Three questions for Olav Kjørven, UNICEF

'We cannot save the children of Syria on our own'


Nearly 50 million children have been uprooted worldwide according to a report published in early September 2016 by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). They have left their homes due to the threat of violence or hunger and a lack of prospects.

Mr Kjørven, Syria is currently one of the major sources of refugees. Its neighbouring states are under an immense pressure due to the high number of people seeking protection there. What is UNICEF doing to support these countries and the child refugees living there?

Olav Kjørven: We are very much engaged to help Syria’s most affected neighbouring countries – Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq. In cooperation with local and national authorities we are doing everything we can to scale up the provision of education for Syrian children. In addition to that, where there is a lack of adequate sanitation services and water supply, we help to provide for that. Vaccination is another key concern: we have to make sure that children on the move get proper health services.

In doing all this you cooperate with national development agencies such as GIZ. What is the value of these partnerships in general and with GIZ in particular?

We cannot save the children of Syria on our own. We have to work through partnerships – with local authorities and NGOs, international NGOs and our bilateral partners. Germany has really scaled up its support to the refugees from Syria, including through UNICEF. This support is impressive and makes an enormous difference in the lives of so many children. Of course, GIZ is a key institution in the whole German response to the Syrian crisis. We work together in many different ways, for example in the refugee camps in Northern Iraq.

UNICEF benefits from the technical skills and expertise of GIZ, and I believe GIZ also benefits from our knowledge. There is of course also financial support for specific interventions on the ground. My sense is that we are working together very well, but perhaps we can do an even better job going forward and cooperating even more effectively. I very much look forward to the next chapter in the collaboration with GIZ.

Syria will continue to be a challenge – which other challenges do you see for UNICEF in the future?

We can get overwhelmed sometimes by what we see as big threats on the horizon. We are seeing tremendous suffering, climate change, drug trafficking, conflicts fuelled by trade of small arms, the consequences of urbanisation. But there are other trends, too: Never have people lived so long, never have they been as healthy, never has such a small portion of the world population been extremely poor. Also, technology is creating possibilities for progress that we couldn’t even imagine ten years ago. There are more opportunities that come with the new development agenda. If we play our cards well and do the job as good as possible, I think we can make a big difference for children over the next 15 years.


October 2016