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Child mortality dropping at pace, UNICEF finds

A new report has found that child mortality rates have dropped by about 40 percent over the past two decades. A UN agency hailed "significant success," but said millions of under-5s still die needlessly each year.

The United Nations Children's Fund announced on Thursday that child mortality around the world has almost halved since 1990.

UNICEF's latest report on deaths of children under 5 years of age said that 6.9 million children died around the world in 2011, compared to almost 12 million in 1990.

Countries in various areas of the world with differing levels of wealth all recorded progress, with UNICEF saying this showed that economics and geography were not a barrier to reducing child mortality rates.

Anthony Lake, executive director of UNICEF, praised the "significant success" over the past 21 years.

"But there is also unfinished business. Millions of children under 5 are still dying each year from largely preventable causes for which there are proven, affordable interventions," Lake also said.

Roughly 19,000 young children still die every day, the enormous majority of them either from preventable or treatable diseases or from chronic malnourishment.

People fetch water from a cistern in Yemen.

Clean water and better sanitation could slash the death rates

"These lives could be saved with vaccines, adequate nutrition and basic medical and maternal care," Lake said. "The world has the technology and know-how to do so. The challenge is to make these available to every child."

Simple fixes, fundamental shortfalls

Pneumonia and diarrhea still account for almost 30 percent of under-5 deaths, with half of these instances taking place in four countries: the Democratic Republic of Congo, India, Nigeria and Pakistan. Diarrhea deaths, for the most part, can be attributed to a lack of clean water and sanitation, with Lake saying such simple measures should take center stage.

"With more children dying from diarrhea caused by lack of access to clean water and safe sanitation than AIDS, malaria and measles combined, we all need to focus on these basic interventions that we know work," Lake said.

Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia accounted for over 80 percent of under-5 deaths last year, the UNICEF report found.

Reducing child mortality rates is one of the UN's "Millennium Development Goals," with the stated target a two-thirds reduction from 1990 levels by 2015. The UN and the World Health Organization concur that this target is now unlikely to be met, considering the roughly 40 percent reduction achieved by 2011.

msh/jm (dpa, epd, Reuters)