Some Things Are Actually Going Well

A steady diet of the daily news leads one inexorably into fatigue, depression, and hopelessness. Every day there are new murders, atrocities, idiotic political acts, powerful ignoramuses, terrorism, diseases, earthquakes, floods…

Nicholas Kristof’s writing rarely does anything to alleviate this condition, because he reports from the smelly belly of the beast, and tells us all about the worst of it. But on Sunday, 29 September 2013, he told us about some things that are actually going well, and they are impressive indeed.

The number of the world’s people living in extreme poverty has been reduced from 50% of the population to 20% since 1980. Wow! That’s 2.1 billion people whose lives are less desperate now. That’s a whole lot, over six times the entire population of the US. If this continues, the rate of deep poverty will be near zero by 2030. The number of people facing literal life and death decisions forced on them by poverty every single day will shrink. Everyone will be able to concentrate on building a satisfying life, rather than surviving until tomorrow.

Extreme poverty has been
reduced from 50% to 20%.
2.1 billion people.

The number of child deaths before age five, one of the greatest scourges of the modern world, has been literally cut in half since 1990, from 12-million to 6-million yearly, although the remaining six million is still a staggering number. The Gates Foundation has poured many millions into inoculations, development of new medicines, and ways to reach the sick far from the cities. The Carter Center has devoted decades to tackling more than a half dozen diseases and conditions that were endemic, and killing or crippling millions, but could be prevented or cured for pennies. Numerous other charitable organizations have also made major improvements among the world’s poorest, including a dietary supplement that brings starving children back from the brink of death, medicines that don’t need to be refrigerated, portable diagnostic kits, and on and on. The success of these efforts is amazing and heart warming.

The world’s poorest are responding by
taking charge and building better lives.

AIDS is no longer killing people wholesale. Guinea worm disease is nearly gone. Polio is on the verge of worldwide defeat, and in fact would probably be gone now if it weren’t for a few political leaders who claimed that inoculations were a plot to make Muslims sterile—or black people, take your choice. River blindness, where the eyelashes turn inward, is being defeated, its sufferers rescued from disabling misery. Bed nets to protect against malarial mosquitoes are much more widely used now. All of these things and many more are creating better lives for the hundreds of millions of the world’s poorest, and they are responding by taking charge of building better lives for themselves and their families. It’s a virtual cycle.

As Kristof points out, when poor families find that their children don’t die, they respond by having fewer children, and by devoting more resources to them. Their children are fed and clothed better, and go to school. The entire community benefits. The entire world benefits.

And we can be grateful that the small things we do to help every month actually do change people’s lives for the better. The job ain’t over, of course, but it’s nice to know we’re not flushing money into oblivion.


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