What Would Happen if UNICEF Disappeared?

November 7, 2017

Eight ways the world would change without UNICEF.

UNICEF was established in the aftermath of World War II to help children in crisis.

More than seventy years later, UNICEF is much more than an emergency fund. It's a global network active in 190 countries and territories — more than any other children's aid organization. It's thousands of staff and volunteers who work with governments and local organizations to protect children from danger. It's millions of donors determined to do their part for children growing up in crisis and poverty.

And UNICEF is children everywhere standing up for their rights, fighting for their futures and creating change in their communities.

But what if we didn't exist? 

1. There would be regular outbreaks of deadly diseases

UNICEF believes no child should die of a preventable disease. That's why we provide vaccines for 45 percent of the world's youngest children every year. In 2016, that meant 2.5 billion vaccines reached children in nearly 100 countries. 

These vaccinations avert disastrous outbreaks and countless child deaths every year. Between 2000 and 2015, the measles vaccine alone prevented around 20.3 million deaths.

UNICEF's huge buying power makes vaccines cheaper so we can reach more children in more places. As part of GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance, we helped reduce by half the price of the pentavalent vaccine, which protects children against five potentially deadly diseases: diptheria, tetanus, pertussis (whooping cough), hepatitis B and Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib). These incredible savings make vaccines affordable for lower-income governments and make every dollar donated to UNICEF go even further. In 2016, we saved $588 million on vaccines through strategic planning and negotiation.

UNICEF and partners help get vaccines to children in remote villages, behind battle lines and in places devastated by natural disaster. © UNICEF/UNI184260/Lucky8 LLC

UNICEF's work goes beyond buying vaccines. With partners like the World Health Organization, we help governments and communities vaccinate children who would go without — children in remote villages, behind battle lines and in places devastated by natural disaster.

It's only possible through a huge, global network of health workers and volunteers championing vaccines in their own villages and cities. Without training and supplies, these local heroes couldn't protect children in their own communities from disease.

2016 saw the smallest number of children paralyzed by polio in history. That year, UNICEF deployed more than 17,000 full-time community vaccinators — most of them women — in the parts of Pakistan most at risk. These areas then recorded the highest immunization coverage in the country's history.

2. War-torn countries like Syria might never be rebuilt

Children who survive war have a huge task ahead of them as adults: to rebuild their communities and countries from rubble. 

But if a generation of children grow up without a safe place to learn and play, they'll never become the teachers, doctors and engineers who will rebuild a peaceful community.

UNICEF makes sure more of the world's children learn than any other organization. And children in crisis deserve the right to education just as much as a child everywhere. In 2016, UNICEF reached 11.7 million children living through humanitarian emergencies with basic education and more than 3 million children with psychosocial support. 

Children growing up in Syria haven't given up on learning. In 2016, UNICEF and international humanitarian partners helped increase school enrollment in Syria by 8 percent, despite the huge obstacles presented by ongoing violence. We trained 6,017 teachers to make sure no child is left behind in class. And we helped 12,000 young people in rural and besieged areas take their high school exams and start writing a brighter future for their country. 

Nadeen* was forced out of class for two years when her school closed down due to fighting in Aleppo, Syria. "It was the hardest period of my life. I felt like I had no purpose," says the 16-year-old. UNICEF is helping children like her take their exams and plan their futures by offering education grants, safe accomodations and revision classes. (*name changed) © UNICEF/UN070696/Al-Issa 

3. Families hit by hurricanes, cyclones and earthquakes would be on their own

UNICEF is on the ground before, during and after humanitarian emergencies. Every stage of a disaster brings new, deadly threats for children.

When back-to-back earthquakes rocked Mexico earlier this year, UNICEF was there, setting up and staffing child-friendly spaces, training teachers on how best to support traumatized students and delivering education and hygiene supplies where they were needed most. After 2017's unusually active hurricane season swept through the Atlantic and Caribbean, UNICEF provided emergency survival kits and clean drinking water in Puerto Rico, educational materials in Texas and humanitarian supplies and support to the hardest hit islands in the Caribbean. 

In 2015, two earthquakes in Nepal shook the ground so violently that thousands lost their lives. Survivors were faced with life-threatening conditions: safe water sources, hospitals, homes and birthing centers had been destroyed. Without a swift response, thousands more children could have been lost to preventable disease, treatable medical issues and horrific exploitation through trafficking. 

Luckily, UNICEF's response began on day one. We were ready with clean drinking water, shelter and supplies for families who had lost everything. We set up temporary hospitals, prevented outbreaks of disease and found children who had been separated from their parents in the chaos. 

Nepal's earthquakes left 70 percent of birthing centers in some parts of Nepal destroyed. Thousands of mothers and newborns could have gone without critical healthcare but UNICEF helped set up shelters so that babies could come into the world safely. © UNICEF/UN016490/Shrestha

Long after the earthquakes faded from global headlines, UNICEF continued working with children in Nepal. We kept saving lives by restoring water sources, supporting families through a freezing winter and helping communities prepare for future emergencies. 

4. Millions of children could die from malnutrition

UNICEF is the largest buyer of Ready-to-Use Therapeutic Food (RUTF), procuring an incredible 80 percent of the world's emergency supplies. If UNICEF didn't exist, hospitals, remote health clinics and mobile health teams would have gone without 33,000 tons of therapeutic food in 2016. And the 3 million children we helped recover from the deadliest form of malnutrition might not have made it. 

Khadija is one of those survivors. She was starving when she arrived at a UNICEF-supported hospital in Nigeria. Her arm was barely wider than her mother's thumb. "I fell sick myself and could not breastfeed," said Khadija's mother. Twenty days of RUTF and medicine saved Khadija's life. She and her mother left the hospital with a supply of RUTF to use at home while she recovered.

Khadija was severely malnourished when her mother brought her to a UNICEF-supported hospital in Nigeria. Twenty days of ready-to-use therapeutic food and medicine saved Khadija's life. © UNICEF Nigeria/Commins

UNICEF has also made RUTF more accessible for everyone. About fifteen years ago, the world's supply of therapeutic food came from a single European manufacturer. UNICEF helped bring production into lower-income countries where children were in critical need. By 2016, UNICEF was working with 18 manufacturers and many partners, like the World Food Program. Chronic malnutrition among children reached a record low. 

5. Children forced to fight could never return to their normal lives

In countries torn apart by conflict, UNICEF specialists have an unimaginably difficult job: negotiating with armed forces to set children free. Without them, the 21,000 children released from armed forces in 2016 might still be trapped in violent groups today.

But our work doesn't end there. Once children are released, UNICEF helps reunite them with their families. 

Restarting lives in the community takes years. UNICEF is in it for the long run. At the heart of these children's reintegration is their return to school. We'll support them through the process so education and their classmates can be sources of strength as they move forward with their lives. 

In 2015, UNICEF oversaw the release of 1,775 former child soldiers in South Sudan —one of the largest demobilizations of children ever. Gatkuoth* is one of the children in South Sudan UNICEF has helped free from armed groups. “I didn’t like being a soldier. There was nothing good about being a soldier," said Gatkuoth. "I tried to run away from the army many times but it was no [use]. I always got caught and was punished. I am very happy to be outside the army. I now live with my auntie and I want to grow up to be a doctor and help my people." (*name changed) © UNICEF/UN028377/Rich

6. Thousands of children would never see their parents again

War and disaster separate thousands of children from their families every year. UNICEF uses innovative mobile networks and painstaking research to trace families of children found alone in conflict zones, refugee camps and natural disasters.

This hard work pays off. Without it, 21,000 children might not have been reunited with their families and caregivers in 2016, and another 33,000 might be alone in dangerous environments. 

Nyayjaw, 8, kisses her baby sister, Nyagua, after meeting her for the first time in South Sudan. Conflict separated the family for two years: Nyayjaw and her brother Chuol, 4, lived with their elderly grandfather. "I will never allow us to be apart again," said their mother, Nyaruon, after their tearful reunion in Akobo, their hometown. © UNICEF/UN014006/Rich

7. We'd lose one the biggest sources of information about children

Here's something UNICEF has learned through experience: problems that go unmeasured often go unsolved. If governments know which children are out of school and who is hungry, then they can act. And unless they collect data year after year, they won't know their impact.

UNICEF is a leading source of data about children around the world. We harness advancements in technology and our huge networks to find and target the most vulnerable children:

• During the Ebola crisis, UNICEF used SMS text messages to collect real-time data for the government in Sierra Leone.

• In Syria, UNICEF helped 1,200 dedicated young volunteers run a massive door-to-door campaign to find out-of-school children, identifying barriers that kept them from school and then helping them return to class.

• Mobile apps have helped school administrators in Burkina Faso, Lesotho and Papua New Guinea make informed decisions and provide quality learning to more students. 

8. The world's children would lose their greatest advocate

Children's rights aren't an abstract concept. They're enshrined in the most rapidly and widely ratified human rights treaty in history: the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. The treaty sets out every child's right to survive, develop and reach their full potential — no matter who they are or where they live.

UNICEF is the only organization specifically named in the Convention on the Rights of the Child as a source of expert assistance and advice. That means that in every newspaper and in every government, UNICEF has a special role: championing the interests, opinions and rights of children. We help governments strengthen laws and policies for children and hold them accountable when they're leaving children behind.

Stand by children through crisis and poverty

UNICEF's work for children has never been more relevant or more urgent. Conflict, famine, disaster and refugee crises threaten children's lives and futures every day. 




Banner photo at top: A girl walks home after class in the village of Gogbo, Benin, carrying her UNICEF backpack. © UNICEF/UNI102232/Sautereau