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Japan grants US$13 million to UNESCO initiative to improve literacy in Afghanistan

Paris, 3 March – UNESCO’s Literacy Initiative for Empowerment (LIFE) in Afghanistan will receive a grant of US$13 million from the Government of Japan. This grant, to be administered by UNESCO, will benefit almost 600,000 individuals, notably women, in 18 Afghan provinces, who are unable to read or write.

The official signing ceremony was held in Kabul on 2 March, with the Director of UNESCO’s Kabul office, Shigeru Aoyagi, and Japan’s Ambassador to Afghanistan, Hideo Sato, in the presence of the Afghan Minister for Education, Mohammad Haneef Atmar. The Director-General of UNESCO, Koïchiro Matsuura, said he was “extremely pleased that the Government of Japan had decided to support the efforts of Afghanistan in this way. Literacy is by no means a panacea for all development challenges, but it does remain an essential and indispensable tool for development, and has shown what it can achieve the world over. It is crucial to help Afghanistan rise to this challenge.”

In 2007, Afghanistan’s Education Ministry designed, with UNESCO and other international partners, a strategic national education plan identifying literacy as one of eight priority programmes. The Afghan government designated the LIFE initiative as the national framework for action to improve literacy.

 Despite concerted efforts since the fall of the Taliban government in 2001, rates of illiteracy in Afghanistan remain among the highest in the world. There are glaring discrepancies between urban and rural areas, on the one hand, and between men and women, on the other. According to a 2005 report on the Millennium Development Goals for Afghanistan, the literacy rate was estimated at 34% in 2004 for those aged 15 years and over (50% for men and 18% for women). In rural areas, home to 74% of the population, almost 90% of women and 63% of men are unable to read or write. These figures rank Afghanistan alongside countries such as Niger, Burkina Faso and Mali.

UNESCO’s Literacy Initiative for Empowerment (LIFE) was launched in 2005 as a framework for global action to help developing countries literacy and achieve Education for All goals. LIFE targets countries where the rate of literacy is below 50%, or where more than 10 million people are illiterate.


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