of rural families with access to safe water has risen from less than 10 percent to almost 60 percent.
Yet even these extraordinary statistics cannot capture the true dimensions of the change that has occurred in only a few decades. The world has also freed itself from colonialism, brought apartheid in all its forms to the beginning of the end, and largely freed itself from the iron grip of fascist and totalitarian regimes. And underlying all of these changes is the slow and even more fundamental change from a world organized almost exclusively for the benefit of a privileged 10 percent or 20 percent, as through history in most societies, to a world in which the needs and the rights of all people are increasingly recognized.
Only a few decades ago, it did not seem a matter of great concern that the poor majority had no right to vote, no freedom of expression or religion, no right to due process of law, or that their children were not educated or immunized and received little or no benefit from advances in hygiene and health care. In many nations, it even seemed natural that the children of the poor could be sold or bonded or made to work 14 hours a day in field or mine or factory.
Seen from this longer perspective, the fact that two thirds of the world's people now have the right to vote, or that more than 80 percent of the world's infants are fully immunized, or that health care is now a right codified in international law, or that there is now such a thing as a worldwide Convention on the Rights of the Child—are all symptoms of a remarkable change—and in the face of such progress, pessimism is a sign less of sagacity than of cynicism. In the decade ahead, a clear opportunity exists to make the breakthrough against what might be called the greatest obscenity of our time—the needless malnutrition, disease, and illiteracy that still cast a shadow over the lives, and the futures, of the poorest quarter of the world' s children. Each week, the lives of a quarter of a million children are taken from us—more than any war, any natural disaster has ever taken in a comparable period.
Writing some fifty odd years ago, the historian Arnold Toynbee captured the essence of the new potential brought by science and technology to our time. He said then:
Our age is the first generation since the dawn of history in which mankind dared to believe it practical to make the benefits of civilization available to the whole human race.
Years later, the Reverend Martin Luther King said essentially the same thing:
Why should there be hunger and privation in any land, in any city, at any table, when man now has the resources and the know-how to provide all mankind with the basic necessities of life? There is no deficit in human resources; the deficit is in human will.