UNICEF Executive Board-28 January 1998

Statement by Mr. Kul C. Gautam
Regional Director, EAPRO
UNICEF Executive Board
28 January 1998

Mr. President,

It is a pleasure for me to be back at the Executive Board after an absence of one and a half years.  I see many friends and colleagues here with whom I had the privilege of working together earlier, and look forward to working closely in the future.

I am the newest of the Regional Directors here – having been less than a month in my post at the East Asia and Pacific Regional Office in Bangkok.  So I trust that you will be generous with forgiveness for any inadequacies in my presentation.

I come from a region, fabled until recently for the East Asian miracle, the tiger economies and the commendable progress being made in social development.  As the headlines of recent weeks and months indicate, the miracle was apparently a bit of a mirage, susceptible to the unpredictable movements of a globalised economy.  In an otherwise worrisome situation, we can be thankful that the gains made by these countries in social development – in terms of child survival, basic education, improved status of women – are real, and provide a strong foundation for recovery.  But it is vital that in these difficult economic times budgetary allocations for programmes for children are protected.  UNICEF will plead with Governments and their partners, including donor agencies and international financial institutions, to give “first call for children” when programmes for economic reform and recovery are devised

Mr. President, the economic crisis facing several Southeast Asian countries may now, in some ways, be comparable to the crisis that ravaged Africa and Latin America in the 1980s.  At that time this Executive Board strongly supported the Executive Director’s plea for “Adjustment with a Human Face”.  UNICEF itself took several special measures to help sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean at that time to persuade governments and their external partners to protect and promote investment in human development.  In retrospect, when we look at the experiences, especially of Latin American countries (which are most comparable to today’s Southeast Asia), those countries that have recovered and prospered most are those countries that invested wisely in human development.

I would urge that this Executive Board – once again, as in the past – express its solidarity with the most seriously affected countries of Southeast Asia in their moment of economic crisis, and urge them and their partners to help safeguard the safety nets and increase investment for children.

Mr. President, At this Board, you have before you Country Notes for two of these most seriously affected countries: the Philippines and Thailand.  Let me provide brief highlights on each.

UNICEF’s fifth country programme of cooperation in the Philippines is designed to respond to several factors which characterise the current development policy environment of the country: 1) a high level of commitment to children’s issues by the Government as reflected in the Constitution, laws and development plans, 2) extensive decentralisation and devolution of authority and responsibility for development to provinces and municipalities, 3) an active civil society with thousands of NGOs and civic organisations working at grass roots level, 4)  free and active media throughout the country, 5) a growing economy, albeit now facing great uncertainties, and 6) great disparities in development among different regions of the country.

The overall goal of the Philippines country programme is to support efforts by the Government and civil society to progressively implement the Convention on the Rights of the Child.  The specific objectives are to a) strengthen the capacity of national and local governments to provide a supportive environment to ensure child rights and manage basic services, and b) enhance the full participation of civil society to support family efforts to raise, nurture and protect their children.  The country programme will pursue a number of specific goals for children:  i) reduction of infant, under 5 and maternal mortality as well as malnutrition, ii) improving the quality of basic education, and iii) reducing the number of children who are suffering from sexual exploitation, hazardous labour, substance abuse and conflict with the law.

A key programme strategy will be to develop a broad-based “child friendly movement” encouraging neighbourhoods, schools, health facilities, the media, and work places of parents to be “child friendly”.  The movement will be goal-oriented and will include specific indicators to measure the extent of child friendliness of various facilities and institutions.

The programme will provide strong support to a) local policy and institutional development, b) to harnessing the power and outreach of the communications media and c) strategic technical and material support to health, nutrition, education, child protection, and gender and development programmes.

The Philippines country programme is being developed in tandem with the preparation of the UN Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF) and will benefit form strong inter-agency collaboration that characterises the UNDAF process.

Turning now to Thailand, the proposed country programme there has four key objectives: a) to support the Government and a network of NGOs to promote awareness of child rights though public education, information and communication efforts b) to sharpen the public focus on issues related to child protection, especially child labour, commercial sexual exploitation and consequences of HIV/AIDS, c) assist Government in sustaining gains made in child survival and development by focusing on reduction of disparities between advantaged and disadvantaged groups, and d) to facilitate exchange of technical expertise and programme experience with other countries of the region, and globally.

The last objective, TCDC, is of particular importance, as Thailand has achieved a level of development in health, nutrition, early child development and in dealing imaginatively with the issues of HIV/AIDS and other child protection issues, and many other countries are interested in learning from the Thai experience.  To facilitate this, links will be established with Thailand’s pre-eminent universities, R&D institutions and NGOs to document and disseminate best practices in provision of social services.

Given the recent economic setback and its possible negative impact on provision  of basic social services for children, UNICEF will collaborate with sister UN agencies to undertake policy analysis and advocacy to forestall any retrogression in the progress already achieved by Thailand.

With the support of a highly respected Thai national goodwill ambassador, efforts will be made to mobilise locally most of the supplementary funds foreseen in the county programme.

Mr. President, let me now report briefly on the summary of mid-term reviews and major evaluations of country programmes in the EAP region.

No mid-term reviews were scheduled or held in 1997, but a large number of evaluations and studies, numbering over 100, were carried out in the region.  Our report E/ICEF/1998/P/L.4 presents four examples of in-depth evaluations conducted in 3 countries in 1996-7.  We also report briefly on the multiple indicator cluster surveys carried out to assess progress in achieving mid-decade goals for children, and an evaluative analysis carried out by an inter-country “flexi-team” to learn lessons from country experiences in promoting safe motherhood and reducing maternal mortality.  This regional analysis has led to the development of a “safe motherhood programme package” that we hope will influence all of our on-gong and future country programmes.

Given the lack of time, let me try to share with you the flavour of one of the evaluations that we have highlighted in the report, viz the water and sanitation programme in Lao PDR.

This programme, funded by the Swedish SIDA, was evaluated in 1996 using a methodology that included field visits, a review of project documents, and extensive discussions with relevant government and NGO partners.  The evaluation pointed out, on the positive side, that access to improved water supply had increased from 15 percent of the rural population in 1992 to 40% in 1996 at a very modest cost of $3 per capita.  Sanitation coverage in the form of improved latrines increased from only 5% in 1992 to 20% of the rural population in 1996.  This is clearly a success story of a low-cost but highly effective programme of which we can all be proud.

But there is, of course, always room for improvement.  And the evaluation is forthright in pointing out areas which could be strengthened.  These range from  a) baseline data that had been poorly collected at the beginning of the project, b) gender issues not fully taken into consideration in the planning process, c) health education strategy not adequately devised, d) insufficient attention to the use and maintenance of water facilities and latrines, e) inadequate attention to promotion of hygienic and preventive health practices, and f) lack of efficient coordination among supporting agencies at the central level.

In response to the evaluation findings, some immediate corrective steps were taken in the last year of the country programme.  The new country programme of cooperation for 1998-2002, approved by this Executive Board in September last year, incorporated a number of lessons learned from the evaluation of this programme.  Moreover, a national plan of action for water and environmental sanitation, prepared with support from UNDP, the World Bank, UNICEF and other partners, has benefited directly from the outcome of this evaluation.

As you will note from the report, the other three evaluations – of the education programme in the Philippines, the micro-credit scheme for women and the Facts for Life communication programme in Viet Nam draw similar conclusion of significant achievements in terms of concrete outcomes but often weakness in project design and participatory processes.

The overall lessons we draw are that UNICEF needs to better systematise and strengthen its work in evaluation to match its effective actions on the ground.  In the EAP region we are paying greater attention to our work in this area and we have recently developed and adopted a regional Monitoring and Evaluation Plan aimed at establishing, among other things, formal procedures for programme reviews and  thematic evaluations and a more effective system for updating the situation of children and women, including CRC implementation.  This plan includes efforts to strengthen our staff skills, as well as extending our outreach to capable partners.

Thank you.