Independent body will safeguard the future for Haitian children
Washington/Geneva/New York, 16 July 2004 – UNICEF said today that a citizen watchdog is the best way to support accountable reconstruction in Haiti.
The group, known in French as an ‘observatoire citoyen,’ would engage with the interim government to monitor budgets and expenditure, advise on issues of human development and encourage the government to stick to development goals.
The proposal is receiving increasing support from the Haitian government and civil society.
UNICEF maintains that increasing investment in quality education and health for all children is the fastest and most effective way to reduce poverty, improve labour productivity and foster the stability that democracy will need.
Speaking from New York on the eve of a donor conference for Haiti in Washington DC, Kul Gautam, the Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF, said that the observatoire would be a pillar for fledgling democracy in Haiti.
“The international community has long provided large scale assistance to Haiti,” said Gautam. “But they were often looking for quick fixes, instead of the steady hand of accountable spending in the social sector. The observatoire citoyen will be a bridge between the government and the people of Haiti.
“It will also respond to the donors’ demand that their dollars should truly serve Haitians’ fundamental needs – particularly those of children.”
Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, with poverty and health indicators on par with Africa’s poorest nations, despite the fact that it lies an hours flight time from the American mainland.
While a Haitian child born in 1990 could expect to live 13 years less than his/her peers in Latin America, a child born today will live 17 years less. More than 200,00 children have been orphaned by HIV/AIDS.
A visible symbol of the failure of aid and the breakdown of governance were the boat loads of Haitians who fled misery and repression in the early 1990s. More than a million Haitians left the country during this period and a million have since fled rural communities for the cities.
The rural poor spend on average 13 per cent of all their resources for school fees. One set of school uniform alone costs them more than three weeks income. But they often get little for their investment as private and public schools alike are generally overcrowded and have few facilities.
After education, health is the largest expense for families. Yet many children still die from easily preventable diseases such as diarrhoea and respiratory illnesses. Two thirds of all children are not fully immunized and almost half of all children under five suffer from some form of malnutrition. Qualified prenatal and delivery care is only available to a quarter of pregnant women.
“Over the past decades, a succession of Haitian governments have contributed to the country’s decline by misusing funds, focusing on wasteful projects rather than human development priorities and avoiding accountability for their actions,” said Gautam, who will address the donor conference in Washington next week.
“Investment in Haiti must be done in consultation with Haitians and in a way that builds administrative capacity and a national consensus on poverty reduction that benefits all, starting with children.”
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