Survival and protection needs remain key issues in future UNICEF support to Somali children and women

Nairobi, Wednesday, February 19 -- "Survival remains the key issue," announced UNICEF Somalia Representative, Jesper Morch "but - along with continuing support to basic services in health, education and water - protection of the rights of women and children in Somalia must be guaranteed. This is necessary to ensure children grow up in a society where they will reap the long-term benefits of the development initiatives whose foundation is currently being laid."
Speaking to a gathering of donors as the culmination of a strategy meeting held in Nairobi to plan UNICEF Somalia's forthcoming new five-year programme, Mr Morch said the organisation's programme would continue to be guided by basic human rights principles, core among them the principle of non-discrimination and the right of communities to participate effectively in the process of their own social development. The five year programme will run from 2004 to 2008.

'UNICEF Somalia's goal is to build on progress achieved over the last few years to uplift the status of women and children. In this, UNICEF will continue to fulfill its mandate to enhance the survival needs of children and women, and at the same time will assist in preparing for a future in which civil conflict will no longer prevail."

The challenges facing women and children in Somalia are daunting. The infant mortality rate currently stands at 132 per 1000 births, and the maternal mortality rate is 160 per 10,000. In some parts of the country one in four children exhibits symptoms of malnutrition. Only 17 percent of children of eligible school age are receiving primary education, and of those in school, less than a third are girls. Access to safe drinking water is also a major problem facing Somalis - less than 75 per cent of the population has access to hygienic water resources. Coupled with these are the challenges posed by HIV/AIDS which, though demonstrating relatively low prevalence at about 1 percent (1999 figs), still requires stringent initiatives in place to prevent a future rapid increase.

But the support by UNICEF, the UN Country Team and other partner organisations made possible by contributions from donors within the international community, offers glimmers of hope and recovery as the country continues its transition towards peace. Progress on education is one key example: today some 265,000 students are enrolled, representing a 75 per cent increase over the 1999 figure. In 2002, some 6,500 teachers received 19 days of standardised in-service training, while sets of new textbooks in six subjects have been produced through a consultative process and distributed to all operational schools, creating a national curriculum with contemporary, relevant teaching and learning materials for Somali students for the first time in over a decade. This, in conjunction with non-formal education for out of school youth, and work on leadership and organisation for youth groups to encourage young people's participation in social development processes, will equip future generations to contribute meaningfully to building their society.

The meeting concluded with a statement from the UNICEF Representative confirming that UNICEF and its UN Country Team partners and other organisations will continue to strengthen cooperation, enhancing emphasis on the aspects of protection and participation, while building on the foundation laid in sectors such as health, water supply and education, all of which are crucial to assisting Somalis move out of crisis into a future characterised by reconciliation and lasting peace.

For further information, please contact:

Julia Spry-Leverton or Robert Kihara, Communication Officers, UNICEF Somalia.
Tel: +254-2-623958/623950/623862.Mobile: +254-733-254-021 - +254-721-244-800