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To the 2nd Regular Session of UNICEF's Executive Board

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New York - 16 September 2000

Mr. President, Distinguished Delegates, Colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen:

It is a pleasure to welcome you to this, our last Executive Board Meeting of 2002. The New Year is still four months away. But it is already clear that 2002 will be remembered as a time of hope and reaffirmation.

Consider these three outcomes:

In March, the Monterey Conference on Development Financing vowed to renew the international drive against poverty, using the power of education and the economic good sense of investing in children.

In May, the General Assembly Special Session for Children laid the foundation for a new 21st Century agenda for children based on promoting healthy lives; providing quality basic education, protecting children from abuse, exploitation and violence; and combating HIV/AIDS.

And just a few weeks ago, the World Summit for Sustainable Development elevated the issues of water and sanitation to a high-level political priority, vowing to reduce by half the number of people denied access to adequate sanitation.

It has also been a time for recognising hard truths. We have come to see that terror has a thousand faces - and one of them is the explosive spread of HIV/AIDS, which, together with armed conflict, threatens human security as surely as any weapon of mass destruction.

Last week in Johannesburg, at an African Leadership Consultation, UNICEF and its partners - including the consultation's hosts, Nelson Mandela and Graça Machel - helped shape a set of emergency proposals to address one of the most neglected consequences of the AIDS pandemic - the plight of the world's 14 million AIDS orphans, 11 million of whom live in sub-Saharan Africa.

There are also urgent discussions under way about how to help the nearly 3 million children who are living with AIDS in Africa - and the 2,000 infants who are infected daily with HIV. In that connection, Distinguished Delegates, I am pleased that there will be an opportunity this week for you to hear a presentation on the critical issue of mother-to-child transmission.

It is also noteworthy that as we meet, the General Assembly is turning its attention to NEPAD - the New Partnership for African Development.

A central question, posed recently by the Secretary-General's Special Envoy for AIDS in Africa, Stephen Lewis, is whether NEPAD's objectives - including an annual growth rate of 7 per cent over 15 years; the halving of poverty by the year 2015; and the reduction of infant mortality rates by two-thirds - can possibly be achieved without first defeating HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.

Mr. President, there is only one way to address such problems. In a direct and powerful speech last week to the General Assembly, the Secretary-General reminded Member States that no nation is an island - and that multilateral action is indispensible, whether in the service of fighting terrorism, eradicating poverty, ignorance and disease, or protecting children from such threats as climate change, HIV/AIDS, and sexual trafficking.

Nothing so heartbreakingly reflects the human and environmental costs of poverty and underdevelopment than the humanitarian crisis gripping much of southern Africa, a crisis that I saw for myself on a recent tour of the subregion. There, HIV/AIDS has helped trigger a complex disaster involving food shortages, unsafe water and inadequate sanitation, adverse weather conditions, armed conflict and instability.

The consequences are reflected in rising levels of child malnutrition, stunting - and the proliferation of preventable child killers like measles, diarrhoea, and acute respiratory infections.

Mr. President, it is estimated that almost half of the developing world's people suffer from diseases associated with lack of safe water, adequate sanitation and hygiene. Actions to reverse these trends are eminently affordable and feasible. Yet funding remains unacceptably meagre, particularly for rural water supply and urban sanitation.

Children are at especially high risk for contracting diseases from unsafe water and sanitation facilities in their schools. Indeed, each year, millions of school-age children develop infections that trigger or aggravate malnutrition and anaemia while compromising their physical development and their ability to learn.

That is why UNICEF formally proposed at the Johannesburg Summit that a major global effort be launched to ensure that by the end of the decade, every school has a supply of clean water and separate sanitary facilities for both girls and boys.

Distinguished Delegates, this is a worthy and feasible goal. And it will ultimately serve the interests of basic education, which is itself the most powerful vaccine we have against HIV/AIDS - as well as the most direct route to sustainable development.

Mr. President, Distinguished Delegates, one final note: I know you will all join me in paying tribute to our friend and colleague Denis Cailleaux, who is moving on to new challenges at Care International after a long and distinguished career at UNICEF. Denis's 23 years of service - the last three as Secretary of the Executive Board - are a chronicle of a deep and abiding commitment to the cause of children and their well-being. And I think it is a measure of his success that that the passage of time has done so little to erode his boundless energy, his generosity of spirit - or his indelible youthfulness. Denis: merci beaucoup.

Thank you.