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Ann M. Veneman, UNICEF Executive Director

As this Humanitarian Action Report goes to press, global attention is focussed on the earthquake that has devastated Haiti. The media are full of graphic images of the shattered lives of Haitians – children, women, families and communities. Their desperate needs for water, sanitation, food, shelter and protection from violence, are evident for all the world to see.

UNICEF is hard at work with its partners to provide life-saving support, and the urgent need for longer-term investments in this impoverished country could not be clearer.

In the second half of 2009, a series of tropical storms battered the Philippines, causing flooding and mudslides. The storms resulted in loss of life, destruction and the displacement of hundreds of thousands of children and families to emergency shelters.

I travelled to the country to see the damage and to speak with victims and relief workers. A school I visited was serving as a shelter for more than 700 people – 300 of them were children. There, I met a mother who was living in a classroom with her family, together with five other families. Crying, she explained that because of the flooding her husband had no work, leaving the family without money for food or medicine. What remained of their home was only accessible by boat and by wading through knee-high water. Her older children were guarding the house and their belongings, while the little ones, including the youngest – just 10 months old – were with her at the shelter.

Her story was a graphic reminder of why urgent assistance from the international community is essential to help people cope with emergencies and rebuild their lives in the aftermath of humanitarian crises.

Man-made and natural disasters are the ultimate test of the world’s commitment to children. They result in mass displacement, in the breakdown of social and economic systems and in increased vulnerability to disease and ill health. In camp settings, children are at high risk of being separated from their families and more vulnerable to sexual and other abuse, including trafficking, abduction and forced recruitment by armed groups or forces.

Too often, it is children who experience the worst consequences. In eastern parts of the Democratic Republic of the Congo – a region torn apart by years of conflict – it is estimated that more than half of
all reported rapes between January and April 2009 were committed against girls under age 18.

In 2009, the world witnessed large-scale and repeated emergencies throughout Southeast Asia, escalation of emergencies in the Horn of Africa, and severe insecurity and constraints on access to
populations in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The search for innovative ways to meet the desperate needs of children and women caught up in emergencies will continue into 2010. Increasingly, partnerships and collaborative relationships play a key role in national and international humanitarian relief efforts. The special skills and combined strengths of a range of different organizations are essential to identifying and meeting the needs of millions of children whose lives have been dislocated by disaster.

Working with partners, UNICEF responds to more than 200 emergencies every year, from small-scale localized flooding to cross-border conflicts.

This latest edition of UNICEF’s Humanitarian Action Report highlights 28 of the most pressing crises. It explains how UNICEF is partnering with others to save lives and rebuild families and communities. And it appeals for US$1.2 billion to allow this lifesaving work to continue in a predictable, timely, and effective manner.

Ann M. Veneman
Executive Director, UNICEF