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Global Development: It’s Better Than You Think

Global Development: It’s Better Than You Think
Despite global victories in disease eradication, hunger and poverty reduction, the majority of Americans perceive the rest of the world to be in terrible shape. According to a recent study by the Barna group, 84 percent of Americans are unaware of the rising global development. In fact, 67 percent believe that global poverty has been rising since the 80’s. With regard to global health, 50 percent of Americans think child mortality is on the rise, and 35 percent believe that HIV/AIDS-related death has increased in the last five years.

It’s easy to make these assumptions when news headlines tend to focus on negative statistics. While it’s true the global community has a lot of work left to do, it’s also necessary to recognize the very tangible victories in humanitarian efforts over the last 50 years.

For instance, by 2010, the global community successfully lifted one billion people out of extreme poverty, reducing the world’s poorest population by half and achieving the U.N.’s first millennium development goal five years ahead of schedule. In developing regions, the population of undernourished people has decreased by nearly 50 percent since 1990.

Many economic and health-related improvements are directly tied to successful USAID programs. Every year, USAID saves more than 3 million lives through global vaccination efforts. More than 50 million couples worldwide use USAID sponsored family planning services. USAID has also played a major role in the global reduction of infant mortality by 10 percent through various child survival programs, as well as the U.N.’s Drinking Water Supply and Sanitation Decade, which gave 1.3 billion safe drinking water and 750 million people sanitation for the first time.

Still, there are widespread misconceptions about foreign aid and its effects on global development. The majority of Americans believe that 25 percent of the federal budget goes toward foreign aid and want that number reduced to ten percent. In reality, less than one percent of the federal budget is allocated for foreign aid. The gap between perception and reality isn’t just an American problem. A recent study by Dutch research firm Motivaction found that out of 26,000 people in 24 different countries, 87 percent of respondents said that extreme poverty had not improved over the last two decades. Just 1 percent were aware that extreme poverty has actually been cut in half.

But if global efforts are as successful as the data shows, does public perception even matter? Martijn Lampert, research director at Motivaction, explains: “If you don’t see it happen, you don’t believe it.” Motivaction’s research certainly supports the notion that seeing is believing, after the most optimistic survey responses, came out of emerging economies in India, China and Indonesia, where people witnessed tangible improvements. Even more telling, 50 percent of people in those regions correctly said that global poverty had been reduced by half, compared to 8 percent of Americans and Germans.

Perhaps if more Americans were aware of the real-life impact that foreign aid has made, there would be greater support for USAID programs. With that support, lawmakers and advocacy groups could face fewer challenges in passing legislation to immediately improve the living conditions of the world’s poor. Better understanding begins with the facts. Thanks to work done by the U.N., USAID, Motivaction and countless other groups, new data shows that global development is on the rise.

Jessica Levitan

Photo: Flickr