Poor countries remain hungry

THE developing world's progress is "seriously lagging" on global targets relating to food and nutrition, with child and maternal mortality rates still unacceptably high, according to the Global Monitoring Report for 2012.

The report was released yesterday by the World Bank (WB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Recent spikes in international food prices had stalled progress across several of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the report said.

But, good progress had been made on other MDGs, with targets related to extreme poverty reduction and providing access to safe drinking water already achieved, several years ahead of their 2015 deadline. Also, targets on education and the ratio of girls to boys in schools were within reach, the report said.

But the world was significantly off track on the MDGs to reduce the mortality rates of children under five and mothers. As a result, these goals would not be met in any developing region by 2015. Progress is slowest on maternal mortality, with only one-third of the targeted reduction achieved so far.

"Progress on reducing infant and child mortality is similarly dismal, with only 50% of the targeted decline achieved."

Justin Yifu Lin, the WB's chief economist and senior vice president for development economics, said "high and volatile food prices do not bode well for the attainment of many MDGs, as they erode consumer purchasing power and prevent millions of people from escaping poverty and hunger, besides having long-term adverse impacts on health and education.

"Dealing with food price volatility must be a high priority, especially as nutrition has been one of the forgotten MDGs."

The report also provided solutions for making countries and communities more resilient in the face of food price spikes.

Countries should deploy agricultural policies to encourage farmers to increase production, use social safety nets to improve resilience, strengthen nutritional policies to improve early childhood development, and design trade policies that enhance access to food markets, reduce food price volatility and induce productivity gains, it said.

Hugh Bredenkamp, deputy director of the IMF's strategy, policy and review department, said the challenges that countries faced in responding to high food prices had been made more difficult as a result of the global recession.

While food prices had declined from their 2011 peaks, commodity prices remained volatile, the report said.