Contrary to all the bad news we get of most things (including the Philippines), a brighter future is happening now. Its true good news does not drive newspaper sales but bad news. So for today only, have a break from the bad news and ignore reading the newspaper.
From the Sydney Morning Herald
Things aren’t as bad as they might seem
Published: December 11, 2012
With most rich countries in economic difficulty and cutting their aid spending, with civil wars breaking out in Syria and Sudan, with crises building in Iran and North Korea, human misery is surely on the rise.
A scan of the news of 2012 suggests there is so much going wrong with the world that Thomas Hobbes‘s 1651 summary of the human condition must be vindicated: “Solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.”
But much also is going right in the world. We hear less about it because news, overwhelmingly, is something going wrong. It’s a natural phenomenon.
If a thousand cars drive safely and uneventfully down your street, do you remark on it? No. But if one car suffers a spectacular smash-up, you’re sure to talk about it. That’s just how news works.
So you might be surprised to hear that there is progress, very real progress, on some of the worst of the scourges that have always afflicted the world.
Remember the hopelessly idealistic Millennium Development Goals set in 2000? Among the key goals were the halving of deep global poverty, cutting infant mortality by two-thirds, and cutting mortality for mothers by three-quarters of their 1990 levels by 2015.
Researchers at the World Bank counted up the total aid from the rich countries to the poor and found it totalled $US54 billion in 2002. To help the poor countries reach the goals, they reckoned they’d need another $US40 billion to $US60 billion, assuming their aid programs were intelligent and the money spent well.
A decade later, how much aid is being provided? A total of $US156 billion ($149 billion) went to 155 poor and middle-income countries in 2011, including Australia’s $US5 billion, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, considerably more than the World Bank thought necessary.
And here’s another surprise. Poor countries have found another offshore source of assistance, and it has turned out to be far bigger and more generous than the governments of the rich world.
It is overseas remittances from their own citizens who go overseas to get work, then send money home. While aid from foreign governments amounted to $US156 billion, these remittances supplied more than twice as much – $US372 billion last year and an estimated $US406 billion this year, according to the World Bank.
“Some humble people – Haitian dishwashers and Salvadoran day-labourers in Florida and California, Samoan and Tongan rugby players on weekend Pacific TV, Indonesian and Filipino maids in Hong Kong and Japan, Turkish gastarbeiter in German auto plants – find it possible to do quite a bit more,” than all the governments of all the rich countries put together, says Ed Gresser of Progressive Economy, a US advisory panel.
And although the global financial crisis that had its epicentre in the wealthy West did take its toll on the poor countries, their economies have been recovering faster.
And the dead zone of the world economy for most of the past century, Africa, is now growing more strongly than most people ever dared hope.
The continent’s economy expanded by 5 per cent in 2010, slowed to 3.4 per cent last year because of the disturbances of the Arab Spring uprisings, and is rebounding to 4.5 per cent this year and expecting 4.8 per cent next, according to the African Development Bank.
“People are still thinking with the mindset of the 1990s and haven’t caught up with the fact that, notwithstanding the global recession, developing countries are coming out much better,” says Andrew Mack, director of the Human Security Report produced by Canada’s Simon Fraser University. “They’re making extraordinary strides.”
The combined effect on the poor countries? The official aid, plus the remittances from their own citizens working abroad, plus the development under way in their own economies, has gone a long way towards meeting the Millennium Development Goals. Ed Gresser sums up progress on the three goals that were set to be achieved by 2015:
“Between 1990 and 2010, world infant mortality rates dropped by about 33 per cent, a bit below the pace necessary to meet the goals. Maternal mortality fell from 400 to 210 deaths per 100,000 births, just about on track. And the deep poverty rate – that is, the share of people living on $1.25 a day or less, in constant dollars – fell by half, from 43 per cent of developing world people to 22.5 per cent in 2008, the most recent year for which there is an estimate. Or in total from 1.91 billion people to 1.29 billion people, meaning the goal is achieved.”
And this progress out of poverty and suffering is important not only in its own right but also because it leads to improved prospects for reducing that other scourge of human existence, war.
“As incomes rise, states become more capable and have more resources, so are better able to crush rebels, who only win in about one in six conflicts anyway, and buy off the popular grievances that tend to fuel insurgencies,” Mack observes.
And while some new conflicts have erupted amid much publicity, some old ones have wound down quietly.
In the Philippines, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front brought to an end its 30-year-old armed insurgency on the island of Mindanao when it signed a peace deal with government in October. In Colombia, the FARC guerillas halted their five-decade-long armed rebellion by signing a ceasefire with the government last month. We’ll find out whether the ceasefire becomes a more durable peace when it expires next November.
If Northern Ireland’s civil strife can be brought to a peaceful close, even the bitterest, longest-running and apparently most intractable conflicts can, eventually, end.
Remember that, despite popular impressions, worldwide deaths by armed conflict have been declining steeply for 20 years. Since the end of the Cold War, the number of armed conflicts in the world is down by 40 per cent, and the number of high-intensity conflicts that kill more than 1000 people is down by 60 per cent, Mack reports.
Poverty, war and human misery will never be banished entirely from the face of the Earth but progress is possible, progress is happening and progress is real.
Of course, there are always new threats. Climate change is the great, new, unmet challenge facing humanity. As it sets up contests for water and other resources, experts predict that it will generate new conflicts and new misery. Progress can always be set back.
Peter Hartcher is the international editor.