Statement by Mr. Kul C. Gautam, Deputy Executive Director, UNICEF.
Let me begin with a personal reflection.
I used to be UNICEF Representative in Haiti in the 1980s, in the bad old days of the Duvalier regime. The situation of children was pathetic and precarious then. So when the Duvalier regime collapsed in 1986, we all rejoiced with the Haitian people. We thought that the cleansing or “dechoukage” that followed would mark the end of bad governance and the beginning of an era of democracy and prosperity.
But as I read this excellent document, the “Interim Cooperation Framework”, the picture it paints of the situation of children 18 years after the fall of Duvalier, is no less depressing than in the 1980s. It seems that in Haiti, as the old saying goes, “plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose”.
But this conference must make a difference.
The bicentennial of Haiti’s independence this year must mark the beginning of a new era – finally - for Haiti’s long suffering people, and especially its children.
Haiti was once the world’s richest colony. For the last 100 years it has been the poorest country in the Western hemisphere.
Many efforts have been made to bring development to Haiti. But heavy investment in children, which has been the foundation for the East Asian miracle and for the relative prosperity of the rest of Latin America and the Caribbean, has eluded Haiti.
We cannot expect a country to prosper and thrive when half its people are illiterate, half the people have no access to clean drinking water, half its children do not even finish primary school, and two-thirds of its infants are not immunized.
We document the plight of children in this little brochure, Investing in Haiti’s Future, which elaborates why the child-specific proposals contained in the Interim Cooperation Framework are so vitally important.
In addressing the challenges facing Haiti, we in the international community have a great partner in the Haitian people themselves. We need to recognize this asset and do everything we can to support and empower them to play a vital role in Haiti’s recovery and development.
In UNICEF’s view, humanitarian assistance must address both Haiti's urgent needs, and lay the foundation for longer-term reconstruction and development. The focus must be on strengthening Haitian capacity in the areas of human development, especially in education, health and protection of children.
Experience has shown us that investment in quality education for all children is the fastest and most effective way to reduce poverty, improve labor productivity and foster the stability that every democracy needs to thrive.
Free and compulsory education is a fundamental right of every child, enshrined in the Convention on the Rights of the Child. This conference must affirm the international community’s support and solidarity with resources, to enable Haiti to make accelerated progress towards universal primary education and a strong foundation for secondary education.
We know that a generation denied access to education runs a higher risk of turning to conflict to resolve its differences. By investing in quality education we build the foundations of a stronger nation.
The Interim Cooperation Framework also outlines specific plans and projects for improving water supply and sanitation, expanding immunization coverage, combating nutritional deficiencies, and strengthening primary health care, all of which merit our strong support.
Haiti has the highest rate of HIV/AIDS infection in the Western hemisphere. Before it wipes out even the meager gains being made in human development, as we have seen in Africa, we need to intensify preventive measures especially among young people, women and children, and provide for care, support and treatment for those already living with AIDS.
The support of the international community must also focus on Haiti’s poorest and most vulnerable children, such as the 200,000 children orphaned by AIDS… over 170,000 children working as domestic servants… and many thousands of children living or working in the streets… who lack access to basic services and are subject to violence, exploitation and abuse.
Prevention, reintegration and training programs are urgently needed for thousands of unemployed and disenfranchised youth associated with armed gangs that undermine social cohesion and create a climate of insecurity.
We believe that there is now a real opportunity for the international community, working with all sectors of Haitian society – the interim government, civil society, the private sector, communities and families -- to reaffirm its commitment to help create a healthier, more educated, more productive and secure society by investing generously in the country’s future: its children.
Close to 1,400 children will be born in Haiti – and 170 will die - during the two days we will be here discussing Haiti’s future. They will join the four million Haitian boys and girls under the age of 18 who make up nearly half the country’s population. The pledges we make at this conference are pledges to them – that investing in Haiti’s future must start with its children.
We are delighted that steps are being taken to establish an “observatoire citoyen” in Haiti that will engage with a variety of partners, especially its vibrant civil society to monitor and report on the implementation of the reconstruction programme and to encourage the government to stick to development goals.
As part of the UN family and working closely with the donor community, UNICEF pledges to intensify its humanitarian and human development programmes to make Haiti Cherie a place where every child can grow to adulthood in peace, health, and dignity.