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Speech by UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake at MDGs Follow Up Ministerial Meeting

Tokyo, 3 June 2011

© UNICEF Tokyo/2011/Sato
UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake delivers a keynote speech at the first plenary session of the MDGs Follow-Up Meeting in Tokyo

"Excellencies, colleagues and distinguished guests,

Minasan  ohayo  gozaimas.

On behalf of UNICEF, I thank you for the honour of participating in this important meeting.  But even more, I thank the Japanese government for hosting this meeting at a time when it is working so hard to rebuild after the Great East Japan Earthquake.

The scale of the devastation is immense – and the challenges profound.  But Japan is rising to those challenges.  And its resilience in the face of tragedy is inspiring.  Please accept both our condolences and our admiration.

I have been struck by the stories of thousands of young Japanese volunteers, some of whom have travelled across the country to help their fellow citizens… and by the courage and spirit of the children who have not lost hope.
I look forward to meeting some of these children and volunteers on my visit to Miyagi Prefecture in the next few days.

The outpouring of international support also has been extraordinary, with more than 140 countries and many organizations offering their help, UNICEF among them, reflecting a partnership between Japan and UNICEF that began in 1949 and has grown ever stronger.

We are very proud of the Japan Committee for UNICEF, which has helped to organize a wealth of direct assistance from individuals, corporations, and consumer cooperatives -- including more than $15 million donated by caring Japanese citizens.  And in an act of unity, the family of UNICEF National Committees around the world has raised more than $12 million to date, to aid the relief effort.  

It is clear that the world stands in solidarity with Japan in its hour of need, just as Japan has come to the aid of other nations.  In fact, the Japanese government’s consistent support – and the Japanese people’s unfailing generosity – already have helped to improve the lives of millions of people. 

We at UNICEF have seen the impact of this generosity time and time again … in the millions of children receiving life-saving vaccinations … in the number of girls now able to attend school … and in the many families who are now better able to help their children reach their full potential. 
And we see it in Japan’s resolve to help lead the global effort to achieve the MDGs, even as it works to rebuild here at home.   For just as the world is focused now on helping those in greatest need in Japan, so must we all now turn our attention – and our investments – to reaching those in greatest need in the world’s poorest places, as the Prime Minister and Helen Clark emphasized.

As you know, the world has made significant advances toward achieving the Millennium Development Goals – and realizing greater human security.  Since 2000, when the Millennium Declaration was issued, hundreds of millions of people are no longer living in extreme poverty … 2.1 million fewer children are dying every year from preventable causes before reaching their fifth birthdays … and the number of children out of school has dropped by more than 77 million.  And behind every statistic is a human life.

But as you must also know, this progress is by no means universal.  In fact, in too many nations – even some on track to meet some of the MDGs – gaps between the richest and poorest children are actually widening.  Too many children, too many families, are being forgotten.  

Let us focus on the fact that progress, measured by national averages, can conceal huge local disparities … that statistical success can mask moral failure.

Development experts long have believed that attacking these disparities, that reaching the poorest communities would be nice – but too difficult and too costly.  This is no longer true.   New treatments and new technologies like SMS texting now make it easier to reach the hardest to reach.  New, better-integrated ways of working at the community level are increasing our range. 

Indeed, careful and exhaustive modelling in a study we undertook at UNICEF last year shows that an equity-focused approach is actually more, not less, cost-effective, moving us more quickly to MDG 4 – reducing under-5 mortality.  In low-income, high mortality countries, every additional $1 million invested in an equity-focused approach can save up to 60% more lives than the current path.  And this matters more than ever in a time of fiscal constraint, when cost effectiveness is so important, for programme and donor countries alike. 

In short, the equity approach is not only right in principle.  It is right in practice. 

This means, in practice, doing a better job mapping the areas of greatest need – looking beyond averages and disaggregating the data so as better to target the hardest to reach.

It means developing better monitoring and evaluation of results, to see what is working and where further resources should be focused. 

It means better outreach at the community level, like investing in more community health workers, who go where the children and families in need are. 

Consider immunization campaigns for diseases like polio – a scourge we have almost beaten, but which still strikes the poorest people in the world.  To defeat polio … and measles … and the transmission of HIV from mother to child … and all the other child killers, we have to carry the battle to the hardest to reach places.  We cannot succeed any other way.  

Just as new vaccines help make an equity strategy more cost effective, so do immunization campaigns require an equity approach focused on work in the poorest communities.  The two are bound together.

Putting the equity approach into practice also means better integrating the services we deliver – like leveraging immunization campaigns to distribute bed nets, and administer Vitamin A supplements.

It means better identifying bottlenecks that block our progress in the poorest areas – using approaches like cash transfers to enable the most disadvantaged to access services they cannot now reach or afford. 

And it means leveraging partnerships across the sectors, within the United Nations and beyond.

Above all, we need to come together as a global community and fully commit ourselves to reaching the hardest to reach.  For there can be no true progress in human development unless its benefits are shared – and to some degree, driven – by the most vulnerable among us. 

To be clear, traditional development priorities – for example, improving infrastructure, or supporting agriculture – will always be fundamental to our overall approach.  But we must recognize that investments in the social sector are of equal importance.  In fact, no nation has ever become strong – or remained strong – without it.  Such investment provides more than a “social floor.”  It creates an elevator of future progress.

Consider education.   An extra year of primary school significantly boosts girls’ eventual wages.  And educated girls are less likely to marry young or bear children too early – both key factors perpetuating poverty.

Or nutrition.  Children deprived of key nutrients in the critical period of pregnancy through the second year of life are at great risk of stunting – a condition that can blight their physical and cognitive capacities irreversibly. 

In the developing world, 195 million children suffer from this terrible condition.  They learn less, and they earn less, deepening the cycle of poverty.   

But simple, cost-effective interventions like iodized salt, breast feeding, and micronutrients can help these children and their nations to break that cycle.

Or protection.  Countries like South Africa that invested in strong social protection systems before the global crisis are weathering it better than those that did not.  While other factors play a role in this resilience, it is clear that strategic investment targeting the poorest communities makes a big difference.

With the 2015 deadline for achieving the MDGs fast approaching, we must find new ways to do more with the resources we have, achieving not only more money for development, but also more development for the money – which will, as a result, attract more resources.  This means we must focus investment in areas that provide the greatest return – and the most sustainable results.  And that is what an equity approach, and a greater focus on human security, will achieve.

So much is at stake – and so much to be gained.   For we are discussing here not only the MDGs and theories of development … or strategies focused on equity … or statistics of average progress.    At stake are children’s lives -- and those lives will define the future health of the world.

We can shape that future, in a way that is true to the spirit of the Millennium Declaration, and to our common cause – practical step by practical step, over the next five years and beyond."




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