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UNICEF and Aral Gene Pool Protection Fund call for action to improve the lives of Aral Sea region’s children
Regional development action plans are unveiled for Uzbekistan’s regions worst hit by the environmental disaster
NUKUS, Uzbekistan, 27 April 2010. – Mainstreaming child welfare issues into regional development strategies, better targeted resource allocation along with greater focus on social infrastructure improvement and job creation are among the measures proposed to improve the situation of children in Aral Sea region.
Today’s meeting that brought together the representatives of national and regional governments, international donor agencies, and civil society organizations has underscored the need for concerted effort. The key stakeholders also reaffirmed their commitment to improving the plight of young generations in Karakalpakstan, Khoresm and Bukhara regions that are affected most by the Aral Sea crisis.
Once the world’s fourth largest lake, the Aral Sea has shrunk by 70% in recent decades, damaging the local environments and depriving millions of people of essential sources of income. In turn, the heavy pollution of the area and salinization of soil cause numerous health problems among the residents of these regions.
The environmental disaster has taken a heavy toll on children, the most vulnerable group of the population. According to MICS 2006, key child health indicators in Aral Sea region are the lowest in the country. The under-five child mortality rate is 65, while the infant mortality rate is 54. About 40% of children’s illnesses account for blood-related diseases, exceeding the national average two times. The incidence of tuberculosis among the youth is also more than two times higher. As UNICEF’s last year Global Study on Child Poverty and disparities revealed, about 50% of the children in Karakalpakstan live below the one-dollar poverty line.
Persisting economic and social problems of the region threaten local livelihoods, increasing the risk of inadequate nutrition and impeding access to primary healthcare, education and social protection services for children and their families.
The regional action plans for Karakalpakstan, Khorezm and Bukhara regions have been developed under the leadership of the Charity Fund for Aral Gene Pool Protection with UNICEF’s technical support. It was a fully participatory process done with close involvement of all stakeholders, including the local communities. The leading think-tanks of the country have also been engaged to ensure evidence-based strategy development.
The presented plans will serve as a road map for the regional authorities, helping them to see and address child related issues in a comprehensive and systemic way, while promoting the culture of shared responsibility and accountability. A three year implementation framework will enable them to initiate both immediate and longer term interventions.
Enhancing the capacity of national and regional authorities for effective social policy development and realization is one of the priorities of UNICEF’s collaboration with the Government of Uzbekistan for 2010-2015. Mainstreaming children’s issues in broader development programmes, policy-making agenda and leveraging resources are crucial to ensuring the wellbeing of children, especially in Aral Sea region.