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UNEP to Focus on Sub-Saharan African Development

Obstacles preventing Sub-Saharan African countries from achieving United Nations development goals will be on the agenda of next week's governing council meeting of the United Nations Environment Program, to be held in the Kenyan capital.

Officials from the United Nations Environment Program, UNEP, told reporters in Nairobi Friday Sub-Saharan Africa as a whole is lagging far behind in reaching the so-called Millenium Development goals.

These are targets set by the U.N. to reduce poverty, child mortality, and AIDS and other diseases, increase access to primary education, health care, and water, improve the situation of women, and protect the environment.

UNEP's director of the regional office for Africa, Sekou Toure, told VOA the ministers plan to discuss what keeps Africa from reaching these goals.

"One area is the issue of capacity,” he said. “You invest heavily in some infrastructure. You build them at a cost of millions and millions of dollars. And then you come back 10 years down the road; they are completely dilapidated. The second one is going to be the issue of conflict and post-conflict. We make one step forwards and two steps backwards."

Mr. Toure said discussions will also focus on what he calls "south-south cooperation," assistance one developing nation can give another one.

In the case of Sub-Saharan Africa, he said, China will figure prominently in efforts to assist African countries, particularly in the area of environmental impact assessments.

Delegations from 100 nations worldwide are expected to attend next week's United Nations Environment Program meeting, which will look at how a healthy environment is key for a country to reach its development goals.

Executive director Klaus Toepfer said the traditional view that economic growth takes precedence over environmental protection is no longer relevant.

"It is very well known now, it is mainstream thinking, that this is not possible to do, but that you have to integrate environment in the development process if you want to reach these Millenium Development Goals," he noted.

Mr. Toepfer gave the example of deforestation in Kenya, and how the destruction of forests and wetlands has led to a reduction of water in some areas.

Also on the agenda will be how countries can prepare for, and recover from, environmental disasters such as the recent Asian tsunami.