Nobel Lecture*, December 11, 1965
UNICEF: Achievement and Challenge
If Alfred Nobel had been alive today, I venture to believe that he would have welcomed the award of his Peace Prize to the United Nations Children’s Fund. He would have commended its purpose, its effectiveness, and achievement. He would have understood the infusion of new hope which this recognition will bring to millions of deprived and tragic children. His own childhood was, as he put it, “every day a renewed fight for survival”. But he did not suffer the pangs of hunger, nor did he know the cruel vicissitudes of grim poverty. He experienced the warm love of a devoted mother, the comforts of a good home. Andriette Nobel, tender and calm, brave and intelligent, sustained him throughout his life. The symbol of UNICEF, a mother clasping her child, exulting in the healthy baby held high in her arms, would have touched him significantly.
The love that infuses the mother-child relationship is the most positive expression of human hope; it is the wellspring of human life. Baroness Bertha von Suttner1, the great woman who influenced Nobel’s thinking, said, “An abundance of maternal love is wanted to shield and guide the whole of humanity.” There is no dearth of maternal love, no lack of tenderness for the young, only a great yearning for a better future. Would that there were in equal measure food and clothing, shelter, medicines and doctors, schools and teachers.
The UNICEF Executive Board at a special meeting convened in the United Nations on November 19, 1965, expressed its deep appreciation of the Nobel Peace Prize award in a resolution. It considered the award a recognition of the importance of the welfare and rearing of children in a spirit of friendship among nations for peace in the world, and a tribute to cooperation on behalf of children among governments, United Nations agencies, and other international organizations; an acknowledgment of the efforts of millions of volunteers, both as individuals and as members of nongovernmental organizations, and of the devotion and competence of the UNICEF staff; and expressed the hope that this award will encourage all countries to increase their cooperative efforts to improve the condition of children in their own countries and throughout the world.
Alfred Nobel once said, “If you could only understand that we can help a human being without any ulterior motive.” It is precisely this spirit that has animated UNICEF’s work and made possible a record of unique cooperation. Differences of view have been welded, almost always, into an accepted concensus in the search for agreement on the best methods of providing assistance to alleviate the agony of children who are victims of cruel circumstance. The nations of the world agreed, when they approved unanimously the Declaration of the Rights of the Child, that “mankind owes the child the best it has to give.” It is UNICEF’s responsibility to help them make that best a worthy and effective contribution to ensure healthy growth and development, to translate an acknowledged duty into programs of practical action.
A man of science, Nobel understood the potential of technical progress and scientific discovery. He knew that they could be applied to dispel ignorance, fight disease, and eliminate hunger. He realized the implications of scientific understanding for the welfare of mankind and the ability of men of science to influence, even determine, human destiny. At a recent meeting of scientists with politicians and policy makers, convened to explore ways of accelerating progress through the application of science to everyday needs, a Christian minister from an African country brought the great men back to a tragic and stark reality. “I come from a country”, he said, “in which, while it is of great interest and importance to talk about nuclear fission, solar energy, and all of these things, it is of even greater interest to know how to save our babies… We cannot believe that nature, God, call it what you like, loves children of other countries more than African children. Is typhoid caused by drinking dirty water or by someone who has bewitched you? Are babies dying because they are not fed properly or because your enemy put sickness into them? Men of science, men of goodwill,” he implored, “help the African people to develop and understand.” This simple, moving appeal is some indication of the immense chasm that must be traversed before the gap of centuries, in terms of civilization, can be successfully navigated. UNICEF is immensely challenged.
UNICEF was born of the tragedy of war to become a major implement of peace. It was brought into existence on December 11, 1946, by a resolution of the General Assembly, as the International Children’s Emergency Fund, charged with responsibility to prevent epidemics and stave off the worst consequences of malnutrition among millions of children who had been exposed to the ravages of war. It brought supplies of food, clothing, and drugs to these young victims of man-made upheaval and conflagration, which tore at the roots of European civilization.
It was soon acknowledged, however, that many more children were victims of a hostile environment, of poverty, inertia and neglect. Children in Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America died in their millions of sickness and starvation, abandoned in the backwash of history, left behind in the surge of time. Child suffering could not be distinguished by virtue of its cause or origin. Children in desperate need anywhere and everywhere required help and attention. In December, 1950, the General Assembly directed UNICEF to use its resources for “the purpose of meeting, through the provision of supplies, training and advice, the emergency and long-range needs of children and their continuing needs, particularly in underdeveloped countries, with a view to strengthening, wherever this may be appropriate, the permanent child-health and child-welfare programs of the countries receiving assistance”. In yet another resolution, passed unanimously in December, 1953, the Assembly decided to continue the work of the Fund indefinitely, to drop the word Emergency in its name, and to all intents and purposes, treat it as a permanent organ of the United Nations, charged with responsibility for the child, recognizing that there would undoubtedly be continuing, unmet needs for many decades.
An Executive Board of twenty-five members, subsequently increased in 1957 to thirty, elected by the Economic and Social Council for three-year terms, representative of all regions of the world, establishes policy and sets the criteria for the deployment of funds. A program committee of sixteen and an administrative budget committee of ten, elected from the Board’s membership, accelerate its work. In its deliberations, the Board has invariably viewed its task as an historic opportunity to influence, in some measure, the nature and character of tomorrow’s citizens. The child of today is the farmer, the teacher, the politician, and the worker of tomorrow. The child, indeed, is the father of the man, or, as is said in Proverbs 22:6, “Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”
It was understood from the outset that whilst UNICEF could stimulate and encourage action, the vital decisions would need to be taken by governments themselves, committed to ensuring the welfare of their peoples. UNICEF cannot provide ready-made motivation nor ensure that the people themselves are inspired to make a supreme effort in their own behalf. Improving conditions for the child involves a ceaseless, long-term effort. Neither the capacity nor the will to succeed can be supplied from without. There is no substitute for an indigenous leadership which understands that real wealth is found in the happiness and security of individual human beings.
The UNICEF Secretariat, with headquarters at the United Nations in New York, became the nerve center of a network of offices established in the different regions of the world. Maurice Pate, the first executive director, who died early this year, provided incomparable leadership. A man of compassion, he was imbued with a love of people; he had infinite faith in them and saw good in everyone. With wisdom, dignity, and tact, he inspired universal respect and invoked confidence. He not only selected his staff on the basis of professional qualification, but sought in each of them special qualities of heart, a willingness to subordinate self to a labor of love, in which hours and physical frailty did not figure. A dedicated team was assembled, inspired always by the selflessness of Mr. Pate himself and his certain conviction that he and his colleagues had been entrusted with a task of sacred dimension. It is appropriate that the Executive Board should have decided to link his name to the Nobel Peace Prize, which will constitute the nucleus of a Maurice Pate Scholarship Fund. His successor, Mr. Labouisse, was selected in the knowledge that he possessed the same qualities of mind and heart, reinforced by important experience, to ensure that the work continue with the same sense of commitment and complete objectivity.
The tasks have always seemed vast and limitless, the resources infinitesimal in relation to the need. The establishment of priorities has represented a continuous challenge, although from the outset the primacy of government responsibility was acknowledged. Whilst it has been necessary to concentrate on basic, fundamental needs, the evolution of UNICEF’s work has been marked by a flexibility of approach, which has taken account of diversity and local realities. It has been generally recognized that real progress must be expressed in the character and idiom of each nation’s personality and aspiration. In order to ensure the government’s interest and involvement, as well as to increase the resources available, the matching rule was adopted. Thus, every dollar invested by UNICEF must be matched by at least one dollar or its equivalent. In practice, over the years, the government investment has exceeded, by far, UNICEF’s contribution.
A close relationship was established with the Specialized Agencies from the beginning, in the first period specifically with WHO and the FAO2. There are joint policy committees with these two agencies, comprising five representatives of each body, which meet annually to determine mutually acceptable lines of approach. All UNICEF projects require the technical approval of the relevant agency, which also recruits the professional personnel for the different projects when outside expert advice is called for. As policy has developed in response to need, suitable arrangements have also been made with UNESCO and ILO3. This inter-agency collaboration, as well as the cooperation that has always existed with the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, has provided an excellent example of teamwork, which has proved mutually beneficial, as each agency seeks to achieve its own goals. Within the United Nations family UNICEF alone has sole responsibility for focusing attention on the child as a complete human being.
The provision of badly needed supplies, which must be imported, is at the center of UNICEF’s operation. A large packing, assembly, and distribution center in Copenhagen is today the headquarters of a dramatic supply undertaking, which keeps ships constantly sailing the high seas carrying vital cargoes destined for some 118 countries which receive UNICEF aid. The goods are purchased in different parts of the world as a result of bids and tenders, which seek only to ensure the best quality and the lowest prices. UNICEF ships hundreds of items, including midwifery and tool kits, jeeps and mobile X-ray units, bicycles, drugs and DDT, teaching aids and sewing machines, sheets, milk powder and soap. In many countries, UNICEF’s readiness to supply previously unavailable items of essential equipment has sparked the construction of schools, clinics, and community centers and has facilitated the development of vital services for children.
UNICEF’s original mandate stressed the importance of child health generally. The basic needs of the child are, indeed, protection against disease, adequate food, clean water, shelter and clothing, and an environment conducive to healthy emotional and social development. The first need, however, is to ensure the survival of the infant and its mother. Over 30,000 health centers, providing maternal and child health services, have been set up and equipped with UNICEF assistance in different developing areas of the world, representing a UNICEF investment of over seventy million dollars over the years. They are becoming increasingly part of a centrally directed and financed public health service. Yet it is doubtful whether more than five to ten percent of the mothers and children actually come under their direct care. The impact on the community of these programs has frequently resulted in a chain reaction of developing services; but whilst millions of mothers and infants have received attention and instruction, the coverage is small in relation to the appalling need.
In approving certain projects for assistance, the Board was concerned that the requesting government regard them as having a relatively high priority in the scale of need. It wanted assurance that heavy loss of children’s lives or the serious impairment of health would be checked. It preferred projects of long-term value in preference to those of short-term relief and it was pleased if other countries were able to benefit too. The attraction of the mass campaigns against infectious communicable diseases, which not only account for millions of child deaths but lead to permanent physical defect and weakness, was obvious. They had the additional advantage of having a low per capita cost – one cent could buy enough B C G vaccine to protect a child against tuberculosis, ten cents enough penicillin to cure four children of yaws, twenty-five cents enough antibiotics to cure two children of trachoma, fifty cents enough DDT to protect seven children from malaria for a year, and seventy-five cents enough sulfone tablets to treat a leprosy case for three years. UNICEF has, over the years, expended about one-third of its total aid on disease control programs. It has, in close cooperation with the World Health Organization and, in the early days, with the Danish and Swedish Red Cross and the Norwegian Relief for Europe, assisted campaigns to combat tuberculosis (200 million BCG vaccinations alone have been given). It has helped campaigns to eradicate malaria; it has been instrumental in curing millions of cases of yaws; it has provided drugs for leprosy and trachoma. Certain endemic diseases which have been almost entirely eliminated in the industrialized world are responsible for rampant child sickness and still take a shocking toll of child life. Progress will be slow and halting as long as clean, piped water is unavailable and the rules of elementary hygiene are unknown, as long as environmental sanitation remains a blueprint for the future.
Of the 600 million children today believed to be living at, or below, the minimum subsistence level, some sixteen and a half million still die before they attain their first birthdays. Despite the progress of the last decade, mortality rates among infants in the less developed regions are still as much as five times higher than in the developed areas; they are up to forty times higher for children in the one to five age group.
It is estimated that some 500 million children have actually experienced hunger or suffer from varying degrees of starvation or malnutrition. The grim picture of the emaciated child, misshapen, with its swollen belly and tragic questioning eyes, has left an indelible mark on those sensitive to harrowing misery. UNICEF in its early years supported many feeding programs. In fact, the glass of milk became a symbol of its activities to many. Large quantities of milk powder, supplemented by vitamins A and D, did much to modify the gnawing pains of hunger and the effects of malnutrition. At the same time, milk conservation projects were assisted to ensure the availability of permanent supplies of clean and safe low-cost milk. A food and agricultural policy was urged that would make provision for growing protective foods, so important for the diet of the child and his family, giving them a suitable priority vis-à-vis cash crops. Attention was also drawn to the high incidence of protein malnutrition in early childhood leading, inevitably, to stunted growth and physical disability.
In the course of the years, UNICEF’s assistance was made available to encourage priority for comprehensive nutrition programs. Together with FAO and WHO, it supported surveys to ascertain food habits and estimate need, on the basis of what was feasible, against a background of local tradition and custom. It helped applied nutrition programs, community projects, including horticulture, the raising of small animals and poultry, fisheries, home economics, and food preservation. It was intent on ensuring that the child was fed properly because the mother had acquired a new understanding of its nutritional needs, and that the government was committed to an agricultural policy that would make available the foods necessary to healthy survival. A further development is in the direction of processing cheap protein concentrates from fish and readily available crops, such as soybean, peanuts, sesame and cotton seed. Such concentrates are being used to fortify low-cost weaning food mixtures.
The plight of the child continued to cause anxiety. The conscience of the world was shaken by the knowledge of the excruciating suffering of its most vulnerable citizens. In 1959, the General Assembly again underlined its deep concern in the Declaration of the Rights of the Child, which stressed the child’s right to maternal protection, health, adequate food, shelter, and education. Members of UNICEF’s Executive Board and Secretariat were convinced, on the basis of accumulated experience, that little real progress would result from an ad hoc approach to meeting pressing, immediate need. Systematic analysis, appraisal, evaluation, and research were required if the overall needs of the child were to be fully understood and progress made. It became clear that the child had to be prepared for life in all its manifestations as well as protected against its hazards.
A study prepared by the Secretary- General in connection with the United Nations Decade of Development4 has defined development as “growth plus change”. Children and young people are the primary agents of change. Indeed, much of the change that takes place in their lifetime will be influenced by the sum total of their efforts and actions.
Children and young people are growing up today in a period of rapid, revolutionary transition, shattering century-old norms and patterns of life. New political realities, new freedom, the responsibilities implicit in newly acquired independence find apathy, fatalism, and indifference to be major stumbling blocks. Modern development envisages growth in every sphere, political, economic, social, cultural, and educational. UNICEF became increasingly aware of the importance of preparing the child for the exigencies of life from its earliest childhood. It began to examine its role in the light of the crucial need to invest in human resources, to develop the abilities inherent in people, to increase their capacity to produce and fend for themselves.
In 1961 an important shift occurred in UNICEF’s policy. It had become abundantly clear that, despite all the assistance rendered, the statistics of need had not diminished. On the contrary, millions more children were in need of help due, in part, to the rapid increase in population, which offset much of the real achievement in terms of relief that could be brought to the individual child. Barely half of the child population, aged five to fourteen, attended school, and many of these were unable to complete the full primary cycle. Teacher training and the provision of minimal school equipment, textbooks, visual aids, paper, and pencils were often beyond the strained budget of the country struggling to contend with a growing number of competing needs. The health of children and young people could not be viewed as a separate field of work, nor could their nutrition requirements, their education, or their emotional development. Children could not be regarded as a separate entity, but rather as an integral part of the population, the family, and the community, requiring certain priority consideration in national, economic, and social development planning. Services for the child should be taken for granted as a vitally important aspect of government responsibility to ensure economic viability, progress, and stability.
The condition of the child would certainly be influenced in direct proportion to the progress made in the general economy as prosperity increased. UNICEF was fully aware of its own inability to do little more than inject some help judiciously at the right time. Its budget of less than thirty-five million dollars had brought remarkable dividends and been put to maximum use, but the limitations were obvious. No occasion was allowed to pass without emphasizing the importance of encouraging every effort to raise standards of living and improve prospects. UNICEF appealed to all agencies within the family of nations, to bilateral assistance, and the army of volunteers engaged in pioneering efforts in nongovernmental organizations to concern themselves with those aspects of development in their undertakings which could also have relevance for the child. In general, it might be said that the guiding principle in investing UNICEF’s resources was to ensure that they related to the key problems of children, concentrated on basic needs, and integrated with larger economic and social development plans.
In the earlier days, most of the work undertaken was in rural areas. The growth of towns and the new industrialization had led to the appearance of brutal slums, exposing children to deprivation and dangers often more terrible in their consequences than the stagnation and dejection of the primitive village. UNICEF was unable to ignore the special needs of the new city urchins. In this context, consideration had to be given to social welfare activities, day-care centers, community and neighborhood centers, and mothers’ clubs.
I have already referred to grim figures of child mortality among the one to five age group. The stark fact of ignorance and neglect, and its consequences for the helpless toddler, brought yet another problem to UNICEF for urgent attention. The plight of these young children, roaming the dirt-infested alleyways of both towns and villages, highlighted once again the shocking dilemma of the mother, ignorant of elementary health, nutrition, and hygiene needs, harassed by her many offspring and endlessly nursing a new infant, confounded and perplexed by the new demands made upon her as the security of her old world cracked and crumbled. Habit and superstition die hard, and a deep fear of change brings obstinate resistance to it. It was clear that considerably. more would have to be done to help the neglected young child and that national policies for children would have to take special account of the critical needs of early childhood.
Maternal and child health centers, hospitals and health services, schools, day-care centers, and community undertakings require, above all, competent, trained staffs. Equipment and supplies can be made available with relative speed. It may take years to prepare professional personnel for its role, which goes beyond the acquisition of expertise. Warm human sympathy, endless patience and understanding, and a deep, abiding faith that a better day is possible – all of these are necessary in order to make the new knowledge meaningful to the resistant and the confused.
At first the UNICEF Board was unwilling to spend its meager resources on local training costs, which it felt should be the obligation of the local government. When progress lagged for lack of trained midwives, nurses, auxiliary workers, nutritionists, teachers, doctors, pediatricians, social workers, club and community workers, it could no longer avoid the realization that no form of investment was likely to be more productive. It began to expend more of its funds on training in the form of stipends for personnel at all levels, including the trainers and the supervisors. Some scholarships were given for advanced study abroad, but emphasis was placed on people preparing to serve their own communities in the idiom of their own traditions and patterns of life. Numerous courses were designed to meet the needs of each local situation. In extending its assistance to the field of education, stress was laid on training for teachers and on those subjects that would have a direct bearing on preparing the child for the contingencies of life. Help provided for certain vocational and prevocational programs also included an important element of training. The availability of efficient, trained personnel will continue to be the touchstone of UNICEF’s ability to make a fundamental contribution to improving the lot of the child. UNICEF’s field staffs and the experts of the different agencies working with them (project personnel) have had to translate their own experience and attitudes into local concepts. They have often shown extraordinary sensitivity and wisdom, but they cannot substitute for the local people themselves, as they acquire a new competence and understanding.
It is among the ironies of fate that where need is greatest, there is the least possibility of absorbing assistance. Outside help cannot be really effectively utilized unless minimal services and a minimum budget are available. The Board decided recently to enable certain countries in the early stages of their development, particularly in Africa, to prepare projects for assistance which envisaged dispensing with the usual requirement of matching funds, to be provided subsequently on a sliding scale. It was disappointing and frustrating to learn that even this concession did not go far enough. Much will still have to be done to strengthen administrative structures and train personnel before help can be made effective.
One hundred twenty-one governments now contribute regularly to UNICEF’s budget, and volunteer groups and private individuals raised as much as six million dollars in 1964. Yet there is little hope at the present rate of contributions for an annual budget from all sources exceeding a total of thirty-five million dollars. This amount can be reinforced not only by government matching but by the positive nature of governmental policy and the extent of its commitment to development programs that give cognizance to the crucial importance of providing for the child in planning for the future. At its June, 1965, meeting, the Executive Board was able to allocate only ten percent of its program funds for new programs. Ninety percent was required for continuing ongoing projects, sixty-three percent of which continue to be in the field of maternal and child health and disease control. Possibilities for viable projects far. exceed UNICEF’s financial capabilities, and it has been necessary to impose a ceiling on allocations. It is an agonizing predicament to know that millions of children will die each year, who might have lived were it not for lack of funds.
We live in a world dedicated to progress and capable of incredible achievement. Universal declarations, giving lip service to the dignity of man and human justice, have never been more numerous and more loudly proclaimed. In a world of unbelievable affluence, millions flounder and struggle for survival, as they suffer indescribable need. The child, the most vulnerable of human beings and the least able to fend for itself, surely agitates the conscience of a world that acknowledges the right of every human being to equal consideration and prospects. To quote again from the Declaration of the Rights of the Child, “He shall be brought up in a spirit of understanding, tolerance, friendship among peoples and universal brotherhood, and in the full consciousness that his energy and talents should be devoted to the service of his fellow men.” Would that he be given the chance!
The International Conference on the Economic Aspects of Disarmament, meeting in Oslo5, heard from a survey prepared for it that 180 billion dollars are being spent annually on arms. Each atomic submarine costs approximately 160 million dollars and the latest supersonic fighter planes are priced at several millions of dollars. A Polaris nuclear-powered submarine costs 200 million dollars.
UNICEF, together with all those engaged in the struggle for social betterment and the raising of standards of living, the governments, the organizations, and individuals who have understood its purposes and provided moral and material support, has the formula to put life and substance into the words of the Declaration. If only the nations of the world could together agree to spend a fraction of their outlay on building “deterrent strengths”, to develop the capacity of the young generation to adjust in health and happiness to the needs of a dynamic society! Perhaps each abortive disarmament conference would set itself a penalty – a contribution to UNICEF, the equivalent cost of one submarine or a dozen fighter planes. Today’s children are surely the central factor in the strategy for peace and survival. This is what Alfred Nobel in his greatness and his vision would have understood.
* This lecture was delivered in the auditorium of the Nobel Institute by Zena Harman (Mrs. Abraham Harman), speaking for UNICEF in her capacity as chairman of its Executive Board. At one time assistant director of the Technical Assistance Department of the Prime Minister’s Office in Israel and later director of the Division for International Organizations in Israel’s Ministry for Foreign Affairs, Mrs. Harman had served on the UNICEF Executive Board as Israel’s representative from 1952 to 1959 and again from 1962, chairing the Program Committee several times during these years before becoming chairman of the Executive Board in 1964. The text of Mrs. Harman’s lecture is taken from Les Prix Nobel en 1965.
3. The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) was initiated in 1945 and formally established in 1946. The International Labor Organization (ILO) was created in 1919 by the Versailles Peace Treaty, was affiliated with the League of Nations, and finally made a specialized agency of the UN in 1946; it received the Nobel Peace Prize for 1969.
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.