Tag Archives: Rwanda

Infant “Un-Mortality” Rates Improving

I’ve been looking forward to updating these numbers for a while now and finally had the chance last night. I’d been using this information from Wikipedia (btw, if you are trying to access this and any other Wikipedia site on Wednesday, Jan. 18 you may not get through because they’ve gone on “strike” for the day), but was really excited when Unicef released new numbers finally. The 2010 numbers are available in their Child Mortality Report 2011. (It’s in pdf format so you’ll need Adobe Reader.) One more technical note: in keeping with my positive take on my quest for 100%, I am subtracting the infant mortality rate from 10. (So it’s really an “Infant Survivability” or maybe “Infant Un-mortality” rate!)

What I found was just astonishing, and truly good news. Almost every single country listed had an increase, even if it was only a tenth of a percent! The European countries, which already have extremely low infant mortality rates, even improved, especially in Eastern Europe. (Oddly, most seemed to settle at 99.7% for some reason.)

Latin American, Asian, but most especially African countries all seemed to improve with a few standouts:

  • The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) actually improved 1% despite the horrible and continuing conflict there. (I am amazed at the commitment and strength of women and medical personnel to saving children’s lives there that this reflects.)
  • Liberia and Zambia improved almost 5%.
  • Malawi and Rwanda did improve by 5%.
  • And even Sierra Leone, which has been wracked with conflict showed an improvement of almost 2%.

From the report, “Since 1990 the global under-five mortality rate has dropped 35 percent—from 88 deaths per 1,000 live births in 1990 to 57 in 2010.  Northern Africa, Eastern Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, South-eastern Asia, Western Asia and the developed regions have reduced their under-five mortality rate by 50 percent or more.”

We still have a ways to go, 21,000 children under 5 dying every day, is still way too many. but, according to the report, the rate of decline has accelerated. We are getting there! Wouldn’t it be amazing if we were to see this rate get to 99.99% Survivability within our lifetimes?

Thanks for stopping by,

Heather McC

PS. A quick addition/caveat to this post after perusing the news some more over the week. With recent global food prices increasing and some severe food shortages in some countries (especially East Africa), I am less optimistic that infant mortality rates will show a decline in 2011. Another concern which has also come up is the possibility that some countries are under-reporting infant mortality but, with global transparency increasing, I am hopeful that this will occur less and less over time.

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The Good News about Hunger

What I am about to say may surprise you: we are actually, slowly but surely, winning the battle to end chronic hunger and even malnutrition. If you watch the news at all, you probably won’t believe me. But it’s true. Thirty-five years ago, around 45,000 people a day were dying of chronic hunger and hunger-related causes. Today that number is closer to 25,000. In no way, shape, or form is that acceptable, and we need to keep fighting, but this is an incredible feat we need to occasionally stop and remind ourselves of, and it’s even the remarkable given that the world population has increased significantly over this time period.

I updated my “Food” numbers yesterday and was happy to see the actual figures reflecting the above facts. (Unfortunately, I am on the lookout for much more accurate numbers — the ones I had been using were from a Wikipedia page, List of countries by percentage of population suffering from undernourishment but the most recent data was from 2006. I found more recent data last night, trying to delve through the myriad, byzantine website that is the UN, and found a site on the MDG’s which I was able to use, but this data is only from 2007. Suggestions welcome!)

Even though the data is not completely up-to-date, it did show an improvement in many countries, which was heartening. I know that we have slid backwards lately, due to food price increases, natural catastrophes, and conflicts, but I am hopeful that, in some countries at least, this downward trend in malnutrition has continued.

One country that is now at 95% “nourished” (which is the highest the UN numbers would go — the “100’s” on my Google doc are from other sources) is Ghana, which was at 92% in 2006. One of the organizations I support, The Hunger Project, is active in the country and you can see exactly how their strategy has worked here.

As the world has reached out over the last few decades to countries whose populations are suffering from hunger, we’ve also learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t. In recent years, the aid community has become increasingly self-reflective and this examination has revealed some ugly truths.

  • Throwing money and/or stuff at the problem doesn’t work — trillions of dollars (pounds, francs, euros, etc…) have been wasted on this strategy. (See Dambisa Moyo’s groundbreaking book, Dead Aid for a very honest — albeit no-punches-pulled — account.)
  • Building stuff is not always helpful. (See this recent talk by David Damberger at TED.)
  • Sometimes even help is not helpful, as when well-meaning but ill-informed aid workers in the DRC provided relief to Rwandan refugees during the 1994 genocide only to find out later that many of these same people went back to Rwanda and continued their slaughter. (This was outlined by David Rieff in his brilliant 2002 book, A Bed for the Night: Humanitarianism in Crisis.)

So what have we found that does work? One strategy that is slowly being acknowledged by the aid community is to simply listen to what those who you want to help have to say. That’s a great starting point. Much more on this later.

Thanks for stopping by,

Heather McC