UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore remarks at an event on early childhood development in emergencies
NEW YORK, 23 September 2019 – "Good morning — welcome, everyone, to UNICEF house.
"On behalf of our co-host, the LEGO Foundation represented today by CEO John Goodwin, thank you for joining us as we discuss an urgent issue.
"I’d like to begin with a sobering statistic.
"Last year, more than 29 million babies were born into conflict-affected areas.
"Just imagine — one in five babies born globally spent their earliest moments in communities affected by the chaos of conflict. In Nigeria, South Sudan, Syria, Yemen and other countries.
"I imagine what they experience as they grow up. What they see and hear.
"Losing friends and family members. Or watching helplessly as their neighbourhoods are destroyed.
"Conflict affects not only their physical safety.
"It affects their brains.
"Science shows that prolonged, repeated exposure to traumatic events releases an overflow of cortisol — the “fight or flight” chemical that we all have.
"In small doses, cortisol protects us. But too much of it can break down vital neural connections and inhibit new ones from forming.
"This toxic stress can have devastating consequences on a developing brain.
"UNICEF’s staff members see the consequences — and hear the consequences — every day.
"One in Yemen reported the following. “Some of the young children we see shake with fear, uncontrollably, for hours on end. They don’t sleep. You can hear them whimpering. Others are so malnourished and traumatized, they detach emotionally from the world and people around them, causing them to become vacant, and making it impossible for them to interact with their families.”
"The good news is that we know what to do.
"Outside this room, you can see UNICEF’s Early Childhood Development kits. These kits provide parents, caregivers and teachers with information and learning tools to nurture children’s brains in emergencies.
"Last year, we distributed over 17,000 of these kits across 84 countries. We reached more than 476,000 children, with plans to reach even more this year.
"But we must do more. That’s why we’ve gathered together partners from governments, NGOs and the business community.
"We’re calling for urgent investments in nutrition, education, health and protection for children in emergencies. Including more tools and support to create safe spaces where children can learn and play.
"And we renew our call to all parties to conflict, to adhere to international law…and stop targeting the schools, hospitals and water systems.
"Every country’s future depends on building the human capital of its youngest citizens.
"I look forward to listening to, and learning from, all of you today, as we join forces to protect the key to our common future — the minds of our youngest citizens. Thank you."