What should be humanity’s next three great achievements?

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Salamatou holds her baby in one arm while receiving a vaccination against tetanus in the other in Cameroon. Immunization against maternal and neonatal tetanus is critical to protecting women and children from the deadly disease, which kills nearly 50,000 babies each year. Photo ©UNICEF.

Landing on the moon. Summiting Mount Everest. Developing the first-ever vaccine against smallpox. The Internet. The list of humankind’s greatest achievements goes on. Looking forward, what could top the incredible things that have already been achieved? We can’t be sure, but these may come close.

1. Sending humans to Mars. We all saw that amazing Matt Damon movie, but soon putting people on Mars may not just be limited to Hollywood blockbusters. Last year, NASA laid out its plans for a mission to send humans to Mars, hoping they will eventually become “Earth independent” – meaning they would be going to the red planet to stay. Granted, this may not happen for another few decades, but in astronomy speak, that’s mere minutes. As the first human colony to live on another planet, the achievement would be legendary and the impacts far-reaching.

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Namit, 7 (front) and Mark, 4, play in their hometown of Tanna in Vanuatu. From cyclones to droughts, Vanuatu is suffering the increasing effects of El Nino. Climate change and disease are two of the most pressing challenges facing humankind today. Photo ©UNICEF

2. Eliminating deadly diseases. We have made significant progress towards reducing and even eradicating several deadly diseases in recent times, largely through immunization. Yet many diseases continue to plague people in the most vulnerable regions of the world. Sixteen years ago, maternal and neonatal tetanus was a public health problem in 59 countries. Since then, 39 countries have officially eliminated the disease with simple immunizations.

The disease is contracted by newborn babies when their umbilical cord is cut with an unsterile blade. If mom is immunized for tetanus, she passes her immunity on to her newborn. So simple and inexpensive. Today maternal and neonatal tetanus continues to kill one newborn baby every 11 minutes. Humanity’s on the brink of eliminating the disease, with important contributions from organizations like UNICEF, which is rolling out mass vaccination campaigns to protect women and babies, with the support of Kiwanis and the Government of Canada.

3. Preventing catastrophic climate change. Almost 160 million children under five years of age live in areas at high risk of drought around the world. As climate change brings more extreme and more devastating weather events to every corner of the globe, slow progress is being made to reverse the trend. In April, Canada joined world leaders in signing the Paris Agreement and committed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. If successful, this could be a major game-changer. – NC.

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