Remarks by Kul C. Gautam Deputy Executive Director, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) at the 15th Japan-UNICEF Annual Consultation

Tokyo, 22 February 2003


It is a great pleasure for me to be here on behalf of UNICEF at this 15th Annual Japan-UNICEF Consultation.  It is also wonderful to see Japan represented at such a high level today by so many of UNICEF’s long-time friends.

I would also like to thank all colleagues from both the Government of Japan and UNICEF who have been working for many weeks on the arrangements for this consultation. 

Valued collaboration with Japan

UNICEF is proud and privileged to be a partner with the Government and people of Japan. 

You touched our hearts, Mr. Ishikawa, when on the very first day of the new year 2003 you addressed this warm and beautiful letter to Carol Bellamy. You recounted in the letter how Japan-UNICEF cooperation had reached new heights in recent years.

Indeed, we value our relationship with Japan enormously.  We value it, not only because the Japanese public and private contributions combine to make Japan one of our biggest donors, – now the second largest in the world – but also because we share many common goals and aspirations for children and women. We have also found many ways to strengthen our partnership by building on one another’s strengths and comparative advantages.

UNICEF needs financial resources, Japan provides them generously. Japan needs visibility, UNICEF can provide it in an unparalleled manner. Both of us want to see tangible results, our cooperation has a proven track record of producing visible, measurable results on a large scale.

Although Japan’s ODA is temporarily on the decline, partnership with UNICEF and support to our programmes can provide significant visibility for relatively modest amount of investment. This is because UNICEF has a pre-existing extensive field presence, not just in capital cities of developing countries, but often at the sub-national levels. We work closely with communities, provide a combination of supplies, equipment, training grants, and services that produce  tangible results that are valued by communities and produce visible impact on improving the lives of children  –  schools, primary health care services, water and sanitation facilities, tackling gross violations of children’s rights, among others. 

We are also an experienced broker of public/private partnerships, and are privileged to have a number of celebrity and influential Japanese advocates working with us, such as our ever-dynamic and passionate Goodwill Ambassador Tetsuko Kuroyanagi, members of the Japan Parliamentary League for UNICEF and other personalities. UNICEF also employs a large contingent of Japanese staff members, who occupy increasingly prominent positions. We also work with many Japanese NGOs.

Required focus on children to achieve MDGs

But allow me first to talk a little bit about the context of our collaboration globally. Perhaps the most important goals before the global community today are the Millennium Development Goals agreed upon by world leaders at the United Nations in September 2000. 

The first six out of the eight major Millennium Development Goals are directly child-related. Eradicating extreme poverty and hunger; giving every child a primary education; promoting gender equality; reducing child deaths; improving maternal health and combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases, clearly require a focus on children.

As your partner in pursuing the MDGs, UNICEF offers you more than a decade of unparalleled, practical field experience in promoting ambitious, measurable development goals and targets. You will recall that the 1990 World Summit for Children was the first ever global summit that adopted a very goal-oriented plan of action. Subsequent UN conferences and Summits of the 1990s were inspired to follow goal-oriented approaches and strategies drawing on the positive experience and precedent of WSC.

WSC was a pathbreaker not only in setting goals but in implementing and monitoring them systematically and rigorously. In some ways the Millennium Summit and the MDGs were a culmination of the process started by SSC.

As we pursue the MDGs, UNICEF has offered to share its experience in designing the communication campaign for MDGs. We have developed the most extensive data collection, monitoring and reporting mechanism, which we have offered to share with the rest of the UN family and member states.

Based on our experience, we see some major challenges ahead in implementing the MDGs.

Challenges ahead

Achieving the Millennium Development Goals will require far more than “business as usual”. Let me explain why, using an excellent paper[1] by a former UNICEF colleague now at UNDP, Jan Vandemoortele, on the feasibility of the MDGs:

  • At the 1990 World Summit for Children, a goal was set on basic education for all children by 2000.  Former Prime Minister Kaifu strongly supported this goal at the Summit. The sad truth is that the 1990s saw only about a fifth of the global progress needed.  The promise will not be kept unless progress accelerates two-foldAt current rates, the global education target will not be reached until the year 2030;
  • To meet the MDG target of two-thirds reduction in under-5 mortality, the rate of reduction would have to increase five-fold between 2000 and 2015 compared to the rate of the last decade
  • Similarly, progress in reducing malnutrition will have to increase three-fold in developing countries if the 2015 rate is to be half what it was in 1990; and
  • The current rate of progress in reducing maternal mortality will have to increase more than three-fold if the ratio is to be reduced by three-quarters by 2015.       

These figures look at the scale of challenges at the global level.  However, it is also clear that there is one region in which far more intensive interventions are required on practically an emergency footing, without which the Millennium Goals will not be achieved at all.  That region is Africa.

To Japan’s credit the TICAD initiative was launched over a decade ago, to focus attention and resources on the challenges and opportunities in Africa.  I am glad that we will have an opportunity later in this consultation to talk about TICAD III and linkages that need to be made for children in the context of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD). UNICEF has the most extensive network among all UN agencies in Africa, and therefore we can be an important partner for Japan in that troubled region. UNICEF has presented some specific ideas to link NEPAD and TICAD that we believe would help sharpen the focus of  Japan’s cooperation in Africa.

Pathways forward

Clearly, the challenges are enormous.  But they are not insurmountable, especially if there is a strategic focus on children, using proven interventions and ways forward. 

            We also need to strategically break down global goals with distant deadlines into more manageable targets in shorter timeframes, with focus on high-priority countries and populations. This is how we see the relationship between the Millennium Development Goals, most of which have a 2015 deadline; the goals and targets of A World Fit for Children, agreed at the UN Special Session on Children, with a 2010 deadline; and the priorities of UNICEF’s Medium-Term Strategic Plan, which have a 2005 deadline. 

Five avenues for Japan-UNICEF collaboration

Let me now get into some specifics about how UNICEF and Japan may strengthen our collaboration and ensure a priority for children so that we can make a meaningful contribution to achieving these long term goals.   I would like to suggest five areas in particular:

1.      Maintain collaboration and investment in child health.

This has been one of the flagship areas of our collaboration, dating from many years back. Japan has been a leader in the fight against infectious diseases, particularly the major child killers such as vaccine preventable diseases including polio. This fight has been broadened and re-energised under your leadership, Mr. Ishikawa,  at the Okinawa G-8 Summit in 2000 to include HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. 

            We are now very close to winning the war against polio; the global caseload has been reduced by over 99%, and there are seven remaining polio-endemic countries left.  Japan has been a critical partner in this push towards eradication of this terrible disease, and we count on your support in this area to be sustained until we achieve final victory.

            Many crucial interventions promoting child health are amazingly low cost and affordable.  For example, UNICEF has been working with WHO and other partners to tackle the more than 300 million cases of malaria each year, resulting in more than a million deaths. Ninety per cent of these deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa, and most of the victims are children under 5 years old. Pregnant women are also especially vulnerable. Malaria compounds poverty and impedes economic development. 

UNICEF’s Supply Division has estimated that it costs an average of $3 for a treated bednet that can protect a family against malaria. We now have a further improved longer lasting mosquito net invented by a Japanese company for a slightly higher price. treatment kits.

            Let me provoke you, my dear friend Mr. Ishikawa—recalling your pivotal role at the Okinawa G-8 Summit and at the founding of the GFATM—and ask you—would it be unreasonable for UNICEF and Japan to aspire to provide ­all of Africa’s 100 million families with a long lasting insecticide treated mosquito net over the next 5 years?  Twenty million mosquito nets provided for a cost of about $100 million per year could produce dramatic impact on saving lives and improving the quality of life of millions of Africa’s children and women, and give Japan-UNICEF cooperation unparalleled visibility.

This could also be developed into a model of public private partnership with Japanese government, private sector and NGOs playing a leadership role for a worthy cause with a worthy partner like UNICEF.

We hope that our collaboration might also be strengthened in the area of combating HIV/AIDS, which was also part of the agenda launched at Okinawa.  We cannot stress enough how much AIDS has to be addressed on a war footing.  You see in Diagram 4 a graph that, even if slightly out of date, never fails to shock me—it shows the extremely high percentages of child deaths caused by the AIDS virus in certain countries.  The AIDS pandemic is perhaps the greatest impediment to achieving the MDGs by 2015. 

2.      Ensure girls’ education

Meeting the education goal, especially to reduce gender disparity which has a 2005 deadline, is essential to reaching all other MDG targets.  It is a top priority for UNICEF, the United Nations and the global community. Collaboration between Japan and UNICEF in the field of education has had a very promising start in Afghanistan and Bangladesh, and I hope we can expand this in the near future. 

            UNICEF has developed an initiative to accelerate progress on girls’ education, focusing on the 120 million children, who are out of school, and the majority of whom are girls.  Our  strategy is to focus on a set of countries for intensive interventions, using criteria such as low net enrolment ratios, large gender gaps,  and certain high-risk countries where enrolment and gender parity are under threat.  An initial set of 25 countries have been selected for acceleration and results by 2005. We would ask Japan to consider supporting this initiative by identifying a dozen or so countries in the next two years.

Study after study has shown that girls’ education is one of the best strategies for breaking the hold of poverty.  Educated girls have greater confidence, they marry later, and space out their pregnancies. They tend to have fewer children, enrol them in school, and seek medical attention[2].

Education is also a strong countervailing force against HIV/AIDS and a safeguard against infection.

Education and keeping children in school reduce their risk of being exploited and needing child protection.  If children are already in such a situation, they can find refuge and a new sense of hope for a new life through education. My colleague Cream Wright will speak to this issue later in our discussion.

  • Increase access to water and environmental sanitation

Japan has been a leader in the management of water resources and also took a strong stance on environmental sanitation at the World Summit on Sustainable Development at Johannesburg last year. 

            We see collaboration in the area of providing safe water and sanitation facilities in schools for both girls and boys as a great opportunity for possible Japan- UNICEF cooperation which  would have combined benefits for the health and hygiene of children, as well as improved quality of education and retention of students.

UNICEF and the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council are joining forces to accelerate action towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals on water and sanitation set by the World Summit for Sustainable Development in Johannesburg last September, particularly through a joint “WASH in Schools” initiative. We hope that Japan may become a major partner in the global WASH – Water, Sanitation and Hygiene campaign.

The initiative aims to ensure safe water and clean, separate sanitation facilities for boys and girls in primary schools. Empowering young people through hygiene promotion and education will make schools safer and healthier for all children and will provide entryways for hygienic change in families.

‘WASH in Schools’ will be formally announced in Kyoto, Japan on 18 March at the Third World Water Forum where UNICEF and WSSCC will be holding events including a dialogue with children with author and WASH supporter Mrs. Nane Annan in the lead-up to the Children’s World Water Forum to be held there on 20-21 March.

  • Improve child protection

Japan played a leadership role in organizing and hosting the 2nd World Congress against Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children in Yokohama, and it continues to support in an exemplary fashion its follow-up. The holding of the Tokyo International Symposium on Child Trafficking this week was the latest good example.

            Given Japan’s long history in peace and security issues, we would also see great potential for Japan to play a much bigger role in the area of children and armed conflict. 

            UNICEF has been working with government, civil society and UN and other international community partners to promote peace and non-violence among children, as well as to demobilise and support the recovery and rehabilitation of child soldiers.  We have made some significant gains in Africa, including in the Sudan and Sierra Leone. 

We are observing with great interest Japan’s new initiative in the consolidation of peace in Sri Lanka and Aceh, and hope that there might be some avenues for child-focused collaboration there, and soon in another war ravaged country, Nepal.  I also hope that one day UNICEF will be able to help in the demobilisation and rehabilitation of child soldiers in Myanmar.   If/when that becomes possible, we would look to Japan for some support.

  • Correct historical anomaly in RR contribution

Fifth and finally, I would like to raise an issue of historical anomaly in the long and most productive cooperation between UNICEF and Japan. This concerns the issue of Japan’s RR contribution to UNICEF.  I know we may sound like a broken record in that we raise it at each annual consultation, but I would like to raise this issue as a mark of our strong collaboration and partnership.

            As you will recall, we have a special history of co-operation between Japan and UNICEF.  UNICEF became the first, and just about the only international organization, that extended assistance to Japan following the end of World War II.  We also became the first international organization to be supported by Japan.

            In 1952, UNICEF received its first assistance from Japan in the amount of US$100,000.  Other major UN development agencies began their co-operation with Japan much later, but ironically received much higher amounts of Regular Resources or their equivalent than UNICEF, which by then was getting a small percentage increase every year over the very modest initial amount.  UNICEF, in effect, got penalised for having started its co-operation with Japan much earlier than other agencies, which in our view represents a historical anomaly.

            We know that these are difficult times for Japanese ODA and to ask for a big increase in RR contribution at this time may sound unrealistic and unreasonable.  But you know, those of us who work for children feel that we are occasionally entitled to be unreasonable. In our own lives don’t we often get unreasonable requests from our own  children, and often find a way to fulfil such requests? So I dare to make what may sound like an unreasonable request.

            Knowing that Mr. Ishikawa has a keen sense of history—I would like to express our fervent hope that during your term as Director-General of multilateral co-operation, you would be able to help make a historical correction in Japan’s RR allocation to UNICEF.  Japan needs to double its current RR allocation to UNICEF and establish a new baseline for the future.  Please allow me to draw some comparisons here— even a doubling of the current RR allocation to UNICEF would still be half of Japan’s RR allocation to UNDP and UNHCR and about the same as its RR allocation to UNFPA at present. This is certainly not an unreasonable amount for UNICEF to expect, if we look at the levels of other governments’ contributions to these agencies.

Children as the foundation of human security and development

I am delighted that we are having this consultation on the eve of the  international symposium on human security next week. We are eagerly looking forward to the Human Security Commission’s report and recommendations.

Japan has been a pioneer and a global leader in promoting the concept and programmatic support to foster human security. The establishment of the Human Security Trust Fund has been very helpful for the realisation of this vision. It has supported projects that directly benefit people threatened by poverty, infectious diseases like HIV/AIDS, conflict, anti-personnel landmines among other threats.

            We at UNICEF firmly believe that the interventions that Japan is funding through the Human Security Trust Fund, ranging from support for humanitarian assistance in emergencies to other areas including education, water and sanitation, and child protection, all contribute significantly towards increasing human security.

            We stand ready to collaborate with you in implementing the recommendations of the Human Security Commission.


Diagram 1:     Average net primary enrolment ratio (NER) and under-5 mortality rate (U5MR) in developing countries

Source: Based on data from UNESCO, UNICEF and WHO

Diagram 2:     Under-five mortality rates

Diagram 3:     Countries on track to reduce under-five mortality by two-thirds

Source:  Human Development Report 2002, UNDP

Diagram 4:     AIDS and child mortality

[1] Vandemoortele, Jan.  “Are the MDGs feasible?”  Bureau for Development Policy, United Nations Development Programme, New York, July 2000.

[2] UNICEF.  Poverty and Children: Lessons of the 90s for Least Developed Countries.  New York, May 2001.