27 October 2009 – Opening remarks by Mr. Nils Kastberg, UNICEF Representative in Sudan, at the press conference held at UNMIS Headquarters in Khartoum.
Thank you very much. I am very pleased to meet you all and will make a few opening remarks.
I start with the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA). Four years ago, there was a lot of progress in terms of human development that still needed to really make people feel that the CPA is generating tangible progress for people. There is some good news. We had millions of children across Sudan who were reached in terms of measles and polio. We have distributed millions of bed nets which will reduce malaria – I will come to that shortly. We carried out nutrition education – we recently launched a global hand washing campaign, etc. All of these things are saving the lives of children.
But still, I would say, that we have three tremendous life or death challenges:
One: we have 305,000 children under five years of age that die every year from preventable causes, which could be just a matter of arriving in time. Of those, 110,000 die in their first 28 days of life. We are arriving four weeks late to save their lives. It is not a question of what we do in five years; it is a question of what we do in those four weeks after the birth of a child.
The second point is that this is one of the more dangerous places to be a mother. About 26,000 women could die every year because of bringing a new Sudanese to life. As a comparison, in the entire Latin America and Caribbean region with 550 million people, less than 10,000 mothers die giving birth. Here in Sudan, we are talking about 26,000 women dying because of giving birth. Preventable … it is a question of reaching in time; it is a question of stopping the bleeding in time; it is a question of having the health staff where they should be; it is a question of the health staff washing their hands it is a question of her being close to a place where she can receive care that could save her life at the moment of giving birth.
I would like to use an image: if 26,000 Sudanese soldiers die of a strange disease every year, what would the Sudanese President do? What would all the cabinet members be asked to do? What would every state governor and all the ministers be asked to do to help reduce the death of 26,000 soldiers? What would the Government of South Sudan do if 26,000 SPLA soldiers die every year? It doesn’t happen to soldiers; it happens to women who are not armed but are just bringing into world a new Sudanese life. I think it is very important that we start getting our priorities right. I was recently in a town where there were 20 tanks but only one ambulance which could only operate six months of the year because in the other six months, it rains too much for the ambulance to move and there were no boats that could function as ambulances. So it is our priority to look after Sudanese lives … or what is it that we are looking after?
A third element is that there are almost six million kids who are in school but almost three million are out of school (I am rounding the figures so that it could be easier to remember). I just came from the launching of a campaign that I hope would have a big impact which is trying to pay the debt for those that did not receive education in time and it will look at the question of education to those that missed out school and hope to reach one million over the whole country. But we are lagging behind because every year there are three million children that should be there that are not there.
I think that it is possible over the next three years – and that certainly is a commitment on my part – to see how we can reduce the below-five mortality rates by one thirds – from 305,000 to 200,000. I think it is feasible to do so. What are the reasons? Malaria for instance is a huge killer. If we can get the bed nets distributed and get them to be used – there are many that have the bed nets and are not using them. We could get better quality of water, and so on. I think that in three years we could significantly reduce mortality rates, I hope, from 305,000 to 200,000 – but it calls for collective efforts. Secondly, I would hope that we could make a strong effort to reduce maternal mortality rates from 26,000 to at least reduce it by a third.
Finally, could we reduce those out of school by a third? I think it is feasible. But none of this is possible if we continue with the present sense that we are moving towards inevitability of increased levels of conflict. Sudan, more than ever, needs peace; it needs every citizen to feel, “I am prepared to pay the price for peace,” rather than continue paying the price for war. We have to remember that most of the violence around the world, most of the wars, most of the misuse of state budgets, is caused by men and not by women. I think we need a call to all Sudanese men to assume a greater responsibility of understanding how their actions cause harm to women and children and I hope that that can make a huge difference. Let’s have more ambulances and less tanks.
Thank you very much.