UNICEF is committed to doing all it can to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), in partnership with governments, civil society, business, academia and the United Nations family – and especially children and young people.
President Spadafora, grazie mille for that warm welcome.
Ladies and gentlemen, it is a pleasure to be here with you in Rome. I was not only honoured to be invited here, I was excited both by the occasion and by any excuse to visit one of my favourite countries in the world.
And it was an honour to begin my visit this morning by meeting with President Napolitano…
Il bel paese has given the world so much: from art and architecture to culture and cuisine. But of the many things for which you are admired, one I am struck by is Italy’s example of family…the way children are placed front and centre.
I’ll never forget one of the first of many trips to Italy, many years ago, when I visited Rome with my family. My daughter, Nellie, was around 2 years old. Now, to her doting father, she did indeed look like a Renaissance cherub… but as we walked around the streets of Roma, my wife and I were overwhelmed by the number of people who stopped us to admire her, exclaiming over and over again: “Que bella bambina!” And as they were falling in love with our baby daughter, I was falling in love with Italy.
I think it is, therefore, fitting that you are using the occasion of 150 years of national unity to reflect on Italy’s progress in improving child survival. Italy’s story is similar to that of other industrialized nations, which have seen child mortality plummet over the last century. UNICEF is proud to have played a small part in achieving this success in the aftermath of World War Two, when so many children suffered so greatly.
It is this mutual desire to improve children’s lives that have made Italy and UNICEF such strong partners. And that partnership has grown ever stronger because of Italy’s leadership and commitment to safeguard children … and certainly also thanks to the dedication and creativity of UNICEF’s National Committee -- among the most successful in the UNICEF family --as well as the generosity of the Italian people.
But, as you know, the condition of children in Italy 150 years ago is sadly the current condition of too many countries today, and the future of far too many children tomorrow.
Our recent estimates are that around 7.6 million children under the age of 5 are dying from preventable causes every year – more than double the population of Rome. That means every day almost 21,000 children will die. And they didn’t have to. We could have saved them.
21,000 is a terrible number. But it is also a number of hope.
Because in the 1980s, that number was 36,000. In 1990, it was 33,000. In 2000 it was 26,000. And earlier this month we learned that in 2010, it was 21,000.
How did we -- all of us -- do it? We did it by focusing the world’s attention on child mortality – in 1990 at the World Children’s Summit and steadily thereafter. We did it through vaccination programmes. We did it through nutrition programmes. We did it through better water and sanitation.
And now we must redouble our efforts to reach those 21,000 children.
Where are they? Overwhelmingly, in the poorest communities. And the harsh fact is that the progress we have made on saving the lives of children under five has been disproportionate among the children who are better off and in the areas easiest to reach. Our challenge now is to reach the hardest to reach, most vulnerable children. The forgotten children.
That is why UNICEF is emphasizing equity in all of its programmes. We are doing this not only because it is right -- that is self-evident -- but because a recent UNICEF study shows that it is also more cost-effective. To simplify the conclusions of a complex modelling exercise: you save more children’s lives where the needs are greatest.
By concentrating our resources on these hardest to reach places, we can accelerate progress to the day when the number of children who die from preventable causes is zero.
For that day to come, we must all do more than merely believe in zero -- we must all play a part in achieving it…from awareness raising and fundraising to volunteering our time.
Who more than the people of Italy, with their love of children and family, would take greater joy in that day of zero? And who better to help us reach that day?
I am very happy to be here to celebrate Italy’s embrace of this campaign, just as I know they embrace meeting the desperate needs of the children in the Horn of Africa who are, as we meet, facing unspeakable hardships.
And unhappily, more and more are dying and suffering off camera … out of the headlines. We must not forget them.
Across Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya, tens of thousands of people have already died; more than 300,000 children are suffering from severe acute malnutrition and are at imminent risk of dying.
In Somalia, 4 million people are in extreme need. 1.5 million children in the south require immediate humanitarian assistance. We estimate that 190,000 children there suffer from severe acute malnutrition. Without help, these children could die in a few weeks.
Their suffering demands and deserves our most urgent response. UNICEF has established hundreds of nutrition centres and programmes in Somalia; we are reaching more than four million people with water and sanitation efforts in the region; and we are planning measles’ vaccination programmes to reach more than ten million children in the region. But these efforts are not enough. The crisis has not yet peaked. There will be no major harvests for the rest of the year. In short, the disaster is set to worsen.
We cannot prevent it, but we can save many lives. And some day, we can know we did our best to do so. But we can do it with the support of our friends around the world. Friends like Italy – and we greatly appreciate your support. We need it now, more than ever.
Because whether they are children in the Horn … or among those 21,000 children who die around the world every day … or whether they were children in Italy who died unnecessarily 150 years ago, they are children. It is for them that we must believe in zero – vogliamo zero!