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Opening Statement of the President of the UNICEF Executive Board, H.E. Mr. Sven Jürgenson, Permanent Representative of Estonia to the UN, UNICEF Executive Board Annual session, 13 June 2016


UNICEF Executive Board

Annual session 2016

 Opening Statement of the President of the Executive Board

H.E. Mr. Sven Jürgenson

Permanent Representative of Estonia to the United Nations

13 June 2016

Good morning Excellencies, distinguished Delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen. Welcome to the 2016 annual session of the UNICEF Executive Board. I would like to start by recognizing the exemplary leadership of Mr. Anthony Lake, Executive Director, as well as the devoted service of the Deputy Executive Directors. And I extend a warm welcome to Mr. Justin Forsyth, who has just joined UNICEF as Deputy Executive Director, Partnerships.

Ladies and Gentlemen, in little more than a year, we have participated in the adoption of historic agreements and convened in urgent consultations, all aimed at addressing the most pressing issues of our time.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development has provided the lens through which we look forward with hope and determination to the opportunities and challenges of the next 15 years, as we begin, in this first year of the Sustainable Development Goals, to tackle with increased urgency the issues they have brought to the fore. The Economic and Social Council has been holding a dialogue around the quadrennial comprehensive policy review in lead-up to the next QCPR resolution, which will be aimed at ensuring that the United Nations development system can deliver on those Goals.

The Paris Agreement on climate change goes hand in hand with the 2030 Agenda, since without a sustainable earth, there can be no sustainable development, nor can the developed countries escape the ravages of global warming. The Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction reinforced the importance of building resiliency into development work, so that when calamity strikes, all gains are not lost. And the World Humanitarian Summit sharpened awareness of the global crisis of refugees and migrants.

This year’s annual session is especially significant in light of these developments because we will consider not only the annual report of the Executive Director for 2015, but also the midterm review of the Strategic Plan, 2014-2017, covering the years 2014 and 2015.

Ladies and Gentlemen, in January 2014, UNICEF embarked on an ambitious four-year programme of work under the Strategic Plan. Now, at its midpoint, we do the detailed, data-driven work of assessing where we were, how far we have come and where we must go. I am proud of UNICEF for the tremendous results it achieved during the first two years of the Strategic Plan.

During those years, the Millennium Development Goals guided the great progress made in reducing preventable child deaths and extreme poverty and ensuring that more children went to school and had the benefits of safe water and nutritious food. But we must also acknowledge unflinchingly the unfulfilled aspirations in newborn and young child survival, HIV prevention and treatment, sanitation and gender equality.

As we rededicate ourselves to this unfinished business, we also reassess our focus as we begin to shape the next strategic plan -- the first to be guided by the Sustainable Development Goals, which, thanks to the efforts of so many of you, prominently reflect children’s issues. Aimed at ending poverty, combating climate change and fighting injustice and inequality, the Goals have increased the urgency for results in other outcome areas of the current Strategic Plan, including birth registration, early childhood education, learning and school completion, violence prevention, the reduction of child marriage and the better integration of responses to the immediate humanitarian needs and long-term development needs of children. We must also ensure that the balance of the current strategic plan cycle and the next strategic plan are both responsive to such emerging concerns as the migrant and refugee crisis and the rise of new diseases.

With the lessons learned, we can look forward with greater clarity as we continue our efforts to adapt UNICEF strategies to an ever-changing environment, to be more relevant and to implement change more quickly and effectively for children, especially the most disadvantaged and excluded.

It is not enough to show effort, however. We must also show results, especially in this era of budgetary constraint. That is why programme evaluation is critical for organizational accountability, learning and continuous performance improvement. Setting a wonderful precedent for the prioritizing of evaluation going forward is the first-ever UNICEF evaluation on protecting children from violence, which will be presented at this session.

This annual session comes at a challenging time for UNICEF. The World Humanitarian Summit made crystal clear that more people than ever are in crisis, with 60 million displaced people worldwide fleeing conflict, natural disaster, poverty or oppression. Fully half of them are children. Over the past year, we´ve seen a surge in the desperate tide of people literally washing up on the seashore, but the crisis has long been underway. This trend has only reinforced UNICEF’s conviction that development and humanitarian needs will be increasingly intertwined. Displaced children do not have time to wait to go to school, to be well-nourished, to be healthy. Without those basic elements of a normal life, their future prospects are bleak indeed. But it is not only the children’s future that is at stake. Development can be sustainable only if today’s children grow up to be healthy, educated and productive. Raising children up raises up nations, and ultimately, the entire globe.

I had the honor of contributing to those efforts by chairing and speaking at a side event at the Summit on child protection, hosted by the Governments of Canada, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Estonia, as well as UNICEF, and organized by the ChildFund Alliance and child-friendly NGOs. The event showed the usefulness of the joint efforts of international organizations, Governments and civil society. A promising UNICEF initiative launched at the Summit is Education Cannot Wait, a fund for education in emergencies, aimed at ensuring that no child is left behind because their education was disrupted.

I thank the Executive Board, Member States and civil society organizations for using your influence to put children at the center of the debate during the Summit and I encourage you to keep up your efforts on behalf of displaced children, especially during the ongoing dialogue on the long-term positioning of the United Nations development system in the context of the 2030 Agenda as well as at the high-level plenary meeting on addressing large movements of refugees and migrants, to be held in September. Together with UNICEF and other partners, Estonia is organizing a side event on protecting migrant and asylum-seeking children.

It is not only the crisis of displaced people that is profoundly altering the humanitarian and development landscape for UNICEF, but also changing demographics. With the population in the developing world getting younger, UNICEF is increasingly focused on empowering children to help solve their own and the world’s problems. With young people as partners, UNICEF’s efforts can be exponentially multiplied. Communication for development and accessible digital technology are some of the most promising new strategies. U-Report, for example, enabled more than 13,000 young people in Liberia to respond almost instantly to a question about sexual violence in schools. Not only did 86% of them say that it was a serious problem, but they provided suggestions for addressing it. The information was used by the Government for local and national interventions and policy changes.

The two country programme documents to be presented highlight the complexity of the issues that UNICEF confronts. South Sudan has long been struggling with the human cost of conflict, while Bangladesh, which has been moving towards middle-income status, has one of the world’s fastest rates of urbanization and is among countries most vulnerable to climate change. The nature of funding going forward will have an enormous impact on the ability of the organization to respond effectively amid such varied and evolving conditions.

            The field trips to Argentina and Côte d’Ivoire brought home the very different contexts in which UNICEF is able to make a meaningful impact on the lives of children and communities. They also highlighted the challenges, from overcrowded, under-staffed schools to hospitals lacking doctors. It is inspiring to see the dedication of students working hard to learn in less than optimal conditions and the efforts of a lone doctor to heal so many needy patients. But children should not have to be superhuman to get an education; families should not have to struggle to get health care. Every child has the right to a quality education, which means enough teachers, classrooms and learning materials. Mothers giving birth, adolescents with HIV/AIDS – all should be able to count on appropriate care in a safe environment.

The visit to Argentina was especially timely, given the decision by the Executive Board in February 2015 to invite UNICEF to work with relevant high-income countries to prepare CPDs for the Board’s consideration, as well as the subsequent decision by the Executive Board last February to approve Argentina’s new CPD.  Not only were we impressed by the importance and relevance of UNICEF’s work on children’s rights in Argentina, but the solutions being developed can be useful for other countries with a similar economic profile.  We also noted the synergy between UNICEF’s programme work in Argentina and its very successful fundraising.  We will revisit these issues at the Executive Board session in September and I encourage Member States to review the field visit report.

The field visits also remind us to recognize the UNICEF staff members who do the challenging work of the organization every day in difficult and often dangerous conditions.  I applaud their determination to forge a better world for children, families and communities everywhere.

I am grateful to my fellow Bureau members, who have worked closely with me to make sure that the Executive Board fulfilled its duty to oversee the work of UNICEF. And I commend the Office of the Secretary of the Executive Board, under the leadership of Mr. Nicolas Pron, for its gracious support.

I trust that we will leave this annual session newly inspired to work even harder to improve the lives of children. Thank you for supporting the essential work of UNICEF on behalf of children everywhere.




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