Remarks to the Executive Board of the United Nations Children's Fund

Ambassador Rick Barton
U.S. Representative 
New York, NY
June 20, 2011

Thank you, Madame President. It’s a pleasure to be in this room, where all share a powerful commitment to taking care of the world’s children.

At last year’s meeting, our Permanent Representative welcomed her old friend and colleague Tony Lake as UNICEF’s new executive director. Our spirits and expectations were high that day, but few of us could have imagined the full impact that Tony would have in just one year. Tony, we are grateful for your leadership, personal commitment, and the brilliant focus that you have brought to UNICEF—from the Equity Strategy to your efforts to deliver aid to women and children affected by recent political changes.

We also want to thank another friend and colleague, Deputy Executive Director Saad Houry, who unfortunately isn’t here today. He has shown outstanding commitment to UNICEF and done incredible work here, and we wish him well in his retirement and his new pursuits. Let us also welcome Geeta Rao Gupta to her new role as Deputy Executive Director for Programs. She has an impressive background in social justice, gender, health, and development issues, and we’re looking forward to her contributions at UNICEF. Congratulations as well to Hilde Johnson as she focuses her special energies on a long-standing interest, South Sudan.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is an incredible organization. But despite UNICEF’s efforts, 20,000 children under the age of 5 die unnecessarily each and every day. That’s an unforgivable tragedy. That’s a blow to our collective humanity. We can do better. We must do better.

That’s where we, the UNICEF Executive Board, must step in. It’s our role to immerse ourselves in the work, in the need, and in the possibilities—to help guide UNICEF to make the biggest possible difference with its limited resources. So the United States stands squarely with UNICEF in its drive to reach the hardest to reach children. It’s time for all of us to see beyond the trends and averages and to operate beyond established boundaries and mandates.

We are especially interested in UNICEF’s efforts to develop programs that reach children with disabilities. The new office on disabilities is a great start, but it’s just that: a start. We look forward to working with UNICEF to support its efforts to mainstream children with disabilities into existing programming. So we will be reaching out to regional program directors to ensure that each country program focuses adequately on access to services for kids with disabilities.

We hope the Board will also bear in mind the importance of global partnerships for development. In our interconnected era, saving and improving the lives of the world’s forgotten children will require us to work together as never before. Many emerging players on development, such as the Global Fund, are already demonstrating that they can be nimble, transparent, and accountable. Collaboration with the Global Fund and others will be critical to UNICEF’s success going forward.

In that spirit of partnership, we were very pleased with the “Investing in Nutrition” side event at LDC IV, which UNICEF sponsored with the United States, the World Food Program, and Nepal. The event’s objective was to encourage investment in nutrition programming, particularly among the large number of private-sector attendees. We will continue to look for ways to develop private-sector partnerships and engagement.

We also want to mention UNICEF’s lifesaving efforts on humanitarian response. UNICEF is well-positioned to help ensure that UN field operations in disaster-prone or conflict-ridden areas are well coordinated and integrate both humanitarian and development considerations. UNICEF’s vast experience in humanitarian operations could also help provide candidates for humanitarian leadership positions in the field within the broader UN system. We appreciate UNICEF’s efforts as global lead of several clusters, but we would also like to see UNICEF make progress in mainstreaming cluster costs and continue its work with other IASC members on innovative ways to improve the UN’s humanitarian response.

That brings us to the issue of management. In most of our meetings with UNICEF, the United States encourages UNICEF to continue to lead efforts to update management practices throughout the UN development system. That’s an important message for this Board too. We can see real progress over the last few years with the adoption and implementation of the accountability policy, the establishment of ethics offices, and the continuing improvement of audit and evaluation functions. But we have much more to do, including publishing or otherwise simplifying access to audit information as well as improving results-based budgeting.

As we review country programs this week, we’re reminded again of the sheer breadth of UNICEF’s work. So many issues that matter—and the success of so many of our shared MDG goals—hinge on UNICEF’s work. Earmarked contributions to UNICEF for specific programs or purposes have increased, but non-earmarked contributions continue to decline. The United States is striving to maintain our core contributions to UNICEF, and we hope that each of your countries will do the same. We also renew our call for a broadened donor base for core resources. An expanded donor base would reflect today’s development landscape and help ensure UNICEF’s long-term financial stability.

This is work that matters. This is work that saves lives. When we work together, when we bring new energy and innovation to UNICEF, we can ensure that each dollar spent does the maximum amount of good. That’s deeply important in a moral sense—because we should never accept fates for other people’s children that we’d never tolerate for our own. But it’s also important because, in the 21st century, as President Obama has said, we advance our common security when we invest in our common humanity. That has never been more true than it is today. Our hope is that we will use this time together to renew our resolve to work together to save lives, promote basic equity, and provide hope.

Thank you so much for your fine work.