Bellamy remarks at UN Noon Briefing
New York, 27 April 2005
UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy:
Good afternoon. Thank you all for coming.
As you know, this is my final week on the job. The Secretary-General quipped at the time he introduced my successor that I would most likely keep working until April 35th.
Well, it’s not quite that bad, but I must admit it is hard to say goodbye to UNICEF. I’d like to share with you some of the reasons I feel that way.
First, UNICEF is an organization that makes a difference. Over the last ten to fifteen years we have seen important progress for children.
- Child mortality has dropped by some 16% globally since 1990, 34% if you take out sub-Saharan Africa.
- Deaths from diarrhoea have fallen in half over the same period.
- Measles deaths have declined by more than a third since 1999.
- We have reduced the number of children out of school to fewer than 100 million for the first time.
- And more countries are adopting legislation and taking other steps to protect children from the worst kind of abuses and exploitation.
These are a few of the indicators that tell us we are moving in a positive direction with regard to children.
But it has not been nearly enough. I am the first to say that I wish we had accomplished more for children over the past ten years.
As we published in the State of the World’s Children report for 2005, more than a billion children – nearly half of all children alive today – are effectively being robbed of childhood by the triple threat of AIDS, conflict and extreme poverty.
If we are to achieve and sustain progress on any of the Millennium Development Goals, it is essential that we invest more in the health, well-being and protection of children.
* * *
I have travelled to more than 100 countries in my ten years at UNICEF, many of them several times. I have seen some pretty horrible things, as I’m sure most of you have, as well.
People who don’t have the honor that you and I do of seeing the world in this way often ask me how I keep from becoming overwhelmed by despair and pessimism.
For me the answer is as simple as it is true: UNICEF is fundamentally an optimistic institution. It was created with hope and optimism, and it is continually renewed by the hope and optimism that children bring into the world.
It is, I should add, a pragmatic optimism. We remain hopeful because UNICEF’s 8,000 staff in 158 countries are out there helping find solutions everyday.
So despite the great challenges of AIDS, conflict and poverty…
Despite the rapid global changes that have altered children’s lives since 1995…
And despite the long road we have to travel to reach the MDGs…
I am fundamentally optimistic.
Before I take your questions I would like to mention three areas where UNICEF is doing great work that I believe can make a huge difference in reaching the MDGs.
They are child survival, protection of children, and education, especially for girls.
Child survival: This is an area where UNICEF, on my watch, has taken some hits. The one part of the critique that is true is that UNICEF broadened its agenda. We took on child protection issues and HIV/AIDS much more prominently. And we did this because we believed that in order to make truly sustainable progress on child survival, we had to invest in breaking the cycle of poverty. To do that we worked to draw attention to the numerous threats that engulf children as they grow older – threats that prevent them from fulfilling their potential throughout life.
Nonetheless, over the last several years UNICEF has initiated pioneering work in child survival in West Africa that has the potential to yield major new gains.
We call it Accelerated Child Survival and Development, and in essence it is an initiative that bundles critical life-saving services and delivers them to the poorest, most remote, most service-starved districts – which are where the most child deaths occur.
In six districts in Mali where we have implemented the program over the past five years, we’ve seen a decrease in child deaths of around 20 per cent over a two-year period. In similar regions elsewhere in Mali, child mortality stagnated or increased over the same period.
Similarly, preliminary results demonstrate a reduction in child deaths of over 10 per cent in Ghana's Upper East Region over an 18-month period. Prior to the ACSD package, this region had the second highest Infant Mortality Rate in Ghana; it now has the lowest.
These results are striking. And we are having them thoroughly studied before formal publication. But I draw on these examples, among many other exciting developments, to highlight the fact that on the ground, UNICEF has been innovating and experimenting with what works. Those who say we have not come far enough on child survival are right. But UNICEF is not only in the trenches finding solutions, we are investing in the other things that will make gains in child survival sustainable in the long run.
Such as child protection.
I can say I am truly proud of the work UNICEF has done in this are a over the past ten years. I believe UNICEF has played a pivotal role in putting the exploitation of children on the map.
This is another area where there is much work to be done, be it on child soldiers. Sexual abuse of children, trafficking, or child labor. But I can say with certainty that governments are no longer free to ignore these abuses, as they were just ten years ago.
This summer a series of regional consultations are scheduled on the issue of violence against children. This work, led by UNICEF on behalf of a group of partners including WHO and UNHCHR, will result in a ground-breaking global study of the issues of violence against children – mostly in the home and community – in 2006.
Addressing the exploitation and abuse of children is critical to ensuring that children reach adulthood in health and dignity – and that they have a real chance in life. Keeping children alive through the age of five , as morally fundamental as it is, does not mean children will make it to adulthood in a position to fulfil their potential.
This is especially true in a time of HIV/AIDS – which children cannot be immunized against but must be protected against through education, openness, and attitude shifts. Not easy work, but essential, and later this year UNICEF will be launching a global campaign on children and AIDS that makes clear what a threat this disease has become to childhood.
In my view, the protection of children is critical to ensuring that we break cycles of poverty and bring about lasting change.
And that brings me to my final area for optimism: Education, with an emphasis on girls. Normally education is a subject that makes people’s eyes glaze over. It is such a given, such an obvious necessity, and yet we keep talking about global failures.
Two weeks ago I was proud to launch our latest Progress for Children report that showed that the world is making measurable progress in getting both boys and girls into school.
It showed, of course, that we need to accelerate our efforts in order to reach the MDGs. But with or without the MDGs, it is my most central conviction from ten years at UNICEF that nothing will turn the tide against poverty the way that education can, especially for girls.
You have heard me say this many times. But I will say it again. I was a banker for much of my career and gave lots of people investment advice. There is no more sure an investment for nations than investment in a quality basic education for all boys and girls. With girls especially, the returns with respect to the next generation of children are striking.
It is fitting that my next job will be at a global educational organization, because I will have an opportunity to continue lobbying for creative and consistent investment in getting all children into school – and keeping them there.
For their health, for their future, for their protection, for their dignity – education is the number one solution.
* * *
I know my successor brings great enthusiasm to UNICEF, and great experience and management ability. I know this wonderful organization, with its dedicated professionals, will be in good hands.
It is a critical time for the entire United Nations family, of course, and so strong leadership at UNICEF – perhaps the best known of the UN agencies – will remain essential.
And this brings me to my last observation: The United Nations as a whole has taken its lumps over the past few years, often deservedly. But as you well know, the UN is not a monolith. One of the great strengths of the UN system is, in fact, its diversity of activities and accountabilities. Much of what has been created by the nations of the world through the years has become indispensable to human well-being.
Naturally I see UNICEF as one of the prime examples of a UN entity that not only works, but is essential to human progress. I am proud that I leave it financially strong, administratively healthy, and focused on the whole child.
I am truly grateful for the opportunity I have had to serve, and I thank my colleagues throughout the United Nations for their daring commitment to ideals that are well worth striving for.
Thank you. I’d be happy now to take your questions.