UNITED NATIONS (AFP) — Despite daunting challenges posed by global warming, water, energy, unemployment and terrorism, the world faces a brighter future with fewer wars, higher life expectancy and improved literacy, according to a report released Monday.
"Although great human tragedies like Iraq and Darfur dominate the news, the vast majority of the world is living in peace, conflicts actually decreased over the past decade," says the 2007 State of the Future report.
Published by the World Federation of UN associations, a global network of associations in more than 100 member states, the study noted that the number of African conflicts fell from a peak of 16 in 2002 to five in 2005 and the number of refugees around the world is falling.
It said the world economy grew at 5.4 percent last year to 66 trillion dollars while the global population rose 1.1 percent, increasing the average world per capita income by 4.3 percent.
"At this rate world poverty will be cut by more than half between 2000 and 2015, meeting the UN Millenium Development Goal for poverty reduction except in sub-Saharan Africa", it added.
The world's average life expectancy is rising from 48 years for those born in 1955 to 73 years for those who will be born in 2025, it noted.
On the education front, the percentage of people over the age of 15 that are illiterate worldwide has fallen to 18 percent today, down from 37 percent in 1970, according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.
The study said that over a billion people (17.5 percent of the world's total) are now connected to the Internet.
And the digital divide is closing "and may continue to do so as orders from 178-dollar laptop computers developed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology "have been requested in lots of 250,000 by Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, Nigeria, Libya, Pakistan and Thailand," it added.
HIV/AIDS in Africa meanwhile has begun to level off and could begin to actually decrease over the next few years, although it continues to spread rapidly in Eastern Europe and in Central and South Asia, the study said.
Among other bright spots, the report cited higher life expectancy, lower infant mortality, increased literacy and increases in gross domestic products per capita and in the number of Internet users.
On the negative side, it pointed to hikes in CO2 emissions, terrorism, corruption, global warming and unemployment and a decrease in percentage of voting populations.
And on a truly scary note, the report warned that pharmaceutical and chemical data bases widely available and organized crime's access to nuclear materials "give single individuals the ability to make and use weapons of mass destruction -- from biological weapons to low-level nuclear (so-called "dirty") bombs".
It said the UN nuclear watchdog agency reported 149 confirmed incidents of illicit use of radioactive materials in 2006.
Persistent inequality is illustrated by figures showing that two percent of people own 50 percent of the world's wealth while the poorest 50 percent own only one percent.
The income of the richest 225 people in the world equals that of the poorest 2.7 billion or 40 percent of the global population, the report said.
It warned that unless 15 key transnational challenges are met -- among them reducing the gap between rich and poor, combating new or reemerging diseases, organized crime and gender violence -- "the future could be bleak, marred by lack of water and arable land, mass migrations, turbulent climates, economic chaos and other disasters."
Solutions, it noted, include a "global energy development program led by the United States and China, breakthroughs in water desalination and the restructuring of educational systems to boost both individuals and collective intelligence."
More than 2,400 policy-makers, academics, futurists and creative minds from around the world have contributed to State of the Future reports over the past 11 years.
"This is the most vetted, longest lasting, cumulative integrated futures research project in history ... It offers collective intelligence for the planet," said Jerome Glenn, head of the Millennium Project, which each year updates and expands the State of the Future.
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