UNICEF: Millions of Children Still Hungry

May 2, 2006 — -- Despite several high-profile international initiatives, the number of children in the developing world who go hungry has barely fallen in the past 15 years, the children's advocacy group UNICEF said today.

More than a quarter of the children in the developing world are still critically undernourished, according to a new report from the group. It also found 146 million children go hungry every day and 5.6 million kids die every year because they are not getting enough to eat -- a figure that corresponds to 10 children every minute.

"The lack of progress to combat malnutrition is damaging children and nations," said UNICEF Executive Director Ann Veneman. "Few things have more impact than nutrition on a child's ability to survive, learn effectively and escape a life of poverty."

Children continue to die of hunger in huge numbers despite a worldwide drive to combat it. In 2000, the United Nations announced a series of "millennium development goals." One of the goals was to halve the number of people worldwide who suffer from not getting enough to eat. But the number of children who go hungry in the developing world has improved only slightly in 15 years. In 1990, 32 percent of kids in the developing world were undernourished; this year that figure is 27 percent.

Ignorance, War Make Matters Worse

Almost half of the world's underweight children live in just three countries -- India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Apparently, the dire situation in South Asia is not caused by a shortage of food but by food that is low in quality and nutrients.

Social issues also contribute to the problem. In many places, women receive little education and don't know how to best feed and care for their kids.

In southern and eastern Africa, 29 percent of children were malnourished in 1990. And in 2006, 29 percent of kids are still malnourished. There has been no progress. The failure is largely due to drought-related famine and the continued spread of HIV/AIDS.

The problem is on the rise elsewhere because of the upheaval of war. There are now more children going hungry in Iraq, Sudan and Yemen.

But Not All Bad News

In parts of western and central Africa, child hunger has dropped due to improvements in health care and programs that promote breast-feeding.In South America and the Caribbean, only 7 percent of kids are now underweight.

In East Asia, the figure has fallen to 15 percent, largely because the Chinese government has made efforts to address the problem.

What Can Be Done?

UNICEF said that fighting child hunger requires more than food deliveries. The organization continues to promote breast-feeding and emphasizes good nutrition for kids in their first two years of life. The group also calls for more vitamin A capsules and food fortifiers, such as iodine and iron. Apparently, vitamin A capsules already save 350,000 children each year. UNICEF has also launched the "Unite for Children. Unite Against AIDS" campaign to bring care and support for those hit by the epidemic.

The World Food Program, another branch of the U.N., has planned a global lottery to raise money to combat child hunger. WFP hopes to raise $500 million a year selling scratch cards at about $1.25 a pop.

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