UNICEF Executive Board focuses on security and development in post-conflict Liberia

By Kun Li

NEW YORK, 7 June 2007 - History has shown that more than half of post-conflict countries slide back into conflict within five years of peace. On the final day of its 2007 annual meeting, UNICEF's Executive Board focused on preventing such an outcome in Liberia, which has just emerged from a 14-year civil war.

Board members discussed how to stabilize the peace and help Liberia move forward with development.

"Whenever you come from conflict, the probability of slipping back is always there," said Liberian Minister of Planning Toga McIntosh. "So our focus has been, what are the factors that could lead us to that? It's a question of governance and rule of law. Because if people are not content, if they think they are being cheated in the governance process or in the law, they will revolt,"

UN agencies working together

Mr. McIntosh told the Executive Board that his government was trying to lay out a blueprint to move the country from recovery to development. Activities such as poverty reduction, infrastructure building and the rehabilitation of child soldiers are critical to stop Liberia from relapsing into conflict and keep it moving ahead, he noted.

During the board session, Mr. McIntosh expressed his government's gratitude to the international community - and the United Nations in particular - for their longstanding support.

In post-conflict Liberia, 16 UN specialized agencies, including UNICEF, are working together to support humanitarian and development efforts. The UN Mission, mandated by the Security Council, is also there to secure the peace until the government can take over that responsibility.

"It's about teaming up so that the UN delivers as one," said Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General and UN Resident Coordinator in Liberia Jordan Ryan. "Those issues that are multi-sectoral - employment, gender, youth, HIV, the environment - are ripe for more UN collective activity, and we need to take a very innovative approach.

"The UN is ready to work together," added Mr. Ryan. "If we succeed, the people of Liberia will benefit. To me, the sky is the limit."

Resilience and hope

To see Liberia's rebuilding progress firsthand, a 19-member delegation representing the Executive Boards of UNDP, UNFPA, UNICEF and WFP recently completed a week-long mission to the West African nation. The team leader of the joint visit, Paulette Bethel, who is also the Permanent Representative of the Bahamas to the UN, presented the team's report to the board.

Ms. Bethel noted that the country still faced major challenges, with an unemployment rate as high as 85 per cent and more than 76 per cent of the population living below the poverty line. In addition, she reported, Liberia hasn't had a census in almost 25 years, leaving very few statistics available to help the government better position its programmes.

In spite of all these obstacles, however, Ms. Bethel said she still believes firmly that Liberia will succeed.

"What struck me most about Liberian people are their resilience and hope," she said. "The fact that they are surviving and moving ahead - isn't that itself an incredible achievement? The people of Liberia are definitely winners."