Three weeks ago the world rang out the year 2016 and amid New Year’s eve dances, parties, and an explosion of fireworks and crackers heralded in 2017. Even in Sri Lanka the large numbers of people young, old and middle aged partied as the New Year dawned. It was, as the song goes, a time to dance and a time to sing.
But while large numbers danced, sang and welcomed in the New Year, for many, many others on this planet, it was just another day to struggle through. Unfortunately, as we danced and partied we forgot that around 795 million of our fellow men according to the World Food Programme (WFP) did not have enough food to lead a healthy active life. That’s about one in nine people on earth.
We did not realise that Asia -again according to the WFP- was the continent with the hungriest people on earth, where one out of six children - roughly 100 million in developing countries are underweight. Worse, maternal and child malnutrition is said to be the underlying cause of 3.5 million deaths and 35% of the disease burden in children younger than 5 years.
It quite slipped our minds that 663 million people in the world – one in ten – do not have clean water -(WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) Report 2015)… or as WASHCost and WaterAid 2014 point out that just £15 can help provide one person with access to safe water. That is 9,945 million pounds or US $ 8,085 million can ease the drinking water problem for millions of people.
Most of us are not even aware that 3.4 million people die as a result of water borne diseases, making it according to WHO, one of the leading causes of disease and death around the world. If no action is taken to address unmet basic human needs for water, as many as 135 million people will die of these diseases by 2020.
As the year unfolds let us keep in mind that around 315,000 children under-five die every year from diarrhoeal diseases caused by dirty water and poor sanitation. That’s almost 900 children per day, or one child every two minutes and that 2.4 billion people in the world –one in three– do not have adequate toilet facilities.
WHO’s 2016 World Malaria Report is damning. According to the report, in 2015, there were 212 million new cases of malaria and 429,000 deaths. One child dies of malaria every two minutes.
Unfortunately over the past five years according to the WHO, global financing for malaria has flat-lined. The funding must increase substantially from both domestic and international sources. A research paper has estimated that it would require around US $8.5 billion in sustained financing up to 2030 to achieve this goal.
As this month of January draws to a close, we remember there are approximately 36.7 million people worldwide living with HIV/AIDS at the end of 2015. Of these, 1.8 million were children (15 years old). An estimated 2.1 million individuals worldwide became newly infected with HIV in 2015 according to UNAIDS. In the same year, 1.1 million people died of AIDS related illnesses and every year since 2010, around 1.9 million [1.9 million –2.2 million] adults have become newly infected with HIV and in 2015 1.1 million [940 000–1.3 million] people died of AIDS-related causes worldwide.
Recent updated UNAIDS estimates indicate that US$ 26.2 billion will be required for the AIDS response in 2020, with US$ 23.9 billion required in 2030. These are but a few of the more pressing problems and miseries facing our planet, but they are not problems which happened yesterday or the day before. These problems have been with us for decades, if not longer. But funds have been slow to come by… costs are high and the countries of this world have not even jointly been able to find the resources to meet the challenges.
But surprise, surprise! The British charity Oxfam last week revealed that eight men headed by Bill Gates (US), net worth of $75 billion, Amancio Ortega Gaona, (Spain) $67 billion, Warren E. Buffett (US), $60.8 billion, Carlos Slim Helú (Mexico) $50 billion, Jeff Bezos (US), $45.2 billion, Mark Zuckerberg (US), $44.6 billion, Lawrence J. Ellison (US), $43.6 billion, Michael Bloomberg (US), $40 billion own the combined wealth of fifty percent of the human race!
The truth is that, human greed accumulates great wealth in the hands of a few, while the mass of humanity suffers and most of us are not even aware of it.