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Poverty and Children: lessons of the 90s for least developed countries
Detail: A report from UNICEF looks back at the piecemeal progress of efforts in the 1990s to alleviate poverty and improve the lives of children in the 48 least developed countries (LDCs). It warns that the LDCs will not meet the 2015 international development targets and the lot of the world’s poorest children will remain grim unless additional financing and debt relief clear the way for a massive investment in education, health, water and sanitation.

The 1990s witnessed some successes. The use of oral rehydration therapy, immunisation and breastfeeding increased. Campaigns to eradicate polio and eliminate micronutrient deficiencies in iodine and vitamin A generally succeeded. Countries such as Bangladesh showed how modest increases in social services expenditure (up from 22.6 per cent of the national budget to 25.7 in the decade) can bring major benefits (female literacy increased from 17 to 48 per cent and the under-five mortality rate declined from 144 per 1 000 live births to 89).

However, the report contains some alarming statistics:

In the 1990s, the LDCs with the highest under-five mortality rates made the least progress in getting them down: one in every six children still does not survive to his or her fifth birthday.

Four million under fives in LDCs die each year from preventable causes: 40 per cent of all children are underweight.

LDCs spend 14 per cent of their national budgets on defence, 20-30 per cent on debt servicing and only 5 and 13 per cent on health and education respectively.

LDCs are not keeping up with global efforts to bridge the gender gap in education: just over half of all girls are enrolled in primary school, compared to 81 per cent in other developing countries.

Despite the ravages of AIDS, the average population growth rate in the LDCs is 2.5 per cent a year, nearly double that of developing countries.
Repeated pledges to increase the share of official development assistance (ODA) going to LDCs have not been honoured. In the 1990s, ODA to LDCs declined from 0.08 per cent of the combined GNP of donor countries to 0.05 per cent.

The report also gives evidence of the value of educating girls. Girls educated to primary school level are more likely to marry later, space their pregnancies, have fewer and better nourished children, send their own children to school, understand personal hygiene, dispose of excreta and store water safely.

UNICEF calls for:

The abolition of school user fees, better pay and conditions for teachers and more school construction.

Action to ensure that working children receive a basic education.

The acceleration of debt relief (by the end of 2000, only seven LDCs had actually received any relief): writing off LDC debts would only cost 0.15 per cent of the annual combined GNP of industrialised countries.
Date: December 31 2001