Meeting the Challenge for Every Child

Remarks by Mr. Kul C. Gautam
Deputy Executive Director, UNICEF
New York, 22 September 2003

I am delighted to have this opportunity, again, to speak to so many friends and partners of UNICEF from throughout the United States in this room today. As Board Members, staff, volunteers and our most generous individual and corporate donors to the US Fund for UNICEF, you all make a tremendous contribution to the well-being of children in the world.

I know Carol Bellamy spoke to you yesterday about what makes UNICEF unique. Let me reinforce to you what I am sure she said, that in a very real sense, it is your work and contribution that makes UNICEF a unique organisation in the family of the United Nations.

I don’t say this to make you feel good or as a trite compliment. I feel it in my bones. Having served UNICEF for 30 years in many countries, having watched the performance of many other good organizations, I can tell you with total sincerity that your work and contribution make a huge difference in making UNICEF special.

We in UNICEF are truly privileged to have a network of 37 National Committees, like the US Fund, in the industrialized countries. No other UN agency – or any other organization – has such a unique asset.
Thousands of volunteers work for our National Committees, making UNICEF truly the only people-to-people agency of the UN system.

Children doing “trick or treat” here in the US and Canada, and thousands of children in Europe, Japan, Korea, Australia involved in development education and a movement of solidarity with children of the Third World, is a heart-warming expression of UNICEF being not just a people-to-people, but a child-to-child organization of the world.

I am sure Chip and others will have mentioned to you that fully one-third of UNICEF’s income is now raised by National Committees. Indeed in 18 countries, National Committees raise more income for UNICEF than the contribution of their governments.

Now, the US Fund is not quite in that league of 18, but your contributions make the US Fund a larger donor to UNICEF than the governments of Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Ireland, Switzerland, Finland, Belgium, Australia and many others. You can all be truly proud of that.

So please allow me to express our sincere thanks to all of you, on behalf of the larger UNICEF family, and indeed the children of the world.
The world has so many worthy organisations working for many worthy causes. Right here in America, there is a myriad of good charities and philanthropic organisations doing good work in support of worthy causes.
So, why should you choose, and ask others, to support UNICEF? What does UNICEF do that is so special that merits your special support?

I often find asking myself that same question: Why do I love UNICEF so much that I will probably retire before I get tired of UNICEF?
Let me share with you what it is that I treasure so much about UNICEF. Perhaps you might find some of the same reasons making UNICEF uniquely worthy of your support.

Maybe the most compelling reason is that UNICEF stands for the most noble of all causes – to advance humanity through investing in children – all children, everywhere.

When UNICEF was founded in 1947, Maurice Pate, the first Executive Director, accepted the job under one condition – that UNICEF should be allowed to help children in need everywhere – including in the so-called “enemy countries.”
You may recall that the UN was established after World War II and the
countries defeated in the war were referred to as “enemy countries” – even in the Charter of the United Nations.

But Maurice Pate was guided by the fundamental principle pronounced by a remarkable Englishwoman, Eglantyne Jebb – child advocate and founder of Save the Children – who had famously said “I have no enemies below the age of 11.”

This principle of helping children in need regardless of the politics of their parents has been a proud tradition of UNICEF.
We applied this principle during the Vietnam War, the Nigerian Civil War, during the 1st Gulf War, the war in Afghanistan and the recent Iraq War.
Few organisations can do that. Most organisations would be under political pressure of governments or their donors to help only those children under certain jurisdiction but not others.

UNICEF adheres to the unambiguous principle to help all children to the best of our abilities and resources.
Today, UNICEF works around the clock in some 160 countries to provide health care and nutrition, water and sanitation, education and protection to children and women in countries at war as well as in peace.
From Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, UNICEF partners with government, civil society and private sector to ensure that every one of the two billion children in the world can grow to adulthood in health, peace and dignity.

Here are a few examples:
Since Iraq is in everybody’s mind these days, let me start there.
At the end of February this year, in the tense weeks preceding the outbreak of war, 11-month-old Tebark Ali received his oral vaccination against polio. He was one of 4 million Iraqi children, who were tracked down door-to-door and vaccinated over the 5 day campaign less than a month before the war.
Knowing the war was likely to come, 2 weeks before war broke out UNICEF arranged measles vaccination for half a million children, which proved to be a great life-saver for babies like Tebark Ali. Without such vaccination, young children would have been vulnerable to infectious diseases in the precarious post-war situation without clean water, lack of sanitation, adequate nutrition and access to basic health services.
Thank God, UNICEF was on the ground in Iraq before, during and after the war with an Emergency Preparedness Plan of Action.

Prior to the war, UNICEF was supporting some 3,000 Community Child Care Units, which functioned as early warning stations to detect malnutrition and diseases. This network proved very helpful in identifying and taking care of the malnourished and sick children in precarious war-time conditions.
Throughout the war, our dedicated Iraqi national staff continued to work against all odds. Our office in Baghdad was closed just for 3 days.
In the middle of the war, UNICEF arranged for delivery of water by tanks on trucks from Kuwait and Iran into Southern and Eastern Iraq, protecting thousands from water-borne diseases. Even to this day, UNICEF is tankering 2 million liters of water everyday.

As you know, we lost a UNICEF colleague in the August 19 bombing of the UN headquarters in Baghdad. Despite these dangers even as we speak, UNICEF is continuing to work to ensure the survival of Iraqi children, who make up almost half of Iraq’s population of 25 million.
With your support, we hope to see Tebark Ali and all Iraqi children growing up healthy, going to school, and rebuilding their country for a better future. In fact, right now we are working furiously to print over 60 million textbooks to ensure that when schools open next week in Iraq, children will have adequate quantity of new textbooks. (By the way, these will be the first sets of textbooks without the usual pro-Saddam Hussein propaganda that were obligatory contents of most textbooks in Iraq).

Let me now take you to Afghanistan, and the story of Samira – a bright, spirited girl in Shibergan, in Northern Afghanistan.
In Afghanistan, perhaps the worst thing that the Taleban inflicted upon their people, was to deny opportunity for girls to go to school. When the Taleban authorities shut down her school, the Jawjani High School for Girls and prohibited women teachers, Samira could not go to school.
However, Samira continued to learn from her four brothers who were able to receive some schooling, and who would teach her what they had learned at night.

When the Taleban were overthrown – there was an outpouring of demand for girls’ education. But there were not enough schools, not enough teachers, not enough text books – not just for girls, but for boys as well.
It would have taken years to build conventional schools, to train teachers, and to prepare text books. But Samira and her friends and teachers could not wait.
So, UNICEF launched a major emergency “Back to School” programme. We improvised a “School in a box”, which made teaching and learning possible anywhere where there was space available. We also designed a rapid teacher training programme in weeks – rather than years.

In March 2002, Samira was able to go back to school and meet her teacher after four years. Today, Samira is one of the 4 million children – one-third of them girls, who are back in one of the 7,000 schools which UNICEF helped reopen.
Samira wants to be an engineer. If she is representative of the country’s children, then education is clearly going to be the foundation of the new Afghanistan.

I know the US Fund provided support for the “Back to School” programme. I am pleased to tell you that it was well used. The face of Afghanistan is changing now, because UNICEF was able to mount such an operation, because children like Samira are able to go back to school and develop to their fullest – with your support.

Let me turn to Cambodia – The Killing Fields of the 1970s where I started my UNICEF career. The series of wars of the last 3 decades left Cambodia littered with landmines and unexploded ordnance. Almost 50% of all villages are contaminated.
Every year, an estimated 20,000 people in the world are killed by landmines and many more are maimed and disabled for life. Cambodia is one of the worst affected countries in the world with the 3rd highest rate of new landmines casualties recorded last year.

It is not known how many survivors are children, but 85% of children who step on landmines die before they reach hospital. Chan, a 15-year-old boy in Prey Veng Province was lucky. He had both legs amputated, but he survived.
For children who survive mine accidents, the physical injuries are more extensive than in adults because of their small size. Their economic prospects are bleaker than adult victims and the emotional trauma goes very deep.
The majority of child mine survivors have little chance of going to school, of receiving counselling and of learning skills that could help them adapt to their new condition.

Rehabilitation clinics are often too far, making the trip prohibitively expensive, long and difficult. Therefore, poor children living in rural areas rarely receive the long-term care they require.
Children need frequent medical check-ups and new prostheses need to be fitted regularly. As the child amputee develops, it is clinically observed that the bone of the amputation site grows more quickly than the surrounding tissue and may require several amputations.

When UNICEF staff first met Chan, he was staying at home, taken care of by his poor farmer parents with limited resources. They were not able to pay for Chan’s badly needed medical treatment and physical rehabilitation, much less for his books and schooling. Chan told UNICEF that for a very long time, he hoped his legs would grow back.

Today, Chan is going to school, thanks to a small grant his family receives from a Disability Centre, partly supported by UNICEF. With the grant, Chan’s parents are able to sell their produce at the local market and generate sufficient income to buy school books and send Chan to school.
The Disability Centre also provides prosthetics, rehabilitation treatment and psychosocial counselling for survivors as well as mine risk education for the local population.

In 2002, UNICEF supported Community-based Mine Risk Reduction programme, cleared 19 school sites of mines and unexploded ordnance, benefiting over 3,000 students.
UNICEF also helped integrate Child Mine Risk Education into formal education curricula, reaching more than 70,000 pupils in 600 schools.
However, with less than 50% of school-aged children enrolled in schools in Cambodia, there is still much to be done to reach out-of-school children as the number of casualties remain high among this group.

In our effort to make this a world fit for children like Tebark Ali, Samira and Chan, one principle we try to follow in UNICEF is to secure disproportionate impact out of our modest resources.

What do I mean by that?
If we get $100, spend it well, manage it well and get $100 worth of results for children, we would consider we have failed!
Any good, well-managed organisation should be able to get $100 worth of goods and services for $100 worth of investment.
But we want UNICEF to have disproportionate impact – to produce $200 or $500 worth of impact for $100 investment.
How do we do that? Here is an example:
Last year, UNICEF procured 2 billion doses of vaccines against childhood diseases. That accounted for 40% of the world’s vaccines supply for immunization.

How much did we spend on those vaccines? About $200 million or 4% of the world’s total expense on vaccines.

In other words, we incurred 4% expenditure for 40% of the world’s supply – that is what I mean by disproportionate impact.
Let me cite another example in which the US Fund for UNICEF has been a great partner along with the Kiwanis Clubs: elimination of iodine deficiency through salt iodisation.
The number one cause of preventable mental retardation among children in the world is iodine deficiency. The best way to provide iodine in human diet is through consuming iodized salt.

In 1990 the World Summit for Children adopted the goal of eliminating this brain damaging deficiency by universal iodization of salt. At that time about one billion people in the world consumed iodized salt. Most of them were in North America, Europe, Japan and Australia.
We launched a massive campaign to iodize salt all over the world. Last year we estimate that 3 billion people now have access to iodized salt – i.e. our combined efforts have led to 2 billion more people reached. We estimate that 90 million newborns are now protected from brain damage because of this success.

Guess how much was spent to reach these 2 billion people and to protect 90 million newborns in some of the poorest parts of the world? The total external investment was less than $300 million in the last 13 years. That amounts to less than what the US government now spends in Iraq every two days.
And that is another example of UNICEF investment producing disproportionate impact.

There are many other examples I could give but the essential pint is that we get value for money invested through UNICEF — and then some!

I am sure you have already talked about one of the flagships of the US Fund supported programmes that is producing great results for modest investment – namely, the Maternal and Neonatal Tetanus Programme.
This programme seeks to reach the goal of eliminating maternal and neonatal tetanus in the remaining 57 countries, where it is still a public health problem.
We are targeting 40 million women for protection against MNT – with the goal of preventing 200,000 deaths of newborn babies by 2005.
Is this feasible? During the 1990s, immunization efforts reduced the number of MNT deaths by more than 50% – from 470,000 to 215,000.
In the year 2000 alone, with accelerated MNT activities this figure was further reduced to 200,000 – saving 15,000 newborn lives.

So, yes, I can assure you that this goal is eminently feasible and I am confident that with your support, together, we will be able to eliminate MNT and prevent these needless and morally unconscionable deaths of children and mothers.

But eleven million children still die in the world today largely due to causes that are readily preventable, and for which there are known, low-cost solutions. UNICEF has been a champion of child survival, and great results have been achieved through our efforts.
We will continue to champion child survival as a central part of our mission and mandate. But if all we did was to help children survive, and then lead a miserable life then we will not have done our job.
We want children not just to survive but to thrive – to get quality basic education, to grow up to be productive citizens, and to live in societies where human rights are respected, democracy thrives and poverty is not an insurmountable barrier to human development.
There are many obstacles to realizing this vision. One of the most dangerous impediments is the growing pandemic of HIV/AIDS. I know you had a full session on it this morning. So I will be brief.

HIV/AIDS is undoubtedly the greatest recent threat to children, families and societies.
In many countries in Sub-Saharan Africa all the gains made in child survival in the last 3- 4 decades are being wiped out due to the scourge of HIV/AIDS.
Children born in many countries of Sub-Saharan Africa today can expect to live a shorter life than their parents and grand-parents – something that has never happened before in human history.
14 million children are orphaned today because of HIV/AIDS. More than one-third of all people living today with HIV/AIDS are under the age of 25, two-thirds of them women. Statistics also show that girls are getting infected faster and earlier than boys.
But one of the most tragic consequences of HIV/AIDS is the transmission from mother – or parents – to children.

Last year, 800,000 children under 15 were infected. Ninety per cent of them contracted it from their parents.
UNICEF has taken on the prevention of mother to child transmission (PMCT) as one of our biggest challenges. And I am happy to report to you that good progress is being made.
In the last 3 years UNICEF and its partners have provided support for PMCT at 224 sites in 16 countries. This support now reaches 600,000 women in antenatal clinics – providing testing, counselling and anti-retroviral treatment.
Preliminary results show up to 50% reduction in the mother-to-child transmission of the virus in some of these sites.

We know we need to double, triple or quadruple the scale of such programmes. But we can be proud of the positive start and build upon the initial progress. The campaign that the US Fund has started to raise $100 million for HIV/AIDS will be of immense assistance to UNICEF.
Let me conclude by observing that today we live in very prosperous times, in a $30 trillion world economy – where someone new becomes a billionaire every 2 weeks.
We live in a world where global military expenditure is rising towards $1 trillion mark, actually amounting to $800 billion per year. That is more than UNICEF’s total annual budget being spent in military expenditure every 15 hours.

Yet in this world of great affluence, and profligate spending in arms and luxuries, we have 1.3 billion people living on less than $1 a day. More than half of them are children.
Still, even with UNICEF’s modest budget – with your support – we can achieve extra-ordinary results.
I congratulate you for what your are doing and have pledged to do and now, armed with additional information you have obtained over these last two days, I ask you to go the extra mile in your work on behalf of UNICEF.
Last evening you heard from Sean Ferrer, son of our legendary goodwill ambassador Audrey Hepburn.

I would like to conclude with a quote that sums up her life’s work and passion for helping children:
“To save a single child is a blessing,” said Audrey – “To save a million children is an opportunity granted to us by UNICEF.”
With your help, we can not only save, but bring joy, fulfilment and dignity in the lives of millions of children like Tebark Ali, Samira, and Chan around the world.

My friends, there is no nobler mission than that.
I thank you for your support and commitment to that mission.