When the report on a slight increase in U.S. poverty rates was released on Tuesday, I saw it on headlines every time I checked a news website or Google News. I saw it discussed across many political and economic blogs, and I made my own attempted contribution to the discussion. However, when UNICEF released an updated report on child mortality across the world, it barely made a ripple. I happened to notice it while checking Twitter’s top tweets feed, but I never saw it in news headlines or read any commentary on it. I want to bring it to your attention because it’s very good news, and I think we need to have a debate about what factors are contributing the most and how to help those factors contribute even more.
The big number summary from the report is this:
The number of children under five years of age dying each year declined from more than 12 million in 1990 to 7.6 million in 2010, UNICEF and the World Health Organization said today, releasing the latest estimates on worldwide child mortality.
These new figures show that compared to 1990, around 12,000 more children’s lives are saved each day.
Despite an increase of over a billion in the world population in the last twenty years, the absolute number of young children dying every day has gone down by over a third! The more detailed PDF discusses some of the data gathering and modeling techniques used to arrive at such numbers, but assuming the differences between the 1990 and 2010 numbers are reasonable accurate, this is great news. They have numbers for every country, and most of the PDF is a dissection of the differences in trends for different regions of the world and so forth. The gist is that there has been great progress but not as much progress as they want, although I just think it’s great progress.
Now the UNICEF report doesn’t do a whole lot to explore why the numbers have gone down so much, although it hints at praising organizations from charities to governments for increasing investment in child welfare. The scant news articles from Australia or the UK do the same. They all certainly do not hint at praising capitalism for raising living standards across the globe in the last two decades, although my bias certainly thinks that might be a major, major cause.
It’s clear that child mortality rates are higher in poorer countries, and it’s clear that a lot of poorer countries have been getting richer lately. The report notes that sub-Saharan Africa has seen the least improvement of all the regions of the world, and it just so happens that the countries of sub-Saharan Africa have not been benefiting from globalization in the same way as China or India or other previously “undeveloped” nations (start by reading Thomas Friedman’s The World Is Flat). I believe the countries that have created an environment for markets to flourish have seen gains in economic numbers that have naturally spilled into gains in standard-of-life numbers such as child survival rates.
If I have time in the coming days I’m going to plot some of these child mortality numbers against GDP numbers for countries and see if there are any obvious correlations. Certainly non-profit organizations and government initiatives can have an effect on reducing child mortality, but I think it is a great oversight ignore the great engine of capitalism, and I hope to discover whether or not the evidence supports that bias. (Click here to read my analysis.)