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Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (and an Optimistic Note)


Famine, pestilence, war and death are very present today. They are ills that simultaneously afflict humanity. It is almost inevitable to fall into pessimism, even fear. However, the data leaves some room for hope.

The 77th United Nations General Assembly ended a few days ago, a propitious moment to take stock of the state of compliance with the 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

As already indicated, the SDGs have the virtue of broadening and deepening the previous agenda, of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), in force between 2000 and 2015. The MDGs, more manageable (and, therefore, attainable) sinned , however, simplistic, circumscribing development to a few basic social needs (reduction of extreme poverty or hunger, access to education or health), as if the social could be exempt and disconnected from the political, economic or environmental system in the one that happens

The SDGs tried to respond to these shortcomings and, with this, they became complicated until they were made up of 17 objectives (some on results, others on policies to achieve those results) and more than a hundred goals.

They have been criticized a lot for this.

And yet, if we look at them with some perspective and generosity, they are unavoidably ambitious, given the number, nature and depth of the crises we are facing.

The last few years, particularly convulsive, have brought or made visible problems and challenges of dimensions that end up being almost biblical, in the form of horsemen of the Apocalypse.


The food crisis now facing the Global South has been years in the making.

According to data from the FAO, after the minimum of 606.9 million undernourished people throughout the planet recorded in 2014, this figure has only increased.

The reasons: conflicts, ravages of climate change or general economic slowdown in large geographical areas.

Thus, before the covid-19 pandemic in 2019, this population had already increased by more than 40 million people.

Always according to this source, the coronavirus crisis could have caused the number of people with malnutrition problems to skyrocket to between 720 and 828 million.

Given the sharp increases in the price of staple foods in recent months (partly as a consequence of the war in Ukraine), the data for 2021 and 2022 are expected to be even worse.


The international community has been engaged in the fight against infectious diseases for years.

The MDGs already sought to defeat AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria;

goal that the SDGs inherited.

The response to the covid-19 pandemic is, in part, a success story.

A success (at least partial) in the international coordination of scientific and research activity or in the effort of the European Union to think of protection mechanisms based more on collaboration than on competition between States.

However, the fight against other infectious diseases was also put on hold.

According to the United Nations, in 2021, some 40 million people lived with the HIV-AIDS virus and in 2020 there were 10 million cases of tuberculosis and 241 million cases of malaria.


The invasion of Ukraine by Russia has led to a war that is added to a large number of international and national conflicts.

Specifically, according to data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), in 2021 they occurred in at least 46 states.

There would be at this time the largest number of conflicts recorded since the creation of the United Nations system, affecting more than 2,000 million people.


However, the world population has not stopped growing.

According to data from the World Bank, this stood at 7,840 million people in 2021, 80 million more than the previous year, despite plagues, wars and famine.

Of course, and as we could see very clearly during the pandemic, things go by neighborhood;

geographical, age or income neighborhoods.

And a note of optimism

In this year, the problem of inflation has also become widespread.

This makes it more difficult to access basic goods and services.

Various monetary authorities are responding with increases in interest rates, which, on the other hand, is going to put additional pressure on the debt sustainability of a considerable part of the Global South.

In recent years, several generations of Europeans have faced for the first time problems and challenges of a nature unknown to us, but common to previous generations or in developing countries.

It is almost inevitable to fall into pessimism, even fear.

However, what the data tells us, again, leaves some room for optimism.

World poverty has increased for the first time in this century, yes, but estimates suggest that the trend has already reversed and that in a matter of three or four years we will return to pre-pandemic levels.

Other scourges, such as neonatal or infant mortality, have not stopped falling.

There is, then, some light, despite these four horsemen of the Apocalypse.

Iliana Olivié

is Full Professor at the Complutense University of Madrid and Principal Investigator at the Elcano Royal Institute.

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Source: elparis

All news articles on 2022-10-05

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