The U.N. children's agency warned Monday that 69 million youngsters under the age of five will die from preventable causes between now and 2030 if all countries don't accelerate action to improve health and education for the most disadvantaged.
UNICEF said in its annual report that based on recent trends and projected population growth, 167 million children will also live in extreme poverty, 60 million won't be attending primary school, and 750 million women will have been married as children by 2030 unless inequality is tackled now.
Many are fleeing because of poverty and inequality, UNICEF's Deputy Executive Director Justin Forsyth said, and these root causes must be addressed "if you're going to stop some of these forces overwhelming particular countries and polarizing the political debate." "Our job in UNICEF is to be there on the ground and helping children survive," Forsyth said, but the agency also needs to ensure that there is "a factually fueled debate about these tough issues of our times," and the message gets out that focusing on the most disadvantaged is crucial. UNICEF Program Director Ted Chaiban said in addition to youngsters fleeing poverty and inequality, there are also more children living in conflict areas - 250 million, and 30 million are displaced.
Inequality exists in every country, he said, and globally children in the poorest 20 percent of the population are twice as likely to die before age five than children in the richest 20 percent.
Chaiban said "80 percent of preventable deaths now occur in south Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, with almost half occurring in India, Nigeria, Pakistan, Congo and Ethiopia."
UNICEF called on all 193 U.N. member states to develop national plans that put the most disadvantaged and left behind children first and set specific goals to close gaps between the richest and poorest. Forsyth said up to 147 million children between one- and five-years-old could be saved from preventable death "just with a 2 percent increase in expenditure in 74 countries."
UNICEF also has evidence that every dollar spent on vaccinations for the most disadvantaged children "can generate $16 dollars in terms of economic returns," he said. According to "The State of the World's Children Report 2016," cash transfers have helped children stay in school longer - and on average, each additional year of education a child receives increases his or her adult earnings by about 10 percent.
Forsyth said at the report's launch that the agency is "broadcasting our message into a world that is more hostile," especially to migrants and refugees, including millions of children.
Last week, the United Nations said the number of refugees and others fleeing their homes worldwide has hit a new record, spiking to 65.3 million people by the end of 2015.
Europe's high-profile migrant crisis, its worst since World War II, is just one part of a growing tide of human misery led by Palestinians, Syrians and Afghans. Globally, close to one percent of humanity has been forced to flee. "This is the first time that the threshold of 60 million has been crossed," the U.N. refugee agency said.
The figures, released on World Refugee Day, underscore twin pressures fueling an unprecedented global displacement crisis. As conflict and persecution force growing numbers of people to flee, anti-migrant political sentiment has strained the willingness to resettle refugees, said UNHCR chief Filippo Grandi.
"Instead of burden-sharing, we see borders closing. Instead of political will, there is political paralysis and humanitarian organizations like mine are left to deal with the consequences and struggling to save lives on limited budgets," Grandi told reporters in Afghanistan's capital Kabul.
Of the planet's 65.3 million displaced, 40.8 million remain within their own country, 21.3 million have fled across borders and are now refugees, while the remainder are asylum seekers. Palestinians are the largest group of refugees at more than five million, including those who fled at the creation of Israel in 1948 and their descendants. Syria is next on the list, with 4.9 million refugees, followed by Afghanistan (2.7 million) and Somalia (1.1 million).
A mixture of worrying factors has led to rising displacement and narrowing space for refugee resettlement. "Situations that cause large refugee outflows are lasting longer," the agency said, including more than 30 years of unrest in both Somalia and Afghanistan.
Faced with an increasing need to resettle those facing persecution, the answers are not always obvious. "We simply do not have the option of turning our backs and walking away," Grandi warned in Kabul, echoing wider calls among humanitarian chiefs for world powers, especially in the West, to be more welcoming of migrants and refugees.
Turkey was the "top host" country for the second year running, taking in 2.5 million people - nearly all from neighboring Syria. Afghan neighbor Pakistan had 1.6 million, while Lebanon, next to Syria, hosted 1.1 million.