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9 April 2008 - speech on the occasion of World Health Day

Your Excellency the Minster of Health, distinguished representative of the Government of National Unity, the honourable Representative of the World Health Organization in Sudan, other colleagues from the United Nations and non-governmental organizations, ladies and gentlemen.

Nearly 10 million children under age five die around the world every year from largely preventable diseases. Many of the main global killers of children – including malaria, meningitis and diarrhoea – are sensitive to changes in temperature and rainfall, and could become more common if weather patterns change. Here in Sudan, malaria and diarrhoea each already affect up to 30 per cent of children.

Sudan is also affected by extremes of climate – from lack of water in many parts of the country to flooding in others. Not only do climate-related emergencies take a toll on the most vulnerable of communities but the related destruction of homes, schools and health centres resulting from natural disasters reduce services available to families.

Based on the 2006 Sudan Household Health Survey, 31 per cent of children in Sudan were either moderately or severely underweight while nearly a third suffered from moderate or severe stunting. Last year’s report by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) found that malnutrition and associated disorders, including those related to child development, could increase as the global climate changes.

Reduced supplies of clean water in some areas could also add to the burden on rural women and girls, who are usually responsible for collecting water for cooking and washing. In all cases, the poor are likely to be disproportionately affected because of the absence of coping mechanisms, thereby reinforcing the disparities between the 'haves' and the 'have nots'.

For all these reasons, UNICEF takes the issue of climate change and its impact on health very seriously. In Sudan we have been working with our partners in government and civil society not only to increase access to clean water and sanitation, but to better monitor the water table, to help with the planning and implementation of effective water services.

In Darfur, where deforestation is a highly visible symptom of the humanitarian situation, with many communities reliant upon wood as their main source of heat and energy, we have been working with UNIDO to look at the feasibility of solar-powered cooking stoves, which we have shown can reduce use of solid fuels by 50 per cent. The use solid fuel for cooking and heating - practiced by 72 per cent of households in Sudan - increases the risk of respiratory infections, cancer, pneumonia and low birth weight. 

Your Excellency, we must continue to look at such alternatives to natural resources where we can, to reduce the impact upon our environment, and make a commitment to better management of supply and demand of resources such as water. Since climate change is already happening, we need to identify strategies to manage the likely consequences – and I know that the government and its partners are already working together on issues such as disaster preparedness and management.

We must create awareness of climate change and reduce the information gap between developed and developing countries. On the streets of Khartoum or Juba today, how many people on the street know enough about climate change, or how their actions contribute to the problem and what needs to be done by individuals and communities if we are to reverse its effects, and their likely impact upon a nation’s health?

The consequences of climate change upon the health of our children are clearly measurable, and while we invest more in health services, and increase the capacity of the health sector, a failure to address some of the root causes of health problems amongst children will undo much of this excellent work.



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