Developing countries are lagging in efforts to reduce child and maternal mortality, according a study issued that linked both problems to food and nutrition.
The report from the International Monetary Fund and World Bank found that spikes in international food prices in 2007-08 and again in 2011 have stalled progress toward several of the 2015 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which were set by the United Nations in 2000 as targets for combating poverty and improving standards of living for billions of people in developing countries.
The 2011 price spike pushed or kept 44 million people in poverty, the report said.
"It's very difficult for poor people to adjust to food price spikes, because they often spend more than half their incomes on food," said Sasanka Thilakasiri, a spokeswoman for aid group Oxfam.
Women responsible for feeding children
She said that women are disproportionately responsible for feeding children and the sick or elderly in families.
"Food price rises cause them enormous hardship," Thilakasiri said. "To feed their families, women in poor countries often eat less food themselves, travel long distances to find food, and even resort to begging. These efforts have gone unnoticed by policy makers. Women need more support when they are hit by food price volatility and other economic shocks."
The report, issued during the IMF-World Bank spring meetings in Washington, found that progress was close to or ahead of schedule on several of the MDGs: reducing extreme poverty, primary education, education for girls and improved access to clean water.
Improved access to sanitation facilities was lagging somewhat.
Goals not met
Falling far below the goals for 2015 were mortality rates for both infants and children under 5 and the death rate for mothers in childbirth.
The report said those goals would not be met in any developing region by 2015.
Those mortality rates were attributed in part to disruptions in food supplies or poor nutrition. Food prices have declined from the most recent peaks in 2011 but remain volatile.
"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, World Bank senior vice president for development economics.
He called nutrition "one of the forgotten" Millennium Development Goals.
(Sapa, April 2012)
Child mortality rate increasing
Effort to curb mother/ child mortality to be stepped up