Good News on Human Rights in Spain, Prison Populations in the United States and Wildlife in Uganda

Plus, Black Fever in India, progress for Tanzania, heroic engineering in Ukraine, falling deforestation in the Amazon, and recoveries for storks in Florida and marmots in Kyrgyzstan

Good News on Human Rights in Spain, Prison Populations in the United States and Wildlife in Uganda
Spain's Minister for Equality Irene Montero, centre, celebrates the final approval of a law that will make it easier for people to self-identify as transgender, with LGBTQ activists outside Spain's Parliament in Madrid, Spain [Susana Vera/Reuters]

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Good news you probably didn't hear about

COVID-19 led to the largest ever increase in global health funding - from $43 billion in 2019 to $67 billion in 2021. A significant chunk is being spent on other health-related areas, like child and matertnal health, HIV/AIDS, strengthening national health systems, purchasing supplies (like mosquito bed nets), and treating disease. Think Global Health

Gastric cancer deaths are declining among all Hispanic/Latino populations in the United States, and 16 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. Most countries have seen mortality reductions of between 2 to 3% per year in the last two decades, and the decline has been particularly pronounced in Costa Rica and Puerto Rico, and amongst men older than 50. Lancet

Health officials in India are reporting a 98.7% decline in cases of visceral leishmaniasis between 2007 and 2022 - from 44,533 to just 834 last year. The disease, also known as Kala-Azar or Black Fever, is the second deadliest parasitic killer in the world after malaria. India says it might eliminate it this year. Times Now

Spain has passed legislation expanding reproductive and transgender rights, and will be the first country in Europe to allow workers paid menstrual leave. Period products will now be offered free in schools and prisons, state-run health centres will do the same with hormonal contraceptives and the morning after pill, and workers suffering debilitating period pain will be allowed to take paid time off. The changes also enshrine the right to have an abortion in a state hospital - 80% of procedures are currently carried out in private clinics. NPR

There's a ton of good news in Tanzania's recently released National Panel Survey. Between 2014 and 2021:

Access to improved sanitation increased from 25% to 40%
Access to clean drinking water improved from 57% to 64%
Access to electricity increased from 24% to 34%
Food insecurity in rural areas decreased from 20% to 15%
Stunting, wasting, and underweight rates for children all decreased
Births attended by skilled birth workers increased from 70% to 85%
Literacy in rural areas increased from 61% to 70%
Primary school enrolment increased from 74% to 82% for boys and girls

Remember when Russia started blowing up Ukraine's electricity system? Well thanks to better air defences and some heroic engineering, it's back up and running. As of this week, there is no deficit in the country's energy system, meaning there is enough electricity for all Ukrainians, 24 hours a day. Euromaiden

A celebration of Valentines Day from our friends at The Progress Network. With each passing year, humanity's crimes against love - bigotry, abuse, class prejudice, racial stigma, rape and forced marriage, have become more culturally abhorrent and legally impermissible. Today, the average child is being born into the most inclusive and tolerant time in human history.

As a general rule, we don't really do traditional 'feel-good' stuff in this newsletter, but this one's too lovely not too share. If you're feeling overwhelmed by all the awfulness, here's a heart-warming story from the Seattle Times, about a woman who was forced to walk to work after her car died, and found $15,000 on the way.

The proportion of people in favour of the death penalty or who think courts are too hard  has declined substantially in the United States. A majority of people now support 'second-look' sentencing - where judges are allowed to release prisoners after they've served 15 years. Mirage

The US prison population had declined by 25% since reaching its peak in 2009. Half of the country's states have reduced their prison populations by more than that, including New Jersey, and New York who have reduced prison populations over 50% since their peak. The Sentencing Project

Source: Bureau of Justice Statistics

The only home we've ever known

Deforestation in Brazil's Amazon rainforest fell by 61% in January compared to a year earlier. It's the first month under the new government - suggesting something has shifted. In mid-January, Brazilian environmental agents launched their first anti-logging raids with the blessing of Lula, who has pledged to end surging destruction. Reuters

The Djéké triangle in the DRC, home to the critically endangered western lowland gorillas, has become part of the Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park. The protections will secure one of the oldest long-term research sites for the gorillas and the customary rights of 13 local communities to access the resources they depend on. Afrik21

The wood stork may soon fly off the endangered species list thanks to an epic recovery effort in Florida that has increased breeding pairs from 5,000 pairs in 1984 to over 10,000 pairs today. The stork has also increased its range, tripling the number of colonies across Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and the Carolinas. NPR

Improved protection measures in Kyrgyzstan's Besh-Aral State Nature Reserve have helped increase the population of the Menzbier’s marmot by 30% in the last two years to over 16,000. Conservationists are also reporting more sightings of bears, wolves, lynx, golden eagles and bearded vultures, suggesting the measures are having a positive impact for other species. FFI

Populations of endangered rhinos, buffalo and elephants are rebounding in Uganda. Since 1983, the buffalo population has increased by 77% and elephants by nearly 300%. Eastern black rhinos have rebounded too - after being wiped out in the 1980s, they were reintroduced in 2005 and their numbers have grown to 32. Yale360

An elephant at Uganda's Murchison National Park. Credit: Wildaid

The US Department of Agriculture is rolling out almost a billion dollars in funding to help farmers and forest owners implement conservation programs. The 'once-in-a-generation' spend will support planting filter strips and grassed waterways, improving grazing management, restoring wetlands, and practices that protect groundwater and surface availability. TRCP

Call it the Tiger King effect. The Netflix documentary has helped end the same industry it made famous, with the Biden administration outlawing the private ownership of big cats and the public petting of the animals at zoos and sanctuaries. The new law signals the end of 'a warped industry with no socially redeeming purpose, perpetrating great harm.' NYT

A group of 10,000 women in Assam, India known as the 'Hargila Army' have saved one of the world’s rarest storks: the greater adjutant. Traditionally seen as a bad omen, the stork was persecuted to the brink of extinction until a conservationist rallied local women to help transform attitudes to the bird, which has since become a cultural symbol. Guardian

Conservation is all about uniting people and building ownership. I’ve always believed that, if given a chance, women can make a big difference in conservation.
Dr Purnima Devi Barman - Founder, Hargila Army

After 25 years of effort, the Mexican Wolf Recovery Program is gaining momentum with the population doubling from 98 in 2015 to 196 last year. The increase gives wildlife officials hope that they will reach their goal of 320 Mexican wolves sustained for eight years across southern Arizona and New Mexico. Cronkite News

Chilika Lake, the second biggest lake in India, was declared dead in the 1990s, but two decades of conservation work has resulted in a six-fold increase in seagrass and the return of marine life. The project has also changed the livelihoods of two million people: every rupee the government spent on restoration resulted in at least seven rupees of benefits to fisheries, tourism and carbon capture. Mongabay


The White Helmets

When the earthquake hit Syria on February 6th, the first responders were a group of ordinary women and men: bakers, tailors, pharmacists, salespeople, and engineers, who rushed in to pull people from the rubble. Despite their different trades, they were unified by one distinct feature: they all wore white helmets.

The White Helmets, also known as the Syria Civil Defence, is a humanitarian group that formed in late 2012 when Syria’s peaceful revolution descended into war. As bombs started destroying neighbourhoods, essential services like firefighting and healthcare were wiped out. Groups of volunteers around the country stepped in to provide an emergency response without proper equipment or medical training but united by their concern for human life.

These frontline humanitarians, who are unpaid and unarmed, have risked their lives to help people regardless of their religion, politics, or even what side of the war they are fighting. In 2013 some volunteers travelled to Turkey for professional training in urban search and rescue and over the years more advanced training has allowed the White Helmets to establish specialised teams and facilities.

In addition to their work as first-responders, these volunteers also provide a range of essential services for communities, from repairing sewage systems and electrical grids, clearing debris and unexploded weapons, and creating awareness about disaster response.

Today the organisation has around 3,000 volunteers and their efforts have saved over 125,000 lives, in addition to the 3,000 people they've rescued in the aftermath of the earthquake. As the rescue effort transitions into a long recovery, these men and women will once again roll up their sleeves to rebuild neighbourhoods and restore hope to broken communities.

We have rescued our own family members, complete strangers, and Assad regime soldiers. Our motto comes from the Qu’ran: Whoever saves one life, it is as if they have saved all of humanity.

That's all for this edition, thanks for reading. We'll see you next week.

Much love,


Future Crunch

Future Crunch

We're a team of science communicators. Our mission is to foster intelligent, optimistic thinking about the future, and create a 21st century that works for people and the planet.

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