"Access to schools is the single most important factor responsible for the low enrolment rates," the report noted. The study, a joint effort by various UN agencies, the Sudanese government, academia and civil society, maintained that increasing the number of primary schools and positioning them closer to villages was essential to improving the situation.
Much more was needed, however, to reach the stated goal on education to "ensure that, by 2015, children everywhere, boys and girls alike, will be able to complete a full course of primary schooling."
The interim report -- based on a December 2004 assessment of Sudan’s progress in achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and launched on 4 September -- found that it was difficult to provide schooling in the south given the dangerous environment caused by war. The majority of schools, it noted, were "bush schools", with lessons given under trees or in simple open structures that offer minimal protection.
"Large numbers of youth in south Sudan missed out on education when they joined the army, were displaced or were abducted by militia. Others did not attend school for fear of forceful conscription," the MDG update observed.
"Some [children] live too far away from the nearest school. In addition, many parents are simply unable to afford the fees or have to consider the opportunity cost of sending their children to school, preferring to keep them at home doing household chores or other productive work," the report said.
The analysis further indicated that out of 1,426 schools in the south, 68 percent had no latrines, 52 percent had no safe drinking water and more than two-thirds had no access to health facilities.
The report estimated that the proportion of the population living below the poverty line in south Sudan is over 90 percent and that "its human development index could easily be among the worst in the world."
Meanwhile, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) warned on 7 September that early marriages, exacerbated by endemic poverty, were a major impediment to girls’ education.
In southern Sudan, a teenage girl was far more likely to be a wife than a student, UNICEF noted. Out of a population of over 7 million people, only about 500 girls completed primary school each year. By contrast, one in five adolescent girls was already a mother.
"A 'bride price', usually paid in cows, is due to a girl's family on her wedding day - making a daughter one of the only realistic sources of income in a place where the average citizen lives on approximately 25 cents a day," UNICEF said.
In nearly every case, the beginning of a marriage signalled the end of an education.
The Millennium Declaration also outlines seven other goals, including the eradication of poverty and diseases, reduction of child mortality, promoting gender equality, improving maternal health and ensuring environmental sustainability -- all of which have to be achieved by the year 2015.
Heba El-Kholy, country director of the UN Development Program (UNDP) in Sudan, explained that the purpose of the report was "to highlight stages of progress and to provide a new opportunity to mobilise the stakeholders to play their role in ensuring the success of their efforts towards achieving the goals outlined in the Millennium Declaration."
For Sudan to meet the goals by 2015, El-Kholy said it was necessary to redirect budgets and capacity according to the data provided in the report.
The country director added that the abundance of Sudan's natural resources would provide an opportunity for the country to be successful.
"A lot of African countries that have signed the declaration will have difficulties reaching the challenge because they are resource poor. That is not the challenge in Sudan," she noted.
"Sudan is moving forward in terms of implementing the CPA [the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, which ended Sudan's 21-year civil war]," El-Kholy observed. "If this works, it will really provide a model for so many African countries. ... But it is not going to be easy."
Sudan signed the Millennium Declaration at the UN headquarters in New York in September 2000, along with 189 countries.