Mr. Habib to YT: “A tremendous improvement in girls’ enrollment has been achieved. However, this is far from satisfactory.” [Archives:2000/27/Health]

July 3 2000

UNICEF is playing a pivotal role in moving the drive of development in the country through different programs and support that extended different dimensions of the society. These programs are developed by the national authorities together with the UNICEF which supports these projects in terms of funding, equipment, training and supplies. UNICEF also provides the background of expertise from all over the world. Mr. Habib Hamam, the director of the UNICEF office in Sana’a, had first opened the two residences of UNICEF in Sana’a and Aden late in the 1970s. Mr. Habib has finished his second three-year assignment to Yemen and he is leaving the country for the office headquarters in New York.
Mr. Mohammed Hatem Al-Qadhi, Managing Editor of the Yemen Times met with him and filed the following interview:

Q: Could you please give us a background about the UNICEF activities in Yemen?
A: We are cooperating with different ministries to support programs of high importance. Traditionally, our work has been in the field of basic health, education and rural water supply. In the first three years, we worked on these three areas. In addition there was a new kind of cooperation on the legislation for children such as street children, orphans, for protection measures.
At large, it has been a satisfactory progress on the projects particularly in health with the success of the polio campaigns to increase the immunization coverage from under 30% in 1997 to over 70% today against the six major killing diseases. We also work for the production of water hydration.
The various health efforts of Ministry of Health which cooperated with other ministries and supported by UNICEF and other donors, have brought down the number of child’s deaths under five years of age significantly, according to the statistics from the central statistics office.
We have also supported some important new initiatives in the field of nutrition for example, the iodination of salt to reduce the incidence of iodine deficiency which negatively affects the thinking capacity of children, especially school children.

Q: what is the contribution of UNICEF in the field of education? and how do you view the situation of Yemeni children particularly working children in streets?
A: In general, there has been a tremendous improvement in the enrollment of children in Yemen over the last ten years. Still there is a very long way to go. Girls’ education is also on the increase. UNICEF supports training women teachers and the establishment of community based schools which has increase girls’ enrollment in schools. Official statistics indicate that in comparison with the past few years about 43 thousand girls have by now enrolled in schools. However, it is still far from satisfactory and the enrollment of girls has to increase much more.
On the other hand, in recent years there has been a decrease in boys’ enrollment and this is alarming and worrying. According to recent statistics there has been a decrease in boys’ enrollment almost as much by ten percent. Equivalent to more than 200 thousand boys have left schools. Hopefully this trend will be reversed so that both boys and girls have a better chance in education. The education of both boys and girls is an absolute prerequisite, an absolute pre-condition to the ambitions of Yemen for progress as the world becomes more competitive and is a global economy. Therefore, it is only with education that the young generation of today can compete and contribute to the development of his country and to the social, political progress. So we can not over stress how important education is and we hope that the trends on enrollment and on quality and relevance of education, the forward progress will continue very much.
Regarding the working children in streets, it’s a phenomenon on the increase. Studies show that these children work in different careers. The main way to deal with them is to encourage their enrollment in education. For those who have already fallen in streets we are working together with the ministry of Insurance and Social Affairs to try to develop programs that respond to their needs of and to the needs of their community. We look at working children in street on the same way as we look at children in schools from the point of view of their rights. Even if these children are begging, they have rights which are guaranteed by the Yemeni law. Their families, society, community, government, and international community have a duty to do what is best possible for them.
Probably the most important thing right now is to establish a program for training social work personnel in governmental and non-governmental organizations. Many workers who have not professional social work training are working with the government and in private companies. We are working with the Ministry of Insurance and Social Affairs to develop a program to train people working in these sectors.

Q: What are the main problems facing Yemen?
A: Yemen is a developing country. It is a poor country. It is also classified among the least developed countries by the UN. This means that there are many problems. But there are important opportunities as well. When one recognizes problems one has to identify the opportunities. For example, the childhood illnesses, those which are preventable, are still too many. There is no reason for children to die from diarrhea. A simple antibiotic, if parents are aware, can save children from death.
The private sector should also play a more important role in the basic health. The current budget of the Ministry of Health is about $ 3.5 per person. For a country like Yemen, it is a very small budget. WHO estimates the need in a country like Yemen at about $12 per person so as to render a meaningful health service. If the government budget in Health increases from $3.5 per person to $ 7 to start with, good health services will be deeply appreciated by the people. It is within the interest of decision makers to strengthen health services and this is something which we are trying to support.

Other problem is the number of children enrolled in schools and the quality of education. Are the children learning what will make them able to deliver and contribute to their society? Will they be able to compete with the global economy?!
I would also add the water supply, that is clean water. There is a lack of availability of clean water in villages and towns as well. This is a problem to be addressed. All these matters are linked together with the issue of public awareness which is of high importance. There is also an importance to look after the young children who vulnerable to streets’ abuse. There should also be an attention paid to the marginalized women in the community. So how to increase the public awareness is also another problem that has to be dealt with.

Q: Women living in the countryside suffer from various problems including health problems and high rate of illiteracy. What is the contribution of the UNICEF in this regard?
A: Our main focus has been in girls’ education. That is, our main approach is to enroll their names in schools while they are young. We have collaborated with the Yemeni Women Association on some issues. We in terms of strengthening health system all girls benefit equally. There is not a specific focus on the rural areas. We hope to do more on save pregnancies. Far too many mothers die during pregnancy and child birth. We are not satisfied with the fact that not enough has been done in this area. I wish we can do more in this area.

Q: Will you please shed some light on the UNICEF program for the future?
A: The current three-year program has been developed after considerable study, negotiations, analyzes, fact finding and discussions with officials both in the central ministries and at community level in governorates and districts. So the current three years program covers a broad range of issues from child rights to basic health, basic education, rural water supplies, working with communities, child protection and enrollment of women, etc. What we hope is that this kind of broad thrust will continue and expand in the next two years. In its cooperation with UNICEF, the government of Yemen has succeeded in obtaining a soft loan credit to help in expanding the range of services, especially in health and girls’ education to reach larger and larger numbers of districts in the country.

Q: What is the UNICEF contribution to the development of media?
A: UNICEF in the ministry of information, radio, TV and media people have come to the conclusion that media professionals have the same role in promoting the well-being of people as professionals in health and education. That media professionals do not only have a duty to report on events when taking place, but to promote development, awareness and sensitization. Where would be immunization be today without the media, where would the important achievements of polio eradication be known without the media. The media played an pivotal role in moving immunization from being a technical medical matter to being a public issue. So we have been working with the media professionals to advocate and mobilize support the work of the Ministry of information and other ministries in mobilizing public opinions to demand services in health and in education, to consider and feel that girls’ education is important, to care for the under privileged children in the street other than their being an unpleasant site. All this can not be possibly be achieved without the media. It is the media here the newspapers, TV, radio and interpersonal communications that help to make our efforts a success.
Besides, we cooperate very much with dialogue and training programs with media professionals. There is now a whole net work of media people in newspapers, radio and TV who are aware of different important issues in the country.

Q: Any final comment?
A: This is the end of my second assignment to Yemen, the end of three years. I have made a lot of friends and I have deeply loved this country. Yemen is a great country with great people. I have been privileged and proud to come and serve this country. I leave in a way with a sense of sadness, but I also leave with the hope that many important initiatives are on the right track. Although more and more needs to be done there are a number of good things that are happening.