Try Times

TRYING TIMES – World On Its Knees


            Imagine waking up one day to hear that big cities like Lagos, Dubai have been deleted from surface of the earth!  That would be imagining the least of disasters lurking at the horizon in the face of current global threats which go in a vicious circle.

When man started plucking the ecosystem, it started eating deep into his future.  That forbidden fruit is consequential.  The climate has changed.  It is a case of one not eating his cake and having it back.  With stories of epileptic temperature, the sea level has risen as ice melts and green gases concentration increase.  And with stories of Tsunami, Hurricane, Tornadoes etc. man is confident that Mother Nature is up on revenge game.

Global warming means that many dry areas are getting drier and wet areas are getting wetter.  The world is going to be caught between the devil of drought and the deep blue seas of floods.  Reports from Up In Smoke II, Oxfam, the New Economics Foundation and the Working Group in Climatic Change and Development indicate that the arid or semi-arid areas in northern, western, eastern and parts of southern Africa are becoming drier, while equatorial Africa and other parts of southern Africa are getting wetter.  The continent, the report further explains is on the average, 0.5oC warmer than it was 100 years ago, but temperatures have risen much higher in some areas like a part of Kenya which has become 3.5oC hotter in the past 20 years. In 2008, world CO2 emission rose by 31 percent.

Desertification is one the effects of this global change. Deserts occupy almost one quarter of the Earth’s surface – some 13 million square miles – and are inhibited by over 500 million people.  The pressures threatening the ecosystem would surely affect those who live at desert margins.  The population growth and inefficient water use would move countries like Chad, Iraq, Niger, and Syria into water stress.  A new report from Christian Aid calculates that by the end of the century 182 million people in Sub-Sahara Africa could die of disease directly attributable to climate change.  Millions, it argues, face devastation from climate-induced floods, famine, drought and conflicts.

An interesting point from climate unpredictability is an understanding that environment is not a luxury but a key element in the fight against poverty and the delivery of internationally-agreed development goals.  In the last year alone, 25 million people in Sub-Sahara Africa have faced food crisis.  Climate change makes farming difficult really.

Before the current global food crisis, around 800 million people were hungry.  But with the rising food prices, the number has increased by 75 million.  Yet, if MDG I is anything to go by, then developing countries need to invest $21 billion a year, while in Sub-Sahara Africa, government and development partners will need to increase their agricultural spending by between $3.8 billion and $4.8 billion a year.

Worst still, between $10 billion (₤5.2b) and $40billion is needed annually to put the climate change in a reverse gear.  But industrialized countries have given only $43m – a tenth of the amount they have pledged even as rich country fossil fuel subsidies total $73 billion a year.

The New Economics Foundation says that greenhouse emission cuts of 60 to 90 per cent will ultimately be needed, way beyond the targets set in the Kyoto agreement.  Christian Aid wants a strict which will reduce emission by two thirds of 1990 levels by 2050. In all these, when, who and how remain exactly areas of analysts’ permutations.

That’s not all.  Global trade is plummeting; protectionism is beginning to make inroads.  Unemployment is rising, and the public anger is inflamed.  IMF’s prediction says global economy would shrink by 1.9% in 2009 worst since World War II.  Though for once, Africa would seem to be in strong position than many countries of the world in the face of stock market crashes and bank collapses, all is not as it might first appear. Crisis and panic area abound.

Trade financing especially in short-term shipping contracts would be affected.  Consider that 60% of trade finance is handled by private agents and that 90% of the $41 trillion worth of global trade is financed by trade credits.  So getting a letter of credit from banks is increasingly becoming a daily struggle.

Secondly, Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) like building factory has slowed since the west is the major source of capital for Africa.  FDI into developing countries stood at $500 billion in 2008, with a record $53 billion of it heading to Africa.

Next is the question of remittances sent home by African working abroad which in 2008 estimated at around $21 billion.  That outstrips FDI is some countries.  Unlike other fiscal transfers, remittances are channeled directly to households and are used food, medical care and education.  That has declined as the job market is hit by global downturn.

Again, history teaches that recession can lead to protectionist trade policy. It is now not only the case for the EU and the USA but also for so-called emerging Bric economies (Brazil, Russia, India and China).

Upturning it is far much difficult.  Proper diagnosis and goodwill cannot be divorced.  IMF has so far committed $47.9bn in lending to affected economies – Belanis, Hungary, Iceland, Latsia, Pakistan, Ukraine, Serbia. The G–20 are in agreement to double the funds available to IMF to some $500bn to help out some emerging countries.  IMF director, Dominique Strauss–Kahn proposes that governments in position should inject a global fiscal stimulus equivalent to about 2% of World GDP – $1.2 trillion.

Amazingly, sincerity and goodwill of those concerned remains to seen.  Take for instance, at 2005 Gleneagles G8 Summit, the world leaders from industrialized countries pledged an additional $25 billion a year to Africa by 2010; to date this has not bee seen; despite the figure being a stark contrast of the size and speed of the bail-out in various developed counties – estimated to be $950 billion – and approved in a matter of days or weeks.  Even though the US, Japan, China, India have announced the stimulus package, Europe especially are still behind the curve.  But is stimulus package the answer? No way!

This is a trying time.  From ecosystem crisis to food and economic crunch, the increasing number of empty stomachs with looming extinction of species and cities poses a great worry.  A civilization without regard for future is a civilization lost; and no one paints this better than ours.

Cult of public opinion seems optimistic in rescuing our collapsing world. How? Opinions differ but all revolves sacrificing our likes.  We have worked so hard to earn corrugated reputation as poor planners.  We are on our knees scoop for answers; but that blows in the wind.

(c) Felix Uche Akam