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Press centre


Statement by Daniel Toole, UNICEF Deputy Executive Director, a.i and Director of Emergency Programmes

Check against delivery

18 April 2007,

Excellencies and colleagues.

On behalf of UNICEF, I am pleased to participate in this crucial meeting and would like to acknowledge the excellent initiative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres.

This meeting demonstrates once again the importance of working together to support the Government of Iraq’s efforts to meet the needs of all its people. As we have heard the lives of millions of Iraqis depend on our strong co-operation and commitment.

In all our work, the role of the Iraqi government is paramount, and we must all ensure that all our actions strengthen national capacity. Only then can we respond to prevent further displacement as well as encourage voluntary return.

The humanitarian situation has deteriorated for all Iraqi children – both inside and outside the country, displaced or living at home. We must all view the humanitarian crisis of Iraq as an urgent, regional issue, without losing sight of those inside the country.

Conditions for children in Iraq were stable but fragile before the downturn in security a year ago. Now, violence prevents many children from attending school. Access to safe water and other basic social services continues to decline. Combined, these factors have created an increasing problem of child malnutrition. And while Iraq has avoided major disease outbreaks so far, the risks are growing daily. Immunization rates are dropping as a result of the decline in security. Access to safe water is reaching a crisis point and diarrhoea outbreaks in the summer months are a real danger. Finally, the conflict is taking a physical and psychosocial toll on children, who witness violence and experience traumatic events.

With access to health and other services increasingly limited, displaced children are far less likely to go to school and they are far less likely to be immunized or be protected from recruitment and exploitation. In addition, children who become refugees require significant support from local health and education systems in host countries such as Syria and Jordan where refugees are encountering strained economies, housing shortages, as well as health and education systems that are stretched beyond capacity. Lack of employment is forcing many to drain their savings and fall into poverty, with child labour a growing concern.

The Iraqi government bears the ultimate responsibility for its people, and UNICEF welcomes the ongoing and additional assistance to Iraq’s internally displaced, their host communities and to neighbouring countries, announced by His Excellency the Foreign Minister Zebari yesterday.
This support must include mobilizing more national resources for emergency aid, as well as for governorates struggling to cope with the influx of displaced families and for refugees in neighbouring countries.

UNICEF fully supports the new Strategic Framework for Humanitarian Action, which underlines our joint responsibility to support the Government of Iraq and its neighbours. We must now move urgently to transform the plans to concrete action and improvements for Iraqi children and their families, wherever they may be.

Despite immense security risks, UNICEF national staff and partners, have continued our aid operations, inside Iraq.  Our water tankering operations in and around Baghdad serve 70,000 people per day and we continue to provide broad support to health and nutrition activities through local and UN partners. UNICEF has also provided basic health, midwifery and obstetrical kits to areas in the South and the Kurdistan Region that have absorbed large numbers of displaced families, while we continue to deliver oral polio vaccines and rehabilitate schools.

To ensure that we are prepared for urgent activities in the coming months, UNICEF has released $2 million dollars from our internal emergency reserve for Iraq and $700,000 for refugees in Syria in the last two months alone.

But together, we must do more. Aid organizations, including UNICEF, need to expand our actions in scope and scale, inside Iraq and in neighbouring countries hosting refugees.  And we must do this in innovative ways to avoid putting staff and partners at unnecessary risk.

Simply put, we must all act now.  The Government of Iraq and the international community must provide immediate funding for humanitarian assistance. To date UNICEF has received only 11 per cent of $20 million needed for the most urgent needs in Iraq, response capacity so far is critically under-funded. More is urgently needed.

Finally, as highlighted by all, security must be restored for our actions to translate into progress for all Iraqis. We cannot ensure widespread health services if women are afraid to take their children to health clinics; we cannot hope for full school enrolment and participation if families are afraid to send their children to school; and we cannot hope for improved health and nutrition if civilians risk their lives everyday simply shopping for groceries.

The time for increased humanitarian action is now and Iraqi families need an end to violence for that to happen.

Thank you.




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