Bono appeared at the TED event this week to discuss ending global poverty. He suggested that it was possible to imagine eradicating $1.25 a day poverty by around 2030. And I believe him –at least in my more optimistic moments. The U2 frontman noted one of the benefits if that happened: “you won’t have to listen to an insufferable jumped-up Jesus like myself.”
But I’d happily listen to a jumped-up Jesus –even were Bono a failed, tone-deaf, false prophet -- if he would keep on talking about another statistic in his presentation.
Because while we’re on the subject of superstar poverty campaigners, it is worth looking at Bill Gates’ annual letter. He discussed Sebsebila Nassir from Ethiopia, who had taken the traditionally unusual step of naming her newborn. Why? Nowadays, there was a pretty good chance the kid will survive long enough to answer to that name. Which brings us back to the statistic in Bono’s presentation that really sang to me.
The child mortality rate of kids under 5 is down by 2.65 million deaths a year since 2000, Bono suggested. “Let’s think about that,” he said. “Have you read anything, anywhere in the last week that is as remotely as important as that number? It’s great news, and it drives me nuts most people don’t know this.” I’d challenge Bono on the “last week” part. Because compared to a $85 billion sequester, or a or even the wonderful possibility that 11 million undocumented workers in the US might find a path to citizenship under immigration reform, if you haven’t heard until now that child deaths have dropped by 2.65 million a year over the last ten years, you honestly haven’t heard as important a number for a really, really long time. On September 11th, 2001, 3,000 innocent victims died in the attacks on the twin towers and the Pentagon. But, worldwide, considerably more than five times that number of innocent children died on the very same day due to easily preventable causes. Thanks to progress against child mortality since the turn of the millennium, Bono’s statistic suggests we prevent more than two 9/11’s worth of child deaths every day. It is a gargantuan, fantastic, superb, incredibly beautiful accomplishment –even if it should be bigger. And aid has played an undoubtable and significant role in making it happen.
For all that many of those 2.65 million kids may grow up to $1.26 a day poverty, or injustice, or limited opportunities, they’ll survive. No parents will be left grieving their untimely death, and they will have at least a chance at a better life. And that’s a gift at least somewhat in our hands to offer. So if a jumped up Jesus proclaimed ‘suffer little children longer before they come to me –don’t let them die of vaccine-preventable illnesses,’ I’d sign up then and there to whatever creed they espoused. It is a incredible joy of our world that we could make such a commitment —and it is one we should be rushing to make.