The whole of sub-Saharan Africa - the poorest region of the world - will fail to meet the goals set seven years ago for eradicating global poverty by 2015 - the United Nations warned today.
In a progress report at the halfway point to the target date for hitting the Milllennium Development Goals (MDGs), the UN said the world was failing in the battle to combat hunger, cut infant mortality and put every child in school.
"The results presented in this report suggest that there have been some gains and that success is still possible in most parts of the world," UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon said. "But they also point to how much remains to be done."
Boosted by the economic progress in China and India, the UN said the proportion of people living on less than a dollar a day had fallen from 23.4% in 1999 to 19.2% and the world was on track to hit the 15.8% target for 2105. However, the 23.4% benchmark for Africa would not be met.
Slower progress had been made on halving the number of children under five who are underweight from the 33% in 1990. The percentage has come down to 27%, with 46% of under-fives in Africa registered as underweight. Infant mortality is down by one sixth, against the UN's target of a two-thirds cut.
Although the UN has a target of universal primary education, it said 30% of children in sub-Saharan Africa and 12% globally were out of school.
In health, the number of people living with Aids had risen sixfold to 40 million since 2001, while sub-Saharan Africa was the only region in the world to see a rise in tuberculosis.
The UN study coincided with a report from the British charity WaterAid which said attempts to hit the MDGs were being hampered by under-investment in clean water and proper sanitation.
WaterAid warned Britain and the other big donors that investment in health and education would be undermined if almost 5,000 children a day continued to die from diarrhoea and miss school to fetch water.
Henry Northover, WaterAid's head of policy, said: "Global aid spending on health and education has nearly doubled since 1990 while the share allocated to water and sanitation has contracted."
In recent years, donor countries have committed themselves to building schools and providing backing for health systems in poor countries in the hope that they can hit the millennium goals of putting every child into primary education and of cutting infant mortality rates by two-thirds.
In a report published today, WaterAid said that education - particularly that of girls - suffered in those countries that lacked clean water and sanitation.
"Although rarely recognised by education policy makers, a large part of the explanation for this high dropout rate is inadequate water and sanitation. Girls miss school because they spend hours fetching water for their families. With the onset of puberty, they face the embarrassment of menstruation in schools where toilets are unclean, have no doors and are shared with the boys in their class."
The report added that in countries with high child mortality rates, diarrhoea accounted for more deaths than any other cause - more than pneumonia and more than malaria and HIV/Aids combined.
"Over 90% of diarrhoeal deaths are attributed to poor hygiene, sanitation and unsafe drinking water.
"So, while more than 550 million children have been vaccinated against measles since 2000, driving down measles deaths in Africa by 75%, little action has been taken to prevent the daily death toll of 4,900 children afflicted with diarrhoea."
The UN has a target of halving the number of people without access to clean water and sanitation by 2015, with the need for progress greatest in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.
WaterAid said that instead of being overlooked by donors, investment in water and sanitation was vital as part of an integrated approach to tackling poverty. In Bangladesh, a country that has made water and sanitation a priority, there had been a dramatic reduction in water-borne diseases, the charity said.
By contrast, Malawi had cut the proportion of spending on water and sanitation at the same time as it had increased investment in health and education.
Mali spends just 6% of a $1.6bn (£800m) annual budget on water and sanitation.
The eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were signed by 147 countries at the United Nations in 2000, and synthesised various declarations and targets identified by the UN during the 1990s. They form a blueprint now agreed to by all countries and leading development institutions. They have galvanised unprecedented efforts to meet the needs of the world's poorest, the UN says. The goals are:
· Eradicate poverty and extreme hunger (reduce by half those living on a dollar a day and by half the number of people suffering from hunger)
· Achieve universal primary education
· Promote gender equality and empower women
· Reduce child mortality (by two thirds of those under five)
· Improve maternal health
· Combat malaria, HIV/Aids and other diseases
· Ensure environmental sustainability
· Develop a global partnership for development
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