New York – 2 June 2003
Mr. President, Distinguished Delegates, Colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen:
It is a pleasure to join in welcoming you to this Annual Meeting of UNICEF’s Executive Board.
Let me begin by explaining the absence of Karin Sham Poo, Deputy Executive Director and my steady right hand, who is bouncing back – I use the term advisedly – from an unfortunate fall that left her hospitalised with a hairline pelvic fracture. As steady as her progress has been, the doctors doubt she’ll be fully back on her feet much before the end of August. I know the Board will join me in wishing her the speediest possible recovery.
Mr. President, the last 12 months have been every bit as tumultuous as the previous 12. We have again seen the international landscape repeatedly reshaped, often at such bewildering speed that the world we knew at bedtime is unrecognisable by morning.
Some of these transformations are beneficial, others not. Some are too ambiguous to call. But I think there is nonetheless a growing consensus that the world is a more dangerous place than it was prior to the terrorist attacks in September 2001.
The last few months alone bear witness to the range of the latest turmoil, from the continuing unrest in postwar Iraq to heightened conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Indonesian province of Aceh; HIV/AIDS-complicated food shortages in eastern, southern and the Horn of Africa; the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan; the resurgence of poverty in Argentina, and the wildfire spread of HIV among young people in Central and Eastern Europe.
In all of these situations, it is civilians who are most at risk – the vast majority of them children and women. And it is for that reason, in our 57th year, that UNICEF staff are on the front lines of the battle for child rights, working to build a global constituency dedicated to the proposition that that the well-being of the world’s children is everybody’s business, from the family and the grassroots to the highest levels of government.
Those words resonated recently as I traveled to Indonesia, Iraq, Pakistan and Peru – all places where UNICEF and its partners are working to safeguard children’s health and ensure their education while building protective environments that will safeguard them from exploitation and abuse and threats like landmines, unsafe water and inadequate sanitation.
Mr. President, there is no stronger bond for building national unity than the welfare of our children – and that is why UNICEF staff in Iraq have launched an across-the-board drive to address the humanitarian needs of Iraq’s young, who represent half of the country’s population of 25 million.
In Baghdad and other cities plagued by unsafe water and dysfunctional sewage systems, UNICEF and its partners are making daily deliveries of hundreds of thousands of liters of drinking water as we help to repair and upgrade water treatment and delivery systems.
A local contractor has been hired by UNICEF to tackle the laborious job of repairing leaks in hundreds of feet of Baghdad’s water pipes. UNICEF has also reimbursed members of the Baghdad Water Authority who had continued to work during the war, noting that the payment were in recognition of their service under circumstances fraught with danger.
UNICEF is also helping a number of municipalities attack a public health threat that has been implicated in ground-water pollution – the disposal of huge piles of garbage that have been piling up since the collapse of city services more than two months ago.
In Basra, where we are deeply concerned about the possibility of a cholera outbreak, UNICEF is working with the World Health Organization, the International Committee of the Red Cross, local officials and NGOs to distribute cholera treatment kits and other equipment to hospitals.
Mr. President, there can be no wiser investment, and no greater return, than educating children, girls as well as boys. How fully they develop is a key determinant not only of their future, but of entire societies. The power of education extends beyond the development of skills needed for economic success. It contributes to nation-building and reconciliation.
For all those reasons, UNICEF has made getting Iraq’s children back to school an urgent priority. We face a formidable task, as I saw for myself on a tour of schools in the Saddam City section of Baghdad. Most of Iraq’s 8,000 schools need repairs or clean up, and another 5,000 need to be built to accommodate all of Iraq’s 12 million school-age children. Poor hygiene and sanitation in primary schools is also a serious concern; for example, less than half of all primary schools have access to potable water.
But we were greatly heartened by the Government of Japan, which has just donated $10.2 million to UNICEF to support the reopening of schools in Iraq. The donation brings Japan’s total contributions to UNICEF’s emergency relief efforts in Iraq to more than $15 million, making it the leading governmental donor to UNICEF’s appeal for Iraqi children so far. Other major donors include the United Kingdom, the United States, Australia, Canada, and the European Union.
Distinguished Delegates, as important as our work in Iraq and elsewhere may be, the job of ensuring child rights in Africa remains UNICEF’s most formidable mandate – and you will be hearing an oral report on the subject later. It comes amid two developments that illustrate the depth of the African crisis: the resurgence of a brutal civil war in the DRC, one that has indirectly caused the deaths of thousands of children; and the tenacity of the HIV/AIDS pandemic in much of sub-Saharan Africa. The passage of a Bush Administration bill to provide $15 billion to fight HIV/AIDS in 14 hard-hit countries in Africa and the Caribbean has stirred hopes that other members of the G8 will follow suit before their Summit ends.
Among other agenda items, we will be presenting an update on UNICEF’s recovery policy. The report will summarise the generally positive reactions we received from regional groups, National Committees and numerous bilateral consultations.
Finally, I want to draw your attention to 13 country programme documents that, for the first time, will be presented to the Board as drafts for your comments and discussion. The Board is required to approve the aggregate indicative budgets from Regular Resources, subject to availability of funds and Other Resources levels subject to the availability of specific purpose contributions. Taking into account the comments of the Board, the draft documents will be revised and include the summary results matrix and then be submitted to the Board for approval on a no-objection basis at the first regular session in 2004.
Mr. President, Distinguished Delegates: The essence of UNICEF and its work with children has been brought into sharper focus as a result of the ongoing branding exercise directed by the Division of Communication. This is an ongoing effort to communicate with more clarity and refocus our attention on the unique mission of this Organisation.
UNICEF remains what its founders intended – a moral force for children the world over, our focus fixed doggedly on the well-being of the “whole child.” That single-minded approach is why the Convention on the Rights of the Child entered into force more rapidly and overwhelmingly than any human rights treaty in history. It is why the World Summit for Children drew the largest gathering of national leaders ever seen – and inspired them to make a solemn commitment to give every child a better future. And it is why I have no doubt that the General Assembly’s Special Session on Children will be remembered as a watershed in the drive for build a world fit for every child.