play with respect to the DPRK, and we understand that our ability to make a difference for North Korea’s children is to a significant degree limited. 

At the same time, UNICEF also believes that our work with the DPRK government on behalf of children is essential to progress on the peninsula. 

And I would like to report that progress for children is being made.

There have been very significant improvements since I last visited the DPRK in 1996.  Malnutrition rates are down, immunization coverage is up from about 35% to more than 75%, and Vitamin A supplementation has reached virtually all children.  We have had success in providing essential medicines to hospitals.

Most importantly, over the past year or two we have seen the government of DPRK become more open to the presence and work of agencies like UNICEF.  We just signed a new three-year agreement, which gives us a little longer-term perspective than in the past. 
The program emphasizes not only improvements in child nutrition and immunization, but will also look harder at quality of water, quality of education, and the overall factors that impact on early childhood development.  In particular we are pleased that we’ll be looking more closely at the quality of what goes on in the classroom.

This work still falls mostly into the category of ‘humanitarian interventions’, but we feel it’s important to note that at least we’re beginning to look into the underlying causes that influence child development and child survival.  As I said, this work is happening with the cooperation of the government.

That said, clearly the situation for children in DPRK is still very serious.  I visited schools that had little heat; a hospital outside Pyongyang with very limited equipment; I met several children who were very sick from respiratory infections; and I heard a great deal from my UN colleagues about the lack of electrical power, which is having effects on everything from factory employment to the supply of safe water.

In one town I visited in Yonsan County outside the capital, the power problem means that the water treatment station is not working adequately, nor are the pumps that deliver water to homes.  So, working with local authorities, UNICEF has helped build a gravity-driven supply of fresh water from a nearby mountain that now proved safe water 24 hours a day to about 40% of the population. 

This kind of work contributes directly to child survival.

The bottom line is that while we have found it possible to achieve concrete results for children, we’re also gaining a more complete understanding of the enormous challenges ahead.  It’s clear, for example, that rather than a short-term disaster, the challenges facing children are the result of a long-term structural crisis.

As I said at the start, UNICEF realizes that the work we and others are doing in DPRK is part of a larger puzzle.  But we believe that for the future of Korean children, and the future of the Korean peninsula, investing in the survival and thriving of children is essential.

Thank you.

 


 


 

 

 

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