13 June 2010 Benin has made significant gains in reducing poverty and expanding primary education, Secretary-General observed today on a visit to the West African nation, while pledging United Nations support for a range of challenges such as food security and the environment.
The country's efforts to attain the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) – eight targets to slash poverty, fight hunger and tackle other key social and economic problems by 2015 – were the focus of Mr. Ban's visit, part of a five-nation African tour.
At a town hall meeting in Cotonou with UN staff the Secretary-General noted that Benin is doing well in a number of areas, including improving primary education, reducing infant mortality and increasing access to safe drinking water.
However, progress has been slower on sanitation and the environment, gender equality and food security, he added.
Mr. Ban encouraged staff to “think and act and deliver as one United Nations” as they work to help the country tackle its challenges.
On a visit to the Songhai project in nearby Porto Novo, the Secretary-General was able to see first hand an innovative, ecologically sustainable agro-business centre which is providing a network of agricultural entrepreneurs to Benin and to the region.
The centre integrates various elements such as agro-business, renewable energy, manufacturing and technical development, as well as something Mr. Ban referred to as a “spirit of self-help.” The project should serve as an example for many in Africa, he said.
“I am going to use my visit to Songhai as a strong message to many people in the world, particularly in the developing world, to follow this very creative, innovative system,” he stated. “This is the way you achieve sustainable development.”
Mr. Ban has noted that without achieving sustainable development and the MDGs, Africa will not find the promise and prosperity that its people so richly deserve. Progress towards the MDGs varies across the continent, but UN officials have warned that sub-Saharan Africa is the region struggling the most to reach the targets.
World leaders are slated to meet at UN Headquarters in New York this September to chart the progress made so far and to determine where efforts need to be focused over the next five years.
Mr. Ban said in remarks to a debate on the MDGs held in Cotonou that his message to the summit will be clear: “We know what to do. We know how to do it. We can succeed.
“Where we are falling short, in Benin or elsewhere, it is not because the goals are too ambitious or because of limited time, but because of unmet commitments and inadequate scaling up of what works.”
The Secretary-General wraps up his visit to Benin tomorrow and then heads to Sierra Leone, the last leg on his current tour which also took him to South Africa, Burundi and Cameroon.
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