In 2013, about 53 percent—or $2.1 billion—of UNICEF’s expenditures were invested in Africa to accelerate results for children. Remarkable progress has been made in the past decades: under-five mortality rates have decreased by 45 percent between 1990 and 2012, and primary school enrolment has improved, among other successes. But challenges still abound and Africa still has the most alarming indicators for children worldwide.
On March 25, UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake met with the African Group in New York, comprised of the Ambassadors of 54 African nations to the United Nations, to reaffirm the common vision of UNICEF and of African countries that progress in the lead-up to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) 2015 deadline should be accelerated, and that children should be at the heart of the post-2015 development agenda.
Mr. Lake underlined the crucial importance of investing in the education, health and social sectors—not only because it is the right thing to do for the future of children in Africa and everywhere—but also because there is a powerful economic argument for doing so. In 2050, one in three children will be born in Africa. In the coming decades, the African workforce will be the biggest in the world.
“It is today’s children who will be tomorrow’s leaders, entrepreneurs, peacemakers, doctors,” said Mr. Lake. “If we do not invest in children now, the workforce of tomorrow will not be as effective, and that would be a great hindrance to a continent with tremendous possibilities.”
Mr. Lake addressed a great health challenge as he reaffirmed the commitment of UNICEF and its partners to the fight against polio. He expressed confidence that the disease could be eradicated in the foreseeable future in Nigeria, the only African country where it is still endemic, translating into real progress for the whole continent in this fight.
Mr. Lake added that equity for children should be intrinsic to the post-2015 agenda. As investing in the education and health sectors, focusing on equity is not just a matter of principle but of practical progress: “The more unequal societies are, the more there is a drag on economic growth. If you work with an equity strategy to reach into the poorest neighbourhoods and to reach the most disadvantaged children, you will speed up progress towards the MDGs. In other words, doing the right thing and promoting equity increases economic growth.”
Finally, Mr. Lake talked of the value of considering not just the quantity, but also the quality of results achieved. For example, worldwide, 130 million children who are enrolled in primary school can still not read or write. He reiterated that collecting and sharing data would continue to be a critical part of UNICEF’s work to support countries in their efforts to identify and reach the most disadvantaged children.
In subsequent remarks, the Ambassadors of the African Group in New York agreed with the Executive Director’s statement that the future of Africa lies in investing in children. They further expressed their appreciation of UNICEF’s work on the continent, and pledged to continue working in close partnership with the organization to achieve results for children.
“Africa from North to South, from East to West, knows that UNICEF is doing a very good job, a very challenging job because it is a job on the ground,” said Ambassador João Soares Da Gama, Chair of the African Group in New York. “You are known by everybody, from the children to the women to the men.”
Read the UNICEF Children in Africa Brochure