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Executive Director Ann M. Veneman on the Annual Session of the UNICEF Executive Board


5 June 2006

New York, – Thank you very much, Mr. President. Good morning to all of you. Thank you for being here today. Excellencies, Distinguished Delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen, it is a pleasure to address the 2006 Annual Session of the UNICEF Executive Board.

Let me begin today by offering a tribute to a man I had the privilege of getting to know very well over the past year. All of us were stunned and saddened last month at the sudden loss of Dr. Lee Jong-Wook. Dr. Lee was a true champion for children’s health, an outstanding leader, and a good friend. The children of the world were better for his time on Earth, and he will be greatly missed.

As we turn to the agenda of this Annual Session, you will note that the schedule is ambitious, and we expect very productive meetings and discussions ahead.

In a few moments, you will review the Annual Report to the Executive Board, which will detail progress made on the Strategic Plan as it contributes to the Millennium Agenda. We will discuss the report more at that time, but we hope that it will provide a strong analytical perspective of results for children, as well as trends.

The Board will also consider UNICEF’s post-crisis transition strategy, and reform of the cost-recovery policy.

On the latter point, we will again provide you with more detailed comments when we reach that item on the agenda, but let me stress that the proposal grew out of what we heard consistently from the field and was informed by a thorough review process. It is intended to enhance UNICEF’s ability to work with partners and to bring about more effective business practices.

Next, the Board will consider options to improve harmonized country programs and a report on joint programming.

UN Reform represents a positive opportunity for UNICEF, which is why we continue to be a strong voice in the discussions. We hope that you have had the opportunity to review UNICEF’s recent ‘thought piece’ on UN reform.

I have had good discussions with members of the High Level Panel on System-Wide Coherence on the unique nature of UNICEF, such as our voluntary funding base, and our work that spans the humanitarian, development and environmental fields.

In addition, I have travelled on two more joint field missions since January with UN counterparts to help underscore the importance of such cooperation and coordination.

The Board will also consider reports on sector-wide approaches, UNICEF’s evaluation function, proposals for several draft country program documents, and an update on the End Child Hunger and Undernutrition Initiative.

Nutrition was the subject of UNICEF’s most recent ‘Progress for Children’ report, helping shed important light on how these issues are impacting prospects for achieving several Millennium Development Goals.

Finally, you will consider changes to the Maurice Pate Leadership for Children Award, and reports related to violence against children.

In my recent travels, I have seen firsthand the devastating effects of such violence.

I have met with survivors of the Rwanda genocide, and rape victims in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

One of the most dramatic meetings in the DRC was with a 12-year-old orphan girl who was brutally raped by four men, in an area where rape is used as a weapon of war. During the course of this conversation, I asked her what she wanted to do when she grew up, and her answer was very telling: she said, “I want to be a nun.”

Just last week, Time magazine devoted its cover story to the longstanding but virtually forgotten crisis in the DRC.

In those conflicts and in others, particularly where violence is used as a weapon of war, gross violations of children’s rights have flourished. These violations also impact our work across a wide array of areas, such as child survival, HIV/AIDS, nutrition, and education, and in addition impact our ability to deliver humanitarian relief.

UNICEF must remain a strong voice for development and humanitarian efforts that keep fundamental human rights at their core.

Of course, humanitarian work and humanitarian principles remain central to UNICEF’s mission. More must be done to position UNICEF to be able to prepare for and respond effectively to emergencies.

As I speak to you today, UNICEF is working to help millions of children and women struggling to survive in an unprecedented number of emergencies around the globe. From Indonesia to Sudan, from Timor Leste to the DRC, from Afghanistan to Haiti, the crises are sometimes forgotten, but the needs are real and enormous.

Yet many of our emergency appeals remain under-funded, leaving children critically vulnerable. This is morally unacceptable, given our mandate, your clear commitment, and the global capacity to respond that has been demonstrated in the past.

UNICEF’s board-approved Emergency Programme Fund, or EPF, has proven to be the fastest, most flexible, and most reliable means of mobilizing urgent resources where they are needed most.

But the EPF is critically over-stretched, with a ceiling of $25 million per biennium that has remained unchanged for the past decade. This greatly limits our ability to provide urgent emergency funding within hours of a disaster, and to address unfunded, ongoing emergency situations.

We want to begin a discussion with the Board on a number of sensible measures to improve UNICEF’s emergency-response capacity. Humanitarian crises remain an unfortunate reality, and UNICEF must be ready and able to respond, to save children’s lives, protect their basic rights, and uphold our core corporate commitments to children.

As you know, avian flu continues to be an ongoing threat. UNICEF is active within the UN country teams and the UN System Coordinator in several ways to prevent and prepare responses to the disease.

This work includes assisting countries with behaviour-change and communication plans, collaboration with the World Health Organization on a vaccine strategy, containment protocols that meet needs of children and families, as well as contingency planning related to our own staff.

This is my fourth Executive Board meeting with UNICEF, and it marks one year and just a little over one month into my tenure as Executive Director.

I have worked to advance a consistent agenda to support a culture of continuous improvement at UNICEF. I have been discussing many of the same approaches since my first day at UNICEF, and even before then, because they are critical to the way that we do business.

We need to integrate programs and functions wherever it is practical, to maximize our results for children, and to avoid duplication.

We must be willing to provide bold leadership, while also supporting others who can help achieve important goals.

We need to work productively and efficiently in partnerships.

And we must constantly enhance our business practices and be willing to challenge the conventional wisdom.

The organizational review processes that are underway provide an excellent opportunity in this regard.

We have selected a consultancy firm with a strong track record in coalescing institutions behind the Millennium Development Goals to carry out that review. We are also establishing a reference group that will include representatives of the Global Staff Association and National Committees to serve as an advisory board, and a steering group to help guide the process.

In the past 13 months, much has been accomplished.

We have worked to make the Millennium Development Goals central to our efforts to achieve results for children.

There has been a greater focus on consistent, credible data and action based on evidence.

We have endeavoured to strengthen UNICEF’s role as a convener of ideas and efforts around children, a leader for children that is respectful of its partners, mobilizing and leveraging resources to achieve common goals.

We are working hard to identify what works, and then to scale up effective approaches.

One example is the Accelerated Child Survival and Development programme, of which I have spoken numerous times. Scaling up this program in terms of additional communities in the countries where it is already underway, additional countries, and additional interventions, will be a major ongoing focus.

Within UNICEF, we must continue to work to achieve greater gender balance, particularly at higher levels in the organization.

And we will continue to take a more strategic approach to human resources, as evidenced by our recent 50-post rotation and recruitment exercise.

All of these efforts and initiatives, as they move forward, will yield real and quantifiable results for children, and that must be our guidepost. It is on these results that we must be judged, and upon which we will build a legacy for future generations.

Finally, I would be remiss if I did not mention an especially important and sombre anniversary. Twenty-five years ago today, on June 5, 1981, the U.S. Centres for Disease Control and Prevention published the first report on a disease that would come to be known as AIDS.

In that time, HIV/AIDS has been largely considered a disease of adults. But as we all know, the impacts are felt acutely by children, and children have been the missing face of this growing pandemic.

We can all be proud that UNICEF is a leader in changing misconceptions about HIV/AIDS, and about giving a voice to the voiceless: the children who are infected and affected by the virus.

It is in this spirit of advocacy and results-based approaches to the problems of the world’s children that UNICEF has operated for nearly 60 years. As we approach this milestone anniversary later this year, we can look back on the incredible progress that has been forged.

But we must also look forward on the work that remains: the lives yet to be saved, the lessons yet to be learned, and a world that is truly fit for children. Thank you very much, Mr. President.


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