5 June 2014
Thank you, Mr. President.
At the outset, let me congratulate Mr. Anthony Lake on his second term as UNICEF Executive Director and commend his leadership and in particular his commitment to the world’s children. His recent visit to my country and his commitment ‘to stay’ demonstrated his dedication to Afghanistan and its children. Let me also express deep thanks to the Regional Director, Karin Hulshof. She is a good friend of Afghanistan. I would also like to take the opportunity to applaud UNICEF staff around the world for their tireless efforts in improving the lives of vulnerable and marginalized children, particularly those staff working in countries like Afghanistan under difficult operating environments. It was just a few months ago that two UNICEF staff lost their lives in the explosion in Kabul as a result of senseless extremist acts. I pay tribute to those individuals who sacrificed their lives for the lives of others.
Mr. President, I would also like to acknowledge UNICEF’s swift provision of support to Afghan families and children affected by the recent tragic landslide in Badakhshan province, which resulted in 2500 deaths and displaced over 1000. UNICEF staff, together with other UN agencies and international organizations, visited Badakhshan and provided emergency support to those affected. My government is deeply appreciative of UNICEF’s support including the delivery of over 500,000 liters of clean water to displaced families, vaccination of some 2,700 children and women against preventable diseases, and the provision of emergency nutrition services and psychosocial support for children affected by this traumatic incident.
In addition to UNICEF’s emergency support we are grateful for its continued long-term efforts in development projects in Afghanistan. With the assistance of UNICEF and our international partners, Afghanistan has made major strides in past years in terms of improving basic social services for children especially in reducing maternal and under-5 mortality rates and education.
To this end, we welcome the successes of UNICEF’s 2010-2014 Country Program, which was aligned to Afghanistan’s national goals as defined in the National Priority Programs (NPPs), the Afghan National Development Strategy (ANDS) and the United Nations Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF). The program’s successes include increased access to basic quality education with the construction of new schools and UNICEF-supported enrollment of over 560,000 out-of school children; increased access to healthcare including immunization, newborn care, and malnutrition interventions; and UNICEF’s support in strengthening inter-and intra- Ministerial coordination to improve safe water supply, sanitation, hygiene and the promotion of sustainable services.
Unfortunately, malnutrition rates remain extremely high especially in 10-12 provinces out of the 34, exceeding emergency thresholds. Therefore, we ask UNICEF to scale up nutrition efforts both in treating acute malnutrition and preventing chronic malnutrition in the next programme.
Meanwhile, progress in social sectors has not benefited everyone equally. Child and maternal death rates and stunting rates among children in Afghanistan remain among the highest in the world. The children in Afghanistan continue to have limited access to the services that protect their rights to survival, development, protection and participation. Poverty and social inequality are among Afghanistan’s biggest challenges, with significant differences between urban and rural, among provinces, among districts in a province, and between males and females. Many segments of the population are beyond the reach of public health facilities. Afghan women have a much lower level of access than men to health services, education, and political and economic opportunity.
In Afghanistan today, over 50 percent of births take place outside health facilities, and 47 percent of pregnant women lack access to pre-natal care services. 70 percent of children aged 12 to 23 months are not fully immunized. Water-borne diseases such as diarrhea and acute respiratory infections are the biggest killers of children under five. Child malnutrition is pervasive, with nearly 54 percent of children moderately or severely stunted. Around 40 percent of the population is not using improved water sources. Despite recent advances, nationwide only an estimated 31 percent of the population aged 15 years and above is literate.
Children in Afghanistan continue to suffer from polio despite recent progress in eradication efforts, with 4 reported cases this year. However, with the help of UNICEF, WHO and other partners, we hope to keep the country polio free for the remaining months of the year and look forward to continued support of not only UNICEF and WHO but also the global community to eradicate polio completely in the world.
Tragically, armed conflict continues to have a profound effect on children in Afghanistan. Children are used in suicide attacks and in the manufacturing and planting of improvised explosive devices (IEDs). They are often victims of attacks, caught in crossfire or injured or killed by IEDs. In 2013, 1,756 children were killed or maimed as a result of armed conflict and many see their families destroyed and their lives uprooted as a result of violence.
Understanding the challenges that the country faces, and recognizing the distance we still have to go before children’s rights are fully realized in Afghanistan, my government is grateful for the continuing support of UNICEF and for the 2015-2019 Country Program. We applaud its overall goal to address inequality so that all children, adolescents and women have access to services and its focus on the most-deprived areas of Afghanistan.
In addition, we welcome the coordination of the Country Program to the goals defined in the Afghanistan National Development Strategy (ANDS) and the United Nations Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF). UNICEF’s decision to align its priorities closely with government priorities and its emphasis on capacity development of national and subnational institutions will enable program delivery with manageable results, sustainability and greater ownership of projects by local communities.
UNICEF’s support is crucial as Afghanistan embarks upon its Transformation Decade, especially as Afghanistan continues to be one of the youngest countries in the world in terms of the population age, with 55% of the population under age 18. Moreover, in the next CPD cycle, Afghanistan will be going through significant transitions particularly in the political, economic, and security spheres. Rapid urbanization is likely to continue, which will further strain already-overstretched infrastructure, housing, and public services. In this context, UNICEF will be essential to the Government of Afghanistan’s efforts to improve the situation of children and women in the country.