To the World Summit on Sustainable Development
Johannesburg, 30 August 2002
Mr. President, Excellencies, Distinguished Delegates:
Children have the greatest stake in the preservation of the environment because their survival and development depend on it.
Children are humanity's most precious natural resource - and yet, a decade after Rio, they are still suffering the consequences of our environmental negligence just as surely as the air, the land, the water and the diversity of life.
We are two years into the 21st Century. Yet each year in the developing world, 11 million children under the age of 5 fall victim to the vicious cycle of poverty and environmental degradation, their lives in most cases snuffed out by easily preventable causes like diarrhoea, measles and acute respiratory infections.
Of these 11 million deaths, it is estimated that one-quarter are caused by factors related to unsafe water and inadequate or non-existent sanitation. Mr. President, these deaths are not only a tragedy for children and families - they are a blow to development, because they deprive communities and society as a whole of incalculable human potential.
They are emblematic of the ongoing challenges to development that we face in this new century - challenges made even more daunting by the relentless spread of HIV/AIDS and by the proliferation of armed conflict and instability.
And yet we know that there is no more direct route to environmental well being than investments in child well being. Indeed, the well being of children is a critical indicator of progress in the pursuit of sustainable development and poverty eradication. By combating disease and malnutrition and by working to assure children's right to a quality basic education, we can pave the way for the sustainable future that is the birthright of every child.
Many of the draft commitments of this Summit grow out of the four pillars of action for children that were drawn up during the UN General Assembly Special Session on Children held in May. They include promoting healthy lives, providing quality education, protecting children from abuse, exploitation and violence - and fighting HIV/AIDS.
The centrality of children to addressing the global environmental crisis was proclaimed by the international community in September 1990, at the World Summit for Children, where 71 world leaders agreed to a set of ambitious, time-bound goals for child survival and development, many of which were later incorporated into the framework of Agenda 21, the Rio programme of action for sustainable development.
The Rio Summit reaffirmed the World Summit goals for children, especially in health nutrition, education, literacy and poverty alleviation. And it put special emphasis on the participation of children and young people in environment and development decision-making, which it stressed was critical to the long-term success of Agenda 21.
In the decade since, there have been some impressive achievements, especially where there has been adequate resources, systematic follow-up, national ownership, effective leadership and involvement by a broad range of stakeholders.
In 1992, UNICEF and its partners called for the eradication of polio by the year 2000; today more than 175 countries are polio-free and the disease is endemic in only 20 countries. There were fewer than 3,000 cases reported in the year 2000 and we are now aiming for eradication by 2005.
One of the most significant success stories grows out of the progress we have seen in the elimination of iodine deficiency disorders (IDD), the world's single greatest cause of mental retardation. In 1990, less than 20 per cent of households in the developing world used iodised salt. Now, thanks to the work of a global partnership involving UNICEF and its partners in government, civil society and the UN System, the figure exceeds 70 per cent - and the result is that some 91 million newborns worldwide are protected yearly from significant losses in learning ability.
But for all the targets met or nearly met, for all the millions of young lives saved and for all the futures enhanced, we failed to make satisfactory progress toward too many of our goals.
While there were gains in some areas, other new and more threatening challenges have emerged - the HIV/AIDS pandemic, the proliferation of armed conflict and complex humanitarian crises. Globalisation has brought enormous benefits to some and devastated the lives of others.
Many African countries have seen a decade of crisis - and, even as we now meet, six neighbouring countries in the region are reeling from cumulative shocks and crises that have put nearly 13 million people at immediate risk - over 6 million of them children, of whom close to half are under the age of 5.
Mr. President, UNICEF and its partners have spent more than thirty-five years working to provide safe drinking water and adequate sanitary facilities for children and families in need. In the decade since the Earth Summit, we have seen significant progress in both categories.
Global access to safe water rose to 82 per cent from 77 per cent in the period, which translates into drinkable water for an additional one billion people.
In sanitation, global coverage rose from 51 per cent to 61 per cent during the 1990s, improving the lives of an estimated one billion people.
Reported cases of guinea worm disease, a water-borne ailment common in areas where the only sources of water are stagnant ponds and shallow wells, dropped by 88 per cent over the last decade.
The downside is that nearly two and a half billion people still lack access to adequate sanitation - and many governments have yet to assign it a high enough priority or provide sufficient resources.
At the same time, more than a billion people still lack access to safe water. And guinea worm disease remains endemic in the poorest villages of 14 African countries that are also prone to water shortages.
Mr. President, achieving truly sustainable development means creating a world that is fit for children - and that means a world with safe drinking water and clean sanitation and hygienic facilities in schools.
That is why UNICEF is today calling on national leaders to ensure that in the course of this decade, every primary school in the world be equipped with separate sanitary facilities for boys and girls - and that every school, without exception, have a source of clean and safe drinking water.
Second, UNICEF urges that this World Summit commit itself to reaching the Millennium Development Goal of halving the number of people who lack access to safe drinking water - a step that will help bring about a 50 per cent reduction in child deaths by the end of this decade.
And third, UNICEF proposes that we redouble our efforts to completely eliminate guinea worm disease, using the same determination and commitment to partnership that have helped UNICEF, WHO and our partners in civil society drive polio to the brink of eradication.
Mr. President, something as simple as providing safe water and clean facilities in schools will not only help protect children from deadly diseases - it will encourage millions of them, especially girls, to enrol in school - and to stay there. And, by ensuring that children, especially girls, get a quality basic education can help a single generation make a huge developmental leap.
It will also free countless numbers of girls and women from spending an inordinate amount of time fetching water when they could be functioning as caregivers, attending school, studying, or being gainfully employed.
Mr. President, I believe that achievement of these goals should be the minimum that the international community can do to assure a healthy environment for children.
Real improvement in the lives of children, their families and their communities is obviously well within our resources. In a global economy worth over $30 trillion - an economy that we are told produces a new billionaire every two weeks - is it really too much to ask that every child have access to clean drinking water - and that there be separate sanitary facilities for girls and boys?
The UN Secretary-General characterised the mission of this Summit as moving from the numerous commitments of the past to specific actions, and he proposed five areas where concrete results are both essential and achievable, beginning with steps to address water and sanitation, as well as energy, agricultural productivity; biodiversity and ecosystem management, and human health.
Mr. President, this gathering represents an unparalleled opportunity to consolidate the outcomes of the continuum of Summits and international Conferences of the 90s into a coherent framework for poverty eradication and the furthering of sustainable development.
This includes forging the crucial link between the Millennium Development Goals, which are now the basis for our action, and the re-commitment for development resources established by the Financing for Development Conference that was held in Monterey.
Investing in children is the key - not only as a matter of child rights, but as good economics. Some studies have shown that for every dollar invested in early childhood programmes, society earns more than $7 in return. It is for this reason that seven out of eight Millennium Development Goals have child-related targets.
I believe that the Johannesburg Summit must emphasise this child-centred development paradigm, and stress that development cannot be sustainable anywhere unless children are protected from vulnerability everywhere, and unless their rights to a basic education of good quality, nutrition, health, water and sanitation are fulfilled.
Mr. President, a world fit for children, where every child can grow to adulthood in health, peace and dignity, will require partnership. And there is no better cause around which to build partnerships than that of children.
The successes of immunisation, primary school enrolment, salt iodisation and child rights promotion in the 1990s all attest to the power of alliances mobilised to support children's well-being.
Mr. President, Excellencies, Distinguished Delegates: The world we seek, a world of sustainable development and sound environmental, social and economic policies - in short, a world fit for children - has remained a dream for more years than we can count. But we at UNICEF are convinced that working together under enlightened leadership, with committed partners, and with an appropriate plan of action and commitment to resources, we can make that dream a reality for each and every child on Earth.