Thank you, members of the committee, for sparing the time to allow me to meet with you today; it's a great honour. I know this committee is very important. I also want to take the opportunity to thank the Canadian people, their representatives, meaning you, and the Canadian government for all of your support for the United Nations, and specifically UNICEF.
In a way there's no more critical moment, as we were briefly discussing beforehand, for some of the challenges we face. The world is a challenging place at the moment for children and their families and their mums and dads. The United Nations is the centre of many of those challenges, alongside governments and civil society.
I think the interesting thing is to hear from you and your questions, but also the points you want to make; it'll be very interesting to hear your priorities.
I thought I would do three things: first, is to give you a very top level take on the state of the world for children at the moment; second, to talk about the challenges facing UNICEF and the United Nations; then last, to say a few words about what I think are some opportunities for Canadian leadership on some of those challenges and opportunities.
First, on the state of the world for children. I was thinking about this and joking a bit with Dominique coming in. I'm big Clint Eastwood fan, so I thought about how we could summarize this. One of his great films is The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. In a way, that's a perfect summary of the state of the world without being too flippant.
I think it's important to look at all three components. Among the good, I think it's important to remember, not just for children, but for the wider issues that were set out in the millennium development goals, that the world's made enormous progress. We dramatically cut the number of children who die from diarrhea, pneumonia, and malaria. We made dramatic progress in reducing the incidence of mothers dying in childbirth. We made huge progress lifting millions of people around the world out of poverty.
We even addressed difficult issues, cultural issues like female genital mutilation and early marriage, as part of some of that progress. Less progress was made on those more difficult cultural issues.
We also made huge progress in getting more children in the world into schools.
Even though that progress was mixed in different parts of the world, I think it's important to remember that in the last 15 or 20 years, Canadian leadership on this through various G7 initiatives and the United Nations and bilaterally through the aid program has been a huge contributor to some of that progress over different governments. The Canadian people have also been central to supporting some of that progress through NGOs, UNICEF, and others. The question with that progress is how do we now accelerate and build on that platform? That's the good.
I think the bad is that within that story of progress—and in a way this is a central point with the sustainable development goals that were set for 2030, different from the millennium development goals—we have left people behind, for various reasons. That was mainly in regard inequality and equity, and has to do with gender. If you look at places like India or Pakistan or Nigeria, because of gender or identity, a lot of people were left behind. It might be to do with caste or particular tribes or identities, or within that, issues like disability and poverty.
I think one of the biggest challenges we face, as is set out really clearly in the sustainable development goals, is that we leave no one behind. The strategies that we drove progress in terms of the millennium development goals aren't exactly the same strategies about how you reach those who are left furthest behind, because these more complex issues of culture and identity and gender are playing a role in this story of progress.
I think this is where recent Canadian leadership is so important with women and girls. This is a central part of that issue around equity.
Then in the third area, in terms of the state of the world for children—the ugly bit—I think all of us who work in this humanitarian world are shocked and horrified. Even though we've seen it first-hand, we never get immune to the terrible plight facing many children in different conflicts and emergencies around the world.
Obviously there's Syria, with millions of children displaced into neighbouring countries. Some of you, I know, have been to Jordan and Zaatari, but there are also Lebanon and Turkey. However, it's even worse in Syria in these besieged areas.
Recently, in northern Turkey, I met a group of doctors who worked with us in Aleppo during the siege. They told me how they literally had to decide which children lived or died because they had run out of medicines. They decided they had to use the medicine for the children who had the most chance to survive, so they had to let other children in their makeshift hospital in the middle of the siege of Aleppo die. These are terrible stories.
I think what has shocked us in the midst of this horror is how children are increasingly becoming targets. They're becoming targets in some of these conflict and are being deliberately shot, tortured and, in some cases, punished because of their identity. This is not just in Syria. I was also in South Sudan relatively recently, and the conflict there that has caused the famine in Unity State is taking a terrible toll on children. Children are being recruited as child soldiers and are being deliberately killed and shot because it's about wiping out a particular ethnic group, and children are being punished supposedly for the sins of their parents. This kind of attack on children is a particularly prominent part of these terrible conflicts, whether in South Sudan or in Myanmar, Burma—where I have also recently been—in Rakhine State with Rohingya children. In different places in the world we're seeing particular attacks on children that feel more brutal. They are not just more reported, but they feel more targeted and brutal than in many years.
Just to give you a snapshot, that's how we see the world in terms of the progress made and optimism felt, but also in terms of the challenge with equity and these more ugly, brutal attacks on children and the denial of their basic rights.
In terms of UNICEF and the United Nations, I think what we see as our job—and the Canadian people and government have been central in support of this—is how we take on those different elements. In terms of progress and how we can drive it even more, UNICEF, for example, provides half of the world's vaccines. We have this huge division called the “supply division” in Copenhagen, and it's the biggest humanitarian warehouse in the world. We work with Gavi, with the Global Fund for Children, and with your support and that of lots of other governments. We vaccinate half the world's children. The question is how we get to those children, in that story of progress, who have been left out because they live in remote areas or, for example, in the difficult border areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan where there's a backlash against vaccination? They're not being vaccinated because there's an anti-vaccination culture developed or because they are girls—the most left-behind children.
As UNICEF, the first thing we're focused on is whether, by 2030, we finish the job we started with the millennium development goals, so that we can say that we can end some of these things. We can end children having their lives ruined by polio, and we can end children dying from diarrhea and pneumonia in the next 15 years or so, but we will have to focus on the most left behind.
I think the other big thing is how do we respond in these very difficult environments or humanitarian situations in South Sudan, Somalia, Yemen, and northern Nigeria? It's only been declared in South Sudan, but is looming in these other places. We're on the ground in all of them providing basic support for children suffering from severe acute malnutrition—which means they are imminently going to die—hundreds of thousands of children, millions in total, in all of those four situations. They're all very difficult working environments.
When I was in South Sudan, I flew to Bentiu, which is right up in the north of South Sudan. It was during the wet season, and you have to go by helicopter. It's like a three-hour ride, so it's very remote and very difficult to get to. I landed and went to a UNICEF clinic, and the whole thing had been looted. There were children lying on the ground dying, and all the equipment and the beds had been looted by the armed groups. This was in a Bentiu town that was protected by UN peacekeepers, a very good group from the Mongolian detachment whom all the local factions feared because they gave no ground to them at all. If there were a roadblock in the road they would drive straight through it. They wouldn't countenance any obstacles, but even in that situation, the violence....
In those places, what we're having to do—and it's a very integrated approach with the World Food Programme, UNICEF, Save the Children, and other NGOs—is to surge into the conflict areas by helicopter or on the ground, and treat as many people as possible for severe acute malnutrition, or provide medical support. Because the violence is so bad, we then have to retreat at night and come back in, which is a very costly and ineffective way of saving lives.
There is Canadian support for some of those responses, whether it's in besieged areas in Syria with the No Lost Generation initiative or with the money in Iraq from Education Cannot Wait, which is another big Canadian supported initiative where we keep children learning. For example, even in the east of Mosul, with ISIS being kicked out, we are now opening schools. I saw wonderful pictures the other day of children playing football in eastern Mosul for the first time after years of its being banned by ISIS.
We're surging in to get schools going with Education Cannot Wait. In these famine situations we're doing humanitarian work, not just food and health but also education. We think education is a key part of building hope for the future.
The final part—and then I'll turn it over to you, Chair—is about opportunities for Canadian leadership.
First, I think Canada's leadership over many years has been outstanding. In my previous life, I worked for two British prime ministers. I saw Canadian leadership at many summits, over many years, around the world. On child health and child malnutrition, I saw enormous leadership for many years, and on women and girls, on the whole refugee issue, and a long time ago on HIV and AIDS. That was really a turning point, I think, in Canadian leadership on those issues.
I think Canada has this extraordinary, powerful role in the world, not just through the aid budget, which is important, but through diplomacy and leadership in driving issues forward. I think this leadership in uncertain times, with the way the world is, is complex and difficult. With many politicians diverted by domestic concerns, we need this leadership. You know that. I'm just appealing to you from the United Nations; we need your leadership more than ever.
I can think of a couple of examples in my area, and I know there are others in the United Nations beyond what we do at UNICEF.
First, the one I would mention is this issue of the lost generation. I think this is so critical. In the both the Middle East and North Africa, we have huge numbers of children out of school in the middle of conflict. Take the example I gave in Mosul, where hundreds of thousands of children have been denied education. There's a window now to get them back to school. From a UNICEF point of view, every one of those children counts, and I know they do to you. This is also a key part of the soft power response to building hope and stability in Iraq. Whether these children think there's a future for them is going to be so critical.
In Syria, we see it all the time. I met a family in Turkey who had fled an ISIS area and told me about what ISIS was doing in the area of education against the real opportunities they wanted for their children. There's a connection between education and extremism, and the world has developed new mechanisms, including these funds for education and emergencies. I think that's a really big and important issue.
I know you had Malala here recently. We work with her in a number of countries. I think she's a living example through her work, both in terms of the importance of education for children and of winning a wider battle of values.
Second, linked to that and the point about Malala is the commitment of your Prime Minister, and both the current and previous governments, to the issues around gender, women, and girls. I know this is a cross-party issue. Again, I think there is a moment, particularly for adolescent girls, to make big progress on this issue in the world.
I think if you take what I said before about the progress with the MDGs, but also the challenges with the sustainable development goals, there are, in a way, two periods of a child's life where we need to do things differently. One is in the very early years, which I'll come to in a minute, and the second is in the adolescent years.
No one thing works in this area. It's about education, but it's also about early marriage and female genital mutilation. It has to do with access to health services, and it's about very basic things like having toilets in schools. It's about sexual violence. It's many issues together. There is no magic bullet like a vaccine, but if we can get right the adolescent girl bit of this, we'll prevent a lot of child deaths. We'll also get girls educated. They will contribute to society. We'll break down barriers, and that will contribute to the economies of countries. So there is education in conflict, adolescent girls, and I would also mention the whole issue that you've led on, which is refugees and migrants. This is an immediate one.
We've done a lot of work in the run-up to the G7 meeting in Sicily in a few days' time to develop a specific package of support for migrant children and refugee children, hundreds of thousands of whom are travelling unaccompanied. Again, the horrors of what happens in this situation are unbelievable. I was on an Italian coast guard boat off Italy, and they were pulling these children out of the water, and they had pulled several thousand out of the water in recent days. All the girls and some of the boys told me these terrible stories of what happened to them. One girl had come through Nigeria into Niger. She was trafficked and smuggled to be traded into prostitution in Italy. She was held underground in a cell by Libyan militia and raped every day for eight months and then sold into prostitution in a train station in Italy. All the children have these stories. The vulnerability of these children on the move is just beyond words. There are huge numbers—nine out of 10 children who have come on the central Mediterranean route, and actually also the route from Central America into the U.S., are unaccompanied and vulnerable and in the hands of traffickers.
We've developed a six-point plan specifically about this, which we worked on with the Italians and which we are trying to get governments and leaders to agree to. It may or may not be discussed at the G7.
Again, because I think there is Canadian leadership on refugees, this is something that is beyond Canada but is very powerful.
I have more but I'll stop there. Those are a few examples of where I think Canadian leadership could make a massive difference, which builds on your very powerful track record. With that, Chair, I'll stop and hand it back to you.
It's a very good question. Let me give you an example, because I think this is something that the new secretary-general is really on the money with in terms of his focus.
It's a lot about preventing those failed states, because it's much more complex to pick up the pieces afterwards. He's looking at how we use diplomacy, how we use aid, and how we use various measures to stop things getting even worse.
That really struck me on my recent visit to Myanmar. I went to Rakhine, where this conflict has broken out with the Rohingya, a Muslim population. My sense from that visit was that there is a terrible conflict going on in Rakhine, but it's going to be a much worse conflict in the future if we don't nip it in the bud now, because those young people—who have been brutalized by the Burmese or Myanmar military in response to what happened in the human rights abuses, and then put in camps where they're not allowed to leave—are going to be recruited by extremists in the long term. You can already see that beginning to happen.
Myanmar is a country with a new leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, who is very committed to making progress, but within it, it has a conflict in Rakhine and it has a conflict in Kachin. If these conflicts get completely out of control, it will undermine the whole future of Myanmar, but it will also cause regional instability. ISIS and others are already viewing the injustices being committed in that country as an opportunity to recruit those people, and there's a big link with some extremist groups in Bangladesh.
This is one example. Kofi Annan has set out a road map for dealing with it; there's a big meeting in Myanmar. Putting a lot of effort into stopping countries from becoming failed states—pulling them back from the brink—would be the most important.
Somewhere like South Sudan, which is a very good example of a country that's tipped, the honest truth is what we do is sticking plaster on the wound. We're basically trying to keep children alive, because everything else has failed. We're not addressing the root causes. To address the root causes, you need leadership, and the leaders of that country on both sides need to step up to the mark. They need to stop the fighting, they need to reach agreement, and they need to move forward.
The international community can help in that, but a lot of effort and money has been poured into South Sudan, including from Canadians, and until you get the leadership from the politicians—the government and the opposition—it's going to be very hard to make progress.
The only bit that I think we can do better as an international community than we've done in the past is the peacekeeping part of it. That, again, is keeping the lid on it. It's not solving it, but I don't think the whole peacekeeping operation in South Sudan has been that good. When that violence broke out in Juba, it wasn't just the terrible rape and killing of some of the international journalists and those aid workers that we all read about. Thousands and thousands of not just South Sudanese, but also Kenyan and Ethiopian women were raped. The stories I heard when I was in Juba—about militias rounding up all the Kenyan and Ethiopian women, taking them out into the bush, and putting them in camps and raping them for weeks—never got international attention. The stories that came out were the terrible and unacceptable rapes of those aid workers, but the peacekeepers.... You have to ask, what was the point of having a peacekeeping mission if they didn't step into that type of situation?
In peacekeeping, we can do more, but ultimately in a situation like South Sudan, this famine is man-made and can be solved if we have leadership from the politicians.