Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Early Signs of Decline

More from Plan B

For the first time in modern era, life expectancy, a seminal indicator of development, has dropped for a large segment of humanity. For the people of sub-Saharan Africa, a failure of leadership is quite literally reversing the march of progress. Is this failure of the political system an anomaly? Or is it an early sign that the scale of emerging problems can overwhelm our political institutions?

The stresses on our early 21st century civilization takes many forms. Economically we see them in the widening income gap between the world's rich and poor. Socially they take the form of the widening gap in education and health care and a swelling flow of environmental refugees as productive lands turn to desert and as wells go dry. Politically we see them manifest in conflict over basic resources as cropland, grazing land, and water. And perhaps most fundamentally, we see the stresses the world is facing in the growing number of failed and failing states.

The social and economic gap between the world's richest 1 billion people and its poorest 1 billion has no historical precedent. Not only is this gap wide, it is widening. The poorest billion are trapped at a subsistence level and the richest billion are becoming wealthier with each passing year. The economic gap can be seen in the contrasts in nutrition, education, disease patterns, family size, and life expectancy.
So while roughly 1.2 billion people are undernourished, underweight and often hungry...roughly 1.2billion people are over nourished, suffering from excessive caloric intake and exercise deprivation.....

Disease patterns also reflect the widening gaps. The billion poorest suffer mostly from infectious diseases-malaria, TB, dysentery, and AIDS. Malnutrition leaved infants and small children even more vulnerable to such infectious diseases. Unsafe drinking water takes a heavier toll on those with hunger weakened immune systems, resulting in millions of fatalities each year. In contrast among the billion at the top of the global economic scale, it is diseases related to aging and lifestyle excesses, including obesity, smoking, diets rich in fat and sugar, and exercise deprivation, that cause the most deaths.
Illiteracy and poverty tend to reinforce each other because illiterate women typically tend to have much larger families then literate women do and because each year each year of schooling raises earning power by 10-20 percent. In Brazil, for instance, illiterate women have more then 6 children on average and literate women only have 2.

The connection between poverty and disease is strong, but it has been broken for most of humanity by economic development. The challenge now is to break this link for that remaining minority who do not have access to safe water, vaccines, education and basic health care.
David Barker of Britain's university of Southampton observes soberly "that 60% of all newborns in India would be in intensive care had they been born in California."

HIV should be seen for what it is- an epidemic of epic proportions that, if not checked soon, could take more lives during this century then were claimed by all the wars of the last century.
Michael Grunwald of the Washington Post writes from Swaziland, "In the country side, teenage Swazi girls are selling sex- and spreading AIDS for $5 an encounter, exactly what it costs to hire oxen for a day of plowing."

While the HIV epidemic is currently concentrated in Africa, air and water pollutants are damaging the health of people everywhere. A joint study by the University of California and the Boston Medical Center shows some 200 human diseases ranging from cerebral palsy to testicular atrophy, linked to pollutants. Other diseases that can be caused by pollutants include an astounding 37 forms of cancer, plus heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, dermatitis, bronchitis, hyperactivity, deafness, sperm damage, and Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases.

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