Translate commitments to invest in children into action, UNICEF urges leaders at Financing for Development Conference

Rahmat and her baby Ne'ema Abdu-Dessie Zurie Woreda
Rahmat and her baby Ne’ema Abdu-Dessie Zurie Woreda © UNICEF Ethiopia/2013/Tsegaye

NEW YORK/ADDIS ABABA, 15 July 2015 – At the close of the Third International Conference on Financing for Development, UNICEF challenges the international community to turn its promises to invest in children and young people into concrete action that reduces inequities and provides every child with a fair chance in life.

UNICEF welcomes the Addis Ababa Conference’s recognition that investing in children and young people is “critical to achieving inclusive, equitable and sustainable development”. This represents a significant shift away from the perception of children as passive recipients of social spending towards viewing them as agents of future growth and development. 

UNICEF also supports the Conference’s acknowledgement of the “vital importance of promoting and protecting the rights of all children, and ensuring that no child is left behind,” believing that this provides a strong basis for final negotiations on the post-2015 development agenda, including the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Yoka Brandt, Deputy Executive Director UNICEF, makes a remark at the Child Protection: Sustaining Investments in Childhood side event
Yoka Brandt, Deputy Executive Director UNICEF, makes a remark at the Child Protection: Sustaining Investments in Childhood side event at FFD3 ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2015/Ayene

“Here in Addis Ababa member states have agreed on a global roadmap for development finance that recognises in much stronger words than previous agreements that investing in children is central to inclusive and sustainable growth,” said Yoka Brandt, UNICEF Deputy Executive Director. “The Addis Ababa Action Agenda puts a strong emphasis on equity, on reaching the most vulnerable. Combined with the Sustainable Development Goals, which also give clear priority to the interests of children and equity, we now have a robust, new global foundation for making the world fit for children.”

However, UNICEF warns against complacency and calls upon the international community to build on the commitments made in Addis Ababa by:

  • Prioritising investments in basic universal services such as education, social safety nets, health care, immunisation, water and sanitation and child protection;
  • Identifying and targeting groups and communities with the greatest needs;
  • Progressively mobilising additional resources to address financing gaps in underfunded SDG priority areas with the greatest impacts for children such as nutrition, children protection and early childhood development;
  • Improving reporting on child-related spending including documenting how much funding goes to groups or areas with greater incidences of child deprivation.

“We must make sure that the most vulnerable and disadvantaged children are at the heart of the SDGs, and at the heart of how we go about mobilising the financing that is needed to achieve these goals,” Brandt said. “We have a unique opportunity to translate commitments and promise and into action. To turn rhetoric into practical results for all children.”

UNICEF, WHO: Lack of sanitation for 2.4 billion people undermining health improvements

A South Sudanese refugee takes a shower with water poured from a jerry can
A south Sudanese refugee Nvakuache Tut takes a shower by the way of water poured from a jerry can. 26, June 2014 Burbie South Sudanese Refugees Reception Centre Gambella Ethiopia. ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2014/Ayene

Final MDG progress report on water and sanitation released 

NEW YORK/GENEVA, 30 June 2015 – Lack of progress on sanitation threatens to undermine the child survival and health benefits from gains in access to safe drinking water, warn WHO and UNICEF in a report tracking access to drinking water and sanitation against the Millennium Development Goals.

The Joint Monitoring Programme report, Progress on Sanitation and Drinking Water: 2015 Update and MDG Assessment, says worldwide, 1 in 3 people, or 2.4 billion, are still without sanitation facilities – including 946 million people who defecate in the open. 

“What the data really show is the need to focus on inequalities as the only way to achieve sustainable progress,” said Sanjay Wijesekera, head of UNICEF’s global water, sanitation and hygiene programmes. “The global model so far has been that the wealthiest move ahead first, and only when they have access do the poorest start catching up. If we are to reach universal access to sanitation by 2030, we need to ensure the poorest start making progress right away.”

Access to improved drinking water sources has been a major achievement for countries and the international community. With some 2.6 billion people having gained access since 1990, 91 per cent of the global population now have improved drinking water – and the number is still growing. In sub-Saharan Africa, for example, 427 million people have gained access – an average of 47,000 people per day every day for 25 years.

The child survival gains have been substantial. Today, fewer than 1,000 children under five die each day from diarrhoea caused by inadequate water, sanitation and hygiene, compared to over 2,000 15 years ago.

On the other hand, the progress on sanitation has been hampered by inadequate investments in behaviour change campaigns, lack of affordable products for the poor, and social norms which accept or even encourage open defecation. Although some 2.1 billion people have gained access to improved sanitation since 1990, the world has missed the MDG target by nearly 700 million people. Today, only 68 per cent of the world’s population uses an improved sanitation facility – 9 percentage points below the MDG target of 77 per cent. 

“Until everyone has access to adequate sanitation facilities, the quality of water supplies will be undermined and too many people will continue to die from waterborne and water-related diseases,” said Dr Maria Neira, Director of the WHO Department of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health. 

Access to adequate water, sanitation and hygiene is critical in the prevention and care of 16 of the 17 ‘neglected tropical diseases’ (NTDs), including trachoma, soil-transmitted helminths (intestinal worms) and schistosomiasis. NTDs affect more than 1.5 billion people in 149 countries, causing blindness, disfigurement, permanent disability and death.

The practice of open defecation is also linked to a higher risk of stunting – or chronic malnutrition – which affects 161 million children worldwide, leaving them with irreversible physical and cognitive damage.

“To benefit human health it is vital to further accelerate progress on sanitation, particularly in rural and underserved areas,” added Dr Neira.

Rural areas are home to 7 out of 10 people without access to improved sanitation and 9 out of 10 people who defecate in the open. 

Plans for the new Sustainable Development Goals to be set by the United Nations General Assembly in September 2015 include a target to eliminate open defecation by 2030. This would require a doubling of current rates of reduction, especially in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, WHO and UNICEF say. 

WHO and UNICEF say it is vitally important to learn from the uneven progress of the 1990-2015 period to ensure that the SDGs close the inequality gaps and achieve universal access to water and sanitation. To do so, the world needs:

  • Disaggregated data to be able to pinpoint the populations and areas which are outliers from the national averages;
  • A robust and intentional focus on the hardest to reach, particularly the poor in rural areas;
  • Innovative technologies and approaches to bring sustainable sanitation solutions to poor communities at affordable prices;
  • Increased attention to improving hygiene in homes, schools and health care facilities.

Girl’s Empowerment: the key to Ethiopia’s development

By: Dr Peter Salama, UNICEF Representative to Ethiopia

 Julius Court, Acting Head of Office, DFID Ethiopia

As we rapidly approach the deadline of 2015 for reporting our progress against the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), it is already clear that Ethiopia will have much success to report and an inspiring story to tell. Indeed most of the MDG targets will be not only met, but surpassed by a good distance, well ahead of time.

The wedding day
Girls and women everywhere have the right to live free from violence and discrimination. Help end child, early and forced marriage in a generation. Picture: Jessica Lea/Department for International Development

And yet the median age of marriage for girls is still 16.5 years. Indeed it is no coincidence that those MDGs that have been lagging the furthest behind are those to do with women and girls: MDG three on women’s empowerment and MDG five on maternal mortality.

A study commissioned by Girl Hub Ethiopia, a UK Department for International Development (DFID) project, found that if every Ethiopian girl who drops out of school was instead able to finish her education it would add US$4 billion to the country’s economy over the course of her lifetime.

As the country approaches a period of demographic dividend, with fewer young dependents, it has a major opportunity to benefit from the kind of economic growth we saw from the Asian Tiger economies. As the evidence shows, in the context of the next Growth and Transformation Plan, it will be impossible for Ethiopia to continue its economic and development progress at the same rate without addressing the issue of girls’ and women’s rights head on.

Acknowledging this, the Government of Ethiopia is, of course, already taking bold steps. At the Girl Summit – jointly hosted by the UK government and UNICEF in London in July 2014 – H.E. Demeke Mekonnen, Deputy PM, made a ground-breaking commitment on behalf of the Government of Ethiopia to eradicate child, early and forced marriage, and female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) by 2025.

Much work has already gone into putting this commitment into action, but there are five areas that DFID and UNICEF believe are critical to any successful plan.

A girl student hard at work at Beseka ABE Center in in Fantale Woreda of Oromia State
A girl student hard at work at Beseka ABE Center in in Fantale Woreda of Oromia State ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2014/Ose

First, keeping girls in school, particularly through transition to secondary education and ensuring high quality basic education. At the same time, we need to ensure zero tolerance for violence within the school environment and ensure they have the right facilities for girls such as adequate sanitation.

In the Somali region of Ethiopia – where many aspects of gender inequality are particularly pronounced – DFID and UNICEF are jointly supporting a multi-sectoral Peace and Development Programme that will improve girls’ and women’s access to justice by establishing legal aid services and support services for female victims of violence.

Secondly, raising national rates of birth registration from the current level of less than 10 per cent to more than 90 per cent by 2020. Proof of age will assist in implementing and enforcing laws on child marriage and will also have positive knock-on effects on trafficking and illegal labour migration, for example. UNICEF supports the government of Ethiopia in establishing a vital event registration system (for births, deaths and marriages) in the country through technical and financial support. The support has allowed the enactment of a proclamation on vital events and the establishment of a national agency. Currently, regional laws are being adopted, regional bodies established, staff recruited and capacities developed.

Thirdly, changing social norms through an evidence-based, regional approach that is cognizant of and uses local languages and customs. DFID is supporting the Finote Hiwot project in Amhara to reduce child marriage through changing social norms and providing economic incentives for girls to stay in school.

IMG_2896
‘Yegna’ concert in Akaki ©Rachael Canter Flickr

Fourthly, changing public perceptions through multi-media campaigns that highlight positive role models to enable girls’ and young women’s empowerment. For example, Girl Hub Ethiopia’s Yegna radio programme uses both male and female role models to influence attitudes and behaviours towards girls. It broadcasts to more than five million people in Addis Ababa and the Amhara region and early data shows that 63 per cent of listeners say the programme made them think differently about issues in girls’ lives such as child marriage and gender-based violence.

The Ministry of Women, Children and Youth Affairs recently hosted a Girl Summit follow-up meeting to discuss how members of the National Alliance to End Child Marriage and the National FGM Network could help deliver the commitments Ethiopia made at the Summit. A 12-month communication campaign plan will be launched in the coming weeks.

Finally, contributing to the national, regional and global evidence and evaluation database is central to realising the commitment made at the Girl Summit. The National Alliance to End Child Marriage and the National FGM Network are improving data gathering and knowledge sharing and fostering innovation. We must ensure that relevant indicators on child marriage and FGM/C are included in next year’s Demographic Health Survey.

Of course there is a great deal to be optimistic about as we embark on this ambitious journey together. The Government of Ethiopia has demonstrated extraordinary commitment and we look for their future leadership by integrating girl issues into the GTP 2 and future sector policies.

We are confident that just as we do now in the social sector, in the future we will view Ethiopia as a model for delivering real change for girls and women.

Sustaining gains in health sector crucial: Ministry

The Ministry of Health has said works in the health sector have to be undertaken in an organized way to sustain the change registered therein.
Speaking on 15th annual review of the health sector development held at Mekele town, Minister of Health Dr. Keseteberhan Admasu said it has been possible to bring about a change in the health development through expansion of basic health service and training 38 thousand health extension workers.

He said Ethiopia has become one of the seven countries that have already achieved the Millennium Development Goal in reducing child mortality. Read more