UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said yesterday he was hopeful that communist Laos, one of the world’s poorest nations, would meet its target of emerging from the ranks of least developed countries by 2020.
Ban, the first UN chief to visit the Southeast Asian nation in 24 years, opened a new UN building in the capital of Vientiane and reviewed the country’s progress in meeting the world body’s Millennium Development Goals.
“Poverty is prevalent, especially in the countryside. Too many people in remote parts of the country suffer from hunger during the lean season. Inequality especially between rural and urban areas is getting worse,” Ban said in a speech at the building’s inauguration.
But he also cited improvements in health, education, life spans and infant mortality rates, as well as greater integration with the global economy.
He said the Laotian government was committed to achieving the millennium goals, a series of targets related to poverty, education, health and other sectors world leaders have pledged to meet by 2015.
Ban said Laos was also bent on graduating from least developed country status by 2020.
“Laos will have to do more than just increase growth. It will have to focus on the quality and sustainability of that growth. That requires greater investments in human development and the social sector,” the UN chief said.
“In these times of global financial turmoil, social protection is all the more important. Safety nets catch those most at risk. And that helps maintain progress,” Ban said.
He also said that Laos would have to focus greater attention on the environment, especially when some of the country’s natural riches are endangered by short-term economic interests.
Ban was scheduled to fly later yesterday to Thailand to attend an Asian summit, which has been brought to all but a standstill by anti-government protesters.