The death of Alfred Nobel at San Remo on December 10, 1896, robbed the world of a highly talented person. At the same time the world was enriched by a document, a testament, which has provided growth and stimulus to the ideals and the compelling desire for research that provided the guiding star in Alfred Nobel’s rich but lonely life.
In his will Nobel directed that the interest on his fortune should be divided among those persons who have rendered the greatest services to mankind. On the subject of the Peace Prize he categorically states that it is to be awarded to the person who has done most to promote brotherhood among the nations.
Alfred Nobel, particularly in the later years of his life, was much preoccupied with the problem of peace. This emerges inter alia from his correspondence with Bertha von Suttner, the author of the pacifist novel “Lay Down Your Arms.” Many people imbued with constructive ideas have, like Nobel, both before and after his time, devoted their attention to this apparently simple but as yet unsolved problem, that of promoting brotherhood among men and building a world free from war. During the course of time many profound theories have been developed to show how international relations should be organized in order to ensure the attainment of peace.
Personally, I have found no answer either in the works of the philosophers or in those of the legal experts. Maybe, after all, the only valid solution is to be found in the simple words our own poet Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson wrote as he lay on his deathbed in Paris in 1910. These words formed the first line of a poem which was never completed but which begins as follows: “Good deeds save the world.”
We have come together here today to pay tribute, by the award of the Nobel Peace Prize, to an organization – UNICEF – because in giving life to Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson’s words, it has fulfilled the condition of Nobel’s will, the promotion of brotherhood among the nations.
UNICEF was set up by a United Nations resolution on December 11, 1946. The resolution was unanimous, but I well remember1 that in United Nations circles in New York that autumn we had a great many discussions with various politicians as to whether the UN really ought to organize a children’s fund. The United Nations, many maintained, was a political forum which was not justified in dealing with such “minor, peripheral” problems as aid to children. During the war the organization UNRRA had carried out large-scale humanitarian work for children, prisoners, and refugees in Europe and in China; for various reasons it was now being liquidated.2
A number of people expressed the opinion that, now that peace was a fact, national children’s organizations should take over the work of caring for the children of each country.
Today there is no disagreement on justifying UNICEF as part of the United Nations.
As you know, it is not always easy to achieve unanimity in the United Nations. This is understandable when one considers that we are dealing here with 118 member states representing every race, nation, political ideology, and religious creed. But everyone has understood the language of UNICEF, and even the most reluctant person is bound to admit that in action UNICEF has proved that compassion knows no national boundaries. As soon as all the resolutions relative to the form of organization, mandate, and financing of UNICEF were clarified, the organization set to work.
It was a blessing for UNICEF and the millions of children it took to its heart that from the very first day of its existence it had a leader like Mr. Maurice Pate.3 He was UNICEF’s never slumbering conscience. He never allowed formalities to impede him in his work; in his opinion the essential object was that good deeds should be carried out as swiftly and as effectively as possible. He recruited his fellow-workers from among those who were prepared uncompromisingly, to quote Bjørnson, to pursue “the policy of compassion.”
Maurice Pate was the head of UNICEF for eighteen years, up to his death this year. He was an unassuming person, but on the road that leads to peace, where politicians are still groping their way in the dark, Maurice Pate has lit many a candle. He has been succeeded by Henry Labouisse,4 a man eminently qualified by experience for this task, who was chosen by Maurice Pate, nominated by the Secretary-General, and unanimously approved by the Executive Board.5
UNICEF’s first field of operations was in Europe.
What did Europe look like in 1946? And how were Europe’s children living at the conclusion of the World War? The Swedish poet Hjalmar Gullberg provides us with an unforgettable picture in his poem “Europe’s Children”:
“That we had fixed the padlock on our fate, That hardly mattered; Though finespun dreams had lulled the very soul, Our peace of mind was shattered: Beyond the palings, Europe’s children hold aloft Their begging-bowl.”
These were the children UNICEF came to help in Europe during that fearful, bitter winter of 1947 – undernourished, ill, clad in rags, homeless, and starved after five years of war and occupation. We came across them everywhere – in the ruins of cities, in refugee camps, in bombed villages in Hungary, Yugoslavia, Albania, Poland, Italy, Greece, Rumania, and Austria. UNICEF itself calculated that in Europe in 1947 the number of needy children amounted to twenty million. It was for these children in fourteen different countries that UNICEF provided a lifeline – a stream of food, medicine, clothes, and footwear. Never before had we witnessed an international relief campaign for children on such a scale. During the winter of 1947-1948 UNICEF was able to report that it gave six million children and mothers one meal everyday.
Fortunately the economic reconstruction of Europe after the war proceeded relatively quickly. After four or five years our countries were able to look after their children themselves.
But no sooner did the European aid program approach a point of solution than the outlines of another menacing specter appeared, the inconceivable social misery of the developing countries.
As each of these countries solved its problem of national independence, the plight of their child population came more sharply into focus. Suddenly in one single year, 1960, we find seventeen new states inscribed on the map of Africa. In a matter of a few years the membership of the United Nations rose from fifty-one states to 118. The majority of these new states are what we call developing countries.
Various factors, among them, the modern mass media of communication – TV and broadcasting – with their dissemination of factual information on the social misery endured in these countries, made it a moral imperative for the wealthy nations of the West to come to the assistance of these countries.
The United Nations Economic and Social Council soon realized the scope of this task, and the efforts of its many specialist organizations, such as the World Health Organization, FAO, and UNICEF, were directed to this work.
In 1946 UNICEF had been organized as a provisional emergency organization. In 1953 the United Nations General Assembly decided to make UNICEF its permanent child-aid organization, with the emphasis on work in the developing countries.
UNICEF now took up the second great task in its history, that of improving the indescribably miserable conditions in which hundreds of millions of children lived in the developing countries.
UNICEF cannot do this work on its own. It can work only in countries whose governments solicit its aid, and the countries receiving this aid must contribute at least as much as UNICEF itself in carrying out aid programs. While the aid given by UNICEF generally consists of technical assistance, and of commodities and equipment which must be purchased with foreign currency, the recipient country makes its contribution in the form of its own products, local personnel, transport services, and so on. The interest in UNICEF’s aid programs for children has been so great that the contribution of governments now comprises two and a half dollars for every UNICEF dollar that is given. In fact, the aim of UNICEF’s work is precisely to provide a spur to self-help.
The aid given must cover all children in an area, regardless of race, creed, nationality, or political conviction.
At the head of UNICEF today there is a board consisting of representatives from thirty member countries; it is this board that lays down the broad outlines of the work to be carried out, evaluates requests for help, and decides the extent of such help. Today UNICEF’s Secretariat consists of some 600 persons, some of them working at the headquarters in New York, and some at the thirty regional offices in Europe, America, Asia, and Africa.
UNICEF is financed by gifts from governments, private individuals, and organizations. In 1964, 118 countries contributed a total of thirty-three million dollars.
What does UNICEF accomplish with this money?
First of all, it must be borne in mind that the field of work to be covered is enormous, embracing over 118 developing countries, with a total population of 750 million children, whose needs for better food, better health, and better teaching are far, far greater than the modest 200 million kroner now at the disposal of UNICEF. This sum corresponds approximately to the amount which is spent in the world today every two hours for armaments.
However, let us not be dismayed at the thought of the still inadequate amounts of money available. What is most important is that for the first time in history we possess an international device capable of tackling the giant task of liberating the children of the developing countries – who are, all of them, our joint responsibility – from ignorance, disease, malnutrition, and starvation. The most important thing is not the precise amount in terms of hard cash; what is far more important is the breakthrough of international cooperation that UNICEF represents.
The English historian Arnold Toynbee says that our century will probably be remembered, not for its two world wars, but as the period in history when, for the first time, the idea of mutual help between people, aimed at raising the standard of living everywhere, was accepted.
Today, through its work, UNICEF is helping to confirm this conception of the twentieth century.
When UNICEF started operations in the developing countries, the task appeared so overwhelming that it was difficult to know where to begin. To people aware of the tremendous advances made by medical science in the countries of the West and the comprehensive health services enjoyed by the inhabitants of these countries, it seemed outrageous that hundreds of millions of children should be suffering from diseases which we today have means of combating. This group wanted to give first priority to the campaign against such national scourges as malaria, trachoma, tuberculosis, and yaws.
Others pointed to the limitless extent of undernourishment and malnutrition on the one hand, and the tremendous surplus stores of grain and meat in Western countries on the other hand. They would have preferred to concentrate on the campaign to raise the standard of nutrition.
A third group pointed to the necessity of overcoming illiteracy, since an ignorant population could not possibly achieve the economic growth that was needed.
Which of these courses did UNICEF choose?
It can be said that all three problems were approached simultaneously, for it was realized that these evils – disease, starvation, and ignorance – form arcs of the same vicious circle.
When we consider the results that UNICEF has achieved today, we must keep in mind that they have been achieved in fruitful cooperation with the World Health Organization, with FAO, UNESCO, and the various technical aid organizations within the United Nations.
Cooperating with the World Health Organization, UNICEF has made a sizeable contribution in the fight against malaria, a disease which by 1955 attacked an estimated 200 million victims annually, of whom two million died. When one hears these staggering figures, he asks himself: Is there any use at all in taking up the fight?
One of the best examples of the progress that has been achieved comes to us from Mexico, where UNICEF, together with other UN organs, was able to call on the services of 2,800 men who, on foot, on horseback, and in motorboats, traversed the length and breadth of the country, disinfecting three million houses with DDT in the course of 1960 alone. Not a single death due to malaria was reported in 1960. Agricultural production, too, went up; and the government is now planning to move several million people from the central, overpopulated highland areas down to the areas along the coast which are now free from malaria.
In combating the painful and sinister disease of yaws, UNICEF has made a major contribution. In 1946 this scourge afflicted a total of fifty million victims; while the disease is not fatal, it results in the stunting and disfigurement of the human body. And yet this sickness, which brings so much misery to the individual, can be completely cured by a single shot of penicillin at a cost of five kroner.
When Indonesia became independent in 1949, its government asked UNICEF to assist in the fight against yaws. It was calculated in 1950 that ten million people in Indonesia suffered from this ailment. With the World Health Organization, UNICEF has succeeded in liberating whole villages from this disease; and in a few years’ time yaws will be completely eradicated in Indonesia.
We could also mention the ten million children who were treated for the tremendously infectious eye malady known as trachoma, or the treatment given to millions of lepers in as many as thirty-five countries. Mass examinations of the population and anti-TB vaccinations have also been carried out on a massive scale.
In the prosperous parts of the world we are concerned with our diet problem. Many people are concerned because they eat too much, and they worry about the ill effects. In the developing countries, unfortunately, the problem is the very opposite. Experts calculate that in these countries half the population are undernourished or suffer from malnutrition. One of the results is an infant mortality rate of up to four hundred per thousand. In Norway it is seventeen per thousand.
UNICEF has launched a number of projects in an endeavor to improve the nutrition of mothers and children. This work is carried on through information work in the nearly 20,000 health centers for mothers and children that UNICEF has organized. It is also done by granting financial aid for the building of dairies, of factories for the production of dried milk and for the conservation of milk, or – as in Chile – for building a factory for the production of large quantities of fishmeal. The aim is primarily to encourage the production of foodstuffs rich in protein, such as fish, which can be bred on a large scale in fish farms or in paddy fields under water.
UNICEF’s initiative in these areas is important because it represents the first systematic attempt ever made to coordinate scientific endeavors all over the world to produce food rich in protein for children in the developing countries.
I have mentioned a third area: the struggle against illiteracy, to which UNICEF, in collaboration with UNESCO, has made a notable contribution.
If we review UNICEF’s activities, we shall find that during these years it has carried out hundreds of aid programs in developing countries in the health-nutrition-and-education field.
Today UNICEF is about to embark on a third stage in its development.
At the moment there is a tremendous interest in most developing countries in working out nationwide schemes of economic planning. In the discussion revolving around these development plans, the primary matter of interest is how large investments can be made in industry, agriculture, and communications. And yet, maybe these words of Nehru6 contain a dangerous truth: “In one way or another in all our thinking on development plans for factory plants and machinery, we lose sight of the fact that, in the last analysis, development depends on the human factor.”
It is this fundamental viewpoint that prompts UNICEF’s efforts at the present time to ensure that the interests of the children are safeguarded in the development plans now being drawn up. UNICEF is here building on the principle of the child’s right to social security and education and of other rights adopted by the United Nations in 1959 in the Declaration of the Rights of the Child.7 And in the same way as we have seen the fundamental principles of the Declaration of Human Rights incorporated in the constitutions of many of the new countries, it is hoped that it will be possible to incorporate the rights of the child in the economic and social structure of these new states.
It is this hope that inspired the invitation that was sent out to attend the round table conference in Italy, initiated by UNICEF in 1964. Those who took part in this conference were ministers, economists, and child-welfare experts. The conclusion arrived at was that, in the long run, no economic development is possible unless the growth of a healthy and enlightened generation of children is given priority in the plans for development.
Maximum aid must be given by the prosperous countries if this gigantic task is to be accomplished; and we possess the material and technical potential for giving this aid. The miracles of technology seem to be limitless; we have within our grasp the possibility of satisfying practically every material need on earth. In fact, in our ambition we move beyond the confines of this world, literally stretching our arms toward the moon. On the other hand, there are millions of people who do not possess a spade for digging their meager soil.
Today the people of the developing countries are fully alive to their own misery; and they are determined to leave it behind. They contemplate the riches of the West – our surplus food, our fantastic technology, the health and good things that we enjoy in life, all our material well-being – and they compare them with the misery of their own children.
This contrast creates a dangerous tension factor which threatens the peace of the world.
The aim of UNICEF is to spread a table, decked with all the good things that nature provides, for all the children of the world. For this reason the organization is a peace factor of great importance. UNICEF has realized that children provide the key to the future; the children of today make the history of the future. UNICEF is now forging a link of solidarity between the rich and the poor countries. In an age when so many people are terrified of the destructive effects of the forces that science has placed in our hands, UNICEF offers young people in all countries an alternative worth living and working for a world with:
Freedom for all people,
Equality between all races,
Brotherhood among all men.
* Aase Lionaes, at this time president of the Lagting (a section of the Norwegian Parliament), delivered this speech on December 10, 1965, in the auditorium of the University of Oslo. Mr. Gunnar Jahn, chairman of the committee, presented the Nobel medal and diploma to Mr. Henry R. Labouisse, the executive director of UNICEF, who responded in behalf of the organization with a short speech of acceptance. The English translation of Mrs. Lionaes’ speech used here is basically that appearing in Les Prix Nobel en 1965, with certain editorial changes, as well as some emendations made after collation with the Norwegian text in Les Prix Nobel.
1. Mrs. Lionaes was a Norwegian delegate to the UN 1946-1965.
2. The UN Relief and Rehabilitation Administration, established in 1943, was discontinued in Europe in 1947 and in China in 1949, its work being taken over by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the International Refugee Organization (IRO).
3. Maurice Pate (1894-1965), executive director of UNICEF from its founding in 1946 until his death a few months before he was to retire.
4. Henry R. Labouisse (1904- ), American attorney and diplomat.
5. This paragraph in the Norwegian text reads as follows: Maurice Pate himself chose the man to succeed him as the leader of the organization – Henry Labouisse. Director Labouisse’s superb qualifications and his devotion to UNICEF’s aims made it natural for UN Secretary-General U Thant to nominate him as Maurice Pate’s successor. We have the honor and pleasure of having Director Labouisse with us here today to receive the Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of UNICEF.
6. Jawaharlal Nehru (1889-1964), Indian statesman; prime minister of India (1947-1964)
7. A declaration setting forth the world’s obligations to its children, including those of giving children affection and security and of bringing them up in a spirit of understanding, tolerance, friendship among peoples, peace, and universal brotherhood, (Principle 10).
Their work and discoveries range from cancer therapy and laser physics to developing proteins that can solve humankind’s chemical problems. The work of the 2018 Nobel Laureates also included combating war crimes, as well as integrating innovation and climate with economic growth. Find out more.