UNICEF Chief Joins High-Level Discussions at Africa Economic Summit
DURBAN / GENEVA, 11 June 2003 – The Executive Director of UNICEF today called on African leaders attending an economic summit here to embrace child-centred standards as the primary measure for gauging progress across their continent.
Arguing that no single measure of development predicts the future as reliably as the well-being of a nation’s youngest citizens, UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy urged African nations to focus their limited resources on investments in health, education, equality and protection for children. And she urged them not to be shy about comparing their progress against other nations of similar economic strength.
“We all agree that in order to sustain human progress, a government must invest in its children,” Bellamy told leaders attending the Africa Economic Summit. “Doing so is both a moral and an economic imperative. Thus the well-being of your children should become the most important standard for measuring your individual achievement as leaders.”
Bellamy’s proposal was presented to Summit attendees in the form of a 50-page white paper entitled, “The Young Face of NEPAD” – a reference to the New Partnership for African Development, a movement founded last year by African leaders seeking to assert local accountability for the continent’s destiny.
Bellamy expressed support for the NEPAD proposal of an annual system of “peer review.” She said that UNICEF and other UN agencies stood ready to assist in such reviews by providing the uniform statistical data needed to measure the progress of nations.
In fact, she mentioned UNICEF’s annual “Progress of Nations” report as a template for the peer review and country comparisons being considered under NEPAD.
Through the 1990s, the UNICEF global publication used indicators such as child survival, child nutrition, and primary education attainment levels to measure the relative “progress” of nations.
By comparing the “actual” status of indicators such as child mortality, malnutrition and educational achievement with “expected” levels based on national per capita income, UNICEF’s report established national “performance gaps.” Bellamy said a similar approach could be used as a prominent part of NEPAD’s peer review process.
“This process would enable leaders to review where countries ideally ‘should’ have reached in terms of human development and would fuel discussion of what steps have to be taken to be successful in relation to the benchmarks,” Bellamy said. “There are lots of ways to measure progress, but child-centred measures are most telling,” she asserted.
UNICEF pointed out that African countries that are currently in a similar per capita income range of $260 to $300 nonetheless register wide variations in child mortality rates (ranging from 75 deaths per 1,000 live births to 202 per 1,000); the percentage of schoolchildren reaching grade five (ranging from 24% to 84%); and in the percentage of under-fives who are malnourished (from 16% to 33%).
Bellamy observed that countries in this income range sometimes score better on one child-related indicator but less well on another. “But real progress depends not on one or two child indicators alone, but on steady progress across the whole range of child well-being,” she said. “That’s what African nations should be striving toward; that is the only road to economic development.”
The indicators used in the national performance gap analysis developed by UNICEF have the advantage of being good indicators of human development as a whole; of being relatively easily measured; and of being directly related to the global objectives agreed to by the nations of the world at the UN’s Millennium Summit in 2000, known as the Millennium Development Goals.
Without progress in Africa, UNICEF said the world cannot reach those goals: Africa accounts for only 12 per cent of the world’s population yet is the home of 43 per cent of the world’s child deaths, 50 per cent of maternal deaths, 70 per cent of people living with HIV/AIDS, and a staggering 90 percent of the children orphaned by AIDS.
“No continent with such unfavourable indicators of child well-being can achieve real development or stability,” Bellamy declared. “Only by improving the immediate prospects of children can we break out of poverty toward true progress for Africa.”
Some of the fast-track activities that Bellamy said were essential to African progress:
• Completing the eradication of polio and guinea worm disease;
• Increasing the reach of basic immunization programmes;
• Rolling back malaria, with particular emphasis on the massive roll-out of insecticide treated bed nets;
• Combating micronutrient deficiencies such as anaemia, iodine and vitamin A deficiencies through food fortification and supplementation;
• Expansion of safe drinking water and sanitation services, including ensuring that every school in Africa has separate latrines for girls and boys;
• Realization of rights of orphans and other vulnerable children to a decent standard of living, health care, schooling and protection from exploitation.
“These may seem like daunting challenges,” Bellamy said. “But each of them is being tackled effectively somewhere in Africa right now. The trick is to work together to build a critical mass of progress across the continent. That is why UNICEF is a major supporter of the brilliant NEPAD idea. The hope for Africa lies in good leadership.”
Members of the NEPAD partnership include African Union and the Africa Economic Summit. The African Economic Summit is part of the World Economic Forum.
* * *
For further information, please contact:
Heidi Larson, UNICEF Media, Durban (+1-646) 207-5179
Alfred Ironside, UNICEF Media, New York (+212) 326 -7261