Developing World Lags on Global Targets Related to Food and Nutrition, Says IMF-World Bank Report

April 20, 2012

Washington D.C., April 20, 2012 –The developing world’s progress is seriously lagging on global targets related to food and nutrition, with rates of child and maternal mortality still unacceptably high, says the Global Monitoring Report (GMR) 2012, released today by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

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

GMR 2012: Food Prices, Nutrition and the Millennium Development Goals  reports good progress across some MDGs, with targets related to reducing extreme poverty and providing access to safe drinking water already achieved, several years ahead of the 2015 deadline to achieve the MDGs. Also, targets on education and ratio of girls to boys in schools are within reach.

In contrast, the world is significantly off-track on the MDGs to reduce mortality rates of children under five and mothers. As a result, these goals will not be met in any developing region by 2015. Progress is slowest on maternal mortality, with only one-third of the targeted reduction achieved thus far. Progress on reducing infant and child mortality is similarly dismal, with only 50 per cent of the targeted decline achieved.

“High and volatile food prices do not bode well for 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,” said Justin Yifu Lin, the World Bank’s Chief Economist and Senior Vice President for Development Economics. “Dealing with food price volatility must be a high priority, especially as nutrition has been one of the forgotten MDGs,” he added.

GMR 2012 details 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. However, the challenges countries face in responding to high food prices have been made more difficult as a result of the global recession.

“The fragile global economy could very well slow developing countries’ progress on human development goals, since the fiscal, debt, and current account positions, particularly of low income countries, have been weakened by the global financial crisis,” said Hugh Bredenkamp, Deputy Director of the IMF’s Strategy, Policy and Review Department.

Regional progress towards the MDGs is uneven. While upper middle income countries are on track to achieve most targets, low-income or fragile countries are lagging, with only two goals achieved or on-track. While food prices have declined from their 2011 peaks, commodity prices remain volatile.

“To help deal with volatility, more developing countries are complementing their fiscal and monetary policy responses with insurance or hedging operations, such as selling crops in forward markets. This can be part of a broader strategy for managing risks like natural disasters and swings in commodity prices,” said Lynge Nielsen, Senior Economist at the IMF.

Jos Verbeek, Lead Economist at the World Bank and lead author of GMR 2012, cautioned that declining development assistance, population growth and high food prices will make the need to focus on nutrition programs for the poor even more challenging.

“According to our projections, an estimated 1.02 billion people will still be living in extreme poverty in 2015. Clearly, assistance must be leveraged in new ways if we are to improve food security and nutrition, particularly for the poor and vulnerable,” said Verbeek.

Regional Highlights

In East Asia and Pacific, the targets on extreme poverty, gender parity and access to water and sanitation have been reached. Progress is substantial with regards to primary completion and the goal should be achieved in the years remaining to 2015. Child and maternal mortality are the targets lagging the most.

In Europe and Central Asia, the targets on poverty and access to water have been reached. Universal primary education and gender goals are currently on track. Increased efforts must be undertaken with regards to improving maternal health and access to basic sanitation.

Latin America and the Caribbean has already reached extreme poverty, primary school completion, gender equality and access to safe water targets. The region is performing well in terms of child mortality, but progress on maternal mortality is lagging.

Middle East and North Africa has reached the targets on poverty and provision of improved sanitation facilities. The region is making fast progress towards achieving universal primary education and gender equality. However, progress towards ensuring safe drinking water and reducing maternal mortality is lagging.

South Asia has reached the target on access to safe drinking water and will most probably eliminate gender disparity in primary and secondary education by 2015. Progress has also been made on primary school completion and, to a lesser extent, extreme poverty reduction. However, progress on reducing child and maternal mortality and improving access to sanitation facilities is off-track.

Sub-Saharan Africa is lagging on most MDGs. Although the region has achieved more than 60 per cent of the progress required on goals such as gender parity, primary school completion, access to safe water and extreme poverty, health-related MDGs, particularly maternal mortality, require urgent attention.

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