Last week, my friend Laurel left her job and home in Washington, D.C., for Niger. When she arrives, she'll face a stark contrast from DC life. While Americans continue to lose jobs and both sides of the political fence over here wrestle with how large a role the government will play in orchestrating our collective recovery, Niger remains one of the poorest countries in the world. Unlike the United States, it has minimal government services to develop its resources " or even provide its 13 million people with some sort of fiscal or physical relief, including the most basic of needs: Water.
Every year, UNICEF releases a Humanitarian Action Report (known as HAR around here), which shines a spotlight on emergencies you may not even know about. You see, for every headline-grabbing emergency we respond to"like last spring's Sichuan Earthquake or the cyclone in Myanmar"there are dozens of lesser-known emergencies that are imperiling children and require strong, focused action from UNICEF and our partners.
|© UNICEF/NYHQ2007-1416/Anita Khemka|
|In Afghanistan, the maternal mortality ratio (1,800 per 100,000 live births, based on 2005 estimates) is among the highest in the world. The mother of these children died during childbirth; now the siblings look after the baby.|
These are often referred to as "silent emergencies" and they have been increasingly common of late. In fact, between 2005 and 2007, UNICEF responded annually to some 276 emergencies in 92 different countries. Over 50 percent of those emergencies were caused by disasters, 30 percent were caused by conflict, and health-related emergencies made up another 19 percent.
Zimbabwe's raging cholera epidemic has become one of the world's largest outbreaks of the disease ever recorded, infecting more than 60,000 people and claiming more than 3,100 lives.
Fueled by economic and social crises, a lack of safe drinking water and sanitation, and a disintegrating health system, the epidemic has spread to all of Zimbabwe's 10 provinces.
This major health emergency " and the response of UNICEF, the World Health Organization and other agencies " has fortunately received a strong level of media coverage from a group of news organizations that reliably cover developing world issues and also from a broad spectrum of other outlets. Agence France Presse, IRIN News, Reuters, and Voice of America have been consistently following the outbreak, and The Associated Press, BBC, CNN and NPR have carried reports. A lot of the coverage has placed the cholera outbreak in the context of Zimbabwe's intense political and economic turmoil. PBS's Frontline/World has run several in-depth stories on Zimbabwe's numerous crises, including this riveting account.
Data is the lifeblood of UNICEF's work. Now before you stop reading this (how can a blog post about data be interesting?) let me tell you about a very cool innovation that UNICEF is using to collect data and apply it toward saving lives. It's an innovation that makes use of something you probably have in your pocket or backpack right now.
|© UNICEF/NYHQ2005-1410/Christine Nesbitt|
|A woman feeds her undernourished daughter therapeutic milk at the Nutrition Rehabilitation Unit of the Mwanza District Hospital in Malawi.|
You see UNICEF, along with some big thinkers from Columbia University, created a system that uses basic mobile phones and SMS (text) messages to collect information from health workers in a way that vastly improves the speed and quality of data collection.
This new system, called RapidSMS, was first used by UNICEF last year to monitor food shortages and to direct supplies of therapeutic foods in Ethiopia. Following its success there, UNICEF and Columbia University adapted the system for a new project: tracking the health and nutritional status of children in Malawi.
I recently had the great fortune of spending over a week in Uganda with a friend. She was considering working at a hospital located in the Bwindi region in the southwest corner of the country, and she asked if I wanted to join her in a scouting trip of the hospital.
My answer? "I'm packing my bags right now!"
For a photographer like myself, the opportunity to see "the pearl of Africa," as Winston Churchill once described Uganda, was one I could not pass up. I was also excited to visit the Bwindi Community Hospital which, I learned, bordered the Impenetrable Forest. With a name like that, I imagined magical and wonderful things must happen there. But what I experienced in Bwindi was beyond my wildest imagination.
We're very relieved by the news of the Gaza cease-fire. As is the case with all violent conflicts, children have been suffering the consequences of thoroughly adult problems. UNICEF's mission to help children is vital in times like these. And we're not hampered by being on one side, or on another side"we are simply and always on the side of children.
|© UNICEF/NYHQ2009-0016/Iyad El Baba|
|Gaza, 2009: On 12 January, a girl waits on a curb with empty water containers in the southern city of Rafah. Approximately 500,000 people have no access to running water. Water and sanitation services have partially collapsed due to considerable damage to the networks, difficulties faced to make repairs and lack of fuel for power. UNICEF is working with partners to distribute supplies, including family water kits.|
As I write, UNICEF is delivering six truckloads of emergency supplies and equipment to Gaza. With water and sanitation systems in the Gaza Strip badly damaged by fighting, UNICEF is worried about outbreaks of water-related diseases, such as diarrhea and cholera. So, working with our partners, UNICEF has already distributed more than 66,000 bottles of water, and emergency water and sanitation supplies for some 30,000 people.
Fighting also upended normal food supply lines, and many children are going hungry. UNICEF is rushing to distribute 7,500 cartons of high-energy biscuits"enough to feed 80,000 children for three months. We're also sending in much-needed health kits, obstetric surgical kits, midwifery kits, resuscitation kits, first aid kits and surgical instruments.
Although all thoughts in Washington have been focused on the Inauguration, two weeks ago, Members of the 111th U.S. Congress took their Oath of Office and prepared to face some of the most challenging issues ever to confront an incoming Congress. But prior to taking up any other issue, the House and Senate met to count the electoral votes from the November '08 election and formally certify that Barack Obama is the 44th the President of the United States.
The Electoral College vote was more than a ceremonial riteof passage. It underscores that the entire country, including the U.S. Congress, is looking to the new President for leadership.
That is why our Presidential Initiative to Accelerate Child Survival is so important. We know that even in these difficult times, Americans have not backed off their personal commitments to help children survive. We believe in zero"our government should, too!
As President Obama said in his Inaugural Address: "Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions"who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans. Their memories are short. For they have forgotten what this country has already done; what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose, and necessity to courage."
We believe President Obama's Inauguration today should mark the start of a new era for the word's children. By sending a clear message to Congress that child survival matters, and that the United States can make a difference for children around the world, we will "get to zero" much sooner than we would otherwise. With a good strategy and a little money, the U.S. Government can save up to a million additional children a year.
It's the New Year, so what are you waiting for? Spring is just around the corner, and it's a great time to stock up on American Airlines AAdvantage® miles. Plus, there's a special offer available for AAdvantage members going on now.
For every dollar that you donate in support of UNICEF's lifesaving mission at www.unicefusa.org/aa, you'll earn two AAdvantage miles, up to a total of 5,000 miles!
There's no better time than the present. American Airlines has destinations all over the world, so if you've been dreaming of that special get-away, here is an easy way to get there, while helping UNICEF save kids' lives too. I'm thinking of London, Kenya, or Korea. Where will you go?
In October, I wrote a post about the tragic toll of maternal and neonatal mortality and lamented that a UNICEF study on this crucial issue did not get the media attention it deserved.
I was therefore heartened, and pleasantly surprised, to discover that UNICEF's new annual flagship report
A child born in a developing country is almost 14 times more likely to die during the first month of life than a child born in a developed one. The 2009 edition of UNICEF's State of the World's Children report highlights the link between maternal and neonatal survival, and suggests opportunities to close the gap between rich and poor countries.
You can view the interactive version of the report here: unicef.org/sowc09/