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Press release

As leaders prepare to agree Afghan Compact, UNICEF urges “Women and Children First”

Two days in London could change lives of two generations of Afghan children, says agency.

Kabul/London/Geneva, 30 January 2006 – As representatives of more than 70 countries sit down tomorrow with leaders of the Afghan Government to shape the reconstruction framework for the nation, UNICEF is urging delegates to maintain a clear focus on the development needs of children and mothers.

Speaking on the eve of the two day Afghanistan Compact summit being held in London, UNICEF Representative to Afghanistan Mr. Bernt Aasen highlighted the fundamental need for sustained investment in core services such as health and education, as a way of ensuring long-term development in the country.

“Despite the incredible progress made for women and children since the 2001 Bonn Accord, Afghanistan remains a country where 600 children under the age of five die every day, mostly from preventable causes. At least 50 women die every day from obstetric complications, linked to low rates of female literacy and poor education. It is against this background that the Compact is being developed,” said Aasen.

UNICEF welcomed the inclusion of key benchmarks for child development in the Afghanistan Compact, which sets out a roadmap for reconstruction over the next five years. The Compact establishes targets of under-five mortality reduction of 20 per cent, of maternal mortality reduction by 15 per cent, and girls’ primary school enrolment levels of 60 per cent, all by the year 2010.

However, Aasen cautioned, these targets can only be met if sustained investment is made in basic health and primary education in Afghanistan, a country which UNICEF estimates is 29 per cent worse off than the average of the world’s Least Developed Countries and where under-five mortality rates are 40 times worse than the average of industrialised nations.

“We cannot underestimate the importance of the development agenda, which must be at the heart of any commitments made at this summit,” said Aasen. “These two days in London could change the lives of two generations of children here in Afghanistan.”

Moreover, says UNICEF, investments in health and education have knock-on benefits for economic growth, reduction of disparities, and enhancement of stability and security.

“Committed spending on health and education will keep children and women alive today, improve their prospects for growth for tomorrow, and contribute to poverty reduction in the long-term,” said Aasen. “Investments in education build a literate workforce that can restart industry. Investments in core services enhance capacity at all levels, which leads to better fiscal management and policy development. Delivery of life-changing services nationwide reduces the divide between communities, and can help build a social contract between a population and its leadership. All these issues are critical in the emerging Afghanistan.”

UNICEF has just launched a new three year programme of cooperation with the Government of Afghanistan, aimed at tackling the high rates of child and maternal mortality, and low enrolment of girls in school, with an emphasis on reaching under-served provinces of the country where indicators are especially poor. The programme combines support to delivery of core services in health and education, with assistance in building Government capacity at all levels.

Note to editors

Bernt Aasen, UNICEF Representative to Afghanistan, is available for interviews from Kabul, in English, Spanish and Norwegian.

Please contact the UNICEF Afghanistan Country Office on +93 7996 07400 to arrange telephone interviews.

Kabul is GMT +4.5 hours.

For 60 years UNICEF has been the world’s leader for children, working on the ground in 155 countries to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence.  The world’s largest provider of vaccines for poor countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, good water and sanitation, quality basic education for all boys and girls, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation, and AIDS.  UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations and governments.

For further information, please contact:

Edward Carwardine, Head of External Relations
+93 (0) 799 60 7400

Mohammad Rafi, Assistant Communication Officer
+93 (0) 799 60 7403

United Nations Children’s Fund 
Afghanistan Country Office
UNOCA Compound
Jalalabad Road 
Kabul, Afghanistan




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