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GENEVA, 16 July 2007 - First, many thanks for joining me today. I want to take advantage of being here for ECOSOC to really talk about a couple of emergencies … really two emergencies that I wanted to address today that are seemingly quite different but when you look at both the isolation and the under funding of the two examples, they’re quite similar. Isolation, both externally and internally imposed, combined with under funding for humanitarian action denies children of their basic rights. It also makes it very difficult for us to provide that assistance.
The first location I could talk about is the occupied Palestinian territory, where Palestinian children have suffered, as you all know, from decades of conflict with Israel. Generations of children have been cut off from basic services – they’ve seen violence and deprivation. But since the recent clashes between Hamas and Fatah last month, the conditions they face and the standards that they would normally expect are nothing short of unbearable. Rarely have we seen the situation worse than it is right now.
In June, in Gaza, 22 children were killed in intra Palestinian and Israeli military operations – that’s nearly one child per day and these children witnessed scenes of violence, division and chaos in their community over the past months. Youth centres have been looted, damaged and occupied by militants and two thirds of all Palestinian families now fall below the poverty line – the vast majority now relying on food assistance and humanitarian aid.
Isolation continues to affect the region – we have great difficulty getting into the region. The closure – and because of the barrier and the border crossing problems in the West Bank – means that the continuing violence continues to isolate an already shattered economy and makes it very, very difficult for us to get in supplies, technical assistance and support to the children who need it most.
The movement restrictions imposed by the system of closure and by the barrier, mean that children can’t go to school, teachers can’t go to school. People can’t reach the health centres and the doctors and nurses can’t also go to those centres. It means that the everyday impact of those closures is against the rights of children, where we see daily deterioration of the situation.
The second situation is quite far away, 3,500 miles to the south – Zimbabwe – where Zimbabwe really has entered an unprecedented phase of hardship. Quality healthcare in schools has all but collapsed and now – with a severe drought and a dramatic deterioration of the economy – food production and employment, causing people to leave their homes and cutback on even the most basic daily needs. What we know in Zimbabwe is that malnutrition is growing rather radically; twenty per cent of the population currently needs food assistance and that food assistance is quite hard to get in. We expect that number to double in the next six months. There is a shortage of medicines, there is a shortage of doctors and nurses and thus the healthcare system has been devastated with 50 per cent of all health care positions now vacant. You can imagine in your own situation if you were to go to the clinic and there were no doctors, there were no nurses, there were no medicines. That’s the situation today for many, many Zimbabweans.
Inflation is a phenomenal 4,500 per cent and unemployment at 70 per cent – again, something we can’t imagine sitting here in Geneva and yet that is the daily life of Zimbabweans. Price controls, in addition, have resulted in shortages of basic goods across the country, the most basic commodities: sugar, salt, meat, flour, etc. And HIV continues to just decimate families; only six per cent of children have access to antiretroviral drugs and UNICEF has almost no funding for its HIV programs.
It means that the most desperate of Zimbabweans – those 1.6 million orphans from HIV – are unlikely to survive and are suffering more than before.
The children of the occupied Palestinian territory and of Zimbabwe deserve much better. They all have a right to go to school, they have a right to be educated, they have a right to clean water, to go to bed without feeling hungry and yet like many children who are forgotten in emergencies across the globe, their situation is unchanged. They have no support.
I guess today to the press I would like to say we really appeal to you to stress that all children have the same rights regardless of where they live, regardless of which side of a conflict or of a political situation they find themselves. We work in three dozen emergencies around the world. Some of those are just chronically under funded and chronically forgotten right now if not neglected: Iraq, Southern Sudan, Chad, Cote d’Ivoire, the Central African Republic and now most recently Pakistan, with their floods. Funding is very low as an example – our Iraq appeal just about eight weeks ago, we’ve received no donations for that appeal so far. We have released 10 million dollars of our internal reserves to be able to start operations but no donor funding have been provided to date.
The situation in Iraq is deteriorating very, very rapidly – it is dire. We focus quite a lot on the refugees outside the country as well as the internally displaced. We often forget that there are millions of Iraqis staying in their communities, cut off from services with very, very little assistance and their situation is worsening every day.
UNICEF will continue to work in these contexts – we continue to work in Darfur, we continue to deliver water supplies, medical supplies inside Iraq as well as in Syria and in Jordan, but we need support to make that happen, we need funding to make that happen.
International funding for emergencies, John Holmes has just announced, is higher than ever before, at the opening of ECOSOC, but there are many emergencies where that is not the case. There are many emergencies where children continue to suffer and that’s our appeal today, that we look at those places and we ensure that all emergencies, all children have access to school, have access to good health, to medicine, to doctors and nurses, and for that we need your help.
*** About UNICEF UNICEF is on the ground in over 150 countries and territories to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence. The world’s largest provider of vaccines for developing countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, good water and sanitation, quality basic education for all boys and girls, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation, and AIDS. UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations and governments.
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