Published On: Tue, Jul 7th, 2015

Pacific nations struggling with deforestation and malnourishment – UN report

Children from the village of Hanuabada play cricket in the streets, in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea – a country where the UN report highlighted problems, particularly with access to safe sanitation.

Children from the village of Hanuabada play cricket in the streets, in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea – a country where the UN report highlighted problems, particularly with access to safe sanitation. Photograph: Chris Hyde/Getty Images

Some of Australia’s closest neighbours are struggling to address malnourishment, deforestation and sanitation, the United Nations’ final report on its millennium development goals shows, prompting aid organisations to call on the federal government to boost foreign aid.

The report released on Tuesday revealed progress towards food security in Oceania – which includes Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and Nauru – had been slow, largely because of a heavy dependence on food imports by the small islands of the region.

“Food security in this region is also hampered by natural and human-caused disasters, which often result in volatile prices and sudden and unpredictable changes in the availability of important staple foods,” the report found.

Oceania also reported a net loss of forest in the first decade of the 15-year agenda, largely due to severe drought and forest fires in Australia, the report found.

“Asia, on the other hand, registered a net gain of around 2.2m hectares annually between 2000 and 2010 following a net loss in the 1990s,” it said.

“This gain, mostly due to large-scale afforestation programs in China, offsets continued high rates of net loss in many countries in southern and south-eastern Asia.”

The rate of new HIV infections has stagnated in south-east Asia and Oceania, the report showed, though stopped short of declining, while sanitation also remained a problem in areas of the Asia-Pacific region.

Australian Medical Association [AMA] vice president, Dr Stephen Parnis, said the Asia-Pacific region and in particular, Papua New Guinea, had among the lowest rates of access to safe sanitation in the world. A considerable number of Indigenous communities in Australia also lacked proper access to clean water and functioning sewerage services, he said.

Parnis reiterated previous calls for Australian and other world leaders to ensure that sanitation and easy access to safe water formed a key component when the next round of goals, called the sustainable development goals, were negotiated in September.

The Australian Council for International Development head of policy, Beth Sargent, said the report showed the millennium development goals had been a “galvanising force” for world leaders to come together to address poverty, education, gender equality, child mortality, maternal health, disease, the environment and global partnership.

And while it showed the goals had led to progress in many of these areas, with the likelihood of a child dying before age five halved and a narrowing of disparities between boys and girls in education, there was much room for improvement in Australia’s region, Sargent said.

“Australia needs to take away from this the need to boost our aid program and strongly focus on our region across a number of areas,” she said.

“We must look at issues of sustainable development, take strong action against climate change and play a fair role in refugee policy.”

The UNICEF Australia head of advocacy, Aivee Robinson, said of the bad news from the report, too much of it was close to home and affected children.

In Indonesia, there were still more than 1.3m primary-school aged children not in school, she said. At current rates of progress and given projected population growth, it was estimated 68m more children under five would die from mostly preventable causes by 2030, while an estimated 119m children would be chronically malnourished.

“So for all the progress we have made, we have still failed millions of children,” she said.

“The millennium development goals were amazing because they brought countries of the world together but, at the same time, required countries to focus on improving national averages.

“In the rush to meet these national goals, many countries focused on easy-to-reach children rather than those in greatest need.”

On the plus side, there had been a “staggering” improvement to the number of women in Indonesia with access to a skilled birth attendant, she said.

The report highlighted the responsibility Australia had to its neighbours. “We’re a member of the global community and we have a moral responsibilty to contribute adequate levels of overseas assistance,” she said.

“The repeated cuts we’ve seen to the overseas development aid budget, with 1bn cut this financial year, are not only deeply disappointing, but they will have real impact on childrens’ lives.”

Guardian Australia has requested comment from the office of the foreign affairs minister, Julie Bishop.

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