The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) is the body charged with the needs of children. The Uganda office opened in 1962 and since 2003 Robert Hanawalt has been working there as Senior Operations Officer.
Investments in women and children have lead to developmental improvements in Uganda in the past few decades. However, almost twenty years of conflict between the Government and the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) has created a severe humanitarian crisis in the north of the country. Robert explained UNICEF's goals, "Our first priority is our humanitarian response to conflict-affected zones. We are already working in five districts in the north and now we're moving into the Karamoja/Moroto area. While there is no insurgency, there is insecurity due to the nature of the Karamojong nomadic groups. Second, we aim to improve the health of women and children generally, reducing malaria and malnutrition, improving administration of vitamins and improving normal childhood immunization. Also, we are involved in distributing impregnated mosquito nets to reduce the malaria incidence. Our third priority centers around children's realizing their rights such as birth and death registration, the right to education, the right to clean water, and the right to live a life without exploitation, either by the labor force or their own families. We will programme in the area of social policy to ensure that at a national level we can form a child-centered network to allow children to realize these rights."
The challenges for UNICEF staff are constant and numerous. "One of the biggest we have is a logistical one - getting the needed care and goods to the people that need them. There is a complete absence of government in many cases. They function in the district capital but don't go out from there. There is also the element of indiscipline among the district officials - they don't carry out the functions they are supposed to carry out, or they do it late, or they have competing demands", said Robert. "UNICEF is working all the time in capacity building at a district level, but it is a struggle much of the time as you don't even have the starting point".
Robert began working for UNICEF after working overseas for most of his career. "I have been working in various humanitarian capacities all my life. Have been with UNICEF for about 5 years. I was heavily involved in developing countries in human resources development - industrial training - in the Middle East and Asia. I see my work with UNICEF as a continuation of what I had been doing before", he said.
In the future, Robert will be working on a new UNICEF initiative. "UNICEF is embarking on a new country program starting January 2006 that will last through the end of 2010. Our aim is to go to the districts with the most vulnerable populations, those that we have determined according to indices". He explained, "In the present program we work in thirty-six, but in the new programme, we will be in 16 but this may be higher as the government splits the districts. The most vulnerable are the children and their mothers. We will have cross-sectoral teams working in social policy alliance, health, child protection, education and HIV/AIDS".