UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore's remarks at Munich Security Conference: “Human Security in the Middle East”

17 February 2019
Families fleeing escalating violence in Deraa setting up tents on the southwestern borders of Syria.  The escalating hostilities in southwest Syria endanger an estimated 750,000 people - almost half of them children. The recent violence has also reportedly displaced over 45,000 people.  UNICEF and partners continue to provide health, nutrition and water & sanitation relief support to hundreds of thousands of families across southwest Syria.
UNICEF/Alaa Al-Faqir
Families fleeing escalating violence in Deraa setting up tents on the southwestern borders of Syria. June 21, 2018

Munich, Germany, 17 February 2019 -

"I appreciate this opportunity to discuss human security in the context of the Middle East. A region that has seen too little peace. Too much conflict. And a continued unraveling of the diverse social fabric that has for so long defined the region. In fact, this social fabric is being torn apart.

"Many countries in the region — like Syria, Iraq and Libya — were once prosperous places, with functioning health care, education systems, and ladders of opportunity.

"Consider Syria — a country that achieved universal primary education in 2000. Today, over two million children — 36 per cent of the total number — are out of school. Hundreds of schools have been attacked. One in three is unusable because it is damaged, destroyed, or being used for military purposes. 

"As Professor Ischinger said in his opening remarks: We can not just wait and watch as protracted conflicts harm the prospects and hopes of young people.

"Today, across the region, conflicts have swept across these countries — and stretched beyond their borders.

"As these conflicts have torn communities and societies apart, they’ve endangered those least responsible, but most affected: children.

"In Syria, in the first nine months of last year, 1,300 children were killed or maimed.

"In Iraq, where the fighting has subsided, families returning home face a new threat: unexploded ordinance. So education for children to not play or touch with unexploded ordinance is important.

"The Israeli-Palestinian conflict saw a worrying spike in killing and injuring of children last year, of violence among young people when they should be building peace together.

"And in Yemen — the world’s worst humanitarian crisis — conflict continues to shatter the lives of millions of children. Hospitals are staffed by workers who haven’t been paid in over two years. There aren’t enough respirators and medicine to go around. A child dies every 10 minutes in Yemen of preventable causes, including malnutrition. In a world where science and medicine are so well-advanced, this is unacceptable.  

"As these conflicts rage on, we’re witnessing a terrible trend — the Geneva Conventions are being disregarded or ignored with impunity.

"Targeted and indiscriminate attacks are killing and injuring children on a horrific scale.

"Children are facing violations ranging from direct violence — to abduction and recruitment to armed groups and forces.

"Safe spaces have become anything but safe, as schools and hospitals are attacked, along with water and sanitation systems.

"For UNICEF and our many partners across the region, the scope of the challenge is daunting, nearly overwhelming, and rising.

"Across the Middle East/North Africa region, 71 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance. Over half are children.

"Nelson Mandela once said: “There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way it treats its children.”

"So let’s everyone ask ourselves – how do we measure against Nelson Mandela’s challenge?

"If our children do not know peace, health, education and nutrition in their lives today — or what a cohesive society even looks like — how can they build it for the generations to come? Will they be willing or even able to do so? When the fighting stops, will they build peace? Or will they perpetuate the old hatreds of their fathers and grandfathers that have fuelled these conflicts and wars over generations?

"Those of us who believe in the pathway of peace must stand our ground. We must not allow violence and conflict to become the “new normal.” We must step in to protect children, wherever they are.

"With our many partners in the region, UNICEF is doing all we can, but we need help from the leaders of this security forum.

"On an immediate basis, we’re providing health services like immunizations, and working to reunite children with their families.

"We’re delivering emergency nutrition, and water and sanitation.

"And we’re advocating with parties to conflict to gain access to the children caught in the line of fire.   

"We are receiving child soldiers and reintegrating them in society.

"Over the long term, we’re supporting the rehabilitation of schools and water infrastructure. We’re working to keep medical clinics open and provide medical personnel with lifesaving supplies and medicine.

"Increasingly, we’re providing vital cash transfers to families. In Yemen for example, we’re reaching 1.5 million of the poorest families – about 9 million people – a lifeline for the poorest families in the poorest country in the region.

"And we’re putting a strong focus on helping children affected continue their education. Not only so they’re prepared to assume the mantle of economic and social citizenship and leadership one day. But because school is where children from different backgrounds can learn together…play together…and begin reconstructing the social fabric that holds together every peaceful society. 

"This need for social cohesion in the Middle East must be a top priority for all of us. We need to mend and reset the fabric of society. It will need to start with the young – in their schools, in both primary and secondary schools.

"These are all investments in people and communities that can serve immediate and future needs — and sow the seeds of peace and stability.

"But we must do still more.

"First — we call on our global donors to urgently scale-up our support for children and young people across the region. Last month, UNICEF made a global appeal for increased funds to meet the increased humanitarian needs around the world. The Middle East/North Africa region represents the lion’s share of this amount.

"Second — in the countries affected, we renew our call for immediate, unconditional and sustainable access to all children in need. Wherever they are. No matter who controls the areas in which they live. Ceasefires and days of tranquillity are important gestures of humanity.

"Third — we renew our call for all parties to conflict, and those who can influence them, to end attacks on children, schools, hospitals and water infrastructure. To respect international humanitarian law and child rights.

"And fourth — in Syria, Yemen and Libya, we urge all parties to sit at the table and thoughtfully imagine what peace would look like.

"In the meantime, UNICEF and our partners will continue serving children’s needs across the region.

"By doing so — child by child — we can help build the human security, and hopefully peace, that is at the centre of every cohesive society. We, too, can help pick up the pieces."


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