Before we dive in, two quick bits of news for you. The first is that we've been invited to speak at TED in Vancouver this year, where we're going to be sharing the most important stories of the last 12 months, Future Crunch style. It's a great opportunity and we're honoured (and still slightly shocked) to have been asked. Work is already underway on a plan to outdress Machine Dazzle.
The second bit of news is that after one too many typos, we've found a copy editor in the form of one of our subscribers, Steph C. Not only has she got an uncanny ability to find even the smallest of errors, she's also incredibly generous, and has offered to donate her fee to the charities we support here. A heartfelt thank you Steph, and welcome to the team.
Without further ado, here is some...
Good news you probably didn't hear about
Did you know that the world malaria map is shrinking? Since the turn of this century, 25 countries, home to more than a billion people, have eradicated the disease. Six of those countries (China, El Salvador, Malaysia, Iran, Belize and Cabo Verde) have achieved the feat since 2019, and the next three to join the list will be Nepal, Bhutan and Saudi Arabia. WHO
European cancer mortality predictions for 2023 suggest death rates will be 6.5% lower in men and 3.7% lower in women than they were in 2018. The biggest contributor to this decline is lung cancer, whose mortality rates are estimated to fall by up to 36% among those aged 25 to 64 years. Between 1989 and 2023, more than 5.8 million cancer deaths have been avoided in the EU.
India conducted the largest and most effective vaccination campaign by a single country during the COVID-19 pandemic. A new report by Stanford University estimates it saved 3.4 million lives and prevented $18.3 billion of economic losses - a timely reminder that the news tells us about what goes wrong, and hardly ever tells us about what goes right.
Some good news from East Africa. Child mortality in Kenya declined by 22% between 2014 and 2022, and by 36% in Tanzania between 2015 and 2021. Uganda is also reporting a 37% decline in annual HIV/AIDS-related deaths between 2016 and 2021, thanks to antiretroviral therapies and changing sexual behaviours.
India has been transformed by digital payments. Close to 300 million individuals and 50 million merchants now use phones for even the smallest of transactions - 10 cents for a cup of chai or $2 for a bag of vegetables. The shift has revolutionized Indian commerce, making business easier and bringing tens of millions into the formal economy. NYT
107 countries around the world now provide paid parental leave for fathers. Back in the 1990s, only 46 countries had a paid leave policies for fathers, largely high-income nations. "There is widespread recognition that we don't solve gender equality without dads getting leave." Axios
The United Kingdom has overtaken Canada, Germany and Australia to become one of the world’s most socially liberal nations towards divorce and abortion. “What were once pressing moral concerns – things like homosexuality, divorce and casual sex – have become simple facts of life for much of the public.” Guardian
Reproductive rights activists in Honduras are celebrating after Honduran President Xiomara Castro signed an executive order ending a ban on the morning after pill. Honduras, a heavily Catholic nation, banned the use and sale of the emergency contraception in 2009, arguing it would cause abortions. Reuters
It looks like the United States might have turned the corner on one of its biggest social and health problems - drug overdoses. Recent data from the CDC is showing a sustained dip in overdose deaths as of September 2022, down 7.2% from the peak reached in February 2022. Its still too early to celebrate, but it's the first bit of good news we've seen on this issue in a long time.
The proportion of smokers in Cambodia fell from 16.6% in 2014 to 13.04% in 2021, a decline of around one-fifth. It's good news: tobacco use remains the single largest preventable cause of disease and untimely death in Cambodia. Attitudes are also changing, with 95% of people supporting an increase in cigarette taxes and the price of tobacco products. Ghana News
As predicted, following Eli Lilly's cut to insulin prices last week, the two other biggest manufacturers in the world, Novo Nordisk and Sanofi, have cut their prices by 75% and 78% respectively. Before this, insulin prices were five to ten times higher in the United States than in other high-income countries.
Construction work in the United States has become a lot safer in the last few generations. Between 1970 and 2023, the occupational death rate in construction declined from around 70 per 100,000 workers to 15 per 100,000 workers, a fall of almost 80%, and during the same period the injury rate declined seven-fold. Construction Physics
Amidst the horrors of the war in Ukraine, one of the rare bright spots has been a dramatic shift in attitudes towards the LGBTQ community. Queer people have achieved unprecedented visibility in the country's fight to preserve its sovereignty, and public opinion has rapidly grown more supportive of reforms to fully recognize their rights as citizens. Politico
Eventually, we stopped on the unicorn as a widely recognizable image. I decided to draw it not cute but valiant — breathing fire and wearing armour. It was hard to find the balance — I wanted it to evoke LGBT vibes while not looking lame. Also, it had to have that tough, military look. We even cleaned up the fire to avoid any hints of sexual imagery so as not to provoke the haters.
Nastia Levytska, Designer of the unofficial patch of the Ukrainian LGBT military
(Check out the rest of the Ukraine military's insignia over here).
I know, we ask you every time. It really does help though. We're a tiny outfit, and rely entirely on our paying members to keep this thing going. We don't have any foundations or investors behind us, which means we're 100% independent. Not only do you get the satisfaction of supporting genuine solutions journalism, you get to support real solutions.
It's just $50 a year.
If it bleeds it leads
Remember how subway crime in New York was front page news in America last year? Well, the NYPD has done a good job at getting a handle on it. Major crimes fell by 9.1% in February, part of a larger 19.4% decline so far in 2023. The overall number of people being victimized has decreased by a fifth, shaking out to around five crimes per day among some 3 million riders.
Anyway, here's a nice bit of local news celebrating that achievement... oh, hold on.
The only home we've ever known
In the last three months humanity has made some big strides towards protecting life on Planet Earth. Following COP15 in December and the High Seas treaty last week, and with UN negotiations on plastics pollution in progress, countries finally have a clear action plan to deal with the three planetary crises of our time: the climate emergency, biodiversity loss and pollution. Guardian
Politicians are catching up with much of the public on this. Because people – and particularly young people and Indigenous people – see what is happening and they see what their future will be like without taking these actions.
David Cooper, Acting Biodiversity Chief, United Nations
Seaweed is having a moment. A recent study found that substituting 10% of diets with seaweed by 2050 would free up 110 million hectares of agricultural land, while only using 0.03% of the ocean’s surface. Seaweed farms, which have a long history in Asia, also eliminate the need for fresh water, pesticides, and fertilizers. NYT
Debt-for-climate swaps, which allow countries to reduce their debt obligations for conservation, are taking off, and new research shows they could generate over $100 billion for environmental action in low-income countries. While the concept has been kicking around since the 1980s, recent deals for Barbados, Belize and the Seychelles show that it’s going from strength to strength. Energy Monitor
The Vjosa River in Albania, home to more than 1,000 animal and plant species, has been declared a national park. For years, its fragile ecosystem was under threat: at one point as many as 45 hydro projects were planned across its length. But earlier this week, after a decade-long campaign by environmentalists, it was declared the first wild river national park in Europe. Guardian
The Biden administration has finalized a rule forcing factories and power plants in 23 Western and Midwestern states to sharply cut smog-causing pollution that is released from their smokestacks and fouls the air in Eastern states. The rule should help cut nitrogen oxide pollution between March and November by half by 2027. NYT
New research has found that levels of air pollution in the Great Lakes region in the United States has decreased thanks to the elimination of three toxic insecticides: lindane, ɑ-HCH and endosulfan. The good news is mostly owed to regulatory action taken decades ago. Grist
Forest certification is slowly gaining ground in central Africa. Nearly 6 million hectares are now certified under the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) or the Pan-African Forest Certification (PAFC) standard: 2,989,168 hectares in Congo, 2,535,880 hectares in Gabon, and 341,708 hectares in Cameroon. Both schemes are recognised by the Fair & Precious initiative.
The final horn has sounded for one of Scotland’s oldest fox hunts, with new animal rights legislation ending 252 years of the cruel tradition. The Hunting with Dogs bill, which was passed in January 2023 and came into effect last week, outlaws hunting and killing wild mammals using packs of dogs. CNN
The population of whooper swans in the UK is predicted to double by 2030 thanks to conservation measures. Researchers analysed 30 years of data on over 10,000 wild swans and found survival rates were significantly higher in nature reserves, and that this is spilling over into other populations. "The big message is that nature reserves can operate as very good protectors of wildlife." BBC
Gave a damn
Some news from one of our charity partners SOLA (School of Leadership Afghanistan). This month the all-girls school, currently based in Rwanda, welcomed its first intake of students relocated from countries outside Afghanistan. It's thanks to an agreement with the International Organisation for Migration.
March 2023 marks one year since the Taliban closed the doors of girls’ schools in Afghanistan, denying Afghan girls the right to study past 6th grade. It is incredibly meaningful to me that they are now arriving in Rwanda to pursue their education, and I am endlessly grateful to IOM for helping facilitate their safe travel to our school where they will grow to become members of a generation of leaders who one day will help rebuild Afghanistan.
Shabana Basij-Rasikh, Founder, SOLA
That's it for this week, thanks for reading. We'll see you next week.