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Report Indicates Gains for World's Children

But assistance from developed countries has faltered since 1990

AROUND the globe, 1 in 5 families lives in poverty.

But if the world's nations, both developing and developed, would together spend an extra $25 billion a year on long-term investment, basic human needs for most poor people could be met, concludes the annual ``State of the World's Children'' report by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF).

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For a developing country, that means spending 20 percent of the nation's budget on such long-range planning, up from 10 percent. And for the developed world, it means doubling the portion of foreign-aid spending from 10 percent to 20 percent toward those goals.

The 1990 World Summit for Children identified the basic needs as adequate nutrition, primary health care, basic education, safe water, and family planning.

So far, says UNICEF executive director Jim Grant, the developing world has followed through on pledges made at the 1990 summit, but the commitment of industrialized countries is open to question.

``This is coming at a time when development assistance for these kinds of activities is faltering all over the Western world,'' Mr. Grant said in an interview. ``The budgetary crisis for funding of these things is not so much a self-conscious act to cut,'' he adds. But ``unless someone speaks up very strongly for sustainable development, that be- comes the cut part. So if we need additional aid for Russia, where does it come from?''

The UNICEF report credits simple techniques, immunization and oral-rehydration therapy, with saving more than 4 million children a year. But a powerful combination of factors - poverty, population growth, and environmental strain, linked together in what the report terms ``the PPE spiral'' - threaten to overwhelm the gains that have been made.

``If PPE problems in the developing world continue to be neglected, then the result will be increasing economic disruption, political unrest, setbacks for democracy, and instability within and between nations,'' the report says.

In the face of daunting challenges, UNICEF highlights many bright spots. Diseases such as polio and measles are on their way to being eradicated worldwide. Breast-feeding continues to gain, with nearly 80 developing countries banning the distribution of free or subsidized infant formula to mothers.

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Lack of clean water can make the use of baby formula mixed with local water hazardous. In some areas, though, dramatic gains are being made in improving water quality. India, for example, has increased access of rural people to clean water from just over 30 percent in 1980 to over 80 percent in 1992.

``I think the world community has surprised itself in terms of what it is able to do for children in the last seven or eight or 10 years,'' Grant says.

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