A cause for concern, however, is the disparity in these figures from one country to another, or even one class of people to another

The number of children dying under the age of five has fallen by one third over the past two decades, the UNICEF has said.

Between 1990 and 2009, the number of children below the age of five who died annually fell from 12.4 million to 8.1 million.

The global under-five mortality rate dipped from 89 deaths per 1,000 live births to 60 during that period.

“The good news is that these estimates suggest that 12,000 fewer children are dying each day around the world compared to 1990,” UNICEF said in a release accompanying the data, issued ahead of next week’s U.N.-hosted world leaders’ summit in New York on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). However, the agency stressed “the tragedy of preventable child deaths continues.”

Some 22,000 children under the age of five continue to die every day, with 70 per cent of these deaths occurring within their first year of life.

Under-five mortality increasingly becoming concentrated in a few countries, with half of all deaths of children below five occurring in just five countries in 2009: India, Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Pakistan and China.

Sub-Saharan Africa - where one in eight children do not live to see their fifth birthday - continues to be home to the highest rates of child mortality.

That is nearly 20 times the average for developed regions.

UNICEF cautioned that although the pace of decline of child mortality has picked up in the past decade, it is still not enough to meet the MDG target of a two-thirds decline between 1990 and 2015.

The new figures were published in this year’s Levels & Trends in Child Mortality, issued by the U.N. Inter-agency Group for Child Mortality Estimation, bringing together several U.N. entities.