UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell's remarks at the launch of UNICEF's Humanitarian Action for Children appeal
As prepared for delivery
ADEN, Yemen, GENEVA/NEW YORK, 5 December 2022 - "Excellencies, partners, friends and supporters of UNICEF, thank you for joining us today as we launch our Humanitarian Action for Children appeal for 2023.
"Earlier this year, I travelled to Ituri Province in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo – an area hard-hit by conflict and attacks on civilians. There, I visited a camp sheltering people who had been displaced by the violence.
"Among the 36,000 children seeking safety, was a 14-year-old boy named Blukwa. Several months before, Blukwa had narrowly escaped being killed in a massacre of civilians in a nearby village. During the attack, Blukwa witnessed the decapitation of his best friend – a horror so extreme that Blukwa wished he had died as well.
"When we met, Blukwa was confronted with an uncertain future – displaced from his home, deeply traumatized, and with limited access to adequate nutrition, care and essential services.
"No child should ever experience such tragedy, trauma and acute deprivation. But right now, there are more children in need of humanitarian assistance than at any other time since the Second World War. Across the globe, they are facing a confluence of crises – from violence and displacement to infectious disease outbreaks and soaring rates of malnutrition.
"Meanwhile, climate change is compounding the severity of these crises and unleashing new ones. Just this year, we have seen a wave of deadly climate-linked disasters, including catastrophic floods in Pakistan, historic drought in the Sahel and Horn of Africa, and blistering heat waves across parts of Europe, the Middle East and North America.
"And it is children who are bearing the brunt, with millions struggling to survive.
The numbers are deeply troubling.
"More than 400 million children living in areas under conflict.
"An estimated 1 billion children – nearly half the world’s children – living in countries at extreme vulnerability to the impacts of climate change.
"At least 36.5 million children displaced from their homes – the highest number ever recorded.
"And 8 million children under 5 across 15 crisis-hit countries at risk of death from severe wasting.
"And we must keep in mind that humanitarian emergencies are not bound by national borders. Conflict and crisis in one part of the world can impact the lives of children thousands of miles away.
"But the situation is not hopeless. We know how to reach children at greatest risk and in greatest need. With support from you – our partners – we have risen to the challenge before. We can, and we must, do it again.
"From Afghanistan to Somalia, from the Sahel to Yemen – UNICEF is on the ground in countries around the world, providing children with lifesaving assistance during humanitarian emergencies. We are strengthening the systems that children rely on – like health care, protection, water and sanitation – and making those systems more resilient to climate shocks. And we are working to anticipate crises so that we are more prepared to meet children’s needs as emergencies unfold.
"But for us to deliver, it is critical that UNICEF and our implementing partners have the right support. Timely, predictable and flexible funding enables us to respond quickly and anticipate future risks. It also helps us to ensure that our humanitarian response is based on need.
"Nelson Mandela once said that “There can be no keener revelation of a society's soul than the way in which it treats its children.” I believe this to be true – especially now as we look ahead to the humanitarian challenges of the coming year. The international community has a choice to make, and the choice is clear. We must choose to help children face down the challenges of a world in crisis.
"Working together, we can reach the most vulnerable children, children suffering from malnutrition because of drought, children at risk of cholera and other infectious diseases, children crossing borders alone, and children like Blukwa living in conflict zones.
"We can respond to existing crises and help communities build resilience for those yet to come. I hope you will support UNICEF’s humanitarian appeal and join us in this ambition for every child."