The Murder Capitals of the World

According to a report by the Mexican NGO Citizens’ Council for Public Security and Criminal Justice (CCSP-JP by its Spanish acronym), the majority of the world’s most murderous cities — 42 out of the top 50 — are found in Latin America. A chart by The Economist breaks down these grim results in stark visual terms.

20160206_woc322_1

El Salvador’s capital, San Salvador, home to around 1.8 million people, has seen its murder rate double in just one year to 1,900; the small Central American country subsequently beats neighboring Honduras as the country with the world’s highest murder rate. Latin America’s largest country, Brazil, accounts for 21 of the world’s most homicide-plagues cities, up from 14 just five years ago, when the report first began.
Continue reading

Trauma Can Run In Our DNA

It is not surprising that the impact of trauma often transcends generations; after all, the psychological and behavioral consequences can easily rub off on one’s children. But a recent finding from New York City’s Mount Sinai Hospital strongly suggests that trauma is not just socially conditioned, but genetically inheritable.

As the Guardian reports, the study analyzed the genes of children born to Jewish men and women who, in some way or another, had suffered during the Second World War (as camp internees, torture victims, being on the run, etc.). The offspring of these survivors were already known to have an increase chance of stress disorders, and sure enough, results showed that the region of a gene linked to stress was altered in a way not seen in the control group. (The research team confirmed that the changes were not due to any trauma experienced by the children themselves.) Continue reading

The Fortunate Optimist

Many will — and indeed have — rightly point out that the only reason I am a fairly optimistic person is that I have lived a comparatively easy and privileged life. But I think that is how it should be — why should I be so grim when I have been so lucky? Why should I squander my good fortune and opportunity when so many others — indeed, the majority of humans who have ever lived and who presently live — have suffered far greater hardship and injustice. I am grateful to even have a basis for hopefulness and enthusiasm, so I cherish and cultivate it accordingly. It is not about being starry-eyed, naive, and willfully ignorant, but trying to keep even the bad in one’s life, and in the world at large, in check however one can.

Of course, this is not to say that people do not have good reasons to be cynical, regardless of their seemingly positive circumstances and experiences, or that pessimists are categorically ungrateful and ignorant. Like almost any person that has ever lived, I have seen and experienced enough to know that there are reasonable grounds to feel hopeless, misanthropic, and even nihilistic — indeed, I struggle regularly with bouts of those feelings as well. But for practical and philosophical reasons, I try to balance it out by valuing whatever flicker of hope I can find (be it in my life or among humanity as a whole).

What are your thoughts?

 

Kicking Off 2016 With A Big Milestone

It is not everyday that a nasty parasitic disease is wiped off the face of the Earth…in fact, this has yet to have ever happened — until this year, when the Carter Center seems poised to complete its decades-long work in eradicating the debilitating guinea worm infection.

Once the scourge of the developing world — affecting nearly 4 million people less than three decades ago — this painful disease has been reduced to less than two dozen cases as of 2015 (which in turn was 83 percent less than in 2014). Continue reading

The World Is Getting Better

In my last post, I made the provocative claim that 2015 — with its rash of terrorist attacks, mass shootings, escalating geopolitical confrontations, droughts, and more — was in fact the best year in human history. And some weeks before, I also shared the latest findings of the Global Development Index, which concluded that nearly all the world’s nations have made gains in education, healthcare, and income.

Now, Vox.com offers over two dozen infographics that reaffirm an increasingly obvious trend: the average human is experiencing unprecedentedly high gains in their standard of living, with improvements in areas ranging from malnutrition to Internet access. The visual data better show just how dramatic human progress has been.

Here are just some of the heartening developments I am highlighting.


absolute-poverty-by-region-0

High economic growth in India and China — which together account for almost one-fifth of the world’s population — as well as in other developing nations has to a massive decline in the number of people living on less than $1.25 a day — from 53 percent over thirty years ago, to 17 percent as of 2011.

Continue reading

By All Accounts, 2015 Was The Best Year In Human History

This might seem like an audacious statement to make in light of the numerous tragedies and disasters that have churned out with shocking regularity (to say nothing of the persistent and shockingly normalized prevalence of poverty, hunger, disease, and political oppression).

But as The Atlantic points out in great detail, by almost every measure — from crime rates to income levels — 2015 was the best year in human history for the average person. Beginning with what was arguably the most high profile problem of 2015, violence, one finds that from gun crime to terrorism, humans are harming one another far less than they historically have.  Continue reading

Most of the World’s Countries Are Progressing

According to the latest Global Development Index conducted annually by the United Nations, the majority of the world’s countries are more developed than they were 25 years ago, with higher incomes, increased life expectancy, and greater education and literacy.

As The Economist highlighted, Rwanda has seen the most impressive growth, with people living 32 years longer than they did in 1990, and spending twice as much time in school. This is all the more remarkable considering the horrific social and economic loss reaped by the 1994 genocide. 20151219_fnc781

Other countries that have witnessed rapid improvement include China (which came in second place for most progress), Singapore (now one of the world’s wealthiest nations), Iran, and Mozambique.

Norway remained at the top of the index for the 12th consecutive time, followed by Australia and Switzerland.  At the bottom were Niger, Central African Republic, Eritrea and Chad, each of which nonetheless made some degree of progress, however small.

Of the countries for which there is complete date, only the small African nation of Swaziland has regressed, due mostly to the devastating impact of AIDS; over a quarter of adults are infected with HIV, with thousands dying of AIDS every year.

Such grim exceptions aside, most of the world is broadly doing better than ever before, albeit at widely different rates and with much more work to be done. All told, around 2 billion people — roughly a quarter of the world’s population — have been lifted from extreme poverty, though some 830 million remain left behind.

Hopefully, it will not be long until that number drastically declines as well. Some major challenges aside, the track record looks encouraging. Given how much has changed in just the past 25 years, who knows where much of the planet will be another 25 years from now (provided we address looming global threats like climate change).

Canada Shows Moral Leadership In How To Handle Refugees

Count on the Great White North to be an exemplary member of the international community. While by no means just and progressive in all matters — what state or society yet is? — Canada has long been a shinning example of how to create and manage a free, democratic, and pluralistic nation.

Case in point: amid the ugliness and rancor surrounding the accommodation of refugees from the Middle East and North Africa, the Canadians have gone above and beyond protocol to welcome and accommodate the first of thousands of new arrivals. The front cover of its largest daily says it all.

Welcome to Canada

As Foreign Policy reports, Canada pulled out all the stops to be hospitable. Continue reading

Short Film: The Human Cost of War

The tragedies of war have been is endlessly discussed, debated, and lamented about since the dawn of humanity. But in this collaborative short film presented by The Atlantic, photojournalist Kate Brooks teams up with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to add yet another powerful and poignant contribution to our understanding of warfare.

In this short film, producers Leandro Badalotti and Simon Schorno powerfully weave together an interview with the photographer and images from over the course of her career. Brooks discusses the motivation behind her work, the moral dilemmas photojournalists face, and the importance of documenting the non-military lives that are affected by these wars. “One of the things that I love about the greater Middle East is that it’s the birthplace of ancient civilizations and world religions”, says Brooks, “but over the past decade it’s become a region of rubble and broken lives”. While many of the photographs can be difficult to view, the film serves as an ever-important reminder of the consequences of war, and the accompanying cycle of violence that many politicians seem to forget.

The film is well worth nine minutes of your time, so check it out here. You can visit Brooks’ website here, or producer Badalotti’s here, for more great work.

Ending Global Hunger

Even while the number of overweight and obese people is continuing to grow worldwide, the age-long scourges of chronic hunger and malnourishment remain pressing humanitarian problems. Close to 800 million people — or one in nine humans on Earth — are undernourished and thus highly susceptible to disease and infirmity. The majority of them live in developing countries, especially in rural areas, which tend lack infrastructure, are neglected by government, and especially vulnerable to natural disasters (including climate change).

Ending Rural Hunger is a project launched this year by the Brookings Institution’s Global Economy and Development division. Combining the expertise of over 120 specialists with the latest technology, it seeks to offer the world’s first comprehensive tool for monitoring the U.N. second Sustainable Development Goal (SDG): “End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture”.

To that end, the project website offers a treasure trove of interactive and multifaceted tools that cover everything from the raw numbers of hungry people by country, to which governments are making the most progress (or failing to), and which developed countries are doing more to help. By looking at every side of the equation — the impact of both domestic and international policies, environmental and economic factors, the effectiveness of certain types of aid and policy — ERH is a great resource for those of us looking to see what more can be done to help the world’s most vulnerable people in a time of plenty. I definitely recommend you check it out.  Continue reading