Good News on Global Inequality, Social Safety Nets in Egypt, and Reforestation in China

Plus, cervical cancer elimination, poverty in Uzbekistan, shoplifting myths in America, cheetahs in India, island restoration in Australia, and the curse of A/B testing.

Good News on Global Inequality, Social Safety Nets in Egypt, and Reforestation in China
Aerial view of Meiling National Forest Park in China's Jiangxi Province, 20th November 2023. Credit: Xinhua/Wan Xiang

This is our regular round up of stories of progress from around the world. If you'd like to join the 55,000 people who get this in their inbox every week, you can subscribe for free below.

Give a damn

In the final week of February, the rescue team at Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary in Sierra Leone saved the lives of two chimpanzees: Esther, a four-month-old baby rescued from street vendor, and Koba, who was found tied to a rope next to the house of a bushmeat seller. Both chimps are now being looked after at Tacugama, but providing this care is no small feat. It costs USD$2,500 each year, per chimp, to cover essential expenses like medical care, vaccinations, medication, nutrition, and surrogate mother care.

Using the fees from our paid subscribers, we've donated USD$5,000 for Esther and Koba’s first year of rehabilitation. This organisation does incredible work, not just inside the sanctuary, but in the surrounding communities where they are actively working to stop deforestation. The origin story of Tacugama is equally inspiring. You can listen to our interview with their founder, Bala, here. Thanks to all of our paying members for making this possible.

Good news for people

The global effort to eliminate cervical cancer got a huge boost last week after donors pledged nearly $600 million towards fighting the disease. In a joint statement, the World Bank, the Gates Foundation, and UNICEF said that the funding will go towards expanding access to vaccination, screening, and treatment worldwide. Reuters

In one of the first initiatives of its kind in the world, pharmacies in Catalonia, Spain, have begun to provide free products for the region's roughly 2.5 million women, girls, and transgender and nonbinary people who menstruate. They will receive one menstrual cup, one pair of underwear for periods, and two packages of cloth pads at local pharmacies free of charge. AP

Cystic fibrosis once guaranteed an early death: a child born in the early 2000s could expect to live until age 35. Then in 2019, Trikafta—a new drug combination that corrects the misshapen protein that causes cystic fibrosis—came along. Today, those who begin treatment in early adolescence can expect to survive to 82—an essentially normal life span. Atlantic

The world has made incredible progress on rubella elimination in the last decade. Between 2012 and 2022, the number of countries including rubella vaccinations in their immunisation schedule increased from 132 to 175, and the percentage of the world’s infants vaccinated increased from 40% to 68%. By 2022, 98 countries had eliminated the disease altogether, up from 84 in 2019. WHO

Nepal has made amazing progress in maternal and neonatal healthcare, thanks to its pioneering Safe Motherhoood Programme. Maternal mortality has declined from 536 per 100,000 live births in 1996 to 151 per 100,000 live births by 2021, and 70% of women now receive postpartum care within the first two days after giving birth. Nepali Times

The US Environmental Protection Agency just announced $2.6 billion for wastewater and stormwater infrastructure improvements and $3.2 billion for improving drinking water systems across the United States, part of a massive federal effort to ensure safer, more reliable water access and quality. #MAGA. Bloomberg

Launched in 2015, the Takaful and Karama Programme ('Solidarity & Dignity' in Arabic) is Egypt’s national social safety net, providing cash transfers to poor households with children under 18, as well as to the elderly poor, orphans, widows, and persons living with disabilities. As of December 2023, the programme had reached around 17 million citizens, 74% of whom are women. World Bank

Xavier Sala-i-Martin, one of the world's most respected economists on the topic of economic growth, has just co-authored a paper showing that not only have global poverty and inequality been falling since the 1990s, but so has within-country inequality. The paper was released about two weeks ago and still hasn't received a single mention by a news organisation. NBER

Uzbekistan has witnessed substantial economic growth over the past two decades, accompanied by a remarkable decline in poverty rates, from 28% in 2000 to 14% in 2022, lifting millions of people out of poverty. The pandemic caused some big setbacks, but now poverty reduction efforts are back on track. UNDP

The share of women in sub-Saharan Africa who own a financial account has more than doubled in the last decade, driven almost entirely by the adoption of mobile money accounts. Financial access gives women greater personal safety and less exposure to theft, more say over how household resources are spent, and greater ability to receive money from friends and family in the event of an emergency.

The EU Council and the European Parliament have reached a provisional agreement to ban the entry of products made with forced labour into the European single market. The bans would be enforced on goods made outside the EU by forced labour and on products manufactured in the EU with parts made abroad by forced labour. Reuters

America's shoplifting crisis was completely made up. In 17 of the 24 major cities which report data, shoplifting decreased in the last five years, including San Francisco—which saw a 5% decline in shoplifting between mid-2019 and mid-2023. This is the exact opposite of what all major US media outlets (including The New York Times and The Washington Post) have reported. Brookings

Um, no.
More good news you didn't hear about

One of the world's most effective charities, Evidence Action, just kicked off a programme to provide iron and folic acid supplements to millions of anaemic children in Malawi. More than 250,000 people in Senegal recently gained access to clean drinking water and sanitation. Since the end of its civil war in 2003, Liberia has provided new or improved access to sanitation for 800,000 people in its capital city, Monrovia. It looks like China's dramatic decrease in air pollution in the last decade contributed to reduced suicide rates. This is one of the most impressive lists of results for women's and children's health we've ever seen. The ALS Association recently received $58 million, its largest-ever donation, which will go towards finding improved treatments for Lou Gehrig's disease. World food prices declined for a seventh straight month in February 2024 and are now down to their lowest levels in three years. 'Today, I am so proud to announce that we are taking steps to retire medical debt for up to an estimated 1 million Arizonans. That’s a fresh start, a new chapter and a huge weight taken off the shoulders for every single one of them.'

If it bleeds, it leads

A/B testing is a curse. If you're constantly optimising for headlines that generate more clicks, you end up appealing to people's worst instincts, sacrificing accuracy for sensationalism. All media companies are guilty of this, but some are worse than others. Here's a great example, courtesy of Media Matters.

On the 25th February 2024, CNN published a piece on electric vehicles explaining that sales in the United States, which are trending upward and reached record levels in 2023, are not as high as analysts once predicted they’d be. The next day, a new headline appeared above the article that radically altered the main takeaway of the story without any new information added.

Here are the two headlines, just a day apart.

To support the new, negative framing, CNN also added a line to the piece: 'But the EV market has nevertheless become a major disappointment.' The main message of the article was that although some automakers are currently scaling back production, EV sales are still up 40% from the same quarter a year before and hit a record last year. However, with the new changes, the emphasis shifted to the disappointment arising from the mismatch of expectations and reality.

The news is supposed to tell us what's happening in the world. It doesn't. It tries as hard as it can to find something that's going wrong, even when things are going right.

Good news for the planet

China's National Greening Commission just announced that it increased its greening efforts last year with 39,998 kmof forest planted, 43,790 kmof degraded grassland restored, and 19,050 kmof sandy and stony land treated. The country is notoriously unreliable with big data like this, but even if the numbers are half of that, it's incredibly good news. Xinhua

The US Department of the Interior just announced the establishment of a new 16,187 kmconservation area in the Everglades in southwest Florida. The area will provide crucial protected wildlife corridors, enhance outdoor recreation access to the public, and bolster climate resilience in southwest Florida. FWS

South Africa is set to transform the Loskop Dam Nature Reserve into a massive 1,000 kmprotected area. The project, a collaboration between the Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency and The Aspinall Foundation, is not only expected to become a sanctuary for over 30 endangered wildlife species, including the black rhino, but also to offer economic upliftment to surrounding communities. Discover

In 2014, Australian conservationists completed one of the largest publicly-funded conservation investments in history, successfully clearing Macquarie Island of non-native cats, rats, rabbits, and other animals. Now their work is paying off—a new study has shown that populations of petrels, a group of highly specialised seabirds, are recovering. Conversation

A researcher identifies a soft-plumaged petrel (Pterodroma mollis) in their spotlight while surveying at night. Credit: Jeremy Bird

For nine years, the Gomeroi people of New South Wales have been campaigning to put a stop to Santos' A$3.6 billion fossil gas project on their traditional lands. Last Thursday, they won an appeal to halt work, with a federal court ruling that climate change impacts had not been adequately considered. 'To say that I was excited is an understatement. It was an overwhelming feeling of happiness and pride.' ABC

A conservation milestone for India in Gujurat, home to the only population of Asiatic lions in the world. The IUCN just recategorized the species from endangered to vulnerable, and there may be even more good news coming, with the state forest department proposing a new 30,000 kmsanctuary for the apex predator. Times of India

India’s cheetah reintroduction programme just celebrated the birth of five cubs in Kuno National Park. 'This takes the tally of Indian born cubs to 13. This is the fourth cheetah litter on Indian soil' since the beginning of the programme, and the first litter by a South African cheetah in India. This is a really big milestone, especially after the programme's difficult start. Times of India

The EU has agreed on a provisional deal to create a new law to cut packaging waste and ban single-use plastics used for supermarket fruit and vegetables. Negotiators agreed on targets to reduce overall packaging by 5% by 2030 and 15% by 2040, and that all packaging should be recyclable by 2030.

According to the latest statistics from the US Department of Agriculture, more than 40% of hens used for eggs in the United States are now cage-free, and 11 states have banned the practice of caging hens. Just 15 years ago, that number was only 3%. While free-range is still the only genuinely humane way to farm chickens, this does represent progress towards that goal. Humane Society

Following the success of the High Line and years of community advocacy, New York is poised for a unprecedented year of urban greening, with the opening of around 60 km of citywide 'greenways.' 'I don’t think there’s been a year like this, from a standpoint of greenways, and so much kind of focus and effort going into greenway planning.' Inside Climate News

The largest tuna fishery in the world, created by the Nauru Agreement (PNA) in 1982, is also the world's most sustainable. 'By imposing a limit, all of a sudden the onus is on the harvesters. They have to manage themselves within the quota that we've imposed. That raises the revenue, it supplements building roads, hospitals, schools, job creation and economic development for the islands.' Euronews

Top: the Parties to the Nauru Agreement. Bottom: the newly-established Vessel Monitoring System operations centre in the Marshall Islands. Credit: Euronews
More music for those who will listen

Bald eagles have returned to Toronto, suggesting the city's regreening efforts are working. 'A very special day,' as Darwin's finches are reintroduced to one of the Galapagos Islands. Mexican wolf populations in Arizona and New Mexico increase for the eighth year in a row. In Italy, efforts to build a viable population of Marsican brown bears are underway.The Wyoming toad leaps towards recovery. Nearly 12,140 kmof grassland ranches in the United States have now been certified by the Audubon Society as bird-friendly. Restoring peatland is easily the cheapest form of carbon sequestration, and Scotland has already restored over 100 km2. Canada just banned strychnine for poisoning, hailed as a major victory by animal protection and environmental groups. Hundreds of baby sea turtles were recently released by conservationists off the coast of Nicaragua.

Quite literally a green shoots story, and probably the best one you'll hear this year.

Chris Trimmer, the man who runs the secret high-security greenhouse in Devon and was responsible for grafting the Sycamore Gap tree.

That's it for this edition, we hope you enjoyed it, and a big thank you once again to all our paid subscribers for making this week's donation for the two baby chimps possible. We'll see you next week.

With love,


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