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“Things can be bad, and getting better” – Hans Rosling


In a world saturated with headlines that spell doom and portray a descent into chaos, it's easy to succumb to the belief that we're on an irreversible path to destruction. This perception, however, is challenged by the optimistic lens through which the late Hans Rosling, a renowned Swedish statistician and global health expert, viewed the world. He famously noted, "Things can be bad, and getting better" at the same time, a sentiment that serves as a reminder of the complexities of progress.

Rosling wasn't ignorant of the world's suffering; rather, he chose to acknowledge the full scope of human development. When examining global trends, it's crucial to distinguish between the perception of worsening conditions and the actual data that measures human progress. Despite the barrage of grim news, various metrics tell a story of improvement and hope.  Consider the following:

Extreme Poverty

The World Bank defines “Extreme Poverty” as living on less than $1.90 per person per day.  In 1983, 43% of the global population lived in extreme poverty which has steadily dropped to 9% by 2019.  While less than 1% of the population in high income countries live in extreme poverty since the 1980s, but more than 50% of the population in Sub-Saharan Africa lived in extreme poverty in 1990 and stands at 35% in 2020. 

Life Expectancy

The average global life expectancy was only 50 years in 1960, and steadily grew to 73 by 2019 and fell to 71 years due to the pandemic.  But there is significant differences in Life Expectancy across the world, average life expectancy for people in high income countries is as high as 80 years and as low as 62 in low-income countries and just 52 in Chad, the country with the lowest Life Expectancy in 2021. 

Child Mortality

Child Mortality refers to the Probability of a child born in a specific year dying before reaching the age of five.  Some may find this measure a little morbid, but did you know that 9.3% of children born in 1990 did not live past five years of age; by 2021 only 3.8% of children died by age five.  In high income countries, only 4.9% of children born in 2021 did not live past age five as opposed to 6.7% for low-income countries and 11.5% in Niger with the highest child mortality rate in the world.

Access to Drinking Water

Access to drinking water is something that many of us take for granted; and right so since 80% of the world population already had access to clean drinking water by 2000 and this steadily grew to 91% by 2021.  But only 59% of the population in low-income countries had access to clean drinking water and 35% in the Democratic Republic of Congo, as opposed to 99% for High income countries in 2022.

Access to Basic Sanitation

Again, access to basic sanitation is something many take for granted, only 55% of the world population had access to basic sanitation in 2000 and this increased to 80% by 2021.  But only 31% of the population in low-income countries had access to clean basic sanitation and only 9% in Ethiopia, as opposed to 99% for High income countries in 2022.

Access to Electricity

Many in the world can enjoy the benefit of lights at night with the flip of a switch among other luxuries that comes with electricity, 78% of the world population already had access to electricity in 2000 and this increased 91% by 2021.  But only 44% of the population in low-income countries had access to electricity and only 7% in South Sudan, as opposed to 100% for High income countries in 2022.

Why does the public perception often lean towards pessimism?

Rosling's perspective compels us to embrace a balanced view. Yes, the world grapples with serious challenges: climate change, political unrest, and inequality, to name a few. Yet simultaneously, on other fronts, there is undeniable advancement. This duality is the crux of our world's narrative—a tale of challenges and victories, setbacks, and breakthroughs. 

The question arises: why does the public perception often lean towards pessimism? The answer lies in the nature of news media and human psychology. Our attention is drawn to immediate threats and negative events—a survival instinct that once served us well. News outlets, operating in a competitive space, have an incentive to prioritize alarming stories that are more likely to captivate an audience.

Rosling encouraged us to counter this negativity bias by actively seeking out data and evidence. It's not about wearing rose-colored glasses; it's about acknowledging the shades of grey. Understanding that the world can be, and often is, both bad and better at the same time is a testament to our complex reality.

Being Factful

Let us not be blinded by despair nor blinded by naivety. Instead, let's strive for informed optimism. As we push for continuous progress, let's also celebrate the victories humanity has achieved. If you're intrigued by this nuanced view of the world and want to learn how data can paint a more accurate picture of our global condition, we invite you to dive deeper into the discussion. Explore the metrics that matter, engage with the data (click the charts to access the interactive dashboards built with the data), and join us in recognizing a world that's capable of harbouring both shadows and light.

Join FYT in uncovering the layers behind these metrics and what they mean for our shared future. Engage with us in dialogues, workshops, and initiatives that delve into the heart of human progress. Let's embrace informed optimism as we collectively contribute to this unfolding story of human development. Contact us to be part of the conversation that shapes a balanced, actionable view of our world.

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