Google’s “See what the world searched for in 2016” says it all: how has the year 2016 been so far for all of us? Four out of five of the top most trending global news searches relate to disasters – until we started talking about the Rio Olympics. I like the quote there, though, “love is out there”, and on a personal note I’d like to add, “Where hope is lost” and if not lost, speedily fading away.
My country is not alien to this context and process. Of late, when the whole world just focused on a single election and individual, predicting “not so happy” consequences and a whole lot of uncertainties, we Indians were not so startled. Yes, being a stable yet very peculiar economy in our region, sensitive to foreign investment, the Indian rupee, market equities, and trade did slide for a moment following the incredible (unexpected) US electoral results. However, we were not as surprised as many others, perhaps because we had other things to be surprised at. ……(Coincidentally the US election results and the demonetization announcement in India happened on the same day)…… I guess, collectively we are now adjusted to ‘uncertainties’- although with positive hopes. As Indians, we are seeing the nation as under development, in the making, taking re-birth now and then, under what they call the “charismatic” leadership of Modi and his brigade. For example: Make-in India and Digital India are a few of the ambitious campaigns led by Modi and his current government which have the potential to build a next generation vibrant India. However, what the future has in store in reality is deeply uncertain given the current challenges attached to many of the (other) campaigns which at times I feel are more ambitious and less realistic. Take the example of the current demonetization drive in the country. While one agrees that this was an important move in cracking down on the so called black money- corruption around the financial instrument of the land, one also cannot shy away from the fact that more inconvenience was caused to poor people lining up in large numbers in front of the ATM counters waiting for withdrawing new currencies than for those for which this move was meant in the first place. Yet another bright instance was the government’s plan to make healthcare a fundamental right just days after slashing the health budget to adjust for the fiscal deficit. While on the one hand, the government promoted skill building of young minds through schemes like the Prime Minister’s Skill Development Scheme, on the other hand, as reported, we saw a huge amount of cutting down in foreign funds for non-governmental organisations under this government. Amidst current challenges, people are confused about the future. Maybe the intentions of the government of the day are perfect but I feel those are often not reaching people the way they should have reached them. So thick and so fast things are happening in my country, which influence people in their daily life, these kept people busy! People who are at the same time experiencing many of the global issues of our time at home, in their own backyard.
Be it the widening disparity between rich and poor, the increased occurrence of both communicable and non-communicable diseases, air pollution, anti-microbial resistance, an unprecedented temperature rise, heavy rainfall, … the sub-continent and its people experienced them all, many of the intriguing global issues of our time, in 2016.
Keeping aside what had happened so far this year, I am more concerned about how those things happened, and about their short term and long term repercussions. The intensity with which some existing challenges resurfaced and some entirely new issues arrived on the global scene; that truly took the world by surprise. In my view, four things stood out and drew attention from all corners in 2016: continuous acts of terrorism, the deepening climate change impact, the emergence of new killer diseases (with after Ebola now also Zika becoming a household name), and as if those were not enough, unexpected and huge political turmoil (with Brexit and the US election as the most obvious examples, but by no means the only ones). Series of terror attacks in major hubs all across Europe; again this is something we’re, unfortunately, quite familiar with here in India and in its so called heavenly state of Jammu and Kashmir. We talk of global health, we talk of humanity and peace. Yet, there are places on this planet where people are living day and night in deep fear, just to escape from being killed; for them rest bothers least! The seemingly neverending and horrendous Syrian crisis was a true testimonial to this but it’s certainly not the only place to be on the receiving end. And then, of course, there were the obvious refugee and immigrant issues! Again I will stress, everything has really blown out of proportion this year. In the coming year at least, we’ll have to concentrate on certain challenges, and perhaps live with the uncertain impact of the measures we take. That reminds me of climate change, and its science. The Paris agreement may be the only silver lining in climate change matters this year, but it also comes with lots of promises made and not without lots of (possible) hiccups as well from parties involved. Even sometimes I feel, the climate damage we experienced this year was much larger than what would/should have happened in a so called “business as usual” scenario. The sheer devastation of the heat strokes in Telangana, India and Karachi, Pakistan , the havoc caused by rain made floods in metro cities like Chennai, Mumbai, and Delhi, … throughout the year I felt like this. Rainfall was so heavy at times, and drainage- traffic situations were so bad in big cities, that it even resembled flood at times. Take the example of India’s capital city of Delhi: the visiting US Secretary of State had to make the infamous “boat” remark considering the situation then. On air pollution, again some well-known Asian regions top the list: while China was (still) ‘top of the pops’, India was not far behind. Reportedly, during Obama’s visit to India earlier this year, the US embassy had purchased over 1800 air-purifiers and still it was reported how the visit could have cost the president some hours of his life due to air pollution.
For all good reasons, as if the story and journey of a humble tea seller rising to power is not enough at home, here in India for us, we see at the global level how expert predictions falter and falter big time, in a hardcore businessman rising to power in the world’s most powerful democracy …with all its negative vibes though, just before we thought of completing the year with some cheer. Against this backdrop, I would prefer not to conclude “conventionally” here by proposing some so called “realistic” solutions; rather I would urge the international community, my fellow colleagues and friends to just realize that we’re living in challenging and uncertain times and then use some sort of reality check when coping with the challenges. Often, indeed, we do know good solutions and ways to address challenges. In many cases, solutions tend to come from better communication and a collective understanding of the evidence we have available. And one thing I can safely say which will not cost us anything is this: let us not lose hope. I am sure opportunities will come up, let us capitalize on those whenever, wherever and in what form they come!
On that note, best wishes for the Christmas holidays, and hope opportunities will prevail over challenges in 2017!