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Renewed effort needed to reduce child, maternal mortality

  • Maternal, child mortality rates remain unacceptably high
  • High food prices stalling progress on malnourishment
  • Global cooperation needed on nutrition programs for poor

Washington, DC, April 20, 2012 – South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa are seriously lagging in efforts to reduce child and maternal mortality, a situation exacerbated by high and volatile food prices, says the Global Monitoring Report (GMR) 2012, released today by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Every year, the GMR gauges progress across the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). This year’s edition focuses on ‘Food Prices, Nutrition and the MDGs’.

Of the eight MDGs, the first relates to extreme poverty and hunger. MDG 1 calls for halving the proportion of undernourished people from the level that prevailed in 1990, but few countries will reach that target by the 2015 deadline to achieve the MDGs.

Indeed, South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa are not alone in their frustrating fight against malnourishment. The entire developing world, from Latin America and the Caribbean to East Asia and the Pacific, including the Middle East and North Africa and eastern Europe and Central Asia, is off-track on achieving the nutrition-related MDGs. As a result, these goals – as measured by mortality rates for children and mothers – will not be met in any developing region by 2015.

Progress is slowest on maternal mortality, with only one-third of the targeted reduction achieved thus far. Progress on reducing infant and child mortality is similarly dismal, with only 50 per cent of the targeted decline achieved.

In contrast, tremendous strides have been made on other targets, with those related to providing access to safe drinking water and reducing extreme poverty already achieved, several years ahead of the 2015 deadline (earlier this year, World Bank reported that an estimated 1.29 billion people in 2008 lived below $1.25 a day, equivalent to 22 percent of the population of the developing world). Also, targets on education and ratio of girls to boys in schools are within reach.

According to the GMR 2012, progress across several MDGs has been stalled by recent food price spikes, which came in quick succession in 2007/8 and 2011.

Across the world, poor people have responded by reducing the quality of food and the number of meals, which was one of the most common and, often the first, response to the rise in food prices.

Diverse evidence shows that reduction in the quantity and quality of nutrition can have long term and far-reaching impacts on a number of human development indicators, including health and education, besides poverty and hunger. Indeed, proper nutrition in the first two years of a child’s life is critical – even a temporary reduction in nutritional intake due to higher food prices can affect children’s long-term development. This can, in turn, set back a whole generation and affect the development prospects of affected countries.

GMR 2012 also details solutions for making countries and communities more resilient in the face of food price spikes. While acknowledging that one size does not fit all, the report advocates the deployment of agricultural policies to encourage farmers to increase production; use of social safety nets to improve resilience; strengthening nutritional policies to improve early childhood development; and designing trade policies that enhance access to food markets, reduce food price volatility and induce productivity gains.

With 1.02 billion people still expected to be living in extreme poverty in 2015, the report also calls for renewed international collaboration to focus on improving nutrition and food security.

Regional Highlights

In East Asia and Pacific, the targets on extreme poverty, gender parity and access to water and sanitation have been reached. Progress is substantial with regards to primary completion and the goal should be achieved in the years remaining to 2015. Progress is lagging the most on child and maternal mortality, with 73 per cent and 56 per cent, respectively, of the targeted decline achieved.

In Europe and Central Asia, the targets on poverty and access to water have been reached. Universal primary education and gender goals are currently on track. Increased efforts must be undertaken with regards to improving child and maternal mortality, with 72 per cent and 52 per cent, respectively, of the targeted decline achieved, as well as access to basic sanitation.

Latin America and the Caribbean has already reached extreme poverty, primary school completion, gender equality and access to safe water targets. The region is performing well in terms of child mortality, with the goal within reach, but progress on maternal mortality is lagging, with only 41 per cent of the targeted decline achieved.

Middle East and North Africa has reached the targets on poverty and provision of improved sanitation facilities. The region is making fast progress towards achieving universal primary education and gender equality. However, progress towards ensuring safe drinking water and reducing maternal mortality is lagging, with only 60 per cent of the targeted declines achieved, while 71 per cent of the target has been achieved on child mortality.

South Asia has reached the target on access to safe drinking water and will most probably eliminate gender disparity in primary and secondary education by 2015. Progress has also been made on primary school completion and, to a lesser extent, extreme poverty reduction. However, progress is off-track on reducing child and maternal mortality, with 58 per cent and 53 per cent, respectively, of the targeted declines achieved, as well as improving access to sanitation facilities.

Sub-Saharan Africa is lagging on most MDGs, although much progress has been achieved in absolute numbers. The region has achieved more than 60 per cent of the progress required on goals such as gender parity, primary school completion, access to safe water and extreme poverty. However, urgent attention is needed on child and maternal mortality, with only 47 per cent and 33 per cent, respectively, of the targeted declines achieved.

 




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