The Progress of Nations: Introduction

Introduction: Resources and results

If there is a common theme running through each issue of The Progress of Nations it is that the relationship between economic growth and social progress is not fixed. Some nations are regularly achieving far more for their children – in health, nutrition, and education – than other nations with considerably higher levels of income.

But what do they prove, these unpredictable ratios between wealth and well-being?

Differences of history and culture are obviously important. So are political stability, and the accountability of governments to peoples. But there is another link between resources and results – a factor that seems too banal to be mentioned but is too important to be ignored. It is the sense of realism and honesty with which each country is able to face its situation and benefit from the lessons learned from years of development experience.

The effort to defeat malnutrition, ill health, and illiteracy that began in the 1950s has seen great global successes. Some of them – the eradication of smallpox and the 20 million children's lives saved since 1980 because of immunization, oral rehydration therapy, and other simple measures – are bargains at almost any price. But in this time of cost-awareness, as well as of scepticism and cynicism about development efforts, it is important to keep certain facts clearly in mind.

If past successes tell us anything, it is that we cannot afford complacency as we work towards better lives for the world's poor. All of us interested in progress need constantly to challenge ourselves, our ideas, and our methods. We all need the same honesty and sense of realism in facing both the weaknesses and strengths of our approaches and learning the lessons that help change the future.

Photo: Given a commitment to the rights of the poor, it is possible to improve the ratio between resources and results.©

In that light, we hope this issue of The Progress of Nations, like the previous ones, will be challenging. We expect it will.

It contains bountiful examples of progress in its charts, league tables, and news stories. But the essays in The Progress of Nations present independent views, and readers will find much to provoke and stir as well as to applaud.

This is illustrated by the first two essays in this issue of The Progress of Nations – on child malnutrition and maternal deaths. Improving the nutrition of young children is a complex business, and one that usually has little to do with how much food is available (see pages on nutrition). Much has been done in this regard, but the authors argue that the world needs to face some of the pressing related issues with renewed commitment and great honesty if real progress is to be made. And attempts to reduce maternal mortality – an enormous toll in human suffering – demand the same frank realignment in the light of new and deeper understanding. Many of the deaths and much of the suffering, to the world's shame, are readily preventable.

Today's knowledge and experience are valuable, even more than new technologies. In money terms, the resources needed to improve people's lives are small compared with the magnitude of the benefits to be derived. But the experience is priceless; we hope readers can benefit from the lessons – some of them painful – recounted in The Progress of Nations 1996.

Carol Bellamy
Executive Director

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