By Gillian Mellsop
UNICEF’s 70th anniversary in Ethiopia was a moment to amplify children’s issues with partners and staff to reflect back on key results, accomplishments and challenges while re-affirming UNICEF’s commitment to continue being a leading advocate for every child.
At a ceremony, moderated by UNICEF’s National Ambassador, Hannah Godefa, Minister of Women and Children’s Affairs and State Minister of Finance and Economic Cooperation along with celebrities and children launched a photo exhibition that depicts UNICEF’s presence in the country since the early 1950s.
Marking the occasion, UNICEF Ethiopia staff released 70 blue balloons wishing for every child, everywhere, hope.
70 years of relentless work in the world’s toughest places to bring life-saving aid and long-term support to children whose lives and futures are endangered by conflict, crises, poverty, inequality and discrimination.
UNICEF was established in 1946 by the United Nations to safeguard the lives of children struggling to survive in the aftermath of World War II – and in doing so, to help rebuild destroyed societies and restore hope for a better future.
UNICEF was officially established in Ethiopia in 1952. However, UNICEF provided relief efforts to Ethiopians affected by war and drought as early as 1950.
Over the last six decades, UNICEF has established close relations with the Government, bilateral donors, development partners and civil society in Ethiopia. Together with its partners, UNICEF has supported children and women both within humanitarian response and preparedness contexts as well as through contributing to long-term development agendas, including strengthening national systems.
However, without courageous and committed people working to reach the most vulnerable children, and without government partners, donors, fearless advocates and supporters from around the world, we would never have achieved the immense progress for children which we have seen in recent decades.
With the collaboration and support of partners, the number of children dying before their fifth birthday has more than halved in the past 25 years. Hundreds of millions of children have been lifted out of poverty. Globally, out-of-school rates among primary-school-aged children have reduced by more than 40 per cent between 1990 and 2014.
Ethiopia’s progress for children is no less impressive. Together we:
- achieved the reduction of under-five mortality by two thirds between 1990 and 2012 – meeting the target of Millennium Development Goal 4 (MDG 4);
- we met the MDG 7c by halving the number of people without access to safe water since 1990 – now 57 per cent of the population use safe drinking water;
- reduced neonatal mortality from 37 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2010 to 27 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2014;
- reduced the proportion of stunted children from 58 per cent in 2000 to 38 per cent in 2016;
- more recently, we were able since mid-July 2015 to successfully respond to the El-Niño driven drought emergency, treating more than 480,000 children for malnutrition.
But, despite the impressive progress, many children are still being left behind. Globally, children are vulnerable because of their gender, race, religion, ethnic group or disability; because they live in poverty or in hard-to-reach communities; or simply because they are children. We must recommit ourselves to the goal of seeing all children treated fairly and living free from oppression.
Sub-Saharan Africa is home to nearly three-quarters – 393 million – of the children living in countries affected by emergencies, followed by the Middle East and North Africa where another 12 per cent of these children reside. In northeastern Nigeria, nearly 1.8 million people are displaced, almost 1 million of them are children. Next door, in South Sudan, 59 per cent of primary-aged children are out of school and 1 in 3 schools are closed in conflict-affected areas. In Ethiopia, this year alone, an estimated 420,000 children were expected to require treatment for severe acute malnutrition due to the El-Niño driven drought. These figures are stark reminders of why UNICEF was established, as the organization marks 70 years of work for the most vulnerable children.
From the ashes of war in the 1940s to the global migrant and refugee crisis today, and from providing relief assistance to drought-affected people to supporting the establishment of national systems such as birth registration, UNICEF has consistently protected and advocated for children at risk to make each child count.
Seventy years on, we are working harder than ever to give a fair chance for every child. We look ahead, with hope and determination, to a better future for all the world’s children.