Who Saved the Most Lives?

Well we have covered the great killers of the 20th century, Mao, Stalin, and Hitler, and Pol Pot. What about the other side? Those whose efforts saved the most lives?

How about Norman Borlaug, founder of the Green Revolution in agriculture? Ever heard his name? This is what he achieved:

File:Wheat yields in developing countries 1951-2004.pngNorman Borlaug (1914-2009) received his PhD in plant pathology and genetics from the University of Minnesota in 1942. He took up an agricultural research position in Mexico, where he developed semi-dwarf, high-yield, disease-resistant wheat varieties.

During the mid-20th century, Borlaug led the introduction of these high yielding varieties combined with modern agricultural production techniques to Mexico, Pakistan and India. As a result, Mexico became a net exporter of wheat by 1963. Between 1965 and 1970, wheat yields nearly doubled in Pakistan and India, greatly improving the food security in those nations. These collective increases in yield have been labeled the Green Revolution, and Borlaug is often credited with saving over a billion people worldwide from starvation. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 in recognition of his contributions to world peace through increasing food supply.

Later in his life, he helped apply these methods of increasing food production to Asia and Africa. More about Norman Borlaug at:


And this is Norman, who if you think about it saved ten times more lives than Stalin, Mao, Hitler, and even Pol Pot combined killed. Thank you Norman.


About creativeconflictwisdom

I spent 32 years in a Fortune Five company working on conflict: organizational, labor relations and senior management. I have consulted in a dozen different business sectors and the US Military. I work with a local environmental non profit. I have written a book on the neuroscience of conflict, and its implications for conflict handling called Creative Conflict Wisdom (forthcoming).
This entry was posted in Conflict History, Conflict Processes, Environmental Conflict, Uncategorized, Ways to handle conflict. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Who Saved the Most Lives?

  1. Victor says:

    Most lives were saved by the lowly Sanitation Engineers— sewage systems and clean water systems.
    Second would be vaccinations particularly for children and especially smallpox.

    Both of these are low tech and low cost.

    • I absolutely agree on the overlooking of these groups, but I was trying to think of a single person who made a lot of difference. A sort of anti-Mao or anti-Stalin. A one man ‘anti-entropy’ machine.

      Edward Jenner (1749-1823 ) invented the smallpox vaccine. See:


      I agree the water and sanitation engineers are other unsung heroes. My Dad wanted me to go into water provision as the most important thing for humanity. The Dutch are great in humanitarian emergencies because they know so much about water: flooding, drainage, drought, clean drinking water: they have the real skills in this area. Though I think it was a British aid worker with Oxfam who started the use of cleaned old Harrier Jump Jet fuel bags for emergency water provision.

      One of my wife’s friends was on the team that tracked the last small pox in the world. They had isolated it to I think parts of India (?) and then suddenly there was an outbreak in a French village in the middle of nowhere with no outside visitors. Transpired an infected person used the hand basin in an airliner and in those days, they dumped the hand basin water in the air. This incident stopped that practice.

  2. Victor says:

    The history of using cowpox as a vaccine for smallpox is an interesting story.

    1/5 of Pakistan is now under water and the whole country is at risk of destabilizing, unfortunately the fundamentalists are doing a better job of helping out than the Pak government

    • I wish there were more Dutch! Business like, skilled, caring and relatively egalitarian by nature. And of course speak better English than the inventors of the language. When my wife worked briefly in Bangladesh on land rights issues, the Dutch were the aid workers who knew what they were doing, especially if water were involved.

      I guess there is always a risk in a corrupt country that the fanatics are more honest and purposeful than the government.

      I am reading Ian Bremmer’s The End of the Free Market: Who Wins the War between States and Corporations? which is very interesting. I wonder with all the hoopla about Obama and the mosque (not good handling on his part), whether anyone in the US noticed that China just became the second biggest economy in the world. Will be interesting if the future trend continues and it overtakes the US in 2030?? Will still be poor per capita and very unequal. Lot of ifs on the way.

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