Excellencies, Executive Director Fore, Distinguished Delegates, Dear Colleagues, Good Morning.
I wish to begin by thanking Executive Director Ms. Fore and all UNICEF staff for their dedicated and courageous efforts over the past few months to respond to the many challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic. Serving on the front lines of the global response, they have shown their true commitment and compassion for the children of the world, and I pay my tribute to each and every member of the UNICEF family.
I also express my solidarity with member governments who are fighting Covid-19 and extend my sincere condolences for their losses. We are meeting in the midst of an unprecedented crisis; the severity of the situation is sobering; especially for our children caught up in this crisis.
Although children may not be the face of the pandemic, too many of them are bearing the brunt of it as their parents and caregivers fall sick or die; or face joblessness and the overall economic downturn caused by the pandemic.
Children in the lower income countries, in Africa and in other vulnerable countries are the hardest hit. Covid-19 is also putting at risk, children in conflict and humanitarian situations. The pandemic constitutes an emergency within an emergency for them.
I commend UNICEF for its rapid response to the crisis by providing emergency supplies and support despite the disruption in travel and transportation. I thank the donor countries for their generous and timely assistance. The Executive Board stands firmly behind the efforts of UNICEF.
Distinguished Delegates. This is not a business-as-usual annual session. This session is not just about taking stock of our existing programmes; but we are here to also see how best we can respond to, and live, with this unprecedented crisis, the impact of which is going to be felt for years to come. Now more than ever, we need to forge effective collaboration between all stakeholders, and we expect UNICEF to play a central role in this regard.
The task before us is daunting. A quick overview of the severe impact of Covid-19 on children worldwide will be a reality check on the situation:
- The pandemic is driving more children to extreme poverty – over 50 million children are expected to be added to the estimated 386 (400) million children living in extreme poverty globally. Even the simple task of ‘hand washing’ is a challenge for them as they have no access to water, sanitation and hygiene infrastructure.
- Over 1.5 billion children and youth are out of school in the lockdown. Distance learning for a large majority of children in the developing countries remains a challenge due to lack of access to digital platforms and internet connectivity. Only about 30% have access. Access to online and distance learning universally should be a top priority now. Initiatives such as GIGA should be expanded for greater geographical coverage.
- The lockdown disrupts school feeding programmes. No school means, no meals for many poor children. Rising malnutrition is expected in nearly 370 million children globally who normally rely on school meals for their daily nutrition intake.
- And all these will have serious impact on children’s mental health. The situation of children differently challenged would be made worse.
- In this situation, children would be in particular risk to violence, abuse and exploitation, such as trafficking, child labour and early marriage. And girls are at particular risk.
- In the next 3 months up to 85 million children worldwide may be exposed to physical, mental or sexual violence and abuse while in lockdown.
These grim facts underline the urgency for action. These children will need protection and support.
Distinguished Delegates. We need to continue monitoring the impact of the pandemic, especially as the new Strategic Plan is being designed. There is growing evidence of its serious impact on existing vital programmes, such as vaccination, which have been suspended or scaled down because of Covid-19, thus raising the risk of outbreaks of preventable diseases such as cholera, polio, measles, etc.
According to recent reports by UNICEF, in South Asia, for instance, nearly half a million (440,000) children may die over the next 6 months due to disruption in immunization, malnutrition and other vital health services. It is imperative that UNICEF’s pandemic response and recovery programmes complement and support the governments in the programme countries without compromising its regular mandated programmes.
UNICEF can leverage its comparative advantages, learning from this crisis and previous health emergencies such as Ebola and Zika, to contribute to better preparedness and response to the pandemic. Covid-19 provides an opportunity for UNICEF to expand its partnerships with the private sector, with innovative approaches to overcome the impact of the crisis and to build back better.
I endorse the ED’s call for prioritizing digital connectivity, mental health, ending violence and educating girls. These services, along with other “equalizers” that Ms. Fore elaborates in her prepared statement, such as, maintaining routine immunizations for children and providing sufficient clean water and sanitation facilities, will help the organization and its partners to reach millions of children, particularly those who have been left behind and caught up in the current crisis.
The Executive Board stands ready to provide UNICEF with strategic guidance and support as it moves forward in these areas towards the achievement of a stronger, safer and more equitable world.
We look forward to hearing an update this morning on UNICEF’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Excellencies, Distinguished Delegates. Let me now turn to other issues before us.
I congratulate UNICEF on its achievements over the past year. 74% of the targets in the Strategic Plan 2018-2021 were achieved by the midpoint; thanks to the strong support from its many partners. And I am also happy to know that UNICEF intends to raise the Strategic Plan targets that are already on track.
We are also encouraged by the tangible progress made in the work with the other UN entities under the common chapter of the Strategic Plans. As the Strategic Plan crosses the mid-term, we encourage the organization to carefully reflect on the lessons learned; to explore how Covid-19 is shaping its humanitarian and development programming; and to continue to assess the effectiveness of its approaches and interventions going forward.
UNICEF has been making efforts to improve its humanitarian response coverage and quality. In view of the growing complexity of humanitarian situations, there is a need to strengthen UNICEF’s capacity for emergency preparedness and response.
We understand that the review process is already informing the development of the next Strategic Plan for 2022–2025, and can thus help UNICEF to remain on track towards achievement of the SDGs amid the challenges posed by the pandemic.
Distinguished Delegates. The pandemic can be a litmus test for reform of the United Nations development system. We are heartened to see the global solidarity in the pandemic response, which can further drive efforts towards UN reform implementation, with innovative inter-agency partnerships at all levels, especially in support of national efforts.
Later this morning we will receive an update on the process, policy and structural adjustments that UNICEF has made in line with the reform, as well as how it is further strengthening synergies with other United Nations entities.
On Wednesday, when we consider two new country programme documents [for Ethiopia and South Africa,] we will discuss the vital role that social protection plays in improving the lives of children.
Distinguished Delegates, it is a matter of concern to know that UNICEF has received less core funding in 2019. I would encourage you all to continue supporting the organization to respond quickly and effectively to its core areas, as well as the unprecedented needs created by the COVID-19 pandemic. And for that we need to ensure flexible funding.
We can draw confidence in how UNICEF will manage the funds it receives, from the detailed account that the Executive Director has provided in her annual report. At the same time, I will call upon the organization to continue exploring all possible means to expand its funding base through more innovative funding and partnerships.
Distinguished Delegates, I am certain that with our collective efforts and genuine collaboration, we shall overcome the challenging times that we are going through. As we re-imagine together a fairer, more inclusive and greener world, we must continue to support the most vulnerable in our societies, our children, so that they have a fair chance in life and can shape their own futures.
Finally, I wish to thank the Secretary of our Board and her entire team for the outstanding support they have provided us during this challenging time, and to prepare us for this session. I am also grateful to my fellow Bureau members for their constant support. And last but not the least I thank our experts for their tireless efforts over the past weeks to ensure that we have a productive outcome.
I thank you all; and I look forward to a successful annual session of the Executive Board.