By Melanie Lee
NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Asia is making progress in reducing extreme poverty but faces an uphill battle to improve child nutrition and lower child mortality rates, the United Nations said on Thursday.
The U.N.'s annual Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) report, released on Thursday in New Delhi, showed East Asia and Southeast Asia making the most progress in reducing poverty levels, although South Asia lagged behind.
In South Asia, progress was slow in India, with the number of people living in extreme poverty rising by 20 million between 1990 and 2005, the report said. But it did manage to lower its poverty levels to 41 percent from 52 percent in the same period, officials said.
The World Bank defines extreme poverty as living with less than $1.25 a day and poverty as living on less than $2 a day.
The MDGs are eight social and economic development benchmarks set by the world body for nations to accomplish by 2015. They include reducing poverty levels, increasing universal education and fighting the spread of AIDS.
India is not on track to meet half its MDGs by 2015, experts presenting the report said. More political will is required to reduce extreme poverty and hunger, improve maternal health and combat diseases.
"Policies are not the issues, there are very many good policies, it's all about the implementation," Maxine Olson, the U.N. resident coordinator, said in New Delhi during the launch.
Olson said India also needed to bring down child mortality rates.
In 2006, 2.1 million children under five years of age died in India, the biggest number after China.
India is the world's second most populous nation and UNICEF said global efforts to improve child survival would fail unless it did better.
In East Asia and Southeast Asia, the number of people living under the extreme poverty line dropped to 18 percent in 2005 from 56 percent in 1990.
Overall, child malnutrition remained high in Asia, especially in South Asia, home to half of the world's underweight children. East Asia, by contrast, faired better, with only seven percent of all children malnourished in 2005.
Child malnutrition accounts for more than one third of all deaths of children under five, the report said.