7,000 children under five died of malnutrition today.
It is said that Cato the Elder was so passionate about the losses in the Punic Wars, the threat of further aggression and the desire to impose a total punitive destruction to strike fear into all who might think to raise arms against Rome, that he finished every speech with the famous phrase Carthago delenda est – “Carthage must be destroyed”. No matter what the subject of the speech, whether it be tax policy or proposals for new buildings or whatever was discussed in the Roman Senate, he would finish on this note: Ceterum autem censeo Carthaginem esse delendam – “Furthermore, I consider that Carthage must be destroyed”. A Facebook post I recently read asked, if you were to add such a coda to your own speeches, what would it be? This was my answer: 7,000 children under five died of malnutrition today.
I’m getting this statistic from the WHO, who say that 5.9 million children under the age of five died in 2015, and about 45% of all child deaths are linked to malnutrition. Multiplying those two together and dividing by 365, I get that ignoring seasonal and random variation and suchlike, around 7,000 children under five died of malnutrition today. This number is going down dramatically; the progress in the fight against poverty and malnutrition over the last decade has been truly astounding and is showing no sign of stopping. Still, that’s a heck of a lot. If a dramatic event in the news that kills 50 people is a tragedy, then this is that tragedy 140 times a day, nearly once every ten minutes, and the victims are all children under five. The parents right now weeping for sons and daughters lost while I wrote this would fill the Faraday Theatre.
I don’t even believe that this is humanity’s biggest problem, or anywhere close. There seems to be a decent chance that through one means or another we could drive ourselves extinct in the decades to come, destroying not only all the value we have today but the unthinkably greater value we could hope to create in the vast future ahead of us. This is why my own donations have gone not to poverty-related charities, but charities like CSER, FHI, and MIRI, that aim to avoid this fate. But issues around existential risk are unfamiliar, and sometimes when considering this or that issue of the day, it’s good to have an easily understood, really big issue in mind to lend perspective. I’ll post a link to this essay in the usual places in a moment, but I’m seriously considering re-posting this link possibly on a monthly basis, to make it that bit harder to lose sight of the magnitude of the problems humanity still faces.
In conclusion, 7,000 children under five died of malnutrition today.
One thought on “7,000 children under five died of malnutrition today”
Wouldn’t a more honest repeated sentence be: ‘7,000 children under 5 died of malnutrition today, and I choose to spend my spare resources fighting AI-related existential risk instead, because to me that’s a more important issue’?
By ‘more honest’ I mean both ‘a better summary of the article’ and ‘a more accurate representation of your priorities’. It might even convince people who (full disclosure, like me) don’t currently contribute to the study of AI existential risk to do so. As it is, I suspect most people reading this – your core audience – are well convinced of the risks posed by AI development, and repeatedly quoting about children under 5 dying of malnutrition risks diverting the focus of those people.
Also, then, if the parent of one of the 7,000 a day were to read your post (which could happen, especially if it becomes widely shared), they would at least know at once what it was that you thought was more important on a global scale than their child’s death. Which is probably more than they get from most people.