By Rick Gladstone, The New York Times, June 22, 2015
Unicef warned Monday of what it described as grim trend lines for the world’s poorest children over the next 15 years, saying in a new report that many millions face preventable deaths, diseases, stunted growth and illiteracy.
The forecasts in the report by Unicef, the United Nations Children’s Fund, suggested that despite reductions of poverty and other deprivations in underdeveloped countries since 2000, as seen in improved national averages, those statistics had obscured a worsening trend among the poorest segments of their populations and may have impeded overall progress.
The report was described by Unicef officials as its “final report card” on whether children had been helped by the so-called Millennium Development Goals, a group of benchmarks established by the United Nations in 2000 for measuring progress in reducing poverty, hunger, child mortality, gender inequality, illiteracy and environmental degradation by the end of 2015. These goals are to be superseded by the Sustainable Development Goals, a group of benchmarks for measuring further advances by the end of 2030, which will be a major theme at the General Assembly annual meeting in September.
While the Millennium Development Goals contributed to “tremendous progress for children,” the report said, they also may have indirectly caused the opposite, by inadvertently encouraging nations to measure progress through national averages.
“In the rush to make that progress, many focused on the easiest-to-reach children and communities, not those in greatest need,” Anthony Lake, the Unicef executive director, said in the introduction to the report. “In doing so, national progress may actually have been slowed.”
Mr. Lake told a dial-in telephone news conference on Monday before the report’s public release that the progress from the Millennium Development Goals had been “very uneven,” and that “if current trends continue, we will fail children.”
The report showed, for example, that accounting for population growth, 68 million children under the age of 5 will die of mostly preventable causes by 2030 if current trends in child mortality continue, and 119 million children under 5 will suffer stunted development.
It further showed that under current trends, a half billion people — more than the population of the United States — will be practicing open defecation in 2030, posing serious health risks.
At current rates of progress, it said, girls from the poorest households in sub-Saharan Africa will not achieve universal lower-secondary school education until 2111, almost a century from now.
Mr. Lake said in the report that improvements in the way data is collected and used should be exploited to determine precisely “who the most vulnerable and excluded children are and where they can be found.”
Measuring progress in achieving the 2030 goals, he said, should be done “not only by statistical averages, but also by the degree to which the most disadvantaged children benefit.”