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UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman visits Syrian Arab Republic

DAMASCUS, 29 June 2009 – On the first visit ever of a UNICEF Executive Director to the Syrian Arab Republic, Ann M. Veneman met with Syrian President Bashar Al Assad, government ministers, First Lady Asma Akhras Al Assad and visited programs assisting children, youth and Iraqi refugees.

“Syria is recognizing the critical importance of investing in children and adolescents,” said Veneman. “Yet challenges remain including ensuring quality education, providing opportunities for youth and addressing the impact of drought.”

Syria has made significant progress in achieving the Millennium Development Goals. Under-five mortality decreased from 37 per 1,000 live births in 1990 to 17 in 2007, and more than 90 per cent of primary age children are attending school.

However, some 4 per cent of children aged 5 to 14 are involved in child labor and 13 per cent of women between the ages of 20 and 24 were married before they reached 18. Malnutrition is a public health concern, with 22 per cent of children less than five years old suffering from stunting. Many children face violence in homes and schools and it is important to protect them from such violations of their rights.

According to the United Nations refugee agency, Syria is hosting over 1 million refugees from Iraq. This influx of refugees has put pressure on the country’s education and health systems, and UNICEF is working with partners to help meeting the needs of Iraqi refugee women and children.

Adolescent and child-friendly spaces have been established to provide psychosocial support, learning opportunities and life skills to refugee children and women.

During her trip, Veneman visited programs to support adolescents, met with representatives of  key non-governmental organizations  promoting entrepreneurship among children and young people, and visited water projects.

She also visited a UNICEF-supported community health care centre for women serving Iraqi refugees, a microfinance institution supported by the Agha Khan Foundation, a business orientation program for adolescents supported by Syria Trust for Development project SHABAB.

Veneman also met with ministers of Health and Education, as well as the Head of the State Planning Commission, the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Head of the Syrian Commission for Family Affairs and the President of the Syrian Arab Red crescent.

UNICEF is on the ground in over 150 countries and territories to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence. The world’s largest provider of vaccines for developing 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.

About the UNICEF Executive Director
Ann M. Veneman assumed the leadership of UNICEF on 1 May 2005, becoming the fifth Executive Director to lead UNICEF in its 60-year history. Prior to joining UNICEF, Veneman served as Secretary of the United States Department of Agriculture. At UNICEF, Veneman directs a global agency of over 10,000 staff and annual total resources of more than $3 billion, funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of governments, businesses, foundations and individuals. Since assuming the position of Executive Director, she has traveled around the world, witnessing firsthand the work of UNICEF, speaking at meetings and conferences, and visiting heads of state or government and other partners.

For more information, please contact:
Abdel-Rahman Ghandour
UNICEF Regional Office in the Middle East and North Africa,
Tel + 962-79-700-4567
E-mail: arghandour@unicef.org 

Razan Rashidi
Tel + 963-933-549-020
E-mail: rrashidi@unicef.org





29 June 2009:
UNICEF correspondent Amy Bennett reports on Executive Director Ann M. Veneman’s landmark trip to Syria.
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Global Humanitarian Forum

Drought was one of the issues addressed during Ann M. Veneman's visit to Syria. At the Global Humanitarian Forum in Geneva just prior to the trip, she joined a panel discussion on climate change, which is increasingly cited as a cause of drought and severe weather.

Watch the panel entitled 'Humanitarian Actors'.
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