Your Plane Isn’t Going to Crash
What’s happening: 2006 was the safest year on record for air travel.
The stats: Last year, there were just 77 major commercial plane crashes worldwide, the lowest number ever recorded, according to the International Air Transport Association. Of those, only 20 were fatal crashes, resulting in 855 people killed. That’s an amazing safety record, given that 2.1 billion passengers boarded flights last year. In North America, there was just one deadly commercial accident, out of about 10 million flights into and out of the United States alone.
The reasons why: Better safety standards. The aviation industry has taken a number of recent steps, including clearer signs on taxiways, better training for crews, improved maintenance for planes, and upgraded air-traffic control equipment, to improve safety in the skies. Planes themselves have gotten far safer. Jet engines are so fail-proof that pilots might never see one cut out in their entire flying careers, and cockpit controls keep airplanes safely away from mountains when visibility is obscured. “This is the golden age of safety, the safest period, in the safest mode, in the history of the world,” said Marion C. Blakey—who was administrator of the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration until September 2007—in a recent speech. In other words, the skies have never been friendlier.
Fewer Kids Are Dying
What’s happening: Mortality rates for young children are at a record low.
The stats: The number of children younger than 5 who died worldwide in 2006 fell to 9.7 million, the first time that figure dropped below 10 million since such records have been kept. And the good news isn’t confined to one continent. Latin America is on track to reach the Millennium Development Goal of reducing its 1990 child mortality rate by two thirds by 2015; so far, its under-5 mortality rate has already plummeted by half, from 55 deaths per 1,000 live births in 1990 to 27 in 2006. In China during the same period, child deaths dropped from 45 per 1,000 births to just 24, while India registered a 34 percent drop. Even parts of sub-Saharan Africa improved, with child mortality decreasing more than 20 percent from 2000 to 2004 in Ethiopia, Malawi, Rwanda, and Tanzania.
The reasons why: Simple solutions. More kids are getting vaccinated—measles deaths having fallen 60 percent globally since 1999. More kids are avoiding malaria by sleeping under insecticide-treated bed nets. Higher rates of breast-feeding and vitamin A supplements to strengthen immune systems are also keeping children alive. Safer water, better nutrition, more cash for public health, and more community health workers are also getting kids past their fifth birthdays. None of these solutions is particularly new or high-tech—just proof that implementing healthcare basics can save millions of lives.
Wars Are History
What’s happening: Iraq, Afghanistan, and terrorism may dominate the headlines, but otherwise, political violence has been headed downhill since the early 1990s. The number of wars involving states, and the deaths they directly cause, has decreased dramatically.
The stats: Between 1992 and 2003, the number of armed conflicts involving a government fell more than 40 percent, and the worst of those—conflicts with more than 1,000 deaths—decreased by 80 percent, according to the Human Security Centre in British Columbia. And fewer people are being killed in the midst of the remaining fighting. The number of deaths in conflicts dropped from nearly 700,000 in 1950 to about 25,000 in 2002, especially remarkable since the world’s population more than doubled during that time. Also worth noting is that though the number of countries in the world has more than tripled since World War II, interstate war now involves less than 5 percent of conflicts. In fact, the post-1945 period is the longest stretch in centuries that hasn’t featured a war between major world powers.
The reasons why: The Soviet Union and colonialism were swept into the dustbin of history. With the end of the Cold War came the end of developing-world proxy wars between the USSR and the United States. And as the colonial era waned, so did the wars of independence from colonial rule, which accounted for more than 60 percent of international conflicts from the 1950s to early 1980s.
Poverty Is Down
What’s happening: Fewer people are living on less than $1 a day.
The stats: In 1981, 1.5 billion people were living on less than $1 a day (or, to be more exact, the World Bank’s poverty line of $1.08 in U.S. 1993 dollars, adjusted for purchasing power parity). By 1990, that figure had fallen to 1.25 billion people. By 2004, the extreme poverty rate had fallen to 18.4 percent, or just 985 million people. If current trends continue, the world will achieve the Millennium Development Goal of cutting in half—from 32 percent in 1990 to 16 percent in 2015—the portion of the population in the developing world that ekes by on less than $1 a day.
The reasons why: One word: Asia. From 1981 to 2001, the number of people living in extreme poverty in East and South Asia dropped by half a billion people. By 2004, the extreme poverty rate in East Asia was down to just 9 percent. China gets most of the credit, with an annual economic growth rate of 8.5 percent for two decades, but other Asian countries, such as India, have also translated high growth rates into less poverty. Even in sub-Saharan Africa, the number of people in extreme poverty has been leveling off, which is promising because it means that lower extreme-poverty rates aren’t being canceled out by high population growth that otherwise balloons the number of poor.
You’re Living to Retirement
What’s happening: People are living longer than ever.
The stats: A child born 50 years ago could expect to live about 49 years, meaning he or she would likely be dead by now. A child born today, however, can expect to live 18 more years, to age 67. China and India, with their billion-plus populations, account for much of those gains. In the past 50 years, life expectancy in China has boomed from 45 to 73 years, while in India it is has increased from 40 to 65 years. Of course, Japan is the longevity capital of the world, where women’s life expectancy is currently 86 years and is projected to increase to the ripe-old age of 91 by 2050.
The reasons why: Modern medicine. In the early 1950s, 50 million people contracted smallpox each year. Less than three decades later, in 1979, the disease had been eradicated. In developing countries, improved sanitation and water quality has helped people avoid coming into contact with deadly microbes in the first place. And in the developed world, medical advances are bringing down death rates of three major killers—heart disease, cancer, and strokes.
Anything else you think we should be thankful for? Feel free to let us know in the comments!