UNICEF Executive Director ends first visit to Sudan with sense of optimism

© UNICEF Sudan/2007/Cranston
During a visit to a UNICEF-supported child-friendly centre, UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman talks to children living in the Abu Shouk camp for displaced persons in North Darfur.

By Edward Carwardine

KHARTOUM, Sudan, 5 November 2007 – UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman wrapped up her first visit to Sudan yesterday, expressing optimism at progress she had witnessed for women and children, while noting more efforts were needed, especially in tackling high rates of child and maternal mortality.

Ms. Veneman was particularly impressed by the number of children now learning again in Southern Sudan. In the town of Malakal, she toured classrooms in one UNICEF-supported school to see firsthand how enrolment had leaped in the last two years, since the Comprehensive Peace Agreement that ended Sudan’s civil war.

Across Southern Sudan, primary school attendance has almost tripled from wartime estimates of 340,000 to some 1.2 million children now in classes.

Child survival campaign

Launching a measles vaccination campaign as part of the new Sudan Accelerated Child Survival Initiative, Ms. Veneman underlined that such integrated packages of health care would address preventable diseases that claim thousands of lives every year in Sudan.

The 2006 Sudan Household Health Survey has found that 28 per cent of children under five were suffering from diarrhoeal disease, and one-fifth of children in the same age group had malaria.

“There must be a collective sense of urgency if we are to achieve the Millennium Development Goals,” said Ms. Veneman. “There needs to be continued focus by the government at every level. With continued investment in education and health, we can move towards achieving the MDGs, and UNICEF will work with the government to push for that.”

© UNICEF Sudan/2007/Cranston
UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman with a mother and her sick child at a UNICEF-supported therapeutic feeding centre at the Abu Shouk camp, North Darfur.

Need for access to schools

Visiting North Darfur, Ms. Veneman saw the impact of the conflict on women and children as she met with mothers and children in a pre-school centre and therapeutic feeding programme in the Abu Shouk camp for displaced persons.

“I was very struck by the fact that many of these children were born in these camps and their entire view of the world is based on that. That’s why it is so important that children have access to child-friendly centres and schools that create some sense of ‘normalcy’ for these children – but clearly it would be better if the situation allowed them to return to their homes and have a secure life there,” she said.

Ms. Veneman also saw how some local communities were taking a lead in rebuilding education, health care and income-generation for women. During a visit to a rural village in North Darfur, she stressed the importance of community leadership as an integral part of any long-term development strategy.

‘Headed in the right direction’

The final stop on Ms. Veneman’s itinerary was the new Child and Family Protection Unit in Khartoum, developed by the Sudanese Government and national police to assist victims of abuse and violence. She described the unit as a potential model for the rest of Africa in both raising awareness of, and providing support to, those affected by gender-based violence.

“I come away from my time in Sudan with a sense of optimism about progress being made in many parts of Sudan,” said Ms. Veneman.

“And while there is a lot to be done and lot of issues to be resolved, especially in Darfur,” she added, “I think that the country is generally headed in the right direction with regards to progress for women and children.”




6 November 2007:
UNICEF's  Edward Carwardine reports on Executive Director Ann M. Veneman’s visit to Sudan.
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