The World Health Organization defines child mortality as the death of a child under five years old. In 2012, the worldwide number of these deaths was estimated at around 6.6 million annually. That’s 18,000 children per day, four-years-old or younger. The vast majority of these deaths are preventable and result from extreme poverty conditions in the world’s poorest countries.
This gruesome but informative death rate is a key global poverty indicator and has actually been reduced by almost 50 percent in the last 20 years thanks to critical investments made by the global community in health and development. Of course, this doesn’t mean the remaining half of these deaths will continue to be eliminated without further financial investment and intervention. Increased funding for such efforts should be highly prioritized if we want to have the most significant impact possible with our charitable giving and help save children’s lives.
If you want to fight the most brutal forms of extreme poverty, and child mortality specifically, you need to know where it’s taking place. It is helpful to point out which countries have the highest child mortality levels as a percentage of their population. Here are the 10 most dangerous countries to be born in, as of 2012. Spoiler alert — they’re all in Africa. In total, these ten countries bear the burden of approximately 1.8 million child deaths per year, or more than 27 percent of the world’s child deaths. Nearly 5,000 deaths occur each day in these places alone, and that’s just the kids under five. It’s enormous and tragic and mostly preventable.
(frame of reference: United States child mortality rate = 0.7%)
1) Sierra Leone: 18 percent child mortality rate. That’s more than one in six. In the U.S. it’s one in 142. In some European countries it’s less than one in 400. You are literally more than 2,500 percent more likely to die as a child in Sierra Leone than in the United States. Approximately 39,000 child deaths occur each year in Sierra Leone.
2) Angola: 16 percent child mortality rate — 148,000 child deaths per year. Angola’s population is about the same size as New York state, yet they experience more than 100 times more child deaths.
3) Chad: 15 percent child mortality rate — 82,000 child deaths per year. Chad’s population is about the same as the state of Ohio but has nearly 70 times more child deaths.
4) Somalia: 15 percent child mortality rate — 65,000 child deaths per year.
5) Democratic Republic of the Congo: 15 percent child mortality rate — 391,000 child deaths per year. This is six percent of the world’s child mortality in a single country. DRC’s population is similar to that of France but they suffer more than 130 times more child deaths each year.
6) Guinea-Bissau: 13 percent child mortality rate — 8,000 child deaths per year.
7) Central African Republic: 13 percent child mortality rate — 19,000 child deaths per year.
8) Mali: 13 percent child mortality rate — 83,000 child deaths per year.
9) Nigeria: 12 percent child morality rate — 827,000 child deaths per year. This devastating figure represents 12.5 percent of the world’s child mortality.
10) Niger: 11 percent child mortality rate — 91,000 child deaths per year.
Of course this list is not comprehensive and will continually change as factors like war, famine, trade and development alter conditions around the world. In real time we know that other countries such as South Sudan will be on this list when data is next released. Each of these nations have different political and economic factors that further exacerbate their already poverty-disposed geographical locations, and their specific health and development challenges vary accordingly. At the very least, a list like this can point us to the locations where health conditions are at their absolute worst and most widespread in a given population.
So now that we know how severe the crises are in these epicenters of child mortality, what can the average person do about it? Is it even our responsibility? The latter question is up to each of us to decide on our own. The former is entirely answerable. Almost half (43%) of child deaths result from premature birth, birth-related complications and other neonatal conditions. For children who make it past their first month, half of the remaining child deaths are attributed to Pneumonia, Diarrhea or Malaria. Investments made in maternal and child health with a focus on obstetric care, midwife training, nutrition, food security, clean water, sanitation, hygiene, vaccination and malaria prevention are a clear necessity in order for progress to continue. There are qualified NGOs working in these same countries, addressing these very needs, and they need more funds to help more people.
The latest data on charitable giving indicates that worldwide just $5 billion is contributed annually from private sources for humanitarian assistance of any kind. To put this in perspective, the U.S. private sector alone donates over $300 billion to other causes each year. It can confidently be estimated that only a fraction of one percent of charitable giving by individuals in the United States supports work that fights extreme poverty, let alone child mortality. At 1% for Humanity, we want to help donors make a difference in the places where poverty and injustice are at their worst. This is why we’ve carefully selected nonprofit partners that work in many of the very countries listed above. For more on the relevance and efficacy of foreign aid, please see my previous post, «The Top 5 Lame Excuses Not to Support Extreme-Poverty Alleviation Work.»
Addressing and alleviating child mortality in the world’s poorest communities is one of the most significant challenges and moral obligations we face as a global society. Instead of just waiting for governments to pledge more of their budgets to fight extreme poverty, individuals and businesses in the private sector should step up and support these efforts with more of their charitable giving. We can’t ignore such tragedy and we can’t get so distracted by all the other good causes out there that we neglect the opportunity to help save millions of lives.
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