UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman in Tonk, Rajasthan, on her first trip to India as head of the agency.
By Rob McBride
JAIPUR/NEW DELHI, India, 12 December 2005 – In terms of social development, it is one of the most backward corners of rural India, but there was certainly nothing held back in the warmth of the welcome. Hundreds of villagers in the remote district of Tonk in Rajasthan turned out to greet UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman at the end of her week-long trip to India.
With 425 million children, India is home to UNICEF's largest country programme by far. It is here in this dusty corner of this vast country that a programme is being developed to improve conditions for all children in India and, ultimately, around the world. The programme, which integrates services for children and mothers, has been having a remarkable impact on child survival and development.
"When you integrate the kinds of interventions for children from immunizations to – later in life – getting an education and dealing with the mother’s health, all of these are critical to a healthy child and a healthy childhood.”
Infant mortality in this district runs at 93 deaths per 1,000 live births, compared with a national average of 60 per 1,000. Less than a third of women and girls are literate and more than half of all young children are malnourished. To add to hardships in this desert landscape, just over half of all water sources are contaminated with excess fluoride. But as challenging as the picture is, this district at least has seen big improvements thanks to the integrated approach.
“It is an approach that we know produces greater results," said Ms. Veneman. "When you integrate the kinds of interventions for children from immunizations to – later in life – getting an education and dealing with the mother’s health, all of these are critical to a healthy child and a healthy childhood.”
In Rajasthan as a whole literacy rates have been raised from 39 per cent in 1991 to 60 per cent in 2001. She congratulated the state government on the achievement, but urged greater efforts by all agencies to curb the unacceptably high malnutrition rate among young children and protect them from vaccine-preventable diseases.
For UNICEF integration is the key, which will ultimately help children, to achieving the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals. "I think what you have seen this morning," said UNICEF Representative in India Cecilio Adorno at the end of the extensive visit, "is actually proof that when a strategy with committed people is applied in a locality, your Millennium Development Goal is not very far away.”