In 2000, eight targets were set under the UN’s Millennium Development Goals to be achieved by 2015.

The first goal was to halve hunger.

Despite some progress, the evidence shows many countries are falling behind in health.

The report says poor countries continue to struggle with chronic food supply problems.

In sub-Saharan Africa, it says, the number of people who went hungry soared by 34 million, while in south Asia the number grew by 15 million.

More than half the children in South Asia are malnourished, while the average in developing nations in 2003 stood at one third.

“Growing populations and poor agricultural productivity have been the main reasons for food shortages in these regions,” the report said.

“Hunger tends to be concentrated in rural areas among the landless or among farmers whose plots are too small to provide for their needs.”

None of the poorest countries is on target to meet the challenge of child mortality.

The WHO’s assessment has been backed up by the Child aid organisation, Plan.

It found nearly half of Asia’s 1.3billion children live in poverty and are denied basic needs.

The report by plan found India has the largest number of poor children in Asia, with 80% of it 400 million young severely deprived.

“Asia has more than twice as many severely deprived children as sub-Saharan Africa,” said Michael Diamond, Plan’s Asia regional director.

To tackle the problem, Plan has pledged to spend $1billion on poverty reduction in 12 Asian countries over the next decade.

It wants rich nations to support its efforts by reducing subsidies given to their own farmers and to cancel Third World debt.

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