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UNICEF says sustainable development possible only with investments in children

© UNICEF Brazil/2012/Alcantara
UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake speaks at the Rio+20 Conference in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil.

By Adriana Alvarenga

At the Rio+20 Conference on sustainable development, UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake asked the world to consider what equity can do for development and children.

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil, 25 June 2012 – Throughout Rio+20, the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development held last week in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake argued that a development model that leaves behind millions of the poorest children is both wrong in principle and unsustainable in practice. 

“A recent IMF staff discussion note shows that as societies become more equitable, economic growth is more sustainable over time,” said Mr. Lake, speaking on Wednesday at the ‘Sustainable Development in an Unequal World’ side event.

“If we can increase vaccinations so that fewer children die of diseases we know how to prevent, if we can provide more micronutrients so that young brains and young bodies grow strong, if we can give more boys and girls a quality education, we will give children everywhere – this generation and the next – the start in life they deserve and make sustainable the future of which they dream.  That is their right, our responsibility and, I hope, one legacy of Rio+20."

© UNICEF Brazil/2012/Alcantara
UNICEF Executive Director speaks to heads of United Nations agencies at the UN Chief Executives Board meeting at the Rio+20 Conference in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil.

Children left behind by development

UNICEF Director of Programmes Nicholas Alipui gave a presentation highlighting the importance of education for sustainable development.  Education has the power to transform the lives of the most disadvantaged – but it must be able to reach them.

“Investing in education – whether formal, informal, non-formal, training or research – is crucial for achieving development, poverty eradication, equity and inclusiveness,” Mr. Alipui said. “Each of the three pillars of sustainable development – economic growth, social development and environmental protection – is dependent upon education,” he said.

Mr. Alipui was joined by Artur Moreno, 20, a participant in the Platform for Urban Centres, an initiative developed by UNICEF in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo.  Mr. Moreno also spoke of children being left behind by development, drawing attention to the national averages that are used to measure counties’ progress toward the Millennium Development Goals.  These averages conceal gaps and disparities within countries, he said.

© UNICEF Brazil/2012/Stephan
UNICEF Director of Programmes Nicholas Alipui speaks at the Rio+20 Conference in in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil.

"When you look at national averages, a country can meet, for example, the goal of sanitation, with 84 per cent coverage. But I’m part of the 16 per cent who are still left behind and have no school, sanitation, roads or health network in their community," Mr. Moreno said.

The Zero Hunger Challenge

During the conference, UNICEF also voiced its commitment to the Zero Hunger Challenge launched by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. The campaign unites support from several UN agencies, businesses and governments.

"Food insecurity generates a hidden hunger that impairs the body and the cognitive system forever.  It is a permanent impairment, a tragedy for the child and a loss for society," Mr. Lake said, noting that those living in disadvantaged communities are worst affected.

Mr. Lake also emphasized the difference between food security and nutrition security, noting that some food secure nations still have high levels of undernutrition and stunting, the irreversible damage to a child’s physical and cognitive development caused by insufficient nutrients during the first two years of life. 


© UNICEF Brazil/2012/Silva
Former youth advocate and current child rights activist Artur Moreno speaks at a side event of the Rio+20 Conference in in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil.

Youth participation

Rio+20 highlighted the importance of youth participation in decision-making, an approach UNICEF promotes because children and adolescents will guide sustainable development for future generations.

"The younger generations cannot be seen as a problem but rather as part of the solution," said Mr. Lake, calling for an intergenerational dialogue on sustainable development.  

Speaking at Rio+Social, a side event hosted by the UN Foundation, Mashable and others, Mr. Lake joined Brazilian pop star and UNICEF National Ambassador Daniela Mercury in a discussion of how social media is giving young people a greater voice and helping to shape the debate on sustainable development. 

“UNICEF is using social media in a number of different ways – to draw attention to issues that otherwise would not get enough attention,” Mr. Lake said.  “This would have been impossible ten years ago.”

The conference gathered leaders from around the world in Brazil, and concluded after a week that initiated processes to put the world on track towards sustainable development.



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