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South Asia still lags behind in MDGs: latest UN report

India is on target to meeting the Millennium Development Goal of halving poverty and providing primary education. But it lags behind in sanitation, child nutrition and maternal mortality, according to the latest UN report on the status of the MDGs worldwide

The world is on track to achieving the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of halving poverty by 2015, but other goals like sanitation, infant and maternal mortality are off target mainly due to poor progress in South Asia, says the latest UN report on the status of MDGs worldwide.

‘The Millennium Development Goals Report 2008’ says that while the world is on target to achieving the first MDG -- halving poverty by 2015 -- current high food prices are expected to push many people into poverty, especially in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia (which includes India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka), which are already regions with the greatest number of people living in extreme poverty.

In South Asia, poverty fell from 60% in 1981 to 40% in 2005. In India, poverty dropped from 52% to 41% between 1990 and 2005. However, the number of people living in extreme poverty rose by 20 million during this period.

The MDG goal of universal primary education is making good progress, exceeding 95% in South East Asia and 90% in South Asia, though this still leaves a significant 18 million children out of school. Enrolment of girls increased substantially in South Asia -- with 95 girls enrolled per 100 boys in 2006, compared with 77 girls per 100 boys enrolled in 1991.

Countries in the region are not doing so well in providing food and nutrition, according to the report. In South Asia, almost every second child is underweight -- twice as high as the rate in sub-Saharan Africa. In South East Asia, one out of four children is underweight, the same as in sub-Saharan Africa. Around 45.9% of children under 5 are severely undernourished in India (2005).

India is not on target to achieving the goal of reducing child mortality. Some 1.7 million infants die every year and an additional 1 million die before they reach their fifth birthday. More than 64% of infant deaths occur in the first month of life; a majority of them die during the first week. Around 30% of newborn babies have a low birth weight and therefore face high risk of death.

In the case of maternal mortality, the report says, South Asian countries including India are doing badly. While India has a target of reducing mortality to 107 maternal deaths per 100,000, it currently has 300-odd deaths for every 100,000 deliveries.

Of the 2.5 billion people in the developing world who still live without access to improved sanitation such as proper toilets, more than 1 billion live in Asia and the Pacific. In South Asia, over two-thirds of people have no access to improved sanitation. In India, over 100 million rural households live without access to sanitation facilities, and around 40 million households do not have a safe source of drinking water.

UN India coordinator Maxime Olson said rising fuel and food prices have pushed more people into the poverty net. “In India, the number of people living in extreme poverty rose by 20 million during 1990 and 2005.” Because of this, Olson said, India is not on track to achieving the MDGs for hunger, infant mortality and maternal mortality, reducing the number of HIV-positive cases and controlling malaria, and providing adequate sanitation.

However, India is on track to meeting the goals on poverty reduction, universalisation of primary education, gender parity in education, and maintaining a sustainable environment.

The MDGs were jointly agreed to by 147 nations under the guidance of the United Nations in 2000. They include goals, to be achieved by 2015, to halve poverty, reduce disease and hunger, reduce infant mortality, achieve universal primary education, improve maternal health, and combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases.

Source: Hindustan Times, September 10, 2008
             http://mdgs.un.org, September 2008