Monthly Archives: November 2011

Internet Access

Once upon a time but really not very long ago, access to the internet would not have been deemed as an essential tool to improve quality of life. Nowadays, we can barely imagine life without this invisible web of connectivity that constantly surrounds us.

Besides the obvious advantages of better communication, potentials for education, business opportunities, increased political monitoring of every species of government, and even dramatic healthcare improvement, there is another aspect of the increasing connection of our world.

That’s the human aspect. It’s no longer possible to be unaware of famines in Africa, flooding in Asia, earthquakes in formerly remote areas. And with those news reports, come images, videos, pictures from smart phones, pictures from satellites.

With connection, we are becoming more aware of each other. Along with all of these disasters has simultaneously arisen an outcry for help, and charity. Social networks in particular have answered these needs in ever-growing and at frequently astonishing levels.

We are truly becoming a global society and, as we help other people on the other side of the planet, we are also, perhaps unsurprisingly but inevitably, losing that distinction of “other.”

I just checked the numbers I’ve been using for this indicator, “Internet Users,” from the World Bank, and they seem to have changed. I’m guessing they’ve gone up and I can’t wait to find out how! (And they don’t even reflect this exciting fact yet: Liberia just brought ashore its first deep sea fiber optic cable. This is going to speed up the internet in West Africa even more quickly and opens up all sorts of possibilities for growth.)

Thanks for stopping by!

Heather McC

P.S. I meant to include more here on the current internet and education synergy but got sidetracked. However, I will certainly return to this subject because it is simply amazing to me what is happening with the convergence of those two worlds as well as the introduction of “gamification.”

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Education

This is one of my favorite indicators in terms of having a high impact on the quality of life for people all over the world. And it’s just getting better and better which makes it almost fun to look at and update.

One major factor in this, again, is the impact of the Millennium Development Goals and their emphasis on girls’ education. The importance of this can hardly be emphasized enough. Study after study has shown that educating a community’s girls pays off in dividends of lower infant and maternal mortality, better overall health, and lower rates of preventable diseases, not to mention happier girls.

It’s not just the girls of course — children all over the planet have access to education at a rate never seen before. (I’ll address this in my next post.) The phenomenal growth of the internet is speeding this process up even further through free online education programs such as the ground-breaking Khan Academy.

The gauge I’ve used to measure this indicator is the Education Index from the UN as posted on Wikipedia (with numbers from 2007). This index is put together from a combination of adult literacy, school enrollment and other data. Looking at the change over the 2006 figures, most of the countries either remained stable or increased their levels of education. (Out of the 179 countries listed, only 17 were lower.)

However, I’m a firm believer in ongoing education. We should never stop learning and exploring our world! In fact, in today’s economy, it isn’t possible to keep afloat without continually educating yourself. So someday, I would love to see this indicator be measured by the number of people per country gaining a college degree!

Thanks for stopping by,

Heather McC

Health

What would a perfectly healthy world population look like? I can barely imagine this. Most of our global leaders, I’m guessing, are in the same position. We, as humans, contend on a daily basis with so many life-threatening health issues that it is almost impossible to imagine life without them.

However, despite this, I truly believe we are not that far off from a new state of better health for humanity.

This particular category is one of the most problematic to measure. Most countries measure their physical well-being by infant mortality rates which are also, of the information available measuring humanity’s health, the most available in terms of countries reporting it. That said, it’s also under-reported, inaccurate, outdated, and frequently completely absent. But it’s still the most accurate, available and comprehensive data which we have to work with.

My dream, though, is to have a far different measure, where we no longer need to measure “Third World” statistics like a country’s freedom from hunger, malaria, and HIV/AIDS, but instead, we focus on “Developed World” diseases like diabetes, heart disease and other “lifestyle” afflictions. What if a country’s overall health was measured by the U.N. in terms of their population’s daily exercise programs?

Maybe hunger and disease would be consigned to the history books, and we would see a world of bright-eyed, smiling, energetic, and creative children, who would only know of those horrific afflictions through the stories of their elders.

Thanks for stopping by,

Heather McC

Clean Water

When I look at the international aid community’s focus, at least as shown in the media, I am often struck by the emphasis on food, and not water. After all, we need both and in reality, water is the more important of the two — you can live much longer without food than without water. But when the mega-fundraisers take place, and the subsequent celebrities, development experts, and celebrity development experts are all trotted out onto the giant global media stage, the message is always, “More food.” (Part of the reason for this is, understandably, that “Clean water” is a more difficult thing to give: sending shiploads of food is much more tangible as well as impressive. Still….)

Fortunately, there has been a slight shift in this perspective over the last few years. I’ve noticed it mainly because there seem to be a few more aid organizations (charity:water, and LIFESAVER Systems among them) focused solely on water. Another factor is the inclusion of this as a component of the UN’s Millennium Development Goals.

With a recent and formidable increase in weather-related disasters (flooding, drought, tsunamis and hurricanes), economic and political turmoil (aid monies decreasing, infrastructures battered by conflict and corruption), you would think that the news on the water front would be pretty bad too.

Surprisingly, it’s not. Probably due to its inclusion in the MDG’s (Goal 7, Ensure Environmental Sustainability), clean water and sanitation have actually improved markedly in many countries over the last 10 years. I very happily discovered this when updating my “Water” numbers recently. I had been using 2001 figures because I couldn’t find anything earlier. Then, about a month ago, I found much more recent data from the World Health Organization database. I was amazed as I updated the numbers that many developing countries had improved their water and sanitation systems by 20, 30, even 50%!

Despite this, of course, we still face grave challenges in terms of ensuring Clean Water for everyone on the planet. (The current cholera outbreak in the Somali refugee camps in Kenya is a stark reminder.) But after updating those figures, I am quite hopeful.

Thanks for stopping by,

Heather McC

Good Food

Today’s Number: 58.5983041657453 (Up .0018552857143! I finally added Samoa — and also figured out that American Samoa is not the same place….)

One goal I’ve set with my list of indicators is to focus on the positive rather than the negative part of the whole equation. “The World at 100” is a positive number. So, rather than using the stat for the percent of people in a country who are suffering hunger/malnutrition, I am instead subtracting that from 100 and coming up with a percentage of people in each country who do have access to adequate nutrition. (I would love this number to actually be reflective of a truly sustainable, healthy diet but, as noted previously, it doesn’t exist yet.)

There is so much to say about Food, Hunger and Malnutrition that I could go on for pages. One important and immediate note: I am looking for more recent data but my current figures are from 2006. This clearly does not represent an accurate picture (i.e., the East African drought/famine, Somalia) and I will continue looking for better data. (If you have a good source, please let me know.)

One of my favorite organizations is The Hunger Project, which has been on the cutting edge of addressing worldwide hunger/malnutrition problems for almost 35 years. They have worked to investigate the root causes of hunger and poverty, and then explored all potential solutions, honing their methods until they have come up with the most effective strategy possible. And then they do that all over again, constantly questioning solutions and improving results. (They’re also the only organization I know of who includes, as one of their stated goals, being out of business!)

Far more on this later.

Thanks for stopping by,

Heather McC