Colombia as a member of the Executive Board of UNICEF
(New York, June 6, 2001)
Between May 5 and 17, a delegation of six board member representatives visited the Gambia and Senegal. First of all, the delegation wants to thank the respective governments of the Gambia and Senegal for their hospitality. Furthermore, the delegation wants to thank the UNICEF country teams in both countries; the delegation was impressed by the commitment of UNICEF representatives María Teresa Hevia and Ian Hopwood and their staff, and the energetic way in which they seemed to exercise their sometimes complicated tasks. Last but not least, the delegation wishes to express its gratitude to Denis Caillaux, secretary of the Board, who accompanied the delegation with thorough knowledge of the situation and indefinite and sometimes contagious energy and enthusiasm.
The delegation chose to briefly reflect the most remarkable conclusions of the visit in a few concise paragraphs:
UN co-operation The delegation had the occasion to discuss the important issue of UN co-operation at country level and noted with satisfaction UNICEF's commitment to that issue in both the Gambia and Senegal. It was understood that the UNICEF representative in the Gambia is known as one of the driving forces of UN co-ordination within the Banjul UN House. Meanwhile, the delegation regretted to see that UN co-operation depended too much on individual involvement of the responsible officers and would like to encourage UNICEF to look into its possibilities to promote a higher level of co-operation amongst the various UN agencies. The delegation felt that, in order to make more effective use of resources and comparative advantages, both in the Gambia and in Senegal close co-ordination and co-operation amongst UN agencies, the World Bank and bilateral donors constitutes one of the major challenges.
UNICEF-government relation The delegation recognised the quality of the overall relationship between UNICEF and the governments of Gambia and Senegal, at the national and the subnational levels. In both countries there seemed to be a frank, open and on-going dialogue with government at all levels.
UNICEF, civil society and NGOs The quality and openness of UNICEF's relationship with the respective governments has an impact on the community level, in that it provides legitimacy to UNICEF to empower civil society organisations. Unfortunately it was felt that some local NGOs see UNICEF more as a donor than as a partner and the delegation felt impressed by the awareness amongst NGOs and civil society of issues that are considered important by UNICEF. The delegation wants to encourage UNICEF to continue being an important partner in the development and reinforcement of national NGOs and to try to make NGOs act more like partners in a common strategy.
UNICEF's programming The delegation was impressed by the amount and diversity of projects that UNICEF supports through its country programmes in both the Gambia and Senegal. The delegation felt that the projects that were visited constituted an adequate overview of UNICEF's activities in these countries; the delegation saw and heard about a fish smoking project for a women's group, a post-conflict stress counselling project for traumatised people, the provision of a rice milling machine and a project in co-operation with the private sector to create jobs for heads of families to make them able to support their families, amongst many others. The enthusiasm with which these projects were carried out, truly inspired the members of the delegation. Finally, the delegation wishes to highlight an aspect related to programming; i.e., the inherent risk posed by supporting programmes that mat fall outside UNICEF's core mandate, possibly leading to less attention for what is UNICEF's mission, i.e. the development of children and mothers. The delegation would like to encourage UNICEF to look further into the possibilities to seek improved co-ordination with other donors and the private sector, possibly leading to a redefinition of tasks.
Humanitarian aid The delegation admired the dedication with which the UNICEF staff in the Casamance area fulfilled its tasks. It was understood that for a long time, UNICEF was the only UN agency in that region, and it deserves a lot of credit for its presence, especially for it was a reason for other organisations to reconsider their absence. The delegation felt that most of the projects that were visited in the Casamance area, notably the mosquito nets and fish smoking programmes, seem to be useful but cannot really be considered humanitarian or emergency aid projects. Notwithstanding, most of the programmes in the Casamance area are classified as such. The delegation feels that this in an issue that needs further discussion.
UNICEF and the private sector The delegation noted the degree of collaboration between UNICEF and the private sector in the area of salt iodisation. The delegation noted that the overseas procurement of iodine would now benefit from some streamlining, bringing together the various salt producers in the sub-region. In Senegal, there is a legal obligation to iodise salt and for that reason the delegation wants to encourage UNICEF to carefully look at the necessity of a continuation of activities related to iodisation in that country. The delegation also noted that UNICEF has been very active in malaria prevention, notably in the procurement and distribution of treated bednets. While it is clear that some initial momentum had to be created by subsidising in part the cost of the nets, the only long term sustainable solution is likely to be a full involvement of the private sector in the local production of the nets at affordable prices.
Education The delegation has had an opportunity to take a comprehensive look at the education programmes in both the Gambia and Senegal. Especially in the Casamance area, education is certainly a vital component of the reconstruction and reintegration process. The delegation furthermore recognised the importance of proper sanitation facilities in schools being a fundamental component in ensuring girls education, since apparently parents would not send girls to school if there were no separate facilities.
In Gambia, UNICEF's well organised 'mothers clubs' work on girls' education and retention. The delegation felt UNICEF efforts in this matter are fruitful and important. Meanwhile the delegation also felt that, because of these efforts, in some villages there are much more girls than boys attending school. This fact can possibly constitute a major problem on the long run, for it might create another kind of imbalance. The delegation would like to encourage UNICEF to take a deeper look into this question.
Concluding remarks The delegation feels that this kind of visit can contribute to a better understanding of UNICEF's activities. Some of the delegation members felt that (e.g.) a joint UNDP/UNICEF board visit could improve the insight into UN co-operation and the functioning of sector wide approaches.
New York, 6 June 2001
H.E. Andrés Franco (Colombia)
Eric N'Dry (Côte d'Ivoire)
Edwin Keijzer (the Netherlands)
Dina Neskorozhana (Ukraine)
Immy Demissie (United Kingdom)
Walid Al-Ethary (Yemen)