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Statement by Kelly Razzouk on Agenda Item 65 – Rights of the Child

Statement delivered to the UN’s Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian & Cultural Affairs) on Item 65 – Rights of the Child, during the 66th meeting of the United Nations General Assembly.

The United States welcomes this opportunity to discuss the pressing issues facing the children of our own country and children around the world. Although many gains have been achieved, it is unacceptable that in 2011 children still live in fear of violence, abuse, exploitation and neglect. The United States views with deep concern the continuing reports of children being killed, maimed, raped, sexually abused, forced to bear arms as unlawful child soldiers, forced into sexual slavery, and used for exploitative labor purposes.

The focus of many child-oriented initiatives in the General Assembly and Human Rights Council has rightly been on preventing and protecting against the violence, abuse, and exploitation of children.

A little over a decade ago, the General Assembly convened a special session on children to review the progress since the 1990 World Summit for Children. Out of this session came the document entitled “A World Fit for Children,” which called attention to several issues facing children around the world. These included providing access to education, health and nutrition, as well as protection from violence, abuse, and exploitation. Over the past decade, the United States has implemented several national reforms to strengthen our own efforts to address these problems.

In the United States, an extensive network of federal, state, and local programs protect children on varied issues such as child pornography, commercial sexual exploitation of children, forced child labor, and to promote access to health care, foster care, and education.

In 2009, President Obama signed the Children’s Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act, which provided substantial resources to states and territories to strengthen their existing programs and extend coverage to an estimated 11 million children.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires public schools to make available to all eligible children with disabilities a free appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment suited to their individual needs. Additionally, the Teacher Education Assistance for College and Education (TEACH) Grant Program helps fund the education of individuals pursuing undergraduate and master’s degrees that will prepare them to teach in high-need fields at schools that serve low-income families. These teachers commit to working in identified high-need fields, including working to teach students with disabilities, bilingual or non-English speaking students, or those students struggling with science and math.

The United States agrees with the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children that “education has a unique potential to create a positive environment.” We are committed to providing equal educational opportunities to all children, regardless of their individual circumstances, race, national origin, ethnicity, sex, or disability and call on all states to enforce their laws and to meet their international legal obligations to protect children and promote the rights of the child.

The United States appreciates the on-going discussions of the rights of the child, and thanks the many UN bodies and independent experts who have contributed to the debate through reports and interactive dialogues. We consider the theme for this year’s right of the child resolution, “children with disabilities,” especially important. The United States is proud of its record in promoting the welfare of children domestically and internationally, and hopes to continue to work closely with the international community to further strengthen the protection of all our children.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman

 


Ambassador Johnson on Humanitarian Issues: Trafficking in Human Beings

(As prepared for delivery at the OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting, Session 17: Humanitarian Issues; Trafficking in Human Beings)

The United States strongly supports the goals of our OSCE commitments to combat trafficking in persons through prosecution, protection and prevention. For our part, we are working to achieve the goals of the OSCE Action Plan to Combat Trafficking in Human Beings, and, we are addressing recommendations from the Alliance Against Trafficking conferences coordinated by the OSCE Special Representative and Coordinator for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings in drafting its recommendations. While the 2010 Astana Summit did not yield an Action Plan, it did establish the political will for updating commitments associated with labor trafficking and combating the demand for goods and services produced by trafficked persons at the upcoming Ministerial Council meetings.

In recent years, the OSCE has addressed the demand that drives modern slavery, as well as the unique vulnerabilities of domestic workers. This year, the Alliance against Trafficking considered the scope of trafficking for labor exploitation. The United States commends Special Representative Giammarinaro for her efforts to address emerging trends in trafficking and to identify new mechanisms for cooperation, particularly in the field of labor trafficking. In February of this year, the OSCE Special Representative launched a publication entitled: “Unprotected Work, Invisible Exploitation: Trafficking for the Purpose of Domestic Servitude,” (ref. 1) which included key recommendations on victim identification, and on improved regulation and monitoring of recruitment and placement agencies. Additionally, the Special Representative collaborated on the development of recommendations for “The Implementation and Enforcement of Codes of Conduct in the Private Sector to Reduce the Demand for the Services of or Goods Produced by People who have been Trafficked.” We strongly support these initiatives, which provide ample background to enhance efforts established by the 2007 Madrid Ministerial Decision on Combating Trafficking in Human Beings for Labor Exploitation (ref. 2). We ask participating States to join the United States in advancing a strong Declaration decision based on these recommendations for the Vilnius Ministerial Council in December.

As we move past the first decade since the adoption of the United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, much still needs to be done. We are encouraged, however, that most countries have enacted either comprehensive anti-trafficking laws or separate anti-trafficking provisions in their penal code. Now our focus must shift to implementation.

Unfortunately, some OSCE States remain far from achieving the fundamental goals set by our shared OSCE commitments, as documented in the U.S. Department of State’s 2011 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report. Azerbaijan, Russia, and Uzbekistan have demonstrated inadequate progress from previous years in combating trafficking in persons. In the Russian case, the country has remained as a source, transit, and destination country for forced labor and sex trafficking with limited government efforts to protect victims or prevent trafficking. This is all the more concerning as we approach the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, which may present a risk of the use of forced labor in construction projects. Minimal progress to address domestic forced labor during the cotton harvest remains a substantial challenge in Uzbekistan, while proactive victim identification and effective investigations and prosecutions of traffickers have not been adequately prioritized in Malta or Azerbaijan. Belarus, Cyprus and Estonia lack effective programs to investigate, prosecute, and sentence traffickers, paired with weak victim-centered approaches to assistance and protection. Estonia remains the only European Union country without a law that specifically addresses human trafficking. We urge Estonia to quickly pass its draft trafficking-specific criminal statute, provide better assistance for repatriated Estonian victims, and improve awareness of victim services. Additionally, we call on Belarus to provide greater victim assistance and protection while providing more information on, and clearly delineating their anti-trafficking efforts from their efforts on trafficking related work such as illegal migration. We urge Cyprus to actively prosecute and convict traffickers, improve front-line services to victims, strengthen NGO partnerships, and provide responder training for victim identification.

We are particularly concerned by the Turkmenistan government’s unwillingness prosecute traffickers and disregard for the work of IOM and anti-trafficking organizations which seek to provide protection for victims. We urge Turkmenistan to implement its 2007 anti-trafficking law and Article 129(1) of its criminal code and develop a reliable victim identification and referral mechanism. Forced labor, including forced child labor, in Central Asia remains a challenge that must be addressed, particularly for cotton cultivation in Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. The citizens of the OSCE region deserve a future free from exploitation. The United States urges Uzbekistan to stop the practice of using forced labor to pick cotton, and urges Tajikistan and Kazakhstan to continue efforts to eliminate the use of forced labor in the cotton harvests.

Additionally, the U.S. Department of State’s 2011 TIP Report for the second time features a full tier-ranking and country narrative for the United States, so that our initiatives can be openly compared to other States. Government self-reporting can be a useful tool, but is only meaningful when a vigorous civil society can also independently and safely voice its views—as exemplified in the U.S. narrative. The 2011 report on the United States is a reminder of how much further our government still has to go in the fight against modern day slavery.

The OSCE Parliamentary Assembly (OSCE PA) has been active in promoting new avenues for our efforts to combat human trafficking throughout the OSCE region. The recent Belgrade Declaration of the OSCE PA included proposals to enhance implementation of United Nations protocols on trafficking and specific efforts to combat trafficking for labor exploitation. This resolution also unanimously called on participating States to adopt a ministerial decision or declaration on labor trafficking, demonstrating the broad political will for such an action. As we update the Madrid Ministerial Decision we must consider more specific regulation for recruitment agencies, appropriate oversight of supply chains to prevent exploitation, measures to prevent abuses of domestic workers—including by diplomatic personnel—measures to encourage corporate codes of conduct, and to promote consumer awareness. We ask participating States to consider these recommendations as we negotiate updates to our OSCE commitments in the coming weeks.

(ref. 1) – http://www.osce.org/cthb/75804

(ref. 2) – MC.DEC 8/07 http://www.osce.org/mc/29464

 


Award-Winning Chef Jose Andres Joins Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves as Culinary Ambassador

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton meets with Chef Jose Andres, Culinary Ambassador for the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves at the Department of State on September 13, 2011. State Department photo.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton meets with Chef Jose Andres, Culinary Ambassador for the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves at the Department of State on September 13, 2011. State Department photo.

Chef Jose Andres joins the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves as “Culinary Ambassador,” helping to raise awareness of an issue that causes nearly two million deaths each year: toxic smoke from traditional cooking stoves. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who launched the Alliance last year, today met with Chef Andres to thank him for his commitment and discuss their mutual interest and determination to bring clean cooking solutions to the developing world.

In his new role, Chef Andres, alongside Secretary Clinton, the United Nations Foundation, and a rapidly growing list of over 160 other Alliance partners, will be instrumental in achieving the Alliance’s ’100 by 20′ goal, which calls for 100 million homes to adopt clean and efficient stoves and fuels by 2020. Chef Andres’ passion for economic and social empowerment through sustainable, safe and clean cooking practices in the developing world has few rivals. After witnessing the impact of dirty cooking conditions while assisting in post-earthquake humanitarian relief efforts in Haiti, Chef Andres formed World Central Kitchen to deploy clean and innovative cooking solutions throughout the developing world.

Every day, nearly 3 billion people use a crude stove or open fire to cook their meals – typically fueled by biomass such as wood, charcoal or dung – in homes with poor or no ventilation. Exposure to smoke from these stoves has been categorized by the World Health Organization as the fifth biggest health risk factor in the developing world and causes two million people to die each year, mostly from acute pneumonia and chronic lung disease. The vast majority of deaths are among women and children in the developing world.

Encouraging the development and use of clean cookstoves in cultures, communities, and countries throughout the developing world is consistent with the core principles of U.S. foreign policy and development efforts, which focus on improving the lives of the world’s most vulnerable populations. In September 2010, Secretary Clinton announced the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, a public-private partnership to save lives, improve livelihoods, empower women, and combat climate change by creating a thriving global market for clean and efficient household cooking solutions. The U.S. Government has committed more than $50 million over the first five years to the Alliance.

‘Clean stoves’ would save lives, cut pollution

Secretary Clinton’s Interview With Belinda Luscombe of Time Magazine

FACT SHEET: The U.S. Commitment to Cookstoves in India

FACT SHEET: The U.S. Commitment to Cookstoves in Africa

Additional African Nations to Join the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves

 


More Must Be Done to Protect Children in Armed Conflict

Remarks delivered during an interactive Dialogue with the Secretary-General’s Special Representative on Children in Armed Conflict Ms. Radhika Coomaraswamy

Thank you, Madame President.

The United States thanks Special Representative Coomaraswamy for her excellent report and for her efforts to protect children around the world from the trauma of armed conflict. The United States is deeply committed to protecting children from abuse, exploitation, and the terrible suffering they endure as a result of armed conflict.

UNESCO’s 2011 Education for All Global Monitoring Report estimates that two million children were killed and six million disabled in armed conflicts between 1998 and 2008. Approximately 300,000 children are reportedly being exploited as unlawful child soldiers. We are appalled. Children continue to be forcibly recruited into armed forces, killed and maimed in violation of applicable international law, abducted, subjected to sexual violence, denied humanitarian aid, and deprived of education, health care and access to justice in the context of armed conflict. This is unacceptable.

The United States is deeply disturbed by information the Special Representative has presented regarding attacks on schools and hospitals in areas of armed conflict, including in Afghanistan and elsewhere. Schools, teachers and students, especially girls, have been regularly targeted by anti-government elements. In response to these vicious attacks on innocent students, Afghanistan and the United States, together with 40 other co-sponsors, adopted a joint resolution by consensus at the HRC in 2010. We welcome such efforts by the international community to advocate for the youngest and most vulnerable members of society.

The United States would like to ask Special Representative Coomaraswamy for her opinion on what can be done to improve the situation of children in armed conflict, especially children at particular risk such as girls and children with disabilities. We would like to inquire if she can suggest specific actions to be taken in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The United States recognizes that some progress has been made since the entry into force of the Optional Protocols to the Convention on the Rights of the Child. We note in particular the Special Representative’s report that some parties in Nepal, Philippines, Chad, South Sudan, and Afghanistan have committed to action plans to stop unlawful recruitment of child soldiers and to release those already unlawfully in their armed forces. We are also pleased to learn that the Transitional Federal Government in Somalia has committed to work towards an action plan to release girls and boys now in government forces and allied militias.

More can and needs to be done to protect children in armed conflict. We commend the Special Representative for her tireless efforts to mobilize Member States to support and ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict. The United States calls upon all nations to increase their efforts to protect children in armed conflict. Children are innocent and unable to protect themselves. Failing these children is NOT an option.

Thank you, Madame President.

 


Briefing On the Current Situation in the Horn of Africa

MS. FULTON: Good afternoon and welcome to the Department of State. Today, to address the emerging humanitarian crisis in the Horn of Africa, we have four briefers to speak to you today about a number of areas and initiatives. We have with us Assistant Secretary Johnnie Carson, who is the assistant secretary for African affairs. We have Dr. Reuben Brigety, who is the deputy assistant secretary in the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration. We have Deputy Administrator Don Steinberg from the U.S. Agency for International Development. And we have Nancy Lindborg, assistant administrator for the Bureau of Democracy, Conflict, and Humanitarian Assistance at the bureau – excuse me, at the Agency for International Development. Nancy is an addition to the lineup, so an extra special guest we have with us today.

I’m going to turn it over to each of the speakers in that order to give remarks, and then we’ll open it up for questions following that. So I’d like to turn it over to Assistant Secretary Carson.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CARSON: Thank you. Good afternoon. We in the United States Government have been responding to the evolving humanitarian situation in the Horn of Africa for some time, and my colleagues and I will provide you with additional details on this situation.

However, I wanted to underline the importance that we attach to providing an appropriate and timely response in full partnership with the international community. Severe drought, poor infrastructure and insecurity have had a debilitating impact on the welfare of millions of people in this region, especially in Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia. This crisis has resulted in severe malnutrition, acute hunger, and rising levels of starvation. It has generated extraordinary refugee flows across thousands of miles in East Africa.

The current crisis in the Horn has long-term and short-term implications. It threatens the lives of those at risk, especially young children and women. And it also endangers the hard-won development gains and the future prospects of millions of people throughout East Africa and the Horn. Today, over 11 million people are in need of emergency assistance in the Horn of Africa. In Kenya, an estimated 3.6 million people have been affected. This includes refugees, rural pastoralists, and urban poor who are unable to buy adequate food because of escalating prices.

In Ethiopia, at least 4.5 million people are in need of assistance. Almost 3 million people need assistance in Somalia. In addition to the hundreds of thousands of Somali refugees already in Kenya and in Ethiopia, new arrivals are coming in at staggering daily rates. Many of these most recent refugees are suffering from life-threatening malnutrition, and there may be many more in need of assistance in Eritrea, where a repressive regime fails to provide data on the humanitarian needs of its own people. The free flow of information is what allows people to make early choices that can help avert catastrophe. We urge the Government of Eritrea to cooperate with the UN agencies and other international organizations to address the issue of hunger and food shortage in that country.

The State Department and USAID have been working with the international community and governments in the region to respond to food, water, shelter, and sanitation needs of affected populations. As we work to address the short-term immediate needs in the region, we will continue to implement our Feed the Future initiative as part of our long-term strategy to mitigate the effects of prolonged drought and food shortage in this area in the future. The Feed the Future program is intended to increase agricultural productivity, shift away from rain-fed agriculture, promote better storage techniques, employ modern farming methods, and utilize science and technology to assist populations in adapting to increasing erratic weather patterns throughout the Horn of Africa. By investing in and working closely with regional governments, we hope the Feed the Future program will help reduce regional vulnerabilities to these types of humanitarian crises in the future.

An especially complex and difficult component of the Horn of Africa’s humanitarian crisis is the high number of Somali refugees flowing into both Ethiopia and Kenya. This is a result of three overlapping and intersecting problems. The first is the extreme climate-induced drought that has prevailed intensely for the past two years and cyclically for more than 50 years. The second is the absence of a functioning central government in Somalia for over two decades. And the third is the presence of the anti-Western terrorist organization Al-Shabaab in south central Somalia. Al-Shabaab’s activities have clearly made the current situation much worse. In January 2010, Al-Shabaab prohibited international humanitarian workers and organizations from operating in their areas of control. And its continued refusal to grant humanitarian access has prevented the international community from responding to and mitigating some of the cumulative and most disastrous consequences of the drought in south central Somalia.

We have seen the recent reports that Al-Shabaab claims that it will finally allow international humanitarian aid into areas under its control. We are consulting with international organizations that have worked in these areas to verify if there has been any real change in Al-Shabaab’s policies that would allow us and others to operate freely and without taxation imposed for humanitarian deliveries. Al-Shabaab’s current policies are wreaking havoc and are not helping Somalis living in the south central part of that country.

The drought and humanitarian crisis in the Horn will not end next week or next month. As this crisis and its humanitarian needs expand, the international community and host governments will be called upon to do more to respond to the immediate and critical humanitarian assistance needs in the Horn of Africa. We recognize the measures that the countries in the region are putting in place, and we applaud our partners who have already responded generously to the appeals for assistance. As we look for ways to implement more comprehensive approaches, we hope potential donors will increase food, shelter, and financial contributions as part of a focused campaign to meet the critical needs of the region.

I will now turn the podium over to my colleague, Dr. Reuben Brigety. Thank you.

DR. BRIGETY: Ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon. My name is Reuben Brigety. I’m the deputy assistant secretary of state responsible for the State Department’s refugee programs in all of continental Africa. Thank you for coming today.

I returned Sunday night from Kenya and Ethiopia, where I visited the refugee camps in Dadaab, Kenya and in the Dolo Ado region of Ethiopia. In both countries, the State Department arranged for representatives of other embassies to accompany us, reflecting not only the high-level attention that our government is giving this emergency but also the multilateral approach we take to assisting refugees. These efforts are critical to saving lives and maintaining access to safe asylum in the neighboring countries of Somalia, even as they themselves struggle with the drought that may indeed be the worst in 60 years.

You have undoubtedly heard about the staggering rates of malnutrition amongst new arrivals in the refugee camps, up to 50 percent global acute malnutrition in Ethiopia, for example, reflecting the even more grim state of affairs for children inside Somalia. Humanitarian assistance experts expect this crisis to get worse before it gets better.

We have heard troubling reports from inside Somalia that the combined daily arrival rates of 3,200 new refugees in Ethiopia and Kenya could rise still more dramatically as the situation in Somalia grows increasingly desperate.

With enough human and financial resources, however, the international community can together address this refugee emergency. During my visit to Dadaab, the prime minister of Kenya announced that the government would open the already completed extension of one of three Dadaab camps to new refugees. It is the strong view of the Ethiopian and the Kenyan governments that the international community must do more to deliver food and other humanitarian assistance inside Somalia. The Kenyans and Ethiopians see this as a means of stemming the refugee flows even as they insist that they will not prevent anyone fleeing Somalia from crossing their borders. We understand the urgency of providing assistance to people inside Somalia and we welcome the continued generosity and support of the governments in the region that continue to host refugees in need.

Thank you very much, and I am pleased to turn the podium over to my colleague, Deputy Administrator Don Steinberg.

MR. STEINBERG: Thanks, Reuben. I too am just returning from the Horn of Africa, where I had a chance over the past week to visit Djibouti, Sudan, and Ethiopia to review the response of the United States Government and the rest of the international community to the tragedy of 100,000 Somali men, women, and children who are driven from their homes and in the refugee camps in Ethiopia, driven there by drought and violence.

We witnessed the sight of families stumbling into the camps through the bitter Ogaden desert and receiving their first nutritious meals in months. In most cases, that exodus took a week to ten days of walking through the desert. It was heart-wrenching. These numbers that we’re describing in Somalia are amplified by even greater numbers of people fleeing to Kenya in search of food, water, and security as their crops and their livestocks wither and the longstanding conflict continues.

As Johnnie said, the number of people in the Horn of Africa affected by this tragedy is staggering – more than 11 million in Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia in need of emergency life-saving assistance. The international community has responded to this recent surge. We are racing to keep up.

But at the same time, it’s important to remember that we’ve long been preparing for this tragedy. As long ago as last summer, USAID-supported Famine Early Warning System Network, which we call FEWS NET, predicted this crisis, and in August of last year we started pre-positioning food and other supplies in Djibouti, in South Africa, and elsewhere in the region. Since October of last year, the United States Government has provided assistance to 4.4 million affected people, a total of $383 million of life-saving food, supplies, and other necessary aid, including 348,000 metric tons of food.

As we look ahead, the USAID response along with our partners in a whole-of-government effort, is focused on three interlocking challenges. In the short run, we’re going to continue our support of an aggressive and coordinated international response to the immediate humanitarian emergency. I am going to London tomorrow – actually, this evening – to coordinate with all of the major donors who are operating to respond. We’re having a meeting where we’re going to be discussing this issue and seeing what more we can do.

At this very moment, Raj Shah, the administrator of USAID, is on his way to Kenya, where he will visit the Dadaab refugee camp as well as the Wajir region in northern Kenya that is equally suffering from these problems.

Our response, again, is going to be primarily focused on food and water, but at the same time, we’re focused on health and disease so that we can prevent outbreaks in the refugee camps and other areas.

Our second prong, however, is to help communities confront the drought and extreme food insecurity. In Ethiopia, for example, we’re providing a safety net program that provides cash and work for food. And the work involves digging wells, creating medical clinics, nutrition education and sanitation. As a result of those programs, about 7.5 million Ethiopians are not among those who are currently in need of international aid.

Equally important, we are working throughout the region to create sustainable food security by strengthening agriculture and rural development. President Obama’s innovative and forward-looking Feed the Future initiative, which Johnnie Carson has described in detail, is already at work improving agricultural production, boosting markets, building infrastructure, bringing innovation, addressing the entire value change, and bringing women into the process of development. American food security and emergency assistance experts with vast experience in the region are working together with our international counterparts to pursue a coordinated, aggressive, and comprehensive response to the short-, medium-, and longer-term approaches. Again, the 11 million people in need of assistance in the eastern Horn deserve nothing less. And with that, I’d like to ask our assistant administrator for democracy, conflict, and humanitarian assistance, Nancy Lindborg, to say a few words.

MS. LINDBORG: Thanks, Don. And good afternoon. I want to underscore that, as I think all of us know, drought is not new for this region. This region suffers cyclical droughts and through the years have – it has experienced significant suffering. However, 20 years ago we established something that Don mentioned called FEWS NET, the Famine Early Warning System. And this is – which is a USAID funded initiative – works closely with the UN to identify in advance rainfall conditions, does extensive analysis of historical and current rainfall cropping patterns, livestock health, market prices, and malnutrition rates. As a result, this enabled us to know as early as last October that we would be facing record low rainfalls. And we along with the international community, were able to preposition supplies and prepare to respond.

In addition, there has been significant work in the – particularly in Ethiopia that has enabled communities to be much better prepared to withstand severe drought. And as a comparison, in 2002, 2003, which was the last time Ethiopia had a serious drought, there were 15 million Ethiopians who required humanitarian assistance. This year it’s 4.5. As serious as that number sounds, it represents a significant step forward in establishing community resilience. This ability to be better prepared and to have those early warnings, coupled with, as Don described, the Feed the Future initiative that builds productivity, will continue to enable that region to withstand the ravages of drought.

Specifically, however, in Somalia, we’ve been unable to reach some of the most affected populations. We have, however, been able to reach 1.5 million people in the more accessible areas of Somalia and been able to move forward with significant aid that provides therapeutic feeding, critical health treatments, clean water, proper sanitation, hygiene education, and supplies to help the prevention of disease. I traveled to Hargeisa at the end of May both to underscore our commitment to the people of Somalia as well as ensure that we were providing as much assistance as we could.

We know that there’s a severe and unabated humanitarian crisis in southern Somalia, and aid workers are unable to reach reliably 61 percent of people in need due to the risk, the insecurity, and the inaccessibility through the presence of armed groups, like Al-Shabaab. As you know, since January 2010, the United Nations World Food Program has unable – has been unable to operate in southern Somalia because of the extremely dangerous conditions. This is true for other international and nongovernmental organizations as well. It’s no coincidence that the Somalis who have the greatest need are living in the areas that are the most insecure. We are, however, as Ambassador Carson noted, very encouraged to hear that aid groups are now being asked to help in some of these insecure areas.

We are working aggressively with other donors and the humanitarian community to test the possibility of delivering assistance in these previously inaccessible areas and are working closely to identify means of assistance. We call on the international community to continue to step forward with the assistance needed throughout the region. As Don said, we expect the conditions to deteriorate, especially if the fall rains are not as good as they need to be, and this requires all of us to be working aggressively to meet the needs of the region. Thank you.

MS. FULTON: Okay. I’d like to open it up for questions. If you would help our briefers out, please just identify yourself and let us know who it is that you would like to ask the question. Do you want to go first, Michelle?

QUESTION: Yeah. I have two questions. Michelle Kelemen, NPR. The first one for Dr. Brigety. You talked about this extension at that one camp, but the Kenyans have been reluctant to open this, they’re worried about the influx of Somalis, they talk about concerns about terrorism. What are you telling them about that? Are you offering them any sort of assurances? And then I have one other question following up either for you, Ms. Lindborg, or for Johnnie Carson about whether U.S. sanctions on Al-Shabaab are complicating. I know you talk about the complications coming from the Al-Shabaab and the insecurity, but are U.S. sanctions preventing USAID agencies in going in?

DR. BRIGETY: Michelle, thank you very much for that question. As of last Thursday, the Government of Kenya has publicly decided to open the second camp. The camp is called Ifo II. I was standing next to Prime Minister Raila Odinga as he made that announcement to an international press gathering in Dadaab last Thursday. This is – as you’ve mentioned, this is a development that the international community has been requesting for some time. We welcome the Kenyan Government’s decision to open that camp. It is our understanding that while previously, the Government of Kenya saw opening the camp as essentially a security risk, only inviting more refugees in, they have recognized that, certainly over the last year or so, that there have been flows of refugees that have come unabated and, as they say, in increasing numbers just in the last several weeks.

Thus what has developed over the last several months is essentially a series of spontaneous settlements on the outskirts of the camps of Ifo, where refugees are settling in an unorganized way, in a way in which they aren’t properly registered. And that was seen by the Government of Kenya finally as an even greater security threat, having these large numbers of people that are coming in an unorganized way and filling them in an unorganized way, which is part of the reason why they decided to open up Ifo II.

We continue to work with the Government of Kenya. We are – continue to be strong partners with them. We welcome, as I say, this decision to open a camp and we look forward to their increasing cooperation as this crisis unfolds. Thank you.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CARSON: In response to the second question, U.S. sanctions are not the issue or the problem. The issue and the problem is Al-Shabaab. International organizations such as CARE, Save the Children, UNICEF, the WFP, don’t have sanctions. But it is those organizations that have been equally denied an opportunity to operate in south central Somalia. We call on all of those in south central Somalia who have it within their authority to allow refugee groups and organizations to operate there to do so. But the issue is Al-Shabaab. It’s not sanctions. Organizations do not – such as the ones I just mentioned – don’t have sanctions, but they’ve also been barred.

MS. FULTON: Thanks. Next question.

Jill?

QUESTION: Thank you. Jill Dougherty from CNN. I wanted to follow up on the – testing the possibility of – excuse me – delivering this aid. Can you give us a better idea, Ms. Lindborg, of how this is being done? Do people go into the field? Are they talking to Al-Shabaab? What exactly is going on?

MS. LINDBORG: Under the auspices of the UN, they are testing what might be possible. The – clearly, what we all are hoping for is the ability to deliver assistance without some of the punitive conditions and the insecurity that have resulted from the Shabaab control over the last year or year and a half. So there are probes already being made, there are discussions underway, and we hope to have more information in the next week.

QUESTION: The probes? Is that discussion or –

MS. LINDBORG: Well, I think you saw in the media that UNICEF went last week with an expedition into the Baidoa. There are opportunities to work in select areas where there isn’t the impediments created by tolls, by taxing, by threats of insecurity, and by kidnapping. So where one is able, where we as the international community are able to provide assistance and ensure that it’s reaching those who are desperately in need, we are fully prepared to do so.

MS. FULTON: Next question. Right here.

QUESTION: Yeah. I will have – one question with – for – to Mr. Carson. You know Somalia – in 1992, there was a similar situation and the international community, including the United States, responded in a bigger way. What’s the next plan, apart from sending some donations to Somalia? Is there any other plan from the U.S. Government toward Somalia? Is there any (inaudible) you are going to provide Somalia?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CARSON: Let me say that the Horn of Africa has faced over the years a number of cyclical droughts. And indeed, back in the late 1980s, we saw another major drought situation occur. After that, I think my colleagues have pointed out that the FEWS NET program was established to be able to monitor and to warn about droughts. We also started working with various governments to improve their ability to adjust to extreme climatic conditions, to change crops, to be able to store and protect more food and to do a number of other things. The United States over the last decade has been one of the largest and continues to be one of the largest suppliers of humanitarian support and assistance to the region. We continue to work with governments throughout the region, and we hope that our Feed the Future program will contribute to better protection of people against droughts in the future.

MS. FULTON: Next question?

QUESTION: Another question for Assistant Secretary Carson. George Zornick from The Nation magazine. Last week our magazine reported on the existence of a CIA-run prison in Mogadishu. Is this something that you or the State Department was aware of, the existence of this prison?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CARSON: I will not comment on any issues related to the CIA or to intelligence matters.

QUESTION: Can you say whether you’ve been working with the recognized officials of Somalia to brief them on what’s happening there?

MS. FULTON: We’re going to stick to briefing on the situation – the emerging humanitarian situation in the Horn today. So next question in that vein.

QUESTION: The World Health Organization yesterday issued a warning that 9 million people are at risk of cholera and measles outbreak in the region, and it has been aggravated by fast movement of the people who are exposed to the drought. And is there a clear picture that what has been done?

MS. LINDBORG: Hi. I – also in response to the previous question, we’ve looked very closely at the famine in ’92, and what we’ve learned is that there are several very important and critical steps that we, the international community, need to take. And the first is ensure that we’re able to address public health issues more effectively, including exactly the kind of communicable diseases that are most prevalent, especially when you have populations that are moving and populations that are malnourished. So it’s cholera, it’s measles, it’s diarrhea, it’s all these diseases that we need to effectively address and very quickly enable vaccinations and health treatments to reach.

Secondly, we need to ensure that there’s improved access of food. There are – there is availability of food in some of the markets. The inflation rate is so high that those – many families are unable to afford the food. And thirdly, one needs to get food in, especially therapeutic food for those who are at most risk, through high malnutrition, of reaching fatalities. We remain very concerned about the situation and are working very closely with the international community to ensure that we get the right approaches in quickly, based on what we know from past famines and past drought situations.

MS. FULTON: I think we have time for about two more questions.

QUESTION: Camille Elhassani from Al-Jazeera English Television. I had a question about Eritrea. You – Mr. Carson, you’ve called for them to provide the data so that you know what the situation is there. Has there – have you seen refugees from Eritrea moving into neighboring countries, and do you have an expectation that they are going to cooperate so that you and the other international community can help them?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CARSON: Eritrea is a closed and increasingly reclusive country, and its government has not been particularly helpful in sharing data and information about the severity of the food shortages or the drought in its country. Because it is a part of the Greater Horn of Africa, we assume that conditions in Eritrea are probably quite similar to the drought conditions that we are seeing in other places – in Ethiopia and in Kenya, Djibouti, and in Somalia. Because we don’t know what’s happening, our understanding of the situation is limited, but we encourage them to be more open about their needs and the needs of their population.

MS. FULTON: Thank you. Last question, Brad.

QUESTION: Yes. I think for Mr. Steinberg. You said you’re going tomorrow to a donors conference in London. Could you just explain what you aim to accomplish there? Will there be new funding talked about, new plans about reaching new groups? What is this consolidated approach going to be?

MR. STEINBERG: Yeah, indeed. Once a year, the major development ministers from the OECD countries get together to coordinate to talk about larger development issues, to reflect on the state of what we’re doing. We have decided, as of yesterday at the request of the United States Government, to use that as an opportunity to draw us together to talk frankly about two issues – one, the situation in Southern Sudan and how we can promote an aggressive comprehensive response to the very exciting events in Juba with its independence, but secondly, to address the situation in the Horn of Africa.

We suspect that a number of ministers will come with new ideas, with new proposals for assistance. This is, as we’ve said, a rapidly changing environment, and we’ve already received very strong indications of international support coming together. We will also, in the Horn with Administrator Shah’s visit there, be coordinating with our partners UNHCR, OCHA, UNICEF, the World Food Program in particular, to ensure a coordinated and comprehensive response to what is, at present, one of the true impending disasters that we’re all facing.

QUESTION: Can I ask a Sudan question while we have Johnnie Carson here?

MS. FULTON: If you want.

QUESTION: There’s – I mean, there’s a letter going around today with a lot of activists talking about much tougher action against Sudan, including the possibility of drone strikes or cruise missile strikes to prevent ethnic cleansing going on in Southern Kordofan and Abyei, and I wonder if you’ve received these recommendations, whether you have any concerns about – what are your latest concerns about what’s going on in those two regions?

MS. FULTON: Would you indulge us?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CARSON: Just –

MS. FULTON: Thank you.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CARSON: — very, very briefly, only to say that we remain very focused on Sudan and the need to encourage both parties, North and South, to complete all of the elements of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement that have not yet been resolved. These issues are Abyei, they are also oil and transitional financial arrangements, they also include the need to resolve issues related to citizenship, and five, issues related to border demarcation. It is important that both sides resume their discussions as quickly as possible to move towards a resolution of all of these issues.

We also remain deeply concerned about the continuing violence that we have seen in Southern Kordofan, and we urge the Government of Sudan to move as quickly as possible to stop the violence that is being perpetrated by its soldiers, and to align itself, again, with its commitments under the global – under the Comprehensive Peace Agreement.

MS. FULTON: Thank you.

MR. STEINBERG: Can I –

MS. FULTON: Oh, yes.

MR. STEINBERG: — just comment very, very quickly? Because USAID is indeed launching, in a whole-of-government approach, a very aggressive response to the humanitarian crisis that we’ve talked about here with about 180,000 people driven from their homes, both from Abyei and from South Kordofan. We do, as Assistant Secretary Carson said, have a very serious access problem, and in – especially in the Nuba Mountains. And we have called aggressively, both bilaterally but also multilaterally, on the Government of Sudan to open up access to those regions, to allow humanitarian workers in, to, as Assistant Secretary Carson said, to cease the violence that is occurring now, and to reach a permanent solution to the question of the SPLM’s North role in that region.

MS. FULTON: Okay. With that, I’d like to thank our briefers and thank you, everyone, for joining us today.

 


Response to the Statement on the Passage of the Parental Responsibility Law in Tajikistan

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

The United States wishes to express its concern and disappointment that the lower house of Parliament in Tajikistan approved the “law on the responsibilities of parents in raising children.” Despite repeated protests from Tajikistan’s civil society, its citizens, and the international community, the Parliament has approved a law that grants the state power to interfere in family life and includes a ban on youth participation in religious communities, with very limited exceptions. If the ban is signed into law, it would effectively deny the right to worship to millions of citizens of Tajikistan under the age of 18. We note that the government already supports a de facto ban on women attending mosques. A government’s systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom are considered the threshold required for a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) under The International Religious Freedom (IRF) Act of 1998.

As we had advised the government of Tajikistan when it was considering the legislation, clauses in the parenting law constitute a significant violation of Tajikistan’s international human rights obligations, its constitutional guarantees to freedom of religion, and its freely undertaken OSCE commitments. We note that much of the support for the draft law comes from those advocating for the state’s responsibility to provide an education to its youth. Though we concur that states should ensure that every child has access to education, banning participation in religious communities is neither an acceptable nor an effective way of doing so. School attendance and participation in religious communities are not mutually exclusive. Though a state may insist that children attend school, it should not ban participation in religious communities outside of school hours.

We are also concerned, Mr. Chairman, that although thousands of Tajik citizens, including members of civil society and religious communities, expressed their concern with many elements of the law, the draft considered and approved by parliament contained few significant changes from the version proposed by the presidential administration. We call on the Upper House of Parliament and the President of Tajikistan to consider returning the parenting law to the lower house for significant revisions, including a removal of the ban on participation in religious communities.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

 


FACT SHEET: The U.S. Commitment to Cookstoves in Africa

In September 2010, U.S. Secretary of State Clinton announced the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, a public-private partnership led by the United Nations Foundation to save lives, improve livelihoods, empower women, and combat climate change by creating a thriving global market for clean and efficient household cooking solutions.  The Alliance’s 100 by 20 goal calls for 100 million homes to adopt clean and efficient stoves and fuels by 2020.

On the heels of Secretary Clinton’s visit to Africa this week, seven African nations have joined the Alliance, including Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Kenya, Lesotho, Rwanda, and Tanzania as well as the Nigerian Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, which includes four Nigerian federal ministries.

The Problem:  Nearly half of the world’s population – about 3 billion people – cooks their food each day on polluting, inefficient stoves. Exposure to smoke from traditional cookstoves and open fires is the fifth worst health risk factor in poor countries and leads to nearly 2 million premature deaths of mostly women and young children each year (more than twice the mortality from malaria).

More than 70% of Africans burn solid fuels such as wood, charcoal or crop residues for their home cooking needs.  The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that each year more than one quarter of the worldwide deaths associated with exposure to cookstove smoke occur in Africa – that equates to more than 550,000 deaths in Africa attributable to cookstoves.  Also according to WHO, out of the 23 countries in the world where cookstoves represent more than 4 percent of the national burden of disease*, 21 are in Africa.

New Alliance Countries By The Numbers**
Country Percent of population cooking with solid fuels Deaths per year Percent national burden of disease attributable to solid fuels
Burkina Faso More than 95 21,500

(6th highest figure in Africa)

8.5

(highest in the world)

Ethiopia More than 95 56,700

(2nd highest figure in Africa)

4.9
Kenya 63 13,000 2.9
Lesotho 83 400 0.8
Nigeria 67 79,000

(highest figure in Africa)

3.8
Rwanda More than 95 8,100 5.8 (7th highest in the world)
Tanzania More than 95 27,500

(4th highest figure in Africa)

4.9

 

A Global Alliance:  The Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves (Cleancookstoves.org) is working with public, private, and non-profit partners to help overcome market barriers and achieve large-scale production, deployment, and use of clean stoves and fuels in the developing world.  The Alliance comprises a rapidly growing list of nearly 100 public, private, philanthropic, NGO, academic, and other partners, including the governments of Norway, Denmark, El Salvador, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Malta, Peru, and the United Kingdom. The Ethiopian Government has an ambitious national effort to address the risks associated with cookstoves, and many leading partners of this sector are active in Ethiopia, including:  UNHCR, Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), the Netherlands Development Organisation (SNV), Project Gaia, and Bosch-Siemens.  World Vision is piloting other improved stoves in Ethiopia.

U.S. Government Commitment:  The United States Government has committed more than $50 million to the Alliance over five years. Participating U.S. agencies include: The State Department, Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Energy, Department of Health and Human Services (National Institutes of Health; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), and the U.S. Agency for International Development. The U.S. Government is mobilizing financial resources, providing top-level U.S. experts, and leveraging research and development tools to help the Alliance achieve its 100 by 20 target. Other U.S. agencies also are considering investments in this sector.

*According to the World Health Organization (WHO), burden of disease quantifies mortality and morbidity due to a given disease or risk factor.

**Numbers according to WHO.

Africa: U.S. Government Cookstoves Activity by Agency

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):  Working with the Alliance, CDC has begun investments on health evaluation related to clean and safe cookstoves in Kenya.  This effort will evaluate the introduction of new improved stoves in Nyanza Province, Kenya on reducing household pollution as a risk factor for childhood pneumonia and low birth weight.  In addition, this evaluation will provide critical information on stove acceptability, sustainability, and scalability of introducing new and improved stoves in rural Kenya.

Department of Energy (DOE):  DOE is partnering with World Vision on a project in Ethiopia (FY09-FY11) to develop a modification to the Berkeley-Darfur Stove, enabling it to work better with Ethiopian pots and cooking methods.  The modified stove is low-cost and can be easily assembled locally in large numbers to provide local employment.  Furthermore, the modified stove has proven to be comparable to or better than other competing stove products, according to third party tests conducted with Ethiopian women cooks.

Department of State:  State is leveraging diplomatic channels to engage new partners in Africa.  These include outreach to governments as well as private, non-governmental, and multi-lateral partners.  Several U.S. embassies in Africa are working with local cookstoves efforts, including in Ethiopia, Lesotho, Nigeria, Rwanda, and Tanzania.  The State Department leads the U.S. federal interagency discussions and coordination with the Alliance, and also coordinates diplomatic dialogues related to global partnerships, health, women’s issues, climate change, and the environment.

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA):  During her February 2011 visit to East Africa, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson promoted the use of clean cookstoves.  The EPA-led Partnership for Clean Indoor Air (PCIA) has 175 African partners that work in 21 countries and which will be integrated with the Alliance.  In 2010, PCIA Partners reported selling more than 800,000 clean and efficient cookstoves in Africa.  Specific activities include:  current scale-up projects in Ethiopia and Kenya; earlier pilot projects in Ghana, Mauritania, Nigeria, and Uganda (more than100,000 sales reported in 2010), including the first cookstove organization to be certified under the Gold Standard to receive voluntary carbon credits; in-house testing of many stoves sold in Africa; numerous stove testing workshops in Africa; and development of a decision support tool for choosing appropriate clean stove technologies.

National Institutes of Health (NIH):  The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences has begun a major 5-year study in Ghana to quantify improvements in birth weight and childhood pneumonia from a randomized intervention trial of improved cookstoves during the second trimester of pregnancy.  The study is being led by Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health in partnership with Kintampo Health Research Center of the Ghana Health Service.

Peace Corps:  Peace Corps Volunteers in Africa are working with communities to promote the use of improved cookstoves in 11 nations:  Benin, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Ethiopia, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mozambique, Senegal, Togo, and Zambia.

U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID):  USAID cookstoves activities in Africa include:  numerous field tests to determine local acceptance of fuel-efficient stoves in East Africa, especially in humanitarian settings; work with UN agencies to address household energy issues in humanitarian settings; work with Kenyatta University in Kenya to test the efficiency of stoves USAID hopes to promote in the Mt. Kenya and Mara-mau regions, areas rich in biodiversity and where local populations currently lack access to stove models marketed in urban markets; and partnership with World Wildlife Foundation to promote the use of efficient cookstoves in the area of Goma, Congo to cut charcoal use in half (most wood for charcoal production is extracted from the nearby Virunga National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site).

 


Harnessing Mobile Phone Technology To Improve Maternal and Child Health “Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action” Partnership Established

Secretary Clinton Announces MAMA
Secretary Clinton Announces the Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action (MAMA). State Department photo by Michael Gross

Today, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announced a new partnership, the Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action (MAMA), which will harness the power of mobile technology to deliver vital health information to new and expectant mothers.

The partnership leverages the collective resources of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and Johnson & Johnson, with support from the United Nations Foundation, mHealth Alliance and BabyCenter LLC. The partnership was developed in collaboration with the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and the Department of State.

Mobile health messages are able to quickly and easily disseminate information that will inform women of ways to care for themselves during pregnancy, dispel myths and misconceptions, highlight warning signs, connect women with local health services, reinforce breast feeding practices, explain the benefits of family planning, and make new mothers aware of how best to care for their babies.

Over the next three years, the partnership, which is expected to mobilize $10 million, will work across an initial set of three countries — Bangladesh, India, and South Africa — to help coordinate and increase the impact of existing mobile health programs, provide resources and technical assistance to promising new business models, and build the evidence base on the effective application of mobile technology to improve maternal health. Lessons learned from these and other initiatives will be shared globally in a coordinated exchange of information. The partnership will foster collaboration among similar initiatives in other countries to accelerate efforts to reach millions of women with mobile phone access around the world.

“If we are going to improve public health across the developing world, our solutions must be focused on reaching the hard to reach with health information they otherwise would not receive,” said USAID Administrator Raj Shah. “This partnership will harness the power of mobile technology to provide mothers with information about pregnancy, childbirth, and the first year of life, empowering these women to make healthy decisions for themselves and their families.”

“Better health for communities starts with better health for expectant and new moms. This public-private partnership adds another way we are extending our commitment to moms everywhere,” says Bill Weldon, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Johnson & Johnson. “It’s part of fulfilling our commitment to the UN Secretary General’s Global Strategy to advance the Millennium Development Goals.”

“Instead of imagining a world where the health of mothers benefits from mobile phones, we are answering the call today to make it happen,” said Kathy Calvin, CEO of the UN Foundation and member of the Partnership Board of the mHealth Alliance. “This new initiative will take the vision that world leaders and the UN Secretary-General announced last year and turn it into action.”

“This is an exciting approach to using technological innovation to address development challenges,” said United States Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra. “The growing global network of mobile health information programs will deepen our understanding of how best to use mobile phones as a tool to improve women’s and children’s health.”

Each institution will play a unique role in this partnership. Founding partners, USAID and Johnson & Johnson, will provide funding and strategic leadership. Supporting partners, including the UN Foundation, mHealth Alliance, and BabyCenter LLC, part of the Johnson & Johnson Family of Companies, will provide expertise, tools, resources, and a forum to exchange knowledge and share best practices to support the research and extend the reach of promising initiatives.

The partnership supports President Obama’s Policy Directive on Global Development, his Global Health Initiative and the United Nations Secretary General’s Global Strategy for Women’s and Children’s Health.

For more information on the partnership please visit www.mobilemamaalliance.org.

 


Unveiling of the Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action

Secretary Clinton Announces MAMA
Secretary Clinton Announces the Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action (MAMA). State Department photo by Michael Gross

Thank you. Thank you very, very much. Thank you. Well, I’m grateful for all of you being here today. Thank you, Don, for that introduction. But this is for me a labor of love to highlight maternal and child health. It’s an issue that is personally a high priority, and it is one to our government and the Obama Administration, and especially to families around the world.

It is exciting to see this partnership come together. I know that Raj Shah, our Administrator of USAID, would have been here but he’s in South Africa with a very important delegation on a number of health-related issues. And I want to recognize the innovative agenda that Raj is leading at USAID, and this morning is another example of that. Along with Don Steinberg, we have Maura O’Neill from USAID and Aneesh Chopra from the White House to reinforce the U.S. Government’s commitment to this issue.

I’d also like to welcome Representatives Betty McCollum and Lynn Woolsey, both of whom are relentless champions for the health of newborns and mothers, and they’ve made safety and survival of women and girls their global health priorities. I’d like both Representative McCollum and Representative Woolsey to stand up because we need our congressional partners. (Applause.)

I also want to thank Bill Weldon, CEO of Johnson & Johnson, for being a strong and committed partner. And I’m so pleased we’re joined by other partners, including Kathy Calvin from the UN Foundation, Tina Sharkey from BabyCenter, and Karl Brown from the mHealth Alliance. I really believe individuals can make a big difference, and that’s why we’re so pleased to have Christy Turlington Burns, who’s an inspiring individual, who is taking action on this issue as well.

Now Sunday is Mother’s Day, in case any of you need reminding. And many of us will find ways to celebrate and thank our mothers, and we’ll be grateful for all of the blessings that we’ve been given. But let’s not forget that becoming a mother can be a dangerous and life threatening undertaking. Every year, nearly 360,000 women worldwide don’t survive childbirth. Four million babies die during childbirth or within a few weeks. Most of these deaths can be prevented.

And there are some encouraging trends. Recent data confirms that the global maternal mortality ratio has declined 34 percent between 1990 and 2008. In Bangladesh, for example, maternal mortality has gone down by 40 percent. In Nepal, where it was the first time, many years ago, that I saw a birthing kit, which some of you know is one of UNICEF’s great contributions, and in Nepal it’s dropped 50 percent. So our investments in family planning and maternal and newborn health have contributed to a decline of at least 30 percent in maternal deaths in 19 countries. And I want to underscore that because all too often people wonder, well, what happens with this money that you spend and that the Congress appropriates to be spent? Well, this is one example of where we can really trace U.S. Government efforts that have made a difference in the lives of women, babies, and children.

So it’s clear that with the right tools, the right partnerships, and the right commitment, we can achieve real results. It’s not only the right thing to do; it is the smart thing to do as well. Improving the health and status of women and girls acts as a positive multiplier because when women succeed, they lift themselves, they lift their families and their communities along with them. According to a recent analysis published in The Lancet, half the reduction in child mortality over the past 40 years can be directly attributed to better education for women. If a woman knows better how to care for her child, she will demand more and receive more, enabling her to do so.

So that’s why we’ve put women and children at the heart of our development efforts, including our Global Health Initiative. Through the Global Health Initiative, we’ve set very ambitious new targets for improvement in maternal and child health and access to family planning. We want our efforts to be broad-based, self-sustaining, and country-led. So we’re working to build health systems that give women and children access to an integrated package of essential health services, from prenatal care and skilled birth attendants to reproductive healthcare, immunization services, and the prevention for mother-to-child HIV transmission.

We’re funding scientists to identify what works to improve women and children’s health and to spread those practices. We’re also working together to remove barriers, and there are still so many barriers. There are economic barriers, cultural barriers, social and even legal barriers that keep women from getting access to healthcare. And we’re creating these innovative, cross-cutting solutions that depend upon better coordination on the ground.

We’ve recently launched an initiative to spur innovation, prevention, and treatment for pregnant women and newborns, as well as an alliance to increase access to family planning and reduce maternal and neonatal deaths in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. Last year, we started the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, something that I have to confess I wasn’t as focused on until I really began paying attention because cooking a meal for your family is something that people do every single day, mostly women. But the toxic smoke caused by open fires or unventilated cookstoves kills nearly 2 million women and young children every year. So I think we have a lot that we know needs to be done and a lot of opportunities to do it better.

Today, I am pleased to announce another tool in our arsenal, another roster of impressive partners, to create the Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action, or MAMA. (Laughter.) I love acronyms when they work. (Laughter.) Together with Johnson & Johnson and with the help of the UN Foundation, the mHealth Alliance and BabyCenter, we will harness the power of mobile technology to deliver vital health information to mothers across the globe. Women in developing countries, some of the women most at risk for pregnancy-related problems, will be able to use their cell phones to get health information via text messages or voicemails, and the information can even be customized for the stage of pregnancy or the age of their children. Over the next three years, this $10 million partnership will be piloted in three countries – Bangladesh, South Africa, and India – and if it is successful, as we expect it to be, we will expand it. We have the ability, therefore, to help more women live healthy lives and more babies to get off to a healthy start; and that’s why we have to keep asking ourselves what works and let’s take it to scale, and if it doesn’t work, let’s quit doing it and find something more innovative and effective.

Thanks to the attention of the UN Secretary General and other leaders, we’re finally giving this issue the attention it deserves. And there are so many of you in this room, as I look around, who have been leading voices. You’ve been advocates, policy makers, service providers, leaders in every sector. And I thank you, because it’s going to take all of us. This has to be a team effort, because there is so much to be done and so many positive results that we can achieve together.

So let me now have the great pleasure of welcoming to the podium the CEO of Johnson & Johnson – and I thank him and all of the representatives of J&J for being part of this very exciting program – Bill Weldon. (Applause.)

 
 

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