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Press centre


Speech by Anthony Lake, UNICEF Executive Director, on the Third World Humanitarian Day

NEW YORK, 19 August 2011

I am moved to be part of this event celebrating our brave colleagues who gave their lives for others; and our colleagues who are, today, risking their lives around the world in the same selfless cause.

I am proud to be in the presence of the families of those who made that sacrifice.

I’d like to thank the Secretary General for his eloquent tribute to our fallen and serving colleagues; for his strong leadership of the UN’s humanitarian missions; and for his concern for the welfare of aid workers everywhere.

In particular, I’d like to note the contributions around the world of  UN national staff (who, in UNICEF, comprise 75% of our staff in the field).  They are working, often at great risk, not only for the children in their own countries, but for the future of their nations.

We owe them a debt of gratitude, not just today, but every day.

Nowhere is this more true than in the Horn of Africa, where we face a human disaster that is becoming a human catastrophe.

Tens of thousands of people have already died. More than 300,000 children across the region are severely malnourished and at imminent risk of dying.

In Somalia, 1.4 million children are affected by this crisis. The rates of severe acute malnutrition have reached levels we have rarely seen anywhere for decades.

It is always the children –the most vulnerable- who suffer the most. This is a children’s crisis.

Their plight demands and deserves our most urgent, bold, and sustained response.

We are responding. In different ways, UN agencies and others are working together to deliver aid as fast as we can.

For example, in Somalia, UNICEF has established hundreds of nutrition centres and programmes; is reaching more than a million people with water and sanitation efforts; and is planning measles’ vaccination programmes to reach 2 million children.

But it is not enough.  The crisis has not peaked.  There will be no major harvests for the rest of the year. It will get worse.

So, today, while we honour our colleagues who lost their lives in our struggle to save lives, we are also issuing an urgent call for action on behalf of the peoples of the Horn of Africa.

Nor must we forget those in Japan still picking through the rubble to rebuild their lives…those in Haiti still crammed into makeshift camps…those in Pakistan facing new rains and possible new floods.

Let us work for all those people - - not simply because they are “victims” of these disasters.  Not merely out of pity.  But in admiration and support for their courageous efforts, in terrible circumstances, to survive and save their children’s lives.

They, like our lost colleagues and those aid workers braving dangers around the world today --are heroes.




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