EU donates €320 million to UNICEF for child health, nutrition

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The European Union announced yesterday (4 January) that it would give €320 million to UNICEF for projects tackling under-nutrition and infectious diseases, which are among the main causes of child mortality.

The 15 countries receiving the €320 million include Burundi, Côte d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Somalia and Nigeria. The only non-African country to benefit from the funds is Timor-Leste.

Projects will focus on improving access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene facilities, according to a European Commission statement.

Child mortality rates have fallen from an estimated 12.6 million in 1990 to about 6.6 million in 2012. The Commission estimates that around 18,000 children die of preventable diseases every day.

World off-track on child and maternal health MDG

The decision comes as part of the EU’s push to meet the UN Millennium Development Goals before their deadline in 2015. The 4th of the goals is to cut the rate of under-five mortality by two thirds, which the EU predicts the world will not meet until 2028, at current rates.

The European commissioner for development, Andris Piebalgs, told the UNICEF executive board meeting in New York: “Much remains to be done before the 2015 deadline for achieving the MDGs and these projects will help us build on the achievements made so far,” he said.

Piebalgs added that the increased partnership would help the two organisations “reach even more of the people who most need our help”.

The EU launched in 2010 a €1 billion initiative aimed at accelerating progress towards the MDGs, including funding targeted at the goals that were most off-track. The MDGs that were deemed the furthest behind were reducing hunger and child mortality, securing better maternal health and improving sanitation.

The money comes from the 10th European Development Fund, the budgetary aid programme for the African, Carribean and Pacific regions and the EU’s overseas territories.

Last year, the lead author of the World Bank’s Global Monitoring Report for progress in the MDGs, told EURACTIV that the work was on track to meet just 4 of the 21 targets contained within the MDGs.

'Urgent' scaling up of work needed in Central African Republic

At the UNICEF board meeting this week officials also decried the continuing violence in the Central African Republic, including against children.

“Children in the Central African Republic desperately need protection and support. They are under assault and being killed in brutal, senseless communal violence, and there is an almost total absence of protection for children,” said Anthony Lake, UNICEF’s executive director.

“For the sake of the children, for the sake of the whole country, we all must urgently scale up our work there,” said Lake, who spent four days in the country in January.

The CAR was not included in the 15 countries that are to receive the €320 million. Environmental sustainability and improving the lives of slum-dwellers are deemed the areas where the CAR most needs to make progress, rather than child and maternal health. The EU’s focus in the CAR is on stabilising the conflict.

Lake said it was a "serious omission" that child protection was not included in the MDGS.

“Too many countries that have made progress in cutting child and infant mortality … in battling malnutrition and illiteracy … are still struggling to protect children from violence, abuse and exploitation,” he said in a UNICEF statement.

At a donors’ conference towards the end of January, the EU pledged €45 million to the CAR, including €25 million to the African Union-led operation in the region.

International donors recently pledged €366 million to the CAR, which has deteriorated to “pre-genocidal” levels, the Food and Agriculture Organization’s director of emergencies, Dominique Burgeon, told EURACTIV.

“This is a critical juncture in our work for children: the final period of achieving the MDGs and the lead-up to the post-2015 agenda,” said Macharia Kamau, the president of UNICEF's executive board and permanent representative of Kenya to the United Nations.

“Let us work together – using our considerable influence [as] decision-makers and spokespersons – to strive to create a world where every child is reached with the benefits society has to offer,” he said at the meeting in New York.

Health officials say good nutrition - especially in the first 1,000 days of a child’s life - is critical to the development of healthy organs and bodies and to building resilience for diseases and health challenges that come later in life.

The European Commission has contributed €845 million in total to UNICEF over the last seven years. €203.5 million of this has been spent on education and €52million on child protection projects, the Commission says.

€320 million of the funding has been committed through country-based contracts from the European Development Fund (EDF) to accelerate progress on the specific Millennium Development Goals of health, education and nutrition.

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