South Sudanese Troops Caught Stealing UNICEF School Bags | 

Carl de Souza/AFP

AFP photographer Carl de Souza captured images of a group of South Sudanese military members marching with bright blue backpacks. The bags adorn the logo of the UN’s children agency UNICEF and were intended for young children affected by the ongoing crisis in South Sudan.

Spokeswoman Sarah Crowe strongly condemned the act of theft by the South Sudanese military.

“Such thefts display a complete disregard for the principle of protection of civilians and respect for humanitarian work,” Crowe said, urging the warring factions to “take appropriate action against the theft and use of supplies that are intended for the welfare of civilians – especially children,” said Crowe to AFP.

She said that a ‘large amount’ of supplies delivered by UNICEF and other humanitarian organizations have been stolen during the conflict. There have been other reported thefts at schools and hospitals. The already thin humanitarian response in South Sudan, due to funding shortfalls, struggles to meet the need of the more than 800,000 people displaced.

The UN estimates there are roughly 3 million people in need of immediate food assistance and as many as 7 million will need food aid by the end of the year.

Access has been another obstacle to relief work. Medical supplies were airlifted by UNICEF into South Sudan two weeks ago. The 35 tons transported included midwifery and obstetric surgery kits, malaria treatments, nutrients and tents.

“Children are dying from malnutrition and diseases that can be prevented in times of peace – such as measles and malaria. Our most urgent plea now is for all parties in the conflict to allow these humanitarian supplies to be transported and distributed safely to the children who have no part in this conflict,” said Dermot Carty, UNICEF Deputy Director of Emergency Programs.

Child mortality down, but still too many millions of poor children dying | 

That’s the gist of a new report from UNICEF, which celebrates the significant reductions made over the years in reducing the number of children dying mostly in poor countries and mostly from easily preventable causes like hunger, lack of clean water and lack of access to basic health care.

The numbers are, like most global statistics, large and abstract but compelling nevertheless: In 1990, something like 12 million kids were dying before they reached five years old. Today, despite population growth, the estimate is closer to 6 million child deaths under age five.

That’s a major reduction, but it still means 18,000 young children are dying from mostly preventable causes every day.  As UNICEF’s director in the organization’s announcement of the report says:

“Yes, we should celebrate the progress,” said Anthony Lake, UNICEF Executive Director. “But how can we celebrate when there is so much more to do before we reach the goal?  And we can speed up the progress – we know how, but we need to act with a renewed sense of urgency.”

Many are crediting the setting of the Millennium Development Goals, which nearly 15 years ago established reducing global child mortality as one of the eight primary goals of the international community.  But as this graphic from the World Bank illustrates, declining child mortality has been the trend for a long time – well before the MDGs were established.

Under 5 Mortality
World Bank

So why are child deaths on a decline, and what should be done to maintain this trend? Much of the overall progress has been in China, almost certainly due to the health improvements that often accompany economic gains. Yet China, India, Nigeria, Pakistan and DR Congo remain the countries with the highest numbers of premature child deaths.

Many experts contend what’s needed now is less a ranking of mortality country-by-country and more focus on what’s happening to specific populations by various causes. This is due to the fact that many of the poorest people live in middle-income countries and death comes sometimes from political or social drivers as much as from infectious disease.

Martin Drewry, director of London-based Health Poverty Action, said a deeper look reveals to what extent discrimination and ethnic persecution correlates with child death rates. Drewry wants more attention to this:

“The report makes a very brief reference to disparities in mortality within countries, but it is vital that this disparity becomes a driver for deciding development priorities and resource allocations,” he said. Here’s a report from his organization making the case for ‘disaggregating’ the data.

“People from ethnic and cultural minorities frequently have poorer health outcomes than the national average,” contended Drewry. “Health Poverty Action is calling for health data to be broken down by ethnicity. The disparities between different groups within countries needs to be made visible and this information used to drive strategy.”

Other news stories or blog posts on the UNICEF report:

CBS Child deaths down, but many still dying

VOA Child mortality reduced by half

ONE How many children survived to see their 5th birthday?

UN Dispatch Child mortality way down

UNICEF’s digital tool that reunites families | 


Sudden humanitarian disasters can separate families. The trauma is then compounded further by the difficulty in reuniting family members. That problem may be one of the past.

A new UNICEF tool provides a quick way to bring families back together. The digital registration tool called Rapid Family Tracing and Reunification (RapidFTR) helps stranded children reunite with their families.

UNICEF, Save the Children and the Uganda Red Cross are using RapidFTR for Congolese families displaced in Uganda.

“Before RapidFTR, we would have to use paper and fill out lots of forms to get all the details,” said Child Protection Officer of Save the Children Fatuma Arinaitwe. “This took a lot of time, and then we would go around with a list of names and ask people if they knew these children.” Continue reading

Resistance to Polio Vaccines in Pakistan Beyond the Taliban | 

Two more polio vaccine workers were shot dead in northwest Pakistan on Sunday. It is the latest attack on polio eradication efforts in Pakistan that extends back to a series of attacks at the end of 2012. The BBC cites 17 polio vaccine worker deaths in the past few months.

Polio is down, but not out in Pakistan. 35 cases of polio were recorded in Pakistan last year. Vaccines play a key role in eradicating polio. The lack of security in Pakistan and uncertain safety for vaccine workers means an estimated 240,000 children have missed polio vaccines, says the UN. Continue reading

UNICEF asks people to stop ‘liking’ things on Facebook & send money | 

Like“Liking” a world without poverty and injustice, on Facebook, is thought to be an act of good will.

Proponents see such acts on social media as a way to build an audience, show support of a movement and reach more people through engagement. Opponents of such simple clicks of a mouse call it slacktivism – a superficial fix that makes people feel like they are doing something when in most cases it makes no difference.

So some experts decided to research social media activism and find out what people really thought. A survey conducted with YouGov, a crowd-sourced polling service, found that many people feel acting via social media is sufficient. One in five respondents said that a ‘like’ on Facebook is a good way of supporting an organization.

The survey found that one in seven people think that liking an organization on Facebook is as good as donating money.

UNICEF Sweden, for one, decided it needed to push back on this with a little humor.

“We like likes, and social media could be a good first step to get involved, but it cannot stop there,” explained UNICEF Sweden Director of Communications Petra Hallebrant. “Likes don’t save children’s lives. We need money to buy vaccines for instance.” Continue reading

UNICEF Gets a Little Bit Cooler and More Innovative | 

Erica Kochi and Christopher Fabian work together on mapping the future of innovation at UNICEF House, New York
Erica Kochi and Christopher Fabian work together on mapping the future of innovation at UNICEF House, New York
Susan Markisz

Celebrities often fill the pages of the annual TIME 100 list. The 2013 list fulfills that trend with the inclusion of Beyonce, Sheryl Sandberg, Jay Z, and Justin Timberlake. A more cynical article would gripe about placing musician Beyonce and skier Lindsey Vonn in the same ‘icon’ category as a woman who endured years of house arrest in an oppressive country (Aung San Suu Kyi) and a pair of women who survived assassination attempts (Malala Yousafzai and Gabby Giffords).

Heck, we here in Humanosphere are ones to do that more often than not. But I can’t help but remain fixated on the inclusion of two ‘pioneers’ from UNICEF, Chris Fabian and Erica Kochi. The two are the co-leaders of the innovation unit over at UNICEF. That’s right, one of the oldest development institutions has a group devoted to innovative solutions. Here is just a things the team is doing as summarized by Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey for TIME:

More than half of the 6 million births each year in Nigeria are not recorded. Without a birth certificate, a child is much less likely to get educated, be vaccinated or receive health services. Two young UNICEF staffers — Erica Kochi and Christopher Fabian — moving fast within their 66-year-old organization, have made registering a birth as easy as sending a text. They’ve employed similar methods to prevent early deaths as well, creating systems to track the distribution of some 63 million insecticide-treated mosquito bed nets to stop the spread of malaria. Erica and Chris are using technology and accessible, intuitive interfaces to quickly transform the face of humanitarian aid and international development. The world will benefit from their continued efforts.

The most notable achievement by the pair is the open source technology tool RapidSMS. The tool uses cell phone text messages for collecting data that supports logistics coordination, database building and improved coordination. Its simple set up allows development organizations of any size to support their work through mobile phones. It is one of the more important developments in the realm of mHealth and it is no mistake that Kochi played a game of musical chairs at the 2012 edition of the mHealth Summit by shuffling from one panel to the next. Continue reading

US graded low on child well-being, UNICEF says | 

UNICEF has put out an analysis and interactive mapping tool ranking the wealthier countries on how they do when it comes to child well-being. The US is right down there in the bottom third of this report card, with Lithuania and Romania. Go Team America! (Below is just a screen grab. Go to link)

UNICEF child well-being report card


Syria’s Children: A Lost Generation? | 

Syrian boy in refugee camp
Syrian boy in refugee camp
Flickr, UNICEF

More than one million people are on the run in Syria, and most experts say this massive refugee situation is likely to get much worse before it gets better.

As always, it is often the children who tend to suffer the most.

The crisis in Syria today compares to massive historic tragedies, Iraq in 1991 and Rwanda, 1994, in terms of the number of people displaced. An additional 2 million Syrians are internally displaced. With as many as 8,000 people leaving Syria every day the UN is concerned that the number of refugees may triple by the end of the year.

That means as much as 15% of all Syrians could be refugees by the end of the year.

Several new reports out this week emphasize the harm this crisis is doing to children – a harm that can persist after the crisis passes, which makes responding to it now more urgent than ever. Continue reading