Sometimes it may even seem the bad outweighs the good, but when it comes to international development the data paints a different picture. 

International development is a complex area, and finding solutions to these big problems requires resilience, resourcefulness and curiosity.

Being a professional in this sector can be both challenging and rewarding, and perhaps it’s time to celebrate the achievements that have brought both positive change to the lives of millions and a real difference in the world.

1. Disease prevention and improved health

Preventing and even eradicating diseases is no easy feat, but much has been achieved in this area: Polio cases have decreased by more than 99 per cent since 1988. This means a reduction from an estimated 350,000 cases then to 74 reported cases in 2015. There are now only two remaining endemic countries – Pakistan and Afghanistan – and progress is being made in these as well. Complete eradication of a disease has only ever been achieved twice – in the cases of smallpox and rinderpest.

Initiatives have been orchestrated in attempts to eradicate HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.

Through immunisation initiatives, countless lives have been improved for the better, thanks to international development programs.

2. Reduction of extreme poverty

Extreme poverty currently refers to earning less than US$1.90 per day. People living in extreme poverty often have to make difficult choices every day between food, medicine, housing and education – a situation that denies them their basic human rights.

Significant progress towards reducing extreme poverty has been made, and the global Millennium Development Goal (MDG) target of reducing extreme poverty rates by half was met five years ahead of the 2015 deadline. 

“According to the most recent estimates, in 2012, 12.7 per cent of the world’s population lived at or below $1.90 a day. That’s down from 37 per cent in 1990 and 44 per cent in 1981.” (, 2016). 

The reduction of extreme poverty has seen millions of people experience improved livelihoods, and in many cases has increased access to healthcare, education and other services.


Developing regions are vulnerable to increasingly unpredictable natural disasters.

"Passionate about changing the world? Find out about studying a Master of International Development."


The sector is continually looking at ways to empower communities to work together to improve practices, promote innovative partnerships and local ownership, and find new sustainable sources of income. It is also largely focused on ways to improve aid delivery and national poverty reduction strategies.

More work needs to be done to meet the 2030 goal to eradicate extreme poverty, but many countries are increasing their development funding to help achieve that goal.

3. Access to water, hygiene and sanitation

Safe drinking water and proper sanitation are important determinants of the health of a population and have been the focus of development goals.

Still, today, dirty water is the leading cause of deaths globally. One in ten people in the world still lack access to safe drinking water, and one in three people lack access to a toilet.

However, much has been achieved through NGOs, private and government organisations, which are committed to providing access to clean water and sanitation for developing communities around the world.

As a result of this coordinated global effort, 2.6 billion people have gained access to improved drinking water sources since 1990, and over 90 per cent of the world’s population now has access to safe sources of drinking water (World Health Organization, 2016).

Sanitation has also improved, with 68 per cent of the global population now having access to sanitation facilities such as toilets. That’s 2.1 billion people who have gained access to an improved sanitation facility since 1990.

The current situation: While much has been achieved, further work is needed to ensure all people have access to clean drinking water and sanitation.

Access to clean drinking water and sanitation can be the key to breaking the cycle of poverty and disadvantage.

4. Global funding for development

Despite of what it may seem, global development funding continues to increase, particularly in areas of emergency response and refugeeism.

But the reality is that Australia now has one of the least generous governments when it comes to funding international development, with the 2015–16 aid budget being reducing by 20 per cent, or $1 billion since 2012–13.

As a result, it is projected that Australian aid will plummet to 0.22 per cent of gross national income (GNI) in 2017–18, the lowest level in Australia’s history, and well below the target of 0.7% agreed by UN member countries (The Conversation, 2016).

In contrast, Official Development Assistance (government funding for development) is growing in most countries. For example, the member states of the European Union (EU) substantially increased their development funding from 0.43 per cent of their collective GNI in 2014 to 0.47 per cent in 2015, the highest share achieved to date (Davies and Betteridge, 2016).  

The United Nations' target of reaching development budgets of at least 0.7 per cent of GNI is currently met only by Denmark, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and the United Kingdom.


World Health Organization (2016) Poliomyelitis. [Accessed 17 Jun. 2016].

World Bank (2016) World Bank Forecasts Global Poverty to Fall Below 10% for First Time; Major Hurdles Remain in Goal to End Poverty by 2030. [Accessed 26 Jul. 2016].

World Bank (2016) Policy Research Note No.3: Ending Extreme Poverty and Sharing Prosperity: Progress and Policies. [Accessed 17 Jun. 2016]. (2016) Poverty Overview. [Accessed 17 Jun. 2016].

World Health Organization (2016) Key facts from JMP 2015 report. [Accessed 26 Jul. 2016]. 

World Health Organization, UNICEF, (2015) Progress on Drinking Water and Sanitation. [online] Geneva, Switzerland: WHO Press. [Accessed 17 Jun. 2016]. (2016) Water Facts: Facts About the Global Water Crisis | [Accessed 17 Jun. 2016]. (2016). Development aid rises again in 2015, spending on refugees doubles – OECD. [Accessed 27 Jun. 2016].

The Conversation (2016) Ideas for Australia: Sold short – Australia's aid cuts have foreign policy consequences. [Accessed 27 Jun. 2016].

Davies, R. and Betteridge, A. (2016). The rise of global aid in 2015, and the fall of Australia - Devpolicy Blog from the Development Policy Centre. Devpolicy Blog from the Development Policy Centre. [Accessed 29 Jun. 2016].

Story: Jaclyn Lombardo

Subscribe now

Keep up to date with the latest articles from The Source