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Some extraordinarily good news

Life expectancy in China in 2010 is 73.5 compared with 66 in 1980. In India it has gone from 55.1 to 64.4 years.Nuclear-armed North Korea exchanged missiles yesterday with South Korea. Ireland is in crisis, so is the Euro and so is Europe. There is no letup in environmental disasters nor in the risk posed by climate change. Scepticism about humanitarian relief and development aid appears to be growing.

Is the world in decline? Two numbers suggest otherwise: 59 and 70.

In 40 years, across 135 countries, life expectancy has increased from 59 to 70, according to the 2010 UNDP Human Development Report.

Latin America and the Caribbean were found to be approaching nearly full school enrolment and average 80-year life expectancies.

Life expectancy in China in 2010 is 73.5 compared with 66 in 1980. In Ireland, it has increased by even more in the same period, from 72.5 to 80.3 years. Indian, life-expectancy has been increasing by just over three years per decade, from 55.1 in 1980 to 64.4 years today. In South Korea the increase has been even more dramatic: in 30 years, it has gone from under 66 to almost 80.

Economic growth has extended lifespans in rich and poor countries alike. It has also been a huge factor in reducing the proportion of people living in absolute poverty, even if growth has often increased inequality. Many would argue that public health programmes, aid and debt relief have played a vital role in assisting more equitable growth, and improving and extending lives. The Bill & Melinda Gates foundation have joined the many voices arguing that aid does work.

This is an important debate but irrespective of the origins of the changes in the last 40 years, many improvements in people's lives – like those shown in this UNDP video report from Kenya – are real.

The world is getting older. What now? (See related story.)

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