|© UN Photo|
22 May 2003
Mr. President and Members of the Security Council,
On behalf of UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy, I am very pleased to report to you today on UNICEF’s recent experience in Iraq and our views on how the current situation is impacting children.
Ms. Bellamy completed a three-day visit to central and northern Iraq earlier this week. Based on her observations, her meetings with key counterparts, and briefings by UNICEF’s national and international staff, the following points have emerged:
First, like many of our UN colleagues, UNICEF places the very highest priority on the need for law and order throughout Iraq.
Mr. President, The ability of UN staff to reach those most in need is still severely compromised by the development of a culture of lawlessness and fear, and its impact on children, especially girls. We see this issue as overriding in its impact.
UNICEF’s second priority is closely tied to the first: getting all children back in school as soon as possible.
Best estimates suggest that about 80 per cent of Iraq’s 8,500 primary school facilities have re-opened, and UNICEF has delivered hundreds of school-in-a-box kits to encourage and support this process. Our commitment is to deliver enough kits to supply all 3.5 million primary school-aged children with learning supplies by September.
However, in the south and center of the country, attendance rates remain well below the pre-war average of 75 per cent – which in itself was an unacceptably low rate. Even our own national staff say they are reluctant to send their children - especially girls - to school through potentially dangerous streets.
Girls in particular need solid role models in public and professional life. Iraqi women lost a lot of ground under the sanctions in terms of their participation in the social, economic and political life of their country. At this juncture in Iraq’s history, every effort should be made to ensure that Iraqi women are part of the reconstruction process. It would be a great disservice to Iraq if its women are kept in their homes out of fear for their lives.
Mr. President, UNICEF believes that restarting education empowers communities, makes an immediate difference to the lives of children and parents, and builds a civil society. Hence UNICEF continues to advocate for getting all Iraqi children back into school as quickly as possible – for their own well-being and protection, as well as peace of mind for their parents.
Our third priority is basic health for children and women.
Last week a rapid nutritional assessment carried out by UNICEF local staff in Baghdad found that acute malnutrition has nearly doubled, from 4 percent one year ago to almost 8 percent today.
We’re not surprised. Wasting in children is related not only to how much they have to eat, but to their bodies’ ability to retain what is eaten. Diarrhoea leads to the loss of nutrients in the body, to dehydration, and all too often to death when not properly treated. Unfortunately, diarrhoea has soared in Iraq. Doctors in both Baghdad and the north told Ms. Bellamy this week that some 90 percent of the children being brought to hospitals are afflicted.
After law and order the most important civil service that is lacking at present throughout Iraq is decent water and sanitation. Our work involves challenging this trend by rebuilding the cold chain for basic immunization services and improving sewage and waste disposal to eliminate contaminants in water. We’re also boosting monitoring and treatment services for children who sicken from drinking a glass of contaminated water.
Furthermore, there are policy decisions which, if taken soon, can yield quick and positive results. One example is infant feeding. Breast milk substitutes, included by the former government of Iraq in the OFFP food basket, and mixed with contaminated water, is killing children. While we believe that food supplies for children must continue, we strongly urge that breast milk substitutes be dropped. They should be available on the market and for doctors to prescribe as needed, but they should not be promoted by inclusion in the food basket. Meanwhile, UNICEF will continue to give high priority to working with partners to promote breastfeeding as the optimal solution to protect the health of children.
Mr. President, the worrying condition of Iraq’s children indicates that addressing child malnutrition in a comprehensive manner, including links with water and sanitation, will require particular attention in the recovery effort. UNICEF, as co-chair of the UNDG group on reconstruction is ready to participate actively in this task.
Protection of civilians and protection of women and children against violence are high on UNICEF’s agenda. We seek to protect children from abuse and exploitation, including sexual exploitation. We already know that in the aftermath of war some children from orphanages have become “unwilling members” of armed gangs, or have joined groups of street children, and are now using drugs, new phenomena in Iraq. In addition, children are being hurt and killed by landmines and unexploded ordinance. In Baghdad alone, there are an estimated 800 hazardous sites, the majority related to cluster bombs and caches of dumped ammunition.
Mr. President, UNICEF is fully committed in supporting the reconstruction effort through supporting joint efforts to protect the vulnerable children of Iraq through interventions in areas such as reform of juvenile justice, community rehabilitation of vulnerable children, and mines awareness and removal. We will, in the coming days, launch an assessment of child protection working closely with partners and international NGOs.
Mr. President and members of the Council, these are the priorities that UNICEF feels are most important for Iraq’s children: law and order, a return to a positive learning environment, basic water, sanitation, health services and nutrition care, and protection of vulnerable children. In addressing these challenges, we in the international community have a great partner in the Iraqi people themselves – who represent a cadre of educated, well trained, competent and committed people. The international community needs to recognize this asset and do everything it can to support and empower them to play a vital role in recovery and reconstruction. In the most immediate time frame this includes enhancing their capacities with the very basic resources required for running costs, transportation, and communication.
We believe that Iraqis of all ethnic, lingual, political and geographical backgrounds can be unified by a national priority on the needs and well-being of children.
So powerful is the pull of supporting and helping children that when, immediately after the war when the looting and burning of Baghdad was at its height, UNICEF’s national staff dug into their own pockets and pulled together $95,000 to keep our office and program running. As a result the UNICEF office was closed for just three days during the conflict.
Mr. President, allow me to suggest, on behalf of Ms. Bellamy, that the world follow their example and commit to improving the immediate and long-term future of Iraq by investing in its children.
Thank you very much.