During a recent conversation with a colleague regarding the pessimism that can so easily set in when watching the news, reading the newspapers or viewing other media outlets, it struck us both that not enough was made of all the good works that so many people were doing every day throughout the globe. It is beyond the scope and capability of me here to comment on all those individuals and small groups making a difference, however, a quick look at the major institutions may be possible.
The aim here is to give some insight into the enormous efforts, time, and money that is invested every day, week, month, and year by those that are so often (especially in our country) denounced as ‘doing no good’ but in fact are doing immeasurable good. I am referring to the European Union, the United Nations, and yes, even the United States of America does some great things in the world.
I am not attempting to argue these institutions are perfect, or balance good actions against bad; I am simply seeking to present some positive facts about the global situation to counter the continuous presentation of war, terrorism, famine, drought, climate change, mass inequality and human rights violations. The doom and gloom so often presented is only one side of the story of our age, the other is one of hope and a potential future we could be proud of helping to come to pass. To prove it let us look at those global players.
The United States is often seen in a negative light. However, their foreign aid budget provides around $30 Billion of international aid. It is true, that in percentages terms the United States are by no means the top donor (that honour goes to Sweden and Norway as of 2011 figures) but the United States still occupies a central donor role in real-terms aid rather than percentages of GNI (Gross National Income). Let us look at what this aid means to the people it helps rather than debating figures and percentages.
It means more than 3 million lives saved every year through United States aid funded immunization programs, it has funded HIV/AIDS prevention programs in 32 countries, and is the recognized ‘technical leader in the design and development of these programs in the developing world’. Child survival programs have made a major contribution to a 10 percent reduction in infant mortality rates worldwide in just the past eight years. With the help of United States aid, 21,000 farm families in Honduras have been trained in improved land cultivation practices which have reduced soil erosion by 70,000 tons. These are just a few figures to give an impression of the scale of help and assistance provided. Of course the United States could (and perhaps should) do more, but let us not think they do nothing good in the world.
What of the European Union that gets so much negative press here in Britain? The European Union is involved in the fight against world hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition. The European Commission has recently adopted a policy which aims to improve the nutrition of mothers and children in order to reduce mortality and diseases.
The EU (and that includes us here in Britain) ‘provides an annual average of €200 million, dedicated to support health programmes’ which amounts to 30% of global humanitarian health funding’. Clean water and sanitation and good hygiene standards are vital to prevent epidemic outbreaks. ‘The EU (and that’s us here in Britain too) allocates around €200 million each year to humanitarian WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) interventions, making “us” the biggest donor in the world. The EU is a major contributor to the global efforts to create a fair, just and prosperous world, and something we in Britain should be proud to be part of and celebrate.
What can be said of the United Nations? So often we only hear of the UN in terms of its inability at preventing war, stop violence or eradicate mass inequality and poverty. However, the United Nations is continuously helping millions of people all over the planet. The World Food Programme is the ‘world’s largest humanitarian agency fighting hunger worldwide’ and in 2013 ‘assisted more than 80 million people in 75 countries.
The global community (coordinated by the UN) has reduced hunger and poverty as part of the Millennium Development Goals, with the number of hungry people reduced by 173 million since 1990 with poverty cut in half since 2000. The United Nations has highlighted injustices against the ‘370 million to 500 million indigenous people’ and works to improve their situation ‘all over the world in development, culture, human rights, the environment, education and health’. Through the tireless work of the UN the ‘Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women’ has been ratified by 187 countries and has ‘helped to promote the rights of women worldwide’.
None of these amazing achievements should be overstated, it is certainly not my claim that discrimination against women is in any way a historical issue, or that poverty, disease and inequality is no more. However, we must recognise the gains we, as a global community, have made. I do not believe in a previous “golden age” when all was right in the world.
Inequality, hunger, disease and war have been the lot of the human race since time immemorial. However, we are making the first steps towards a future “golden age” and we must not let all the problems that are still to be resolved distract us or create a sense of futility that may prevent our enthusiasm and action. Let’s not dwell on the doom and gloom that is so often presented to us, the world IS getting better, it’s just a very big world, with a lot of people and a lot of problems to solve, but we have made a good start.
Michael Stagg is a volunteer at the WCIA who recently completed a degree in Politics and History at Cardiff University.
http://www.usaid.gov/results-and-data/ (All data correct as of May 2014, it should also be acknowledged that these are US government figures)