When sitting down for an interview with a news agency two days earlier, Henrietta Fore, Executive Director of UNICEF, also wore a smile, very grandmotherly.
However, her smiling face immediately turned solemn when the tragic life of children in Yemen and other turbulent countries was touched upon.
Nevertheless, exceptional confidence and strong will were detected in the narration of this UNICEF Chief, who took her office only one year ago. In the same vein as other Senior UN Officials, Fore deemed cooperation with China fairly important.
Each day, eight children are killed or injured in Yemen, Fore and UNICEF made this number widely known through their statements and social media accounts.
Describing the crisis in Yemen as “the largest humanitarian crisis that we have today” and “a man-made one,” Fore called great attention to the fate of hundreds of thousands of children still struggling in the conflict started by adults who have changed the fate of their sons and daughters completely.
“The children are the ones who really bear the brunt of it,” said Fore, while pledging that UNICEF will “try the utmost” to keep those children healthy, “nourished” and educated.
“We can try to make sure that they get their early vaccines. If we can keep diseases at bay, then we have a chance to save the populations,” she said.
Noting that water and sanitation facilities are “taken for granted” in developed countries, she said “one cannot take them for granted in places like Yemen.”
“So, UNICEF works very hard on water systems, because clean water is the number one commodity that you need, if you’re a family, if you’re a mother wanting to cook dinner, or if you are a child who needs a drink,” she said.
As education is important for those children, “we can try to keep them in school,” she said, while admitting that it is a “difficult” job as schools and hospitals are “targeted and bombed.”
“Talks and conferences have so far done little to change the reality for children on the ground. Only a comprehensive peace agreement can give Yemeni children the reprieve from violence and war that they need and deserve,” she said.
Yemen has a population of more than 22 million with some 80 percent in need of humanitarian assistance, including more than 11 million children. Since the conflict escalated in March 2015, the country has become “a living hell” for its children, UNICEF said.
Around 394,000 children under 5 years old are suffering from severe acute malnutrition and need treatment. The damage and closure of schools and hospitals have disrupted access to education and health services, leaving children even more vulnerable and robbing them of their futures.
Invest in Children Future
The suffering of children in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar district, one of the world’s largest refugee camps, is also among Fore’s top concerns.
“The children I met were bright, eager, enthusiastic, and absolutely unforgettable. We must invest in their future,” Fore said on Twitter, sharing her recent visit to the district.
Video clips showed Fore’s mingling with innocent children in Cox’s Bazar, where all people captured by the camera were wearing smiles, though the sight of a colossal refugee camp suggested unimaginable hardships and difficulties.
The Bangladesh government has managed to allow 700,000 Rohingya refugees to stay in Cox’s Bazar, Fore said, noting it has been “a great credit” to Bangladesh.
Fore was proud of what UNICEF is doing for the children there, saying that some 155,000 Rohingya children are attending UNICEF’s 1,800 learning centres.
Fore visited Cox’s Bazar in the dry season, but she said that it will become a disaster scene when rains come.
“The moment the rains come, this will become a sandy, muddy mass,” she said, noting that the houses were barely built “as shanties with a bit of bamboo and plastic sheeting on top.”
She also called attention to security problems in the district, where shooting, raping and even dismemberment of people often take place.
Urging the international community to help the children there, Fore said that efforts must be made to mobilise more financial resources to help them and “invest in their future.”
UNICEF & China
Speaking of the cooperation between UNICEF and China, Fore said that it has been “very strong.”
“UNICEF and China are a long story,” she said. “We’ve been working in China for the past 40 years in close partnership in many places in the country and on many subjects.”
Fore singled out the “Barefoot Village Program,” in which the community workers go out and help very poor and undeserved communities.
The program is a UNICEF-China cooperation project launched in 2010 in 120 villages across five Chinese provinces to reach children affected by HIV/AIDS.
Built on the same concept as the “barefoot doctors” who became famous for bringing health care to rural areas in China decades ago, the project is to reach poor and remote children in a cost-effective and efficient way.
Fore also gave thumbs-up to China’s huge strides in poverty alleviation.
“We’ve been part of the group of friends who have watched with great respect and admiration the number of Chinese people who have been brought out of poverty,” she said with a smile.
“You have a remarkable story in China, and UNICEF has been a friend through it all,” she added.
Fore has spoken highly of the Belt and Road Initiative proposed by China, and said UNICEF could be “a good partner” in countries along the Belt and Road.
“UNICEF is there, ready to be a public-private partner and so we will hope that people will reach out to us and that we can work more in these countries,” she said, adding that UNICEF would love to do more in China and the rest of the world as well.
“We would look forward to working many more years together in China in much larger, more substantive ways, ” Fore said.
“Whether it is with the Belt and Road Initiative, or whether it is in humanitarian foreign assistance programs, or whether it is in public private partnerships, or whether it’s with foundations or nonprofit organisations, we are open to all,” she said.