With an estimated 800 million adults still illiterate, two thirds of them women,
and over 100 million children out of school, the United Nations today marked
International Literacy Day with a plea from UN Headquarters to erase the deficit
and warnings from front line outposts of the challenges in the field.
"As the foundation of learning throughout life, literacy is at the heart of sustainable development," Secretary-General Kofi Annan said in a message
, noting that this year's celebration of the Day marks the start of the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (2005-2014).
"It is clear that support for literacy continues to fall well short of need. On this International Literacy Day, let us recall that literacy for all is an integral part of education for all, and that both are critical for achieving truly sustainable development for all," he added.
Perhaps typical of the challenges facing by UN agencies in the field was the assessment of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA).
"In Afghanistan the situation is especially alarming. According to statistics from the recently published National Human Development Report, only 28 per cent of adults aged 15 and above can read and write," spokesman Adrian Edwards told a news briefing in Kabul, the capital.
"Experience and research show that literacy can be an important tool for eradicating poverty, enlarging employment opportunities, advancing gender equality, improving family health, protecting the environment and promoting democratic participation."