Author Archives: UNICEF Guest Contributor

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Blog posts by UNICEF staff from around the world.

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Dominica struggles to recover from devastating storm Erika

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View of the Macoucherie river in Dominica after the Tropical Storm Erika Photo: Courtesy of Prime Minister of Dominica

The night of 26 August began as any other night for Mary Fontaine, her husband and their two children. The family live in the south-eastern community of Petite Savanne, in Dominica, a 290 sq. mile island country in the eastern Caribbean.

The Fontaines were aware of the weather forecast – which had warned of showers associated with Tropical Storm Erika, and Mary secured the family home. Such weather systems are common during Atlantic hurricane season – Erika would be the fifth tropical storm of the 2015 season. The island was at the height of a drought, and Mary was prepared for these much-needed showers.

But the more than 71,000 residents of this small, mountainous island were not prepared for the rain that pounded Dominica for 12 hours on Thursday 27 August, as Erika made its slow exit. All told, 12.64 inches of rain fell in that short period.

Disruption
As morning broke across Dominica, the full scale of the devastation became apparent. Landslides and rock falls had covered villages and blocked major roads. More than 12 major rivers had broken their banks, causing severe flooding and taking out vital bridges, disrupting water, electricity and telecommunication services.

Links with the outside world were cut, as flood waters and debris covered the tarmac at the main commercial airport in the east of the country, as well as the smaller landing strip in the capital, Roseau.

“I was roused from my sleep, and, when I got outside, it was just water, water, water everywhere,” recalls Mary. “I’ve been here all my life but never saw anything like this. It was disaster all around.” She frantically tried to account for family members who live in neighbouring houses.

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Mary Fontaine (left) who lives in the south-eastern community of Petite Savanne in Dominica survived tropical storm Erika. Her brother and his two sons are missing. © UNICEF Eastern Caribbean/2015/B.Henry

Devastation
Petite Savanne was hit hard. The community is home to 753 people. Eleven of the 20 confirmed dead and 21 of the 35 residents reported missing call that ravaged district home.  Among the missing are Mary’s brother and his two sons. Her niece was located, safe.

Devastation in the close-knit community is so widespread that the government has declared Petite Savanne and eight other communities special disaster areas. A decision was later taken to evacuate Petite Savanne and three other affected communities. All but a handful of residents in the communities have now said farewell to their homes.

Long-time resident of Petite Savanne Urban Baron described the scene as “worse than a war zone”.

“More than 50 houses were on the verge of collapse, and there were landslides everywhere,” said Urban. He described people digging through mud to free those who had been trapped under fallen houses. In many cases, the only tools were their bare hands.

Recovery
The road to recovery for Mary and the other residents of Petite Savanne – and the nearly 17,000 other residents of the island who have been affected severely by the storm – will be long and uncertain. Roads and bridges will be repaired, but emotional scars may run deep, in the island dubbed the ‘nature isle’ of the Caribbean.

The government has appealed for international assistance, and pledges are coming in.

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Supplies provided by UNICEF being packed in Barbados to be brought to Dominica. © UNICEF Eastern Caribbean/2015/D.Williams

UNICEF has so far dispatched 4,000 water purification tablets, more than 500 boxes of adult hygiene kits and 100 infant hygiene kits to the most affected areas. The organization is currently working with the Ministry of Education to ascertain the extent of damage to the education sector, ahead of the scheduled 7 September start of the school year.

Patrick Knight is UNICEF Eastern Caribbean Communication Specialist

Displaced Iraqi children from Mosul now living in Baherka Camp in northern Iraq.

An uncertain future for the children of Iraq

Leaving the departures terminal in Baghdad airport is like walking into an oven. It is over 50 degrees. I haven’t been to Baghdad for three years. When I last left, I thought the country was on the right track.

Things have, however, taken a sharp turn since June last year – and not in the right direction. More than three million people have been displaced. Many ran for their lives. Children have been abducted, girls raped and tens of thousands of houses looted or seized.

It’s rush hour as we drive into the ‘International Zone’, a fortified area of about 10 square km where the United Nations offices are located. On ‘Route Charlie’ – or the ‘route of the dead’, as it was known during the 2003 conflict – dozens of Iraqi cars are queued at the checkpoint, their human cargo trying to get to work.

Displaced Iraqi children from Mosul now living in Baherka Camp in northern Iraq.

Displaced Iraqi children from Mosul now living in Baherka Camp in northern Iraq. (c)UNICEF/2015/Juliette Touma

Baghdad
At 7 p.m., we meet our colleague A’li in Baghdad. A’li’s just back from the camps of displaced people. He’s sweating. He tells us about the misery he’s witnessed. “The past few days have been sheer hell,” he says. “People were pleading for drinking water.” A’li and colleagues have been working to truck water into the area.

A’li is among some 40 Iraqi staff working with UNICEF in Baghdad, helping children and families in need. Every morning, they take the perilous journey to work. In the past week alone, two bombs have gone off in the capital, killing more than 100 people. According to the United Nations Mission in Iraq, July has been the deadliest month so far this year. “I have to leave my house at five every morning to avoid traffic and the bombs,” Omar, another colleague, tells me.

Back on the airport road, a huge placard reads: “The will of the people is stronger than the tyrants!” A few days later, mass protests take place in Baghdad. Iraqis are protesting the lack of electricity amid what has been reported as the harshest heat wave in decades.

Erbil
We head north to Erbil, in the Kurdistan Region, which last year received the highest number of families fleeing violence in Mosul and other areas. Many left loved ones behind.

Rami, 12, recounts how his grandfather disappeared when armed groups attacked his house in Hamdaniya, outside Mosul. He now lives in the Baherka camp, which is home to 1,500 children.

As we walk through the camp, I can’t help but think: “Hang on a minute – I’ve been here before.” Except I haven’t. I realize that what this camp in Iraq reminds me of is Za’atari camp for Syrian refugees in Jordan. The similarities are everywhere. It is dusty, boiling hot, full of tents. In a different country going through a different conflict for a different reason, people’s analogous stories of despair sound like restless shouts into the void.

Future
Iraq is spending 35 per cent of its budget on security, and the humanitarian funding is dwindling. On this visit, I keep thinking of the huge duty for aid workers. Up until a few years ago, Iraq was very close to achieving the Millennium Development Goals, especially when it came to children’s enrolment in education. Quite impressive, given that Iraq has gone through more than three decades of conflict, sanctions and economic stagnation. But, like Yemen and Syria, Iraq is now sinking into violence, killings and anguish. Children are at the very centre of the suffering.

A couple of frightening numbers keep popping up as a reminder of the challenge ahead of us: There are 3 million children out of school in Iraq, while 35,000 children under 5 die every year.

I hope that, when I go back to Iraq again in a few years’ time, every single one of these children will be sitting at a desk in a nice school, and all newborns will get to grow up into healthy babies. I wonder what Rami’s destiny will be. Will he continue to live in a camp? Will he get out and rebuild his life? Or will he perhaps, like many thousands, end up fleeing Iraq entirely, perhaps on a rickety boat, thinking, hoping, no matter the journey, life must certainly be better somewhere else?

Juliette Touma is a Communications & Media Specialist with the UNICEF Regional Office for the Middle East and North Africa.

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Children on the move through Europe dream of a ‘normal’ life

Mascut, 3, from Syria, plays with a ball at the UNICEF-supported child-friendly space. After waiting 6 hours in the sun to cross the border with his mother and sister, he recalls what it feels like to rest and play before embarking on the next stretch to Serbia.

Mascut, 3, from Syria, plays with a ball at the UNICEF-supported child-friendly space. After waiting 6 hours in the sun to cross the border with his mother and sister, he recalls what it feels like to rest and play before embarking on the next stretch to Serbia. (c)UNICEFMK/2015/TomislavGeorgiev

When I arrived on Saturday to the town of Gevgelija near the border with Greece, I witnessed people and children with utter desperation and fear in their eyes. Thousands of children and families on the move from conflict zones in the Middle East, Asia and parts of Africa had pushed through a police cordon where they had been waiting to enter the country. This resulted in a stampede as exhausted and frightened people raced towards the city centre.

Amidst the confusion, children were separated from their families and left to wander down the nearby railway tracks. My colleague and I, worried for their safety, set out to find these children so that we could bring them to a makeshift protection centre until they could be reunited with their parents and caregivers. It was a terrifying ordeal for them, but fortunately, all of the boys and girls were later able to re-join their families.

Yet for most of these children, this incident was just one more hardship in their long and perilous journeys in search of safety after having been displaced by conflict from their home countries. Some 2,000 – 3,000 people, usually in smaller groups of 50 – 100, are now crossing daily from Greece into the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia after making the dangerous trip by sea across the Aegean. Soon they will move on to Serbia and then to other countries in the European Union.

After travelling for days on end, the youngest children in particular often arrive dehydrated or running a fever because they have been sleeping out in the open. Children and adults come barefoot, their shoes having been destroyed after so much walking.

Some families are from Syria or Iraq, while others have travelled from Afghanistan. All just want to live in peace, free from the threat of violence, displacement and death.

Lamar, 4, has travelled with her mother for just over 2 months from Syria to the Gevgelija border crossing. They are heading to Germany to reunite with Lamar's father who managed to reach Germany 4 months ago. Her mother tells us their house was burned to the ground and that they have nothing left. The hope of reuniting their family and a better life gives them courage to keep moving.

Lamar, 4, has travelled with her mother for just over 2 months from Syria to the Gevgelija border crossing. They are heading to Germany to reunite with Lamar’s father who managed to reach Germany 4 months ago. Her mother tells us their house was burned to the ground and that they have nothing left. The hope of reuniting their family and a better life gives them courage to keep moving. (c)UNICEFMK/2015/TomislavGeorgiev

Most of the children I have spoken with do not want to talk about their experiences with war. They are more interested in sharing their hopes for the future which always seems to include going back to school. Just the other day, I watched as a group of children from several different countries played together by pretending they were in a classroom. Even though they did not all speak the same language, they organized themselves into ‘pretend’ teachers and students – sharing in the same pleasant daydream of just being a ‘normal kid’.

It’s been about five days since the chaotic scene at the border and the services available for people crossing over have improved. There is a new Migrant Reception Centre about 500 metres from the Greek border and we are working with our partners to ensure that children and families arriving here are provided with essential services to help sustain them for their onward journey. A second tent at the centre is now being used as a safe space place for women and children to access support services.

Yet far more must be done to meet the growing humanitarian needs here. There is not enough shelter to accommodate the number of people passing through and many are forced to sit outside for hours in the scorching sun. More sanitation facilities are needed and there is no running water – I’ve seen parents washing their children with bottled water.

We’re here to help though and day by day, it will get better. I hope that one day soon the children I have met here will get what they want most – a normal life where they will be able to sit in a real classroom instead of an imaginary one.

Aleksandar Lazovski is a UNICEF Social Protection Specialist

Children in Myanmar wash their hands with soap at a hand-washing station, while other students behind them wait their turn to use latrines.

New data cast light on poor hygiene

Children in Myanmar wash their hands with soap at a hand-washing station, while other students behind them wait their turn to use latrines.

Children in Myanmar wash their hands with soap at a hand-washing station. © UNICEF/NYHQ2012-2056/Dean

This week is World Water Week. Each year, leaders and experts meet in Stockholm to discuss global challenges relating to water. This year the conference celebrates its 25th year, with a specific focus is on water for development. There will also be lots of discussion about the broad spectrum of water issues ranging from water resources and climate change to access to the most basic of drinking water and sanitation facilities. There will be some, but all too little debate about the related topic of hygiene.

Four surprising facts on hygiene

  1. Handwashing with soap is one of the most effective interventions to reduce diarrhoea and pneumonia, two leading causes of child mortality.
  2. Research studies have suggested that very few people – approximately one in five globally – wash their hands after going to the loo. Whilst these data are limited they certainly demonstrate the scale of the challenge.
  3. Last year the Guinness World record for handwashing was won when almost 13 million students washed their hands simultaneously across over 1,300 schools in Madhya Pradesh, India.
  4. Menstrual hygiene remains a taboo in many settings – with poor knowledge and misconceptions as great a challenge as access to adequate facilities at home as well as at school. Learn more about menstrual hygiene and its impacts on women and girls in the Menstrual Hygiene Matters report.

It also happens to be the 25th anniversary of the WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) for Water Supply and Sanitation, whose report at the end of the Millennium Development Goals showed that 663 million people still lack an improved source of drinking water and 2.4 billion lack an improved sanitation facility.The ability to track progress on drinking water and sanitation during the last twenty-five years has helped to draw attention to people without basic services and to highlight persistent inequalities both between and within countries. Until recently, far less attention had been given to hygiene, which unlike water and sanitation, was not part of the Millennium Development Goals and has not been systematically tracked at the global level.

An adolescent girl takes part in an handwashing demonstration for a group of adolescent girls in Chowrapara, Rangpur, Bangladesh.

An adolescent girl takes part in an handwashing demonstration for a group of adolescent girls in Chowrapara, Rangpur, Bangladesh. © UNICEF/BANA2014-01296/Paul

Of the range of hygiene behaviours considered important for health, handwashing with soap is a top priority in all settings. Handwashing with soap is one of the most effective interventions to reduce diarrhoea and pneumonia, two leading causes of child mortality. But handwashing behaviours are tricky to measure – people know the “right” answer and are very likely to tell you it if you ask them directly. For that reason, the most practical approach leading to reliable measurement of handwashing is observation of the place where hands are washed and noting the presence of water and soap at that location. This lets you know whether households have the necessary tools for handwashing and provides a proxy for their behaviour. Learn more by reading the World Bank’s Water and Sanitation Program working paper: Practical Guidance for Measuring Handwashing Behavior.

The data for over 50 countries show consistently low levels of access to handwashing facilities in many countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa but also Southern Asia and Latin America and the Caribbean. For example, in the Democratic Republic of Congo fewer than one in ten people have access to a facility. In countries with higher coverage overall, such as Mongolia – the poorest are greatly disadvantaged: only one in ten have access compared with almost all of those in the wealthiest quintile (96%). Similarly, people living in rural areas are less likely to have access to handwashing facilities – as is the case in Afghanistan where they are only half as likely as people in urban areas. Explore the available handwashing data for yourself using the interactive dashboard on handwashing.

The great news is that hygiene is part of the new Sustainable Development Goals and is specifically mentioned together with sanitation in Target 6.2 which by 2030 seeks to ‘achieve access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all, and end open defecation, paying special attention to the needs of women and girls and those in vulnerable situations’. UN member states still need to select an indicator for handwashing to track progress and ensure these ambitions are properly reflected.And you can join the Global Public-Private Partnership for handwashing campaign to advocate for a handwashing SDG indicator. Over the next few years, data will then continue to be collected in household surveys such as the Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys and Demographic and Health Surveys and it will become possible to tell whether and how much the situation has improved. The data will also tell us whether the international community is giving hygiene the attention it most surely deserves.

Explore the interactive dashboard on handwashing:

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Robert Bain is a Statistical Specialist focusing on water, sanitation and hygiene in UNICEF’s Data and Analytics Section in New York.

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Syrian women risk their lives to protect children from polio

More than 200 Syrian women risk their lives every day to save the lives of children by teaching fellow mothers about the importance of polio vaccinations in the most hard-to-reach areas, including in Dar’a in the far south of Syria, and Aleppo in the northern part of the war-torn country. UNICEF works with local partners to train these women on holding educational sessions and delivering key messages to parents of the young children.

The fight against polio in Syria is one that goes beyond administering vaccinations – it also requires changing misconceptions, especially in the most inaccessible areas.

“Being a parent myself, makes me want to protect all the children of the world,” said Suzan, a mother of three and a volunteer in Dar’a. “I learned about the importance of vaccinations from a health worker, so I vaccinated my children. But what if other mothers did not? Why should the children suffer?” she asked, explaining her drive to help out.

A woman volunteer takes the stand at a mosque in Aleppo to teach gathered women on the importance of Polio vaccinations and their safety. ©UNICEF Syria/2015

A woman volunteer takes the stand at a mosque in Aleppo to teach gathered women on the importance of polio vaccinations and their safety. ©UNICEF Syria/2015

Suzan took advantage of any opportunity to reach out to mothers and give them critical information on protection from polio. While most of her work entailed holding informative sessions in shelters for the internally displaced people, she took innovative steps to spread her knowledge.

“During major water cuts, I’d approach women gathering to fill their cans with water and talk to them about vaccination and hygiene,” she said. “I can tell how responsive they were because they asked questions and interacted with me, especially young mothers.”

Working in hard to reach areas, the mission of these unsung heroes is dotted with challenges. According to the women, a deteriorating security situation, increased restrictions on the movement of women without a male companion and resistance against vaccinations in some parts of the country are among the obstacles they face on a daily basis.

“The violence in the area is making people hesitant to take their children to medical centres to get vaccinated,” said Jinan, a volunteer in Aleppo. Jinan noted another obstacle faced by the volunteers; the misperceptions of parents over the safety of the vaccinations.

“Parents were too scared to get their children vaccinated due to rumours,” she explained. “We clarified over and over again the credibility of the source and the importance of the polio vaccine until we convinced them.”

Despite challenges, these courageous and dedicated women are reaching out to as many mothers as possible – and getting them to vaccinate their children as a result.

A volunteer with UNICEF holds in-house sessions with mothers in Aleppo and distributes informative flyers on protection from polio. ©UNICEF Syria/2015

A volunteer with UNICEF holds in-house sessions with mothers in Aleppo and distributes informative flyers on protection from polio. ©UNICEF Syria/2015

“The most exciting thing is sharing your knowledge, then watching the mothers take actions based on it,” said Mariam, another community influencer in Aleppo. “One woman went and vaccinated her three children immediately after the information session”.

“Since the outbreak of polio in Syria in late 2013 that resulted in 36 recorded cases in the country, 15 massive vaccination campaigns supported by UNICEF have been rolled out combined with raising public awareness at the community level,” explained Hanaa Singer, UNICEF representative in Syria.

The campaigns reached more than 2.9 million children under the age of five across the country. Many were vaccinated several times. “We were able to reach some children living under siege or in areas hard-to-reach. However, we estimate that some 80,000 children continue to miss out on the life-saving vaccination,” warned Singer.

“Mothers listen and relate better to other mothers,” said Dr. Nidal Abou Rshaid, UNICEF immunization officer. “The volunteers’ role is extremely important because they are more capable of delivering the information.”

Yasmine Saker is a Communication and Reporting Consultant working with UNICEF Syria.

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Tackling cholera in Haiti

A child fetches water from a local waterpoint.

A child fetches water from a local waterpoint. (c) UNICEF Haiti/2015/Walther

After recently spending 24 hours in Gonaives, Artibonite department, the link between water and health is once again engraved in my mind. The day – spent on the ground with UNICEF partner Action Against Hunger (ACF) in and around the commune of St Michel d’Attalye – illustrated the direct connection between safe water and cholera, between life and death like no infographic or report could.

Gonaives was the first place I visited after arriving in Haiti in September 2014. At the time, it was among the hotspots of the still ongoing cholera epidemic, with over 470 cases that month. Today the situation has calmed down all over the country with a 90 percent reduction in reported cases between 2014 (27,388) and 2011 (350,000). However, with an ambitious target of reaching less than 1,000 suspected cases a year (an incidence of <0.01%) to reach elimination by 2022, each confirmed cholera case is of concern.

This is particularly true in the capital Port-au-Prince and in the departments of North and Center which account for over half of all cases and where over 2,000 cases have already been observed for 2015 (nearly 6,000 in Port-au-Prince alone). In contrast, Artibonite has entered a quiet period, meaning that although cases continue to occur (an average of 55 cases a week), NGO partners can dedicate more attention to prevention and strengthening community-based response mechanisms to cholera alerts.

A group of children walk to collect water.

A group of children walk to collect water. (c) UNICEF Haiti/2015/Walther

The Haitian government and its partners, including UNICEF, implement a four-pronged approach to eliminate cholera in the country.

  • One: rapid response and investigation of all cholera alerts led by Ministry of Health emergency response teams (EMIRA) and supported by UN and NGO partners.
  • Two: complementary investments in the underlying structural causes of the epidemic, in particular access to clean drinking water and adequate sanitation.
  • Three: strengthening of epidemiological surveillance (to control an epidemic it is crucial to have timely information about the number and location of cases) and the enhancement of health services at national and local levels.
  • Four: sensitization of individuals on good hygiene practices via mass media campaigns and face-to-face community outreach activities. Whenever possible community-based interventions are prioritized

When I visited Gonaives in September 2014 cholera agents of the ACF-team were working hand-in-hand with the EMIRA and other local government agents to ensure a professional response within 48 hours after each cholera alert. Once a patient was registered at a cholera treatment center (CTC) the agents’ task was to disinfect his/her home and to establish a ‘sanitary cordon’ (‘cordon sanitaire’) around the neighboring houses of the cholera patient – usually around ten houses. The latter involves disinfection of neighboring houses if required, sensitization activities, and provision all of cholera kits that contain a month’s supply of soap, water, chlorine tablets (to disinfect drinking water) and oral rehydration salts (to compensate lost minerals in case of diarrhea) to families.

An ACF agent conduct a refresher training for community volunteers.

An ACF agent conducts a refresher training for community volunteers. (c) UNICEF Haiti/2015/Walther

To ensure quick local response capacities, ACF is now benefitting from the relative calm to conduct prevention activities and to refine a mechanism of community-based agents, which may eventually replace the need for external assistance. In high-risk areas, ACF has trained community volunteers called ‘brigadiers’, who know how to prevent cholera and what to do when a case is registered. Besides, they are in charge of keeping their communities attentive to the risk of cholera and encouraging good hygiene practices and other preventative behaviors. This approach has a triple advantage. Being themselves from the communities the brigadiers know the area by heart, they have more credibility than outsiders, and they are on site when an outbreak occurs.

Currently, the cholera epidemic in Haiti remains an emergency with the acute risk of major outbreaks. In particular the current rainy season (which will last until November) makes experts itchy. The spike in cases last November illustrates the need for ongoing vigilance and rapid response. Despite continued progress against the disease, for a large part of the population the risk of cholera remains the same as in 2010. The localized epicenters of cholera outbreaks continue to be characterized by a lack of water and sanitation infrastructure, insufficient social services, and the high mobility of populations.

To break the chain of transmission and get rid of cholera in Haiti, clean water and sanitation together with improved hygiene behaviour are the key. Today’s challenge is to break the chain of transmission and to eliminate the remaining risk, once and for all.

Cornelia Walther is the Chief of Communication at UNICEF Haiti

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Achta’s dream of education

With the security situation improving in some parts of the Central African Republic, plans are being made to restore access to education.

With the security situation improving in some parts of the Central African Republic, plans are being made to restore access to education. (c)UNICEF CAR /2015/Le Du

The 24th of July was a very sad day for Achta. The seventeen-year-old was sitting in her house, fretting over her dream of getting an education. She was supposed to take an entrance test for secondary school that day, but the exam was taking place on the other side of town, controlled by one of the armed groups active in CAR, the anti-Balaka. As a Muslim, she was afraid of going, for fear of being attacked.

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Achta and Cecile. (c)UNICEF CAR

Then Achta heard a voice outside the house calling for her. Some people were looking for her. “I ran out of the house, and there I saw the principal of my school and a lady wearing a UNICEF t-shirt”, she recalls. “She told me I had to go to UN OCHA base the next morning at 7,” says Achta, “and that a car would pick me up, drive me to the school where the exams were taking place, and then drive me back home to safety when I was finished”.

“I cried with relief, and I prayed to God and asked him to bless this angel that had come to rescue me”, says Achta.

A few days later she got her results: she passed, and she will be going to secondary school next month.

The situation in CAR has developed from a silent emergency into a visible and complex humanitarian and protection crisis, as a result of a rebel offensive that began in December 2012 and a seizure of power in March 2013. Fighting in the capital reached a peak in December 2013 as armed and community-based self-defence groups calling themselves Anti-Balaka rose up in revenge against ex-Seleka, the rebel group who had orchestrated the coup nine months earlier. The violence spread out across the country, with large-scale human rights abuses committed on both sides, followed by a serious deterioration in the humanitarian situation.

Children at a temporary learning space.

Children at a temporary learning space. (c)UNICEF CAR/Logan

With hundreds of thousands of civilians displaced by violence, and regular education services disrupted, UNICEF was able to set up temporary learning spaces for children. Now that the security situation is improving in many areas of the country, UNICEF, the Ministry of Education and partners are working towards ambitious programs that aim to rebuild the school system with funding from the European Union and the Global Partnership for Education.

In Batangafo, where Achta lives, the peak in violence was reached in June 2014, with clashes between ex-Seleka and Anti-Balaka armed groups. The town has now been divided for over a year, with most of the non-Muslim population (over 28.000 people) living either in an internally displaced persons camp, or in a small part of town, away from the Muslim population.

In August 2014, the Anti-Balaka armed groups attacked Achta’s neigborhood. Her father was killed. Her mother fled, her fate unknown to the girl until she got word that she had safely reached Cameroon. Achta then ended up living with her sister and grandparents. She would spend her days sitting in front of the house, selling peanuts and salt, in order to provide for the family.

Achta’s regular school had closed, because it was located in the ex-Seleka controlled part of town. Over the last few months Achta has been able to attend classes in one of the Temporary Learning Spaces set up by UNICEF and partners. However, the secondary school entrance exams were organised in one location only- and it was in the non-Muslim part of Batangafo. There was no way she could go there on her own.

Achta was doing well in school and her teacher knew it. I happened to be in Batangafo on that day, and he asked me if UNICEF could help. I will never forget her tears of joy when she finally found out she had passed. After months of suffering –and probably many more difficult times to come, being able to attend secondary school is giving Achta hope for the future.

Cecile Pango is an education officer working with UNICEF CAR focusing on Temporary Safe Learning Spaces.

A boy pushes a wheelbarrow filled with jerrycans in Sana’a, the capital of Yemen.

الحواجز والمياه والأطفال في اليمن

A boy pushes a wheelbarrow filled with jerrycans in Sana’a, the capital of Yemen.

طفل يدفع عربة مليئة بقوارير الماء البلاستيكية في صنعاء، اليمن. ©UNICEF/NYHQ2015-1291/Yasin

عملي هو ضمان وصول المزيد من الأشخاص للمياه والصرف الصحي في اليمن، وهي واحدة من أفقر دول العالم بالمياه. ولكن بعد أقل من شهر على وصولي هناك، اضطررت لمغادرة صنعاء مع زملائي الأجانب في الأمم المتحدة بسبب تصاعد العنف في البلاد.

نحن الآن في منتصف شهر رمضان، وقد عدت لتوي إلى صنعاء، وبالرغم من أنني سعيدة بعودتي، إلا أن مشاعرا متضاربة تنتابني. فالمدينة النابضة بالحياة التي غادرتها قبل ثلاثة أشهر أصبحت مهجورة الان، باستثناء صف طويل من السيارات – يمتد لبضعة كيلومترات – تقف بانتظار الحصول على الوقود، ونفايات متكومة في الشوارع. عبرنا الحاجز، حيث رأيت صبيا يحمل بندقية، مع أنه أصغر بكثير من أن يحمل سلاحا. وبعدها رأيت الناس يقفون بالصف أمام المسجد بانتظار تعبئة قواريرهم البلاستيكية بالمياه، ويبدو البأس واضحا في عيونهم.

دفعت الأزمة في اليمن البلاد إلى حافة كارثة إنسانية، حيث يصف زميل الوضع هناك بأنه “القشة التي قسمت ظهر البعير”. فقد تضررت المدارس والمستشفيات والشوارع والجسور بفعل النزاع، وانهارت الخدمات العامة هناك. كما بدأت إمدادات الطعام والوقود والدواء تنفذ، ويهدد نقص المياه المأمونة وخدمات الصرف الصحي المناسبة صحة الملايين من الأشخاص بشكل جدي.

حجم المعاناة في اليمن واضح، والناس هناك يحتاجون للمساعدة الملحة، ولذلك عدت إلى هنا. نعمل أنا وفريقي على مدار الساعة لنزود الأطفال والعائلات المتأثرة بالنزاع بالمياه النظيفة وحقائب النظافة الشخصية الأساسية، التي تتضمن ضروريات كالصابون وقوارير المياه البلاستيكية.

Back in April, residents fill their containers with water at outdoor taps in Sana’a.

في نيسان الماضي، السكان يملئون أوعيتهم من صنبور مياه عام في صنعاء. ©UNICEF/NYHQ2015-0870/Hamoud

تقدر الأمم المتحدة أن 80% من السكان يحتاجون للمساعدات الإنسانية، وهو رقم تقشعر له الأبدان. ومع ذلك، لا زلت أجد الإلهام في بعض الأشياء البسيطة مثل الشاحنات التي تسير في شوارع صنعاء لتجمع النفايات المتناثرة في كل مكان. ويعود الفضل جزئيا في ذلك إلى مساهمة اليونيسف في تزويد السلطات المحلية بالوقود. حيث توفر اليونيسف أيضا الوقود لعشرة مدن في البلاد، للإبقاء على عمل مضخات أنظمة المياه في المدن، وبالتالي ضمان وصول المياه لملايين الناس.

تجتاحني مشاعر قوية من وقت لآخر، فالواقع أن دقات قلبي تتسارع كلما سمعت صوت قصف بالجوار في الليل، ولكنني أتأثر أكثر عندما أتلقى أخبارا عن مقتل زميل أو موظف لدى شركائنا المحليين على يد قناص بينما كان يوصل المياه للسكان، أو اختطاف زميل لمدة أسبوع بينما كان يبني مرحاضا للنازحين. ولكن في ذات الوقت هناك قصص بطولية عن أولئك الذين شاركوا في توصيل الإمدادات وتوفير الوقود لمضخات المياه للمناطق التي يحتد فيها الاقتتال، والتي لم تتمكن المساعدات من الوصول إليها من قبل.

لدي احترام كبير لجميع زملائي اليمنيين الذين يعرضون حياتهم للخطر ويخرجون لتقديم الخدمات للنازحين. عودتي إلى اليمن قرّبتني من فريقي، فقد صرت أفهم الظروف الصعبة التي يواجهونها في عملهم كل يوم، وأن هذه الظروف لن تمنعنا من التخطيط على مستوى عال، وأن نذهب إلى أبعد الحدود. فقد نتمكن من التفاوض من أجل الدخول إلى عدن وجمع النفايات الصلبة حيث بدأت الأمراض تتفشى هناك، أو نتمكن من توزيع حقائب النظافة الشخصية على الباقين في صعدة ولم يتمكنوا من مغادرتها لضيق الحال.

الوصول لهؤلاء الناس أمر في غاية الأهمية، فخوفنا الأكبر ليس من وفاة أطفال اليمن بفعل طلقات الرصاص والقنابل ولكنه من وفاتهم جرّاء الأمراض التي يمكن الحيلولة دونها مثل الإسهال والالتهاب الرئوي. فإضافة إلى الخدمات الطبية واللقاحات، يمكن لتوفير المياه النظيفة ومرحاض وقطعة من الصابون أن تنقذ حياة طفل بالمعنى الحرفي للكلمة. وحتى لو ظل النزاع مشتعلا، وتم منعنا من الوصول مرة بعد أخرى، سنستمر في العمل حتى نصل لأولئك الذين هم في أمس الحاجة إلينا. ولكن الأهم من ذلك، أننا لن نفقد الأمل في أن ينتهي النزاع ويعم السلام على اليمن وأهلها مرة أخرى.


تعمل ماريج برويكويسن في اليمن كخبيرة للمياه والصرف الصحي والنظافة العامة. تمت كتابة هذه المشاركة خلال شهر رمضان.

Back in April, residents fill their containers with water at outdoor taps in Sana’a.

Checkpoints, water and the children of Yemen

A boy pushes a wheelbarrow filled with jerrycans in Sana’a, the capital of Yemen.

A boy pushes a wheelbarrow filled with jerrycans in Sana’a, the capital of Yemen. © UNICEF/NYHQ2015-1291/Yasin

My job is to ensure that more people have access to water and sanitation in Yemen, one of the most water-scarce countries in the world. After less than a month there, I had to leave Sana’a, along with other international United Nations colleagues, because of the escalation in conflict.

It is now the holy month of Ramadan and I’m back in Sana’a. Although it feels good to be back, my return comes with mixed feelings. The lively and bustling city that I left just three months ago is now deserted, except for the kilometres-long lines of cars waiting for petrol and the garbage piled up on the streets. We drive past a checkpoint, where I see a boy with a rifle, clearly too young to be holding a weapon. A bit further down the road, people queue up at a mosque to fill their jerry cans with water. Desperation is visible in their eyes.

The conflict in Yemen has brought the country to the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe. A colleague describes it as “the straw that broke the camel’s back”. Schools, hospitals, roads and bridges are damaged, and public services have collapsed. Supplies of food, fuel and medicines are critically low, and the lack of safe water and proper sanitation poses serious health risks to millions of people.

It is clear that the people of Yemen are suffering and need urgent help. And that’s exactly why I came back. My team and I are working around the clock to provide children and their families affected by the conflict with clean water and basic hygiene kits that contain necessities like soap and jerry cans.

Back in April, residents fill their containers with water at outdoor taps in Sana’a.

Back in April, residents fill their containers with water at outdoor taps in Sana’a. © UNICEF/NYHQ2015-0870/Hamoud

The United Nations estimates that 80 per cent of the population is in need of humanitarian assistance, a number that gives me goose bumps. But small things continue to inspire me, like the trucks on the streets of Sana’a that have started to collect garbage strewn all over, which has in part been possible because of UNICEF’s contribution of fuel to the local authorities. UNICEF is also providing fuel for over 10 cities in the country, to keep the pumps of the urban water systems operational, thereby reaching millions of people.

From time to time, emotions overwhelm me. Of course my heartbeat goes up when my bed shakes from the loud bombing nearby at night. But it affects me more when I get the news that a staff of one of our local partners was shot by a sniper while delivering water to a community, and another constructing latrines for displaced people was kidnapped for a week. At the same time, there are heroic stories of those involved in transporting supplies and fuel to pump water to areas where heavy conflict is ongoing, and where no assistance was able to reach before.

I feel a lot of respect for all of my Yemeni colleagues who continue to go out and serve those displaced while putting their lives at risk. Being back in Yemen has brought me closer to my team. I’ve begun to understand the difficult conditions people face every day, and that it hasn’t stopped us from planning big and going the extra mile. What if we could negotiate access to collect the solid waste in Aden, where a disease outbreak is looming? What if we could distribute hygiene kits to the people who are left behind in Sa’ada, because they have no means to leave the area?

Reaching these people is so important, because our biggest fear is that the children of Yemen won’t die of bullets and bombs, but of preventable diseases like diarrhoea and pneumonia. In addition to medical services and vaccinations, providing clean water, a toilet and a piece of soap can literally save a child’s life. Even if the conflict rages on, and we are denied access time and again, we will continue to try to reach out to those most in need. But most importantly, we will continue to hope that one day this conflict will end and peace will return to the people of Yemen.

Marije Broekhuijsen works in Yemen as a UNICEF Water, Sanitation and Hygiene specialist. This post was written during the month of Ramadan.

(From left to right) Mbasa Mengzuva, 14, Gcobisa Maroloma, 12 and Anathi Mlengana, 13 are amongst the best students of the Bijolo School situated in a disadvantaged rural area in Eastern Cape, South Africa.  Each of the three friends has a dream that they hope to achieve through education. Mbasa wants to become a pilot, Anathi – a writer and Gcobisa hopes one day to work with technologies. 

The Bijolo School, providing quality education to over 400 students per year, is part of a project launched in 2005 by the Nelson Mandela Institute for Education and Rural Development, with the support of the Schools for Africa initiative and UNICEF. The Nelson Mandela Institute works closely with 120 teachers across Eastern Cape to design, build, distribute and test in their practice pedagogical tools for children in rural areas. As part of the methodology the children are also able to learn in their native Xhosa language, which significantly increased the school results. In addition, the Bijolo School was also entirely rehabilitated and furnished with suitable school material.

The Addis Ababa Action Agenda: strengths, weaknesses, and the way ahead

On the evening of July 15th negotiators reached agreement on the Addis Ababa Action Agenda. The Action Agenda outlines an ambitious roadmap for the implementation of the sustainable development goals and will influence the work of governments, development experts and other stakeholders for years to come. We would like to share with you a review of strengths and weaknesses of the document and suggested follow-up activities. The key paragraphs for children are listed at the bottom of the email.  The full Addis Action Agenda can be found here.

Strong points

From development finance to sustainable development finance: With the Addis Action Agenda sustainable and inclusive development truly moves to the centre of development finance. Compared to previous Financing for Development agreements the document outlines a more comprehensive and forward-looking development agenda, including goals to end poverty and hunger, protect the environment, and promote inclusive economic growth and social inclusion (para 1). The Agenda also recognizes the importance of aligning climate, humanitarian and development finance (62-66).

Investing in children is identified as an integral part of the sustainable development agenda: The outcome document (paragraph 7), establishes a clear link between investing in children and the Post-2015 agenda’s overall goal of achieving inclusive and sustainable growth (‘we recognize that investing in children and youth is critical to achieving inclusive, equitable and sustainable development for present and future generations’). Contrary to previous agreements of Monterrey and Doha, children are no longer viewed as passive recipients of social support but as agents of future growth and development.

A ‘holistic’ approach to achieving wellbeing for children: The Action Agenda makes progress by recognizing the multidimensionality of poverty. It also outlines an approach to child wellbeing that extends far beyond what would normally be expected of a document primarily concerned with questions of development finance. Several paragraphs make reference to ‘systemic’ issues, such as enforcing respect of children’s rights in the private and business sector (37), rights of child migrants (111) and tackling violence against children (112). These references complement multiple commitments to invest in basic services and social protection ‘floors’ with a specific focus on the needs of children, youth, and other ‘vulnerable’ groups (12, 77, 78, 114).

Improved data and monitoring: Member States agree to ‘increase and use high-quality, timely and reliable data disaggregated by sex, age’, and other socioeconomic categories relevant in national contexts (126). Signatories also pledge to support civil registration and vital statistics systems and to ensure broad access to the tools necessary to turn data into useful, actionable information (128). These commitments will help continue the data revolution for children which –in many countries- effectively started with the systematic collection of administrative data and surveys like MICS, DHS and Living Standard Measurement Surveys. In addition, the Agenda makes progress by shifting the focus to data literacy, better integration of different data sources, and improved use of evidence for policy making.

Three students from the Bijolo School situated in a disadvantaged rural area in Eastern Cape, South Africa.

Three students from the Bijolo School situated in a disadvantaged rural area in Eastern Cape, South Africa. © UNICEF/PFPG2015-3304/Miltcheva

Weaknesses

FfD – Means of Implementation for the SDGs? With negotiations on SDG goals and targets progressing in parallel, FfD was increasingly expected to provide a strong working definition of the Means Of Implementation for the SDG agenda. Does the outcome document deliver on this goal? Yes and no. On the one hand, developing countries managed to inscribe references to international coordination and financial and technical support in areas like fighting corruption and illicit finance, scaling up infrastructure investments, and knowledge and technology transfer. On the other hand developed countries often pushed back firmly against the creation of new and potentially costly institutional mechanisms and partnerships for the SDGs. The result is often vague language to ‘explore’ (rather than ‘implement’) new partnerships.[1] The document is also studded with commitments to address developing country concerns through existing institutions and coordination bodies, such as the IMF, World Bank Group. Whether these commitments will be sufficient to bridge political divides in FfD will depend on the extent to which future reforms move beyond the current status quo to allow developing countries greater participation in the governance mechanisms of these institutions.

Spending commitments: Addis was never meant to be a pledging conference; however, what was agreed remained below expectations of even seasoned negotiators (including in particular the Addis co-chairs). Ambitious numeric targets on domestic spending, tax collection and ODA included in the first (‘zero’) draft were struck down in the early phases of negotiations by a large coalition of developed and developing countries. Most targets are now expressed in non-numeric terms and are thus harder to monitor (e.g. paras on domestic tax reform). Others are formulated as voluntary commitments. For example for ODA, one of the few remaining numeric targets, the document ‘reaffirms the commitment by many developed countries to achieve the target of 0.7 per cent of ODA/GNI’ and ‘welcomes’ the unilateral decision by the European Union to do so within the time frame of the post-2015 agenda. ODA targets to Least Developed Countries further remain below the current share of approximately a third of total ODA allocated to LDCs (the document speaks of allocating 0.15 to 0.20 per cent of ODA/GNI to LDCs).

Illicit finance and tax cooperation: Developing countries fought long and hard to rectify illicit outflows of resources and tax evasion by calling for a new and stronger UN body for tax coordination that would allow for stronger representation of developing countries’ interests than existing mechanisms within the OECD. The deal they got – an increased frequency of meetings of the UN Committee of Experts on International Cooperation in Tax Matters of two meetings a year – falls behind this target. However, it is worth noting that also developing countries resisted new commitments to raise domestic tax to GDP ratios or make the use of public revenues more effective and equitable (for example, a commitment to phase out harmful fuel subsidies was only adopted after long and painful discussions). Looking forward, progress on tax matters will require stronger political commitments from both developed and developing countries.

Lack of concrete information on the interaction between ODA and climate and humanitarian finance: Although environmental and humanitarian concerns are addressed head-on in the Action Agenda, negotiators were often cautious not to forestall debates with more direct mandates on these issues, including the COP 21 in Paris and the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul. This left gaps on important questions, such as whether the international public response to climate change and humanitarian disasters would be financed from ODA or additional resources and the appropriate level of burden sharing between developed and developing countries. As it stands, the Addis document outlines broad principles of climate, development and humanitarian finance, with more concrete agreements and commitments to follow from the climate and humanitarian tracks of Post-2015 negotiations.

What’s next?

Once negotiations have concluded on the parallel track on SDG goals and targets, attention will shift to the country level. UNICEF can make progress here by focusing advocacy and support on nationally appropriate targets and implementation plans. Without claim for completeness, at least four priorities can come to mind:

  • Identify domestic investment plans and spending targets that reach beyond general commitments identified by the Addis action agenda: Through UNICEF’s work with governments, we know that increased investments in children’s development are possible, even in environments with constrained fiscal space. UNICEF country teams can build on these experiences to advocate for strong national commitments to invest in essential services for children. Sharing of experiences and information across countries can also encourage reforms within practical reach of governments.
  • Support child-focused data collection and analysis: The need for improved data and monitoring is now widely acknowledged among relevant actors. Resulting political support should be used to advocate for the closing of remaining data gaps. In countries that are already well into the data revolution the priority is probably not the collection of just more data, but of improved analysis and integration of existing data sets. For example, UNICEF in the context of FfD could engage more in the integrated analysis of administrative and household expenditure data to better understand the distribution of the benefits of public spending across relevant groups and children. Other important aspects include improved disaggregation of poverty data by gender and age at country and global levels. Joint work in these areas is already ongoing in the World Bank and UNICEF.
  • Mainstream work in country offices around FfD and the SDGs objectives: Existing UNICEF country programmes provide several entry points for child-related priorities identified in the Action Agenda. For example, policy advice and budget analysis leverages and fosters equity-focused public investments in children; advocacy for child rights under the CRC relates to FfD commitments for children around private finance and migration; while future work under the planned global Child Protection partnership will address violence against children head-on. All of these actions can be aligned and, where necessary, reinforced to directly support national FfD and SDG implementation plans.
  • Explore new and innovative approaches to raise additional resources for children: The organization already works on several innovative approaches to expand available financing for children. Examples where UNICEF is actively participating include the Bridge Fund of the US Fund for UNICEF to accelerate access to life-saving assistance to children in need around the world, and Power of Nutrition, which is a catalytic fund to scale-up finance from public-private sources for high-impact nutrition programmes in collaboration with the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation as lead and the World Bank. In addition, UNICEF is working with key partners and the World Bank, such as in the country-based Water Finance Facilities (water banks). This instrument aims to pool investment opportunities or “blended funding” (domestic public and private with international public resources, including loans, grants, bonds, tariff and taxes) for WASH programmes.

By Olav Kjorven, Director of Public Partnerships Division; Nalinee Nippita, Senior Adviser, Multilateral & Intergovernmental Partnerships; and Frank-Borge Wietzke, Public Partnership Specialist.

 

Key paragraphs on children in the Addis Action Agenda
1 – Opening paragraph: sustainable growth and children. “We will promote peaceful and inclusive societies and advance fully towards an equitable global economic system in which no country or person is left behind, enabling decent work and productive livelihoods for all, while preserving the planet for our children and future generations.”

7 – Investing in children. “We recognize that investing in children and youth is critical to achieving inclusive, equitable and sustainable development for present and future generations, and we recognize the need to support countries that face particular challenges to make the requisite investments in this area. We reaffirm the vital importance of promoting and protecting the rights of all children, and ensuring that no child is left behind.”
 
12 – Social protection and essential public services for all. “To end poverty in all its forms everywhere and finish the unfinished business of the Millennium Development Goals, we commit to a new social compact. In this effort, we will provide fiscally sustainable and nationally appropriate social protection systems and measures for all, including floors, with a focus on those furthest below the poverty line and the vulnerable, persons with disabilities, indigenous persons, children, youth and older persons.”

37 –Child labor issues and Convention on the Rights of the Child. “We will foster a dynamic and well-functioning business sector, while protecting labour rights and environmental and health standards in accordance with relevant international standards and agreements, such as the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the labour standards of the ILO, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and key multilateral environmental agreements, for parties to these agreements.”

77 – Multi-stakeholder partnerships for health, including for women and children. “We welcome innovative approaches to catalyse additional domestic and international private and public resources for women and children, who have been disproportionately affected by many health issues, including the expected contribution of the Global Financing Facility in support of Every Woman, Every Child.”

78 – Education. “We recognize the importance for achieving sustainable development of delivering quality education to all girls and boys. This will require reaching children living in extreme poverty, children with disabilities, migrant and refugee children, and those in conflict and post-conflict situations, and providing safe, non-violent, inclusive and effective learning environments for all. We will scale up investments and international cooperation to allow all children to complete free, equitable, inclusive and quality early childhood, primary and secondary education, including through scaling-up and strengthening initiatives, such as the Global Partnership for Education. We commit to upgrading education facilities that are child, disability and gender sensitive and increasing the percentage of qualified teachers in developing countries, including through international cooperation, especially in least developed countries and Small Island Developing States.”

111 – Migrants. “We reaffirm the need to promote and protect effectively the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all migrants, especially those of women and children, regardless of their migration status.”

112 – Violence. “We will strengthen regional, national and subnational institutions to prevent all forms of violence, combat terrorism and crime, and end human trafficking and exploitation of persons, in particular women and children, in accordance with international human rights law.”

114 – Access to technology and science. “We will promote access to technology and science for women, youth and children. We will further facilitate accessible technology for persons with disabilities.”

126 – Disaggregated data by age. “We will seek to increase and use high-quality, timely and reliable data disaggregated by sex, age, geography, income, race, ethnicity, migratory status, disability, and other characteristics relevant in national contexts.”