The four years from 2020 to 2023 have been very difficult and high risk years for humanity. In the first two years there was a pandemic and such severe disruption of social and economic life that countless people have not yet recovered from its many-sided adverse impacts.
In the next two years there were outbreaks of two very high-risk wars which have worldwide implications including escalation into much wider conflicts. In addition there were highly threatening signs of increasing possibility of other very destructive wars.
As the year 2023 appears to be headed for ending on a very grim note, there are apprehensions about what the next year 2024 may bring, and there are several kinds of fears.
However to come back to the year 2020 first, the pandemic harmed and threatened a very large number of people. No less harmful was the fear epidemic, the epidemic of increasing mental stress and the cruel disruption of the life and livelihoods particularly among the weaker sections. There was much confusion in the pandemic response. There were many allegations that big pharmaceutical corporates—some of the top multinational companies—had misused the new situation for selfish interests instead of taking care to respond to the real needs of people. The end result which was visible in hard data was that in the middle of so many people suffering immensely, wealth and income got even more concentrated, many billionaires had increased their wealth at a very vast pace, the number of billionaires (including those in the health sector) had also increased very quickly, while at the same time millions and millions had fallen into poverty, debts and unemployment. This led some analysts to wonder what exactly was happening, and whether there was any wider pattern in the once-in-lifetime kind of situations being seen. Answers on which there could be wide consensus did not emerge from the many hotly contested debates, but certainly there was much that was deeply disturbing.
The world had not yet emerged free from the fear of the pandemic that a most serious war started in Ukraine. This has claimed several hundred thousand lives already ( as direct and indirect impact of war) and displaced about 10 million people to a lesser or greater extent, but all along its biggest threat has been that of the possibility of an escalation of this proxy war into a direct war between the two biggest nuclear weapon powers—Russia and the USA.
This war has continued for nearly 21 months already, and even before this could end a most terrible war has started in the Middle-East which has badly threatened almost the entire population of Gaza. Here too there is a serious risk of spread and escalation.
During the same time, there has been increasing discussion of the possibilities of the USA initiating a war or a proxy war against China, which may turn out to be one of the most destructive and dangerous wars ever. One can only hope that this never happens.
The world during the last few years has been going from one serious crisis situation to another. These are not incidental but reflect very serious structural problems of world polity and economy, including the desperate efforts of weakening forces of imperialism to retain or even increase their dominance of the world, accompanying efforts of very big multinational companies to try to maximize not just profits but also control of sectors of critical importance, ever increasing influence and manipulations of the military-industrial complex, sharp inequalities and injustices in the middle of increasing, life-threatening environmental ruin.
Now this being the disturbing scene in the last phase of this year, what can be in store for the next year 2024?
What we know about 2024 is that this year (which is expected to start with six important countries joining BRICS) has very important scheduled events, including the USA Presidential elections and the prolonged, high-profile campaign that precedes it. In addition presidential elections in China, Russia and Ukraine too are scheduled in the earlier part of the year. In mid-year we have European Parliament elections. In addition general elections in several important countries including Mexico, Venezuela, Indonesia, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh are scheduled.
While these elections and their results will no doubt be eagerly awaited, there are certain apprehensions also when some of these events are seen in the context of increasing tensions and conflicts in the world at several levels. For example, will the military industrial complex with its power to influence political system in favor of wars and arms race become even more active in the year of the US presidential election, or soon after this? Will elections for top posts in some of the leading powers of the world make their leaders act in more aggressive ways? Will leaders facing domestic problems or weaknesses try to find a way out by being excessively aggressive on the external front (just as Prime Minister Netanyahu appears to have done recently in Israel). Certainly there are no easy answers to these questions, and one hopes that some fears and apprehensions ultimately turn out to be unfounded. However keeping in view the very difficult times through which humanity has been passing and the serious tensions and distortions that exist at several levels, caution is advisable. What appears to be increasingly very clear is that the forces of peace, justice and environment protection need to become much stronger and need to be much more united keeping in view the increasing problems of our deeply troubled world.
Bharat Dogra is Honorary Convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include Planet in Peril, Protecting Earth for Children, Earth without Borders and A Day in 2071.