Statement at EURONGOS, in Paris, France

24 October 2001
Author: UNFPA

Thank you for the kind introduction. It is so nice to be here with all of you today and to have the opportunity to get to know each other better. I will keep my remarks brief so we can have time for discussion.

These are difficult and challenging times for all of us. Wherever we look, we find great gaps—in income, in consumption, in well being and in perception. There is deep poverty, a growing gulf between rich and poor, and widespread perception of inequality, oppression and injustice. And this perception is not limited to the developing world. Here in Europe and in the United States, tens of thousands of protesters gather at every major meeting of foreign, finance and trade ministers to point out inequality and demand social and environmental justice.

While we are connected as never before—through trade, finance and communications, we are also greatly divided. The promise of globalization—faster growth, better opportunities and rising living standards—continues to ring hollow for billions of people around the world. Never has so much wealth been so visible: never have so many people lacked even the basic necessities of life.

The Nobel Prizes that were just awarded two weeks ago are most auspicious. The prize for economics went to three Americans for their work showing how the global market does not allocate resources fairly, and the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the United Nations and Secretary-General Kofi Annan for global efforts to promote peace and human rights.

When Mr. Annan came to work the next morning, he told staff that it was a great boost for the organization. He also said these were messy times and the messier things get, the more work there is for all of us to do.

I think we can all relate to that.

For the future of humanity on this globe, we have to find ways to bring the world closer together and reaffirm the universal values and principles that unite us. We have to defend human rights and human dignity as essential pillars of peace and stability.

And we have to defend innocent civilians and those in the world who are vulnerable and disadvantaged, especially women and children. There is a terrible humanitarian crisis unfolding in Afghanistan and people need food, water, shelter and health care, including reproductive health services. At the UN Population Fund we are mobilizing resources to help thousands of pregnant women so they can deliver their babies safely. The stories coming from the frontlines are heart wrenching. One mother crossed over the border to Pakistan the other day on a mule while she is in labour, over treacherous mountains being led by her husband who had only one leg. For many of us, the suffering is unimaginable. Mothers in Afghanistan face the second highest rate of maternal mortality in the world, second only to war-town Liberia. They need our urgent help.

I am pleased to report that our appeal for $4.5 million to provide emergency reproductive health services to those fleeing and displaced within Afghanistan for the first six months of this crisis has received a generous response. And together with you and your organizations we hope to expand the services to more Afghan women and for a longer period of time. We must work together to alleviate some of the suffering of Afghan women and save lives during this crisis period.

Strengthening emergency reproductive health services is one of our priority areas and we are making progress, together with you, our partners. We have come a long way from just a few years ago when the issue was barely considered during humanitarian emergencies. Today there is growing awareness and recognition of the need for reproductive health services for women in crisis situations and services are being provided.

Beyond the immediate crisis in Afghanistan, we are looking to the future and making plans for reconstruction and long-term development, which is so desperately needed after two decades of conflict and near total destruction.

As we are focusing on the present crisis in Afghanistan, let us not forget that all over the world, especially in the poorest regions in Asia and Africa, there is a real need for long term development that meets people’s basic needs –development that is sustainable and lasting, that extends opportunity and participation.

I cannot overstate the important role that you and your organizations play in meeting the challenges that we face today. At UNFPA, we realize your tremendous contribution and commitment and look forward to continued, strengthened collaboration. The Reproductive Health Initiative in Asia that involves UNFPA, the European Commission and many of your organizations is an important example of this collaboration. By pooling resources and expertise, we extend our effectiveness and impact. In addition to improving reproductive health in seven Asian countries, the partnership has enabled the sharing of technical and practical experience between European and Asian organizations and has strengthened national capacities.

It is only through partnership, that we can break the vicious cycle of ill health and poverty, that is we can break the vicious cycle of exclusion. It is only through partnership, that we can build alliances and coalitions for our common goals—goals that the world has identified as top priorities. Goals such as reducing maternal mortality. Today, a woman in Western Europe faces a 1 in 1800 chance of dying in childbirth; for a woman in Sudan, the risk is 1 in 18. We simply cannot allow such disparities to continue or widen.

One of our greatest challenges is preventing HIV infection and the further spread of AIDS. For while we must do all we can to provide care and treatment for those who are affected and step up efforts to find a vaccine, prevention remains our first line of defense.

A top priority of UNFPA is to prevent further infection among young people, who are the most vulnerable, especially among young women. In Africa, the majority of those now infected are women. Teenage girls have infection rates that are more than five times higher than boys their same age. Young women in their 20s face rates of infection that are three times higher than men their age. That is why we are focusing on young people and the poverty and gender issues that help to spread the HIV virus.

The programmes we fund in communities to overcome poverty, to increase access to education and economic opportunity, to increase gender equality and services to prevent HIV infection have never been more important. These are the day-to-day efforts that help stop the deadly virus from spreading and help strengthen families and communities.

But we need more resources. Current HIV/AIDS spending in low and middle-income countries from all private, national and international sources combined totals about $2 billion dollars, one-fifth of what is required.

At the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development, governments agreed that assistance from developed countries for population and reproductive health programmes should reach $5.7 billion in the year 2000. But of this amount, only about $2 billion has been made available by donor governments.

Clearly greater political will is needed, and advocacy can help keep us on track. Greater advocacy for education and health care, for combating poverty and improving the status of women and girls and for the resources to accomplish these goals is critical at this time. We need more resources for all of our programmes, not just for UNFPA, but for all UN agencies and for your organizations. We need to create a bigger pool of resources for all of us to use.

When we look around, we see that the global economy is contracting, official development assistance is stagnant and more funds are urgently needed to help poor countries maintain social services during these turbulent and uncertain times. We simply cannot allow the global economic slowdown to hit hardest on those who are the weakest. Education and health services must remain intact and must be expanded to all.

Many of you are working to improve access in the developing world to essential medicines. This is certainly needed and I applaud your efforts. But at same moment, I would like to ask for your support to improve access to another essential—reproductive health supplies. The shortfalls that many countries face today for condoms, contraceptives and other supplies are enormous. Due to funding shortfalls, there is a growing gap between supply—which is limited, and demand—which is on the rise. To give you just one example, last year in sub-Saharan Africa, which has the highest rate of HIV/AIDS in the world, there were just three condoms available for every man per year.

Clearly, we can do better and we must, so people can protect their health and their lives. Today, there are still 350 million couples who lack access to a full range of family planning methods. As a result, there are as many as 100 million unwanted pregnancies each year. A fifth of these end in unsafe abortion, which could be prevented.

Yes, countries and communities need better health services and more trained medical personnel, and we are working on that, but they also need basic supplies and equipment. UNFPA is taking the global lead on this initiative for reproductive health essentials and we invite your support and partnership.

Another important area we are working on and where greater advocacy is needed is the problem of obstetric fistulas. This problem, which is not well known, deserves far greater attention and I’ll tell you why. The World Health Organization estimates there are 2 million women—nearly all of them young, very poor and living in the developing world—who are afflicted with fistulas.

This debilitating condition is the result of trauma during childbirth. In takes place where there is inadequate obstetric care, a woman may be in obstructed labour for three or four days without relief. Her baby usually dies. If the mother survives, her injured pelvic tissue soon rots away, creating a hole known as a fistula.

This condition is devastating, causing untold suffering and even rejection by husbands and families. Yet every year, 50,000 to 100,000 new cases occur, mostly in places where malnutrition and stunted growth make obstructed labour more likely, or where early marriage and teenage pregnancy are common.

UNFPA has joined forces with the International Federation of Obstetrics and Gynaecology and New York’s Columbia University to offer support to survivors of fistula and to prevent further cases. We have each pledged money to begin an international campaign against obstetric fistulas and we encourage your active involvement.

Your involvement—in projects in the field, in research and policy analysis, and in the networking and advocacy you do to push forward all these issues and garner greater awareness and support cannot be overestimated. And I want to take this opportunity to thank you for helping us and the International Planned Parenthood Federation through your continued support and advocacy.

I also want to mention the good work that is being done by the Face to Face Campaign in raising awareness and support across Western Europe for women’s rights and women’s health and the need for empowerment and better services. This campaign is another example of the great things that can be accomplished when we join forces. I want to thank the Face to Face Spokespersons, many of whom are also UNFPA Goodwill Ambassadors, for your outspoken advocacy and hard work. I would like to thank Packard Foundation for their support. Without them the MORI survey would not have been carried out.

My friends, at times the challenges before us seem daunting. But we have to recognize the progress that we have made and continue to consolidate our gains. The fact is that people live longer, healthier lives than ever before. More people are planning their families—women are now having half as many children as they did 50 years ago. This is a tremendous social change with significant implications for women and their ability to control their own lives and their futures. And it is also a significant contribution to the world and the goal to stabilize population growth and ensure sustainable human development.

But there is no doubt we have a long way to go. People everywhere want many of the same things that we have —a peaceful, secure life, education and healthcare, and some hope for the future. But today, despite unprecedented wealth, half of our fellow citizens live on $2 a day.

As Secretary-General Kofi Annan said, it is a messy world and there is a lot of work to be done. As the new head of the UN Population Fund, I am committed to doing that work, hand in hand with many colleagues and partners like you. I believe that the United Nations is a much stronger and effective organization thanks to the involvement and participation of people like yourselves and the groups you represent. We would not have come this far without your insight, your determination and your commitment to the many noble causes we both champion. So you should feel proud because, in a way, the Nobel Peace Prize that was awarded to the United Nations also belongs to each of you.

Thank you.

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