Despite Declines, Child Mortality and Hunger Persist in Developing Nations, U.N. Reports

The New York Times

16/09/2014

By RICK GLADSTONE and SOMINI SENGUPTASEPT

The United Nations on Tuesday reported significant declines in the rates of child mortality and hunger, but said those two scourges of the developing world stubbornly persist in parts of Africa and South Asia despite major health care advances and sharply higher global food production.

The trends, detailed in two annual reports by United Nations agencies, were presented before the General Assembly meetings of world leaders, where the Millennium Development Goals, a United Nations list of aspirations to meet the needs of the world’s poorest, are an important discussion theme.

While one of those goals — halving the number of hungry people by 2015 — seems within reach, the goal of reducing child mortality by two-thirds is years behind, the reports showed.

The child mortality report, a collaboration of Unicef, other United Nations agencies and the World Bank, showed that the mortality rate for children younger than 5, the most vulnerable age group, had dropped by nearly half between 1990 and 2013. Nearly all of the countries with the highest mortality rates are in Africa, the report said, and two countries that are among the world’s most populous — India and Nigeria — account for nearly one-third of all deaths among children younger than 5.

Child mortality rates are scrutinized because they can be barometers of other problems and are considered a telling indicator of a country’s quality of life.

The report showed that the global mortality rate fell to 46 deaths per 1,000 live births last year, from 90 per 1,000 births in 1990. It also showed that the gap in mortality rates between the richest and poorest households has fallen in all regions over most of the past two decades, except for sub-Saharan Africa, which remains the riskiest region for a young child.

The report attributed much of the progress to broad interventions over the years against leading infectious diseases in some of the most impoverished regions, including immunizations and the use of insecticide-treated mosquito nets, as well as improvements in health care for expectant mothers and in battling the effects of diarrhea and other dehydrating maladies that pose acute risks to the young.

“There has been dramatic and accelerating progress in reducing mortality among children, and the data prove that success is possible even for poorly resourced countries,” Dr. Mickey Chopra, the head of global health programs for Unicef, said in a statement about the report’s conclusions.

Despite the advances, the report said, 223 million children worldwide died before their fifth birthday between 1990 and 2013, a total that the report called “staggering.”

In 2013, 6.3 million children younger than 5 died, 200,000 fewer than the year before, the report said. Nonetheless, that is still about 17,000 child deaths a day, largely attributable to preventable causes that include insufficient nutrition; complications during pregnancy, labor and delivery; pneumonia; diarrhea; and malaria.

While sub-Saharan Africa has reduced the under-5 mortality rate by 48 percent since 1990, the report said, the region still has the world’s highest rate — 92 deaths per 1,000 live births, nearly 15 times the average in the most affluent countries.

Put another way, the report said, children born in Angola, which has the world’s highest rate — 167 deaths per 1,000 live births — are 84 times more likely to die before they turn 5 than children born in Luxembourg, which has the lowest rate of two per 1,000.

The hunger report, a collaboration of the Food and Agriculture Organization, World Food Program and International Fund for Agricultural Development, said more than 800 million people worldwide do not get enough to eat.

Feeding the world is no longer a question of growing more food. The Food and Agriculture Organization says the world produces twice the amount of food that the population needs. The report called for “targeted policy interventions such as strengthening safety nets and other social protection.”

Hunger has declined slowly over the last few decades: 11.3 percent of the world’s population was clinically undernourished in the 2012-14 period, down from 18.7 percent in the 1990-92 period. But it keeps its hold on a handful of countries. Chad, the Central African Republic and Ethiopia have some of the highest rates of undernourished people. A relatively large percentage of the population remains hungry across South Asia.

And in Iraq, the share of hungry people has soared: Nearly one in four Iraqis are undernourished, according to the report, up from 7.9 percent of the population in the 1990-92 period.

The report defined hunger as having “insufficient food for an active and healthy life.”

While the report said the world was on target to meet the Millennium Development goal of halving hunger levels, natural disasters and conflict had blunted progress in the countries of sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East.

See related: http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2014/sep/16/infant-child-deaths-un-estimates