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Launching latest Africa report, Deputy Secretary-General cites some 'good news' - Towards attaining Millennium Development Goals, urges scaled up interventions

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Following are UN Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro's opening remarks at today's Headquarters press conference on the Millennium Development Goals:

Today, the G-8 Summit gets under way in Germany and the United Nations has taken this opportunity to launch an update on the progress towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in sub-Saharan Africa. And this is particularly because, at the G-8 Summit, the Secretary-General will put forward as an issue for discussion and the way forward, the question of implementation of the MDGs in sub-Saharan Africa. The situation shows that, despite faster growth and strengthened institutions, the continent remains off track to meeting the world's shared Goals for fighting poverty in all its forms.

The report that is before you brings together the latest data compiled by the United Nations Statistics Division from across the entire United Nations System. The report shows that challenges remain daunting, yet progress is emerging. To share with you some of the highlights, the report shows that the rise in extreme poverty - the number of people living on less than one dollar a day - has levelled off since 1999. It also shows that, in the face of rapid population growth, African countries have increased primary school enrolment rates to 70 per cent in 2005, but more investments in the sector are needed to reach the goal of universal primary education.

Child mortality rates have fallen, but only marginally to 166 per 1,000 live births and remain stubbornly high across the continent. The report also shows that maternal mortality rates remain shockingly high. A woman in Africa has a 1 in 16 chance to die in childbirth or from complications in pregnancy, compared with a likelihood of 1 in 3,800 in the developed world. The number of new HIV/AIDS cases is still rising faster than the rate at which new treatment is being offered.

Meanwhile, there is also good news in Africa. This includes improvements in economic growth rates, the quality of governance, macroeconomic stability, and peace and security. Yet, some of this progress remains quite fragile. For example, much of Africa's economic performance is based on a commodities boom, which is precarious partly because of the volatility that characterizes global commodity markets. Indeed, many African countries remain dependent on a few primary commodities for their exports. The strengthening and diversification of the productive base is an essential condition for improved economic performance in the medium to long term. This is why concluding a genuine development package in the Doha Round and operationalizing the Aid for Trade initiative is so important for Africa, as well as other developing countries.

Challenges identified in this update all have one thing in common: they can be addressed using resources, skills and technologies that the international community has at its disposal, based on the commitments made by African Governments and the donor community alike.

An important lesson in recent years from the experience of many countries in Africa that have been doing relatively well is that rapid and large-scale progress towards the MDGs is possible when there is strong government leadership, good policies and practical strategies for scaling up public investments in vital areas which are combined with adequate financial and technical support and market access opportunities from the international community. Impressive results have been achieved in areas such as the following:

- In Malawi, for instance, there is raising agricultural productivity;

- In countries like Ghana, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, there is increasing primary school enrolment;

- In Niger, Togo, Zambia and Zanzibar, malaria control has been achieved;

- Again, in Zambia, access to basic rural health services has increased;

- There is also large-scale reforestation in Niger; and increasing access to water and sanitation in countries like Senegal and Uganda.

These successes demonstrate that the MDGs are indeed achievable across Africa. Yet, these success stories cannot be taken to scale because official development assistance (ODA) to Africa, excluding one-off debt relief and humanitarian assistance, has not increased significantly since the year 2004. If we exclude Nigeria, which received exceptional debt relief this year, net ODA to the rest of sub-Saharan Africa has actually increased by only 2 per cent in real terms from 2005.

As a result, the upcoming G-8 Summit provides an important opportunity for donor countries to lay out concrete timetables for how they will increase development assistance to each African country through to 2010 and 2015, which is the target date for achieving the MDGs.

The stark figures in this report should stir us to move away from debating principles towards working out the practicalities of scaling up interventions to achieve the MDGs, while ensuring full accountability and transparency. Many African Governments are already leading by example. I, therefore, hope, and this is also the hope of the Secretary-General, that world leaders meeting at the G-8 right now will carefully study these success stories and resolve to take them to scale.

For information media - not an official record