Here is a very large dose of very good news:
According to the United Nations Millennium Goals report issued last month, extreme poverty in developing countries has fallen by half, declining from 1.9 billion to 836 million since 1990. Hunger has fallen from 23.3 percent to 12.9 percent. Mortality of children under age 5 dropped from 12.7 million to about 6 million.
Primary school enrollment is up to 91 percent, with Sub-Saharan Africa showing the largest improvement. The literacy rate among youth age 15-24 is up to 91 percent, and there are dramatic gains in educational parity for girls.
Malaria is down by 37 percent, and the number of people who die after contracting malaria has fallen by half. New infections of HIV fell by 40 percent between 2000 and 2013, from 3.5 million cases to 2.1 million, and the number of HIV-positive people who are getting antiretroviral drugs is up from 800,000 to 13.6 million.
The U.N. report includes even more good news, on everything from growth in the number of women elected to parliaments to improvements in the number of people with access to clean drinking water.
In most media coverage of these statistics, there is a knee-jerk “yes, but” response that goes directly to all the reasons we should take no pleasure in this progress: a lot of it comes from China’s growing prosperity; many of the Millennium Goals haven’t been met; conflict in the Middle East is making life worse for millions; population growth and climate change will make these gains hard to sustain.
But we prefer to reflect for more than the first 100 words on just how good this news is. These numbers represent incredible accomplishments that reduce human suffering and open new possibilities for millions of people to achieve more of their potential. They are gains that many thought were impossible.
The Millennium Campaign was started by the UN in 2000, after a decade-long series of meetings that brought the global community together to focus on reducing poverty. The goals were designed to prioritize resources and track progress towards a set of eight goals relating to income, hunger, education, gender equality, health, environmental sustainability, and economic development. The U.N. cites this focused effort and its emphasis on tracking data as a major driver of progress.
That focus on clear goals and good data is warranted, but it’s not the whole story. Many factors have contributed, including rising prosperity in East Asia, the work of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the growth of a new global understanding of the importance of gender equality as a key to economic growth and family well-being.
People here in South Sound contributed to this progress, too. Everyone who participated in the annual faith community’s Crop Walk to end hunger helped. The local chapter of Results helped by lobbying for U. S. policies that reduce poverty. Everyone who contributes to Oxfam, UNICEF, Doctors Without Borders or similar organizations helped.
The Millennium Goals data can’t tell us how much each of our contributions helped, but they do assure us that our efforts are paying off.
And that, really, is the best news of all: that caring people who are willing to face the suffering in the world and take action to reduce it are making progress. Now we know we have the power to make an even bigger difference in the years to come.