Hope in the Rubble: More to Remember this Memorial Day
- Erich Bridges Baptist Press
- 2008 5 May
May 22, 2008
RICHMOND, Va. -- Natural and manmade disasters have torn at our hearts in recent weeks.
The Myanmar cyclone and China earthquake killed tens of thousands of people and left millions more homeless and vulnerable to disease and starvation. Ongoing political crises threaten entire populations in several African nations.
Soaring food prices have caused suffering and food riots in many countries -- and could put an additional 100 million people at risk of hunger worldwide, according to World Bank estimates.
As grim as recent news has been, however, positive long-term developments have proceeded more quietly.
A study by the Human Security Centre at the University of British Columbia (highlighted in this column in 2006) showed that mass political violence -- with the exception of terrorism -- has declined rapidly since the end of the Cold War. Armed conflicts worldwide have decreased by more than 40 percent since 1992. Wars have killed far fewer people in recent decades. Wars between countries now constitute less than 5 percent of all armed conflicts, and the post-World War II period has been the longest interval without wars between major powers in centuries. Most current wars are low-intensity conflicts, consisting of skirmishes between government forces and internal rebels.
The United Nations counted 56 armed conflicts, mostly of the low-intensity variety, going on worldwide during the most recent reporting period. Two of those conflicts are raging in Iraq and Afghanistan, of course, so we hear a lot about them.
Wars, turmoil and ongoing poverty continue to cause massive human suffering. But here are some hopeful signs, according to a recent overview by The Economist magazine:
- More than 600 million people in China were living in extreme poverty ($1 a day or less) 25 years ago. Today, that number has fallen below 180 million.
- Many more people have access to safe drinking water, and mortality rates from infectious diseases such as malaria and tuberculosis are falling in most poor countries, with the exception of African nations.
- For the first time in modern history, UNICEF reported last year, fewer than 10 million children are dying each year before they reach age 5 -- still a heartbreaking number, but a drop of about 25 percent since 1990.
- The global economy entered its fifth straight year of 4 percent-plus growth in 2007, the longest such expansion in more than 30 years. "Moreover, the growth was spread around fairly evenly" -- including Africa, which experienced a more than 6 percent jump. "Almost half of humanity, spread over more than 40 nations, lives in countries growing at 7 percent a year or more, a rate that doubles the size of the economy in a decade. This is twice the number of fast growers that existed in the years between 1980 and 2000." China and India will be the two top contributors to world growth this year, predicts the International Monetary Fund.
- If current growth rates hold, the proportion of "very poor people" to the total world population could shrink to 10 percent by 2015.
Many of these gains could be wiped out by the global economic slowdown currently brewing -- or by the food crisis, if steps aren't taken to address the factors that caused it. But the long-term progress of the last generation is undeniable.
"Violence in the Middle East is a reminder, as if one were needed, of the many ills... that need to be set against the achievements of the past few years," cautions The Economist. The number of "fragile" and failed states verging on collapse is another. "But the successes provide some perspective, both to the extent of the world's problems, and to their setting."
World-hearted Christians need that perspective, because God opens doors for sharing the hope of Christ in all circumstances. Our challenge is not only to continue delivering practical aid and the Gospel to lost peoples wracked by physical suffering, ignorance and violence, but to share hope with prospering societies that increasingly experience the wealth once enjoyed by the few. As education and health rates climb, economies grow and choices multiply in many places, people urgently need to be reminded that man does not live by bread alone, but by the words that proceed from the mouth of God.
As we Americans have learned from our own struggles with plenty, that truth is easy to forget.
Erich Bridges is senior writer for the Southern Baptist International Mission Board.
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