‘The most intelligent and sociable animal in the world’- Man gladly ascribes this tag to himself. Agreed that man is intelligent and sociable. But is he happy? Does everyone wake up in the morning, each day, to enjoy the joys of life, the joys of this beautiful planet? I would beg to differ. The intelligence which we are endowed with, the capabilities we are bestowed with- all come with strings attached. The world is beset with such a plethora of problems that it is quite a daunting task for mankind, in its entirety, to enjoy the fruits of life. Grappling world issues, be it economic, social or political, make today’s world leaders ponder endlessly and strive relentlessly to solve them, once and for all. So, what are these problems which plague mankind around the globe? Let us explore ten of the most urgent problems which need a solution.
#10- Water Scarcity
“Water water everywhere, nor any drop to drink..”- The lamentations of the mariner in Samuel Coleridge’s ‘Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ find utterance through the voices of 2.8 billion people in the world today. The people, who go through untold miseries every year in the dry season. Be it the need for clean drinking water or potable water for household needs, these basic necessities shockingly elude them, year after year. As agricultural fields dry up and rain fed crops wither, the farming community comes in terms with the full scale of the tragedy. Excessive and wasteful usage coupled with inadequate replenishment makes the underground water table go down and compounds the miseries. Such water stress forces people of that region (make no mistake, every continent is a victim) to depend on contaminated sources of water, further leading to water borne diseases. This vicious cycle goes on and we are not able to do anything about it.
Leaders around the world are developing the requisite policy and social framework to ensure that water supply is more of a ‘need based’ than ‘rights based’ one. The UN understands the urgent requirement to combat water scarcity and drought and has included this as one of its ‘Millennium Development Goals’. Building up the required infrastructure to ensure judicious usage of water resources, across different regions and evolving methods for the same, is the key. In addition to that, we, as responsible global citizens must conscientiously curb wastage and resort to rainwater harvesting to collectively work towards mitigating the crisis.
Ever since it was first reported in 1981, HIV/AIDS has acquired monstrous global proportions. Since the beginning of the epidemic, almost 75 million people have been infected with the HIV virus and about 36 million people have died of HIV. Globally, 35.3 million [32.2–38.8 million] people were living with HIV at the end of 2012. An estimated 0.8% of adults aged
15–49 years worldwide are living with HIV, as per the World Health Organisation statistics. Such a high rate of incidence and mortality makes AIDS one of the gravest health issues which plague the world. Sub-Saharan Africa remains most severely affected, with nearly 1 in every 20 adults living with HIV and accounting for 71% of the people living with HIV worldwide.
Be it sexual transmission, transfusion of infected blood or transfer of the virus from an infected mother to her child, HIV/AIDS can infect a person in several ways. Further, There has been no proven scientific method of treatment which can reliably eliminate the HIV virus. Large scale ignorance about the ways of transmission of HIV/AIDS from one person to another and the belief that casual physical contact or proximity can cause this disease to spread is also the reason for social stigma and ostracisation, throughout the world. Lack of proper education about HIV/AIDS is often blamed for this, which leads to high economic loss as well as makes a victim’s life miserable. In 2000, world leaders set specific goals to stop and reverse the spread of HIV at the General Assembly’s Millennium Summit. Steps are being taken through various government and non government organisations around the world to make anti-retroviral drugs available to limit the infection and prevent life threatening situations, spread awareness about different aspects of HIV/AIDS, provide facilities for accessible HIV/AIDS testing, etc.
#8- Terrorism & Insurgency
The terrorist attacks on New York in September, 2001, the siege of prominent landmarks in Mumbai in November, 2008, the ongoing crisis in Iraq- The handiwork of terrorists is often too cruel and barbaric to imagine. A group of perverts, out to disrupt peace by methods of killing and destruction to achieve narrow political or religious ends, is the usual connotation of a ‘terrorist group’. Today, there are thousands of self-proclaimed ‘holy liberators’ of their ethnic, religious group or sect, who resort to such organised inhuman acts to strike terror. Be it the Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, the ethnic Uighurs of China, the Lashkar-e-Toiba of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir or the recent ISIS, terrorist organisations have reared their ugly head in every part of the world. They progressively acquire extensive sophistication and procure advanced arms and equipment to mount brazen attacks on government forces and civilian targets worldwide. In addition to that, the tendency of some disillusioned civilians to resort to armed rebellion and cause internal disturbance results in insurgency, the burning example being the Naxalites in India.
As recently as in December 2013, the UN General Assembly passed a resolution condemning international terrorism and called for drastic and strong steps by governments to tackle it worldwide. Strengthening the security measures and working towards integration of such ‘outlaws’ into the mainstream is the key to ending the menace of terrorism and insurgency in the world.
#7- Climate Change and Global Warming
Climate change and global warming have emerged as one of the most serious problems which the world is confronted with, today. Rapid and mindless industrialisation, urbanisation to accomodate a growing population and extensive deforestation around the world have contributed to this. Unbelievably, more than 200,000 acres of rainforest are burned every day. That is more than 150 acres lost every minute of every day. This has led to a spurt in Carbon Dioxide, which is one of the main greenhouse gases. In addition to that, the tons of carbon dioxide released by coal fired thermal plants to meet our increasing energy requirements has also contributed to it. Extensive use of refrigerators and Air-Conditioners releases such gases into the atmosphere.The greenhouse effect has led to increasing temperatures around the globe as a part of global warming. Melting of polar ice caps and traditionally snow bound glaciers threatens low lying areas around the world with imminent flooding. Changing climate patterns have also led to rising incidences of flooding and drought, across the globe.
Reduction in carbon footprint and rapid transition to renewable sources of energy is urgently imperative to combat this rising menace. The United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), in partnership with developed as well as developing nations is actively working in this regard. World leaders have begun to realise the urgent need for reducting the carbon footprint. The American President has recently committed himself to ensuring a 30% reduction in America’s total carbon footprint within a limited time frame. Other nations must also follow suit, to ward off imminent destruction of our environment.
#6- Population Explosion
Experts call it the root of all miseries which afflict the planet today. Overpopulation, indeed means overburdening the planet with a much larger number of human beings than which the planet can normally sustain. In 1950, the world population was 2.519 billion, which has risen to 7.171 billion in 2014, representing an increase of over 184 percent! Such a quantum jump has occurred in a minimal time of 64 years and this boom has mostly been attributed to South East Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. As it is, the conditions of living in these parts of the globe are ‘poor’ to say the least. Further overburdening has resulted in a scenario whereby access to land and other resources like water and food has been severely compromised. Increase in the agricultural produce has never and is never expected to keep up with the pace of rise in human population.
Considering this grave problem and its huge magnitude, developing countries such as India, China and others have taken a few, tangible steps to combat population explosion. The benefits of a small family and introduction of effective birth control methods are a part of this effort, which have been put in place by the respective governments. It remains to be seen whether the policy measures yield the required results.
#5- Sanitation and Hygiene
Consider this: More than 53 percent of the total population in India defaecates outside, in the open. 825 million people or 75% of the total population which practises open defaecation resides in Africa. Urban and rural waste is dumped outside and left as such, without proper disposal. This reflects on the rudimentary standards of sanitation and hygiene in the developing countries. Such regressive practices in the twenty first century are a result of the poor sanitation facilities as well as the lack of awareness about the health hazards associated with such practices. As a consequence, many fall victims to water borne diseases as well as other health problems. An avoidable hazard turns into a nightmare.
Having realised the need for provision of basic sanitation and modern waste disposal facilities, the developing countries have begun to invest in creating infrastructure( toilets, landfill sites) as well as following scientific methods of urban waste disposal. Economic prosperity cannot come without proper sanitation and hygiene. All of us must realise that.
#4- Armed Conflicts & Nuclear Proliferation
At any given point of time, millions of troops engage themselves in active military conflict. Be it over territorial disputes or suppressing dissent in dictatorial regimes, several militaries across the world are deployed to cause massive bloodshed. Be it the barbarism going on in Syria and Iraq or the situation in Ukraine, all the armed conflicts are avoidable. But, do the world leaders realise that? Instead of working towards restoring a peaceful world order, military and economic superpowers across the world take sides and aggravate the conflict further. Adding to this, rapid nuclear proliferation, with the addition of new countries into the nuclear club is leading to more frayed nerves and tensions across borders. The danger of nuclear weapons falling into the hands of rogue elements has never been ruled out. Consider this: The United States and Russia possess more than 93% of the world’s nuclear weapons, which is more than sufficient to annihilate the planet, several times over. Are we working towards our own destruction? Who is the victor and who is the vanquished? In such a scenario, the entire world would lie finished.
Several treaties like the Non-Proliferation Treaty as well as nuclear weapon reduction treaty are in place, which have contributed substantially to prevent a large scale proliferation of nuclear weapons. But, these are grossly inadequate and more needs to be done to prevent it. Bodies like the United Nations are actively working towards peace-keeping and prevention of armed conflicts. It is hoped that all such constructive efforts would succeed.
#3- Education for Everyone
Education opens our eyes to the world. It vests the power in us to work towards self-progress as well as collective progress of the mankind. But, unfortunately, quality education has not been able to percolate effectively across social, economic and geographical barriers across the world. 774 million adults (15 years and older) still cannot read or write – two-thirds of them (493 million) are women. Among youth, 123 million are illiterate of which 76 million are female. The problem of illiteracy and lack of access to quality primary education is especially acute in the developing countries, which contribute a major chunk to the above figure. Poverty forces such individuals to look for gainful employment than concentrate on education. Inadequate government spending on education, as a percentage of the GDP in these countries, is a major factor too.
Of late, governments across the spectrum have begun to realise the need for access to quality education, which can lead to social and economic empowerment. The spending on education as a percentage of the GDP has increased, for example, from 3.3% to 4% in India. Leaders should wake up from their slumber and empower the masses through education. After all, pen is mightier than the sword!
#2- Depleting Natural Resources
Rapidly rising population and enhanced economic standards of the people across the globe have led to a higher rate of consumption of natural resources. As stress is laid on economic growth and a higher figure of increase in the GDP, we tend to forget that resources are limited and we cannot continue to subsist on the same natural resources forever. It is estimated that, with the current rate of consumption, coal would be depleted by 2128 , oil by 2055 and natural gas by 2072. Where do we turn to, in that scenario? Won’t our existence be gravely endangered in the absence of these conventional sources of energy, without which we cannot even imagine a moment?
Governments across the world have begun investing heavily in renewable and clean sources of energy such as solar energy, wind energy, etc. Domestic appliances running on such clean sources of energy have also begun to be incentivised. It is hoped that the world completely switches over to such eco-friendly sources by the time our conventional sources of energy get depleted. Otherwise, harsh times lie in wait.
#1- Poverty & Malnutrition
Poverty and Malnutrition are closely interlinked. Lack of jobs or any form of gainful employment, corruption by public officials, vicious debt traps and stagnating agricultural production is mostly responsible for poverty in developing countries around the world. As a result, basic necessities of food, clothing and shelter elude the poor. Exclusive economic development which caters only to the upper strata of the society, without lifting the poor out of their despicable state is further responsible for this mess. Corruption and inefficiency in the execution of welfare measures for the people below the poverty line in the developing countries, further compounds the problem as the targeted beneficiaries are left out and continue to wallow in poverty. Sub Saharan Africa and South East Asia alone account for 79.5% of the world’s poor, as per the World Bank.
Poverty leads to malnutrition. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that nearly 870 million people of the 7.1 billion people in the world, or one in eight, were suffering from chronic undernourishment in 2010-2012. The number of hungry grew in Africa over the period, from 175 million to 239 million, with nearly 20 million added in the last few years. Nearly one in four are hungry.
Thus, its high time that policy makers sit up and take notice. Such uncivilised existence can no longer continue to remain neglected. Through several UN programmes and other federal and provincial government programmes, welfare measures are being introduced across these developing countries. But, they must be efficient and the relief must reach the intended beneficiaries. Building up infrastructure, imparting skills, providing efficient public services and creating jobs should be high on the agenda. Only then can we see a tangible change in the situation.
For the solution to all these problems, hope exists and shall continue to exist. We must all assist each other, selflessly, in doing whatever little we can, to improve the situation and make the world a better place to live in.