U.N. Chief Visits Laos

Laos gets a rare visit from the U.N. chief, who urges the country to address widening gaps between haves and have-nots.
2009-04-12
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<em>Undated official photo of Ban Ki-moon. Photo: United Nations</em>
BANGKOK—Ban Ki-moon became the first United Nations secretary-general in decades to pay an official visit to Laos, saying he hoped Laos would meet its target of emerging from the ranks of least developed countries by 2020.

Laos has made "constant improvements in health, education, standards of living," Ban said during his visit, according to a speech distributed by the United Nations.

"Infant death rates continued to fall and the literacy rates and the elimination of illiteracy have continued to improve," Ban said, citing increased "macro-economic stability and an increasing integration in the global economy."

"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," he said.

Inequality especially between rural and urban areas is getting worse."

Ban Ki-moon

Other areas of concern remain, in particular malnutrition and inequalities affecting certain areas and ethnicities, Ban said.

Ban was visiting Laos ahead of publication of a U.N. Millennium Goals report, which monitors a country's progress in overcoming poverty.

Laos has seen poverty fall from 46 percent to 33 percent from 1992-2002, well on its way to reducing poverty by half, as foreseen by the Millennium Goals.

But 40 percent of children under five still suffer from chronic malnutrition, the report said.

Too many gaps

"Too many people are isolated by the barriers of language, culture, and the economy. Inequalities—in particular between the rural areas and urban—are getting worse," the report said.

"Poverty in rural areas is twice as high as in urban areas," the report said, adding that "a significant part of the population has not enjoyed the benefits accruing from a relatively high gross domestic product (GDP) growth of almost 6 per cent per annum."

"Disparities among the rural poor, women, and ethnic groups would need to be addressed."

The U.N. Millennium Goals aim to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, achieve universal primary education, promote gender equality and empower women, reduce child mortality, improve maternal health,combat HIV-AIDS, malaria and other diseases, ensure environmental sustainability, and develop a global partnership for development.

Sandwiched among China, Vietnam, Burma, Cambodia, and Thailand, tiny, landlocked Laos must also stay vigilant about the social and environmental effects of the exploitation of its natural resources, the report said.

Ban had been scheduled to travel on to an Asian summit in Thailand, but the meeting was canceled after anti-government protesters stormed the venue in the resort city of Pattaya.

Original reporting by RFA's Lao service. Lao service director: Viengsay Luangkhot. Executive producer: Susan Lavery. Edited in English by Sarah Jackson-Han.

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