Speaking Out

 

Edmond McLoughney: Channelling assistance

 

After a slow start, assistance is now pouring in from Turkey, as well as from other countries, to the victims of December’s Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami. A high proportion of those affected by the disaster were children. Here, Edmond McLoughney, the Representative in Turkey of the United Nations Children’s Fund, explains the role and responsibilities taken on by his organisation. Mr McLoughney has been with UNICEF for 25 years and much of this time has been spent in Africa and the Caribbean. Before coming to Turkey in 2001, he was in charge of the UNICEF programme in Macedonia – a country then trying to cope with an influx of refugees from Kosovo as well as internal problems. We also asked him to comment on the progress being made by UNICEF in its efforts to safeguard the well-being of Turkey’s children. More details of the Fund’s activities in Turkey are profiled opposite.

 

1. Asia: emergency aid

 

The disaster in southern Asia is something quite extraordinary. Within two weeks, the death toll reached 150,000, and it has continued to rise. Whole communities have been devastated. The local economies – including many heavily reliant on tourism - have been wrecked. Things won't go straight back to normal. There are so many countless people affected, particularly children. The survivors are in need of material and psychological assistance and will be in need for the foreseeable future.

 

In the wake of the disaster, a lot of people called the UNICEF Representative Office and the UNICEF National Committee to offer donations. It was a matter of mobilising and channelling this good will. The National Committee has now opened a special bank account and launched a national appeal for funds.

 

UNICEF has been one of the largest recipients of donations in recent weeks. It has received large amounts from sources as diverse as the Japanese government and Formula-1 driver Michael Schumacher. It is a big responsibility to distribute donations. However, UNICEF has a lot of experience in dealing with both man-made and natural disasters. The organisation originally came into being in the aftermath of the Second World War in Europe as the International Children's Emergency Fund. Later it turned into a development agency, but there are so many disasters going on around the world, from the Turkish earthquakes of 1999 to the hurricanes in Haiti last September.  We were very involved on both those occasions. In practice, a significant part of UNICEF's annual expenditure goes into disaster relief and recovery.

 

The funds will be used by UNICEF in four priority areas which UNICEF has identified for children, namely

--survival, which remains a major problem for children in Aceh and elsewhere, particularly in view of the risk of disease;

--separated and orphaned children, who need to be cared for, reunited with extended families where possible and so on;

--protection from opportunists and traffickers, and

--getting children back to school. Many schools have been destroyed, but getting children back in the classroom situation will restore some sense of order to their lives. It's also a way of identifying those who are particularly affected by trauma. Incidentally, training teachers and others in dealing with trauma was one of the things we focused on here after the 1999 earthquakes. As a result, there are now groups of trained school counsellors in all the high-risk places.

 

2. Turkey: Getting things done

 

Turkey is fascinating, complex, diverse. It is half-way in the developed world and half-way in the developing world. There are a lot of needs not only in the East and Southeast but also in the cities, where there are a large number of new migrants. These migrants live in much the same conditions as those which prevail in the East and Southeast, and face much the same problems. To give an example, the highest ratio of girls out of school is in Istanbul.

 

Nevertheless, I really enjoy working here because you can really get things done. I think the proof of that is the rapidly improving indicators of child well-being in the last 5 years or so – particularly lower mortality rates and higher participation in education. Infant mortality fell below 30 per thousand in 2003 compared to 43 in 1998.  In this respect, Turkey is well on track towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals which we are working to achieve in conjunction with other UN agencies and with the government, NGOs and other parties.

 

Our priority project at the moment is called Haydi Kýzlar Okula and it’s about persuading parents to send girls to school. Launched in June 2003 in Van by UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy, the campaign aims to equalise enrolment in primary schools.

 

Education is a basic right. It gives the child a better chance in life. She will not be doomed to suffer another generation of poverty and ignorance. At the same time, there are numerous other arguments for accelerating work on girls' education. More educated mothers have fewer and healthier children and are healthier themselves. This is shown very clearly in the latest demography and health survey conducted by the Hacettepe University Population Studies Centre. For example, infant mortality rates are three times higher among women who have never been to school that they are among women who have received a secondary level education or higher. And in the EU context, in order to compete, Turkey needs an educated population.

 

When the campaign was launched in mid-2003, 640,000 more boys than girls were enrolled. Now the gap has been reduced to about 580,000 and the campaign continues. Curiously the campaign seems to be benefiting boys as well as girls.

 

Another of our campaigns is to promote breastfeeding. Almost all mothers in Turkey breastfeed but not necessarily exclusively. Exclusive breast feeding for the first six months provides the best essential nutrients, the best prospects of brain development - it's linked to IQ - and the best immunisation and protection against diseases. So we are trying to persuade people not to give baby foods or water or other liquids to their babies in addition to mother's milk. These are of no extra benefit and they can cause diseases such as diarrhoea, which means that survival may be at stake as well as development. In fact the rate of exclusive breast feeding has doubled in the last five years. We feel we can reach 40% even in the short term.

 

Turkey is also the only country I can think of offhand which has a national Children's Day holiday (April 23). This is a national celebration which helps to put children at the top of the agenda and we are very pleased to see that.

 

 

UNICEF in Turkey

 

UNICEF has been present in Turkey since 1951. The Representative, currently Edmond McLoughney, heads up the Turkey country office, which is part of UNICEF’s international organisation. The office employs about 25 people in all. It is responsible for carrying out projects mainly in the areas of child education, health and protection. Current projects related to girls’ education, breastfeeding and street children are examples of such projects. Most of the work is done in conjunction with government agencies and NGOs. “We put a bit of money into accelerating the work,” explains Mr McLoughney, “For example in projects like the girls' education project we put money into training volunteers to go from house to house, and we pay for associated materials such as the guide book for volunteers. On the other hand, more schools are needed and we don't pay for more schools - we think that's the government's job.”

 

The UNICEF office also lobbies the government for the adoption of policies and legislation needed to protect children. It has contributed to the adoption of legislation on iodized salt to prevent goitre and other iodine deficiency disorders. In addition, the office runs a website (www.unicef.org/Turkey) and a newsletter, in order to try to highlight the problems which children are facing in Turkey, the opportunities available for tackling these problems and the successes achieved. It contributes to, and distributes, UNICEF’s flagship annual report The State of the World's Children, published at the end of each year.

 

National Committee

 

As a country spanning the rich and poor worlds, Turkey does not only receive assistance from UNICEF; it is also a source of funds for the organisation’s activities. The UNICEF Turkish National Committee is one of about thirty national committees which exist in the industrialised countries. These committees are NGOs with an affiliation with UNICEF and they are involved in fund-raising. About a quarter of UNICEF’s funding globally comes from the public through the various national committees.

 

The current president of the National Committee is Professor Talat Halman of Bilkent University, a former minister of culture. The honorary president is Professor Ýhsan Dođramacý, the paediatrician and former president of the Higher Education Council. It was Professor Dođramacý who first established the Committee. Funds are raised for the organisation in general and also for specific projects such as the current campaign to ensure that girls are enrolled in primary education.