Child deaths fall around globe - report

By Paul Harper

Halimatou Issaka, 10, Safoura Souley, 9, and Rachida Adamou, help out in the garden after school in near Banibangou, Niger. Photo / AFP
Halimatou Issaka, 10, Safoura Souley, 9, and Rachida Adamou, help out in the garden after school in near Banibangou, Niger. Photo / AFP

More than four million fewer children under the age of five are dying each year around the world compared to 1990, according to a new report released by Save the Children today.

However the report follows warnings from the United Nations of an impending humanitarian crisis in the Sahel region of Africa - which includes Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger.

An increase in aid was one of six key factors highlighted by the report, undertaken by the Overseas Development Institute, for the drop in global child deaths.

Save the Children New Zealand chief executive Liz Gibbs said the report demonstrates the effectiveness of "well-targeted aid".

"Millions more children are now surviving beyond their fifth birthday thanks to aid, economic growth and good government policy. Where funding gaps exist - for example for primary education or child health - aid can make all the difference."

Other key factors driving improvements are commitment and leadership from national governments, social investment and economic growth, programmes which target the most marginalised groups, and technology and innovation.

The study also found 56 million more children were enrolled in school in between 1999 and 2009, and 131 countries now have over 90 percent immunisation coverage for diphtheria, tetanus and major preventable childhood diseases, such as measles, compared to just 63 countries in 1990.

However the report said global child mortality remains high and 171 million children are still stunted from the effects of malnutrition. The economic crisis and existing funding shortfalls also mean that progress on HIV/ AIDS and work on child malnutrition are at risk.

The report comes amid UN concerns of potential humanitarian crisis in the Sahel region of Africa.

About 15 million people in the Sahel region of West and Central Africa are in danger of becoming severely malnourished this year if the global community does not take action, UNICEF said.

The organisation is warning one million children below the age of five are at risk, as poor harvests, drought and high food prices lead to food shortages across the region.

"The prospects for a sustained recovery are increasingly precarious. The most recent weather outlook in combination with persisting insecurity and violence in many areas can lead to new shocks and disruptions, a development which again puts the lives of hundreds of thousands of children at risk," UNICEF global emergency coordinator for the Horn of Africa crisis, Elhadj As Sy, said.

Executive director of UNICEF NZ Dennis McKinlay said while the situation in the Sahel is not yet a famine, action is need urgently to "avoid a full scale food and nutrition crisis".

"Without a good emergency response and a sustained effort to reduce risk in the medium to long term an entire generation faces a future of dependency, poverty and threatened survival," Mr Gressly said.

The Sahel stretches across northern Africa, from Senegal in the west to Eritrea in the east.
The New Zealand Government last month pledged $1 million to a United Nations food relief programme in the Sahel region.

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