5 Challenges Facing the Contemporary World
Updated: Jan 17
Great Indian Poet Maithili Sharan Gupt has written, “Hum Kaun the, Kya Ho Gaye aur Kya Honge Abhi, Aao Vicharein aaj milkar, yeh Samsyayein Sabhi”.
When we talk about the challenges against the contemporary world, the image of an industrialised and complex scientific world comes to our mind. Mankind has unprecedentedly progressed in the past 500 years, unleashing full control over nature. According to an estimation, the world population in 1500 AD was about 500 million which has increased to 7800 million people at present. For the first time, human civilization has harnessed the majority of the planet's resources. One climax of this scientific progress was seen on 16th July 1945 at Alamogordo, New Mexico; when the American scientists tested the first Nuclear Bomb. The second major stem of this technological development came on 20th July 1969, when for the first time in history man escaped from his environment and landed on the Moon. In Neil Armstrong’s words “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”. No one could have escaped from the Earth’s Environment in this developmental process of the last 4 billion years. From food production to medical science, man has made stunning progress in every sector. Today we have entered the era of Artificial Intelligence, Quantum mechanics and Nanotechnologies. But with these phenomenal signs of progress, the world is also facing terrible challenges.
1. Danger of Pandemics:
Reading about pandemics in our textbooks made them seem anachronistic. Never did we imagine that we would witness one ourselves. Today the world is facing a severe crisis due to a viral disease named CoVid-19. The virus which is associated with the disease is the “SARS-Cov-2” CoronaVirus. The virus started from the Wuhan city of China and spread all over the world. The virus is highly infectious, which spreads swiftly and is also fatal. Due to its highly infectious nature and strange behaviour from other viruses of the SARS Family, this virus was also suspected as a Biological weapon. There have been several epidemics like this before. The Spanish Flu of 1918 had been the worst pandemic ever. It killed 3% of the population of the contemporary world and infected one-sixth population of the globe. Besides this, the Bubonic Plague of 1300 AD also infected one-fourth population of the contemporary world, due to which 13% of the world’s population vanished. But it is for the first time that such conditions of Lockdown and curfew have emerged in the whole world. Coronavirus has spread its legs around the globe. Till now there have been more than 69 million confirmed cases of infection in the world, killing around 1.6 million people. In India, there have been 9.67 million cases, out of which 140,000 people have already died. Owing to this a worldwide lockdown was imposed which severely struck down the global economy. In India, the economy suffered a contraction of 23.9% in the first quarter of the financial year (1 April – 31 march). The September Quarter (2nd quarter) of the year has also represented a negative growth of 7.5% in the economy. The annual report may be more worrying. Overall we can say that this disease has severely ruined the progress and development of decades. But now with the collective efforts of worldwide scientists, some companies like Moderna, Pfizer and BioNtech, Sputnik V, etc. have been successful in developing a vaccine. We can hope that the current pandemic may be over by the end of 2021. But in the future, the formation or activation of more powerful Superbugs and Viruses may raise questions about the existence of the human race on this planet. We need to look more deeply in this sector and turn our attention to the formation of advanced drugs and antibiotics.
2. Ecological and Environmental Changes:
In our single-minded pursuit for development and advancement, we have since long neglected the adverse effects on the environment. Due to the emission of carbon from industries, deforestation etc. the earth is suffering at an alarming rate. The past decade has been the warmest ever in recorded history. Deadly wildfires including those affecting Australia, hurricanes, extreme weather events, and climate influenced migration and hunger in many parts of the world have now become regular occurrences. Ice caps are melting, sea levels are rising and the very survival of island nations is being threatened. Indeed our entire ecosystem is at risk. We need to understand that technology and research have advanced humanity to such a level that it may severely damage our environment. Today humans are consuming resources recklessly. The technologies that were made for welfare are mostly proving destructive. Dynamite by Alfred Nobel is one such example of this. Al Gore has said, “There is always a 90% probability of a technology to be misused”.
Scientists proclaim that thousands of years before, there had been almost five such times when there was a danger to the existence of life on Earth. The fifth time an asteroid hit the earth and dinosaurs became extinct. But now there is no such asteroid, we ourselves are colliding with the ecological system of the earth. We need to understand that there is no such indicator in Mother Nature that clearly differentiates humans from its other elements. If humans do not respect its laws then they can also become extinct as the other species had.
Today several conventions and agreements have been signed for preserving and conserving our nature. This has been also expressed at the Global Platform several times. Nations are trying to adopt “Sustainable Development”. But only the collective efforts of every individual can be fruitful. John Paul II has said, “The Earth will not continue to offer its harvest, except with faithful stewardship. We cannot say we love the land and then take steps to destroy it for use by future generations”.
3. Weapons of Mass Destruction:
At present, the proliferation of weapons of communal destruction is a big danger for humanity. Nuclear, Radiological, Chemical and Biological weapons all come under this category. The world first saw the phenomenal power of these subtle atoms on 16th July 1945, with the first nuclear test. Its most gruesome use was against Japan; when on 6th and 9th August 1945, atom bombs were dropped over Hiroshima and Nagasaki respectively. They not only put millions to death in a few moments; but also ruined the future of progenies to come. Even today, genetically deformed offspring are born there. After the first nuclear explosion in 1945, a worldwide rat race to obtain these weapons of mass genocide started. Now while the USA, Russia, Britain, France, China, Israel, India, Pakistan, and North-Korea are the declared Nuclear Weapon States; countries like Iran are making efforts to obtain these nuclear weapons.
Despite the prohibition of the manufacture and use of Biological and Chemical weapons by different international treaties, there are apprehensions that various countries secretly have a large stock of these weapons. We have also witnessed them being used against the Kurds in Syria. A class of scientists also suspect that the Virus of the current global pandemic “CoVid-19” may also be a biological weapon, made in a Chinese Laboratory. Countries today are devoting huge chunks of military budgets in Artificial Intelligence and Nanotechnology, which is expected to develop deadly and precise weapons in the future. In the current unstable global structure, there is always the fear that if these deadly weapons come into the hands of a cynical dictator or a radical terrorist group, then they can endanger the existence of the entire humanity.
4. Rise of Fundamentalism:
There have been several ideologies and thoughts in the world. But now a new kind of fundamentalism is rearing its ugly head. Whether it be religious, political, or ideological; fundamentalism is destroying communal harmony all across the world. Religious fundamentalism is surging throughout the world like Hindu-Muslims in India, Shia-Sunni in the Middle East, and Catholic-Protestants in Western World. John Gray has said, “Religious fundamentalists see themselves as having remedies for the maladies of the modern world. In reality they are the symptoms of the disease they pretend to cure”.
Now we can see that Politics has embraced religion. Political ideologies are colliding with each other, spewing hatred against the ‘other’ parties leading to the practice of Negative Partisanship in politics. Radical nationalism is rising. Whether it may be China’s “Middle Kingdom Complex” or Donald Trump’s “America First” policy in the US, Nationalism and Protectionism is creating a serious challenge to world trade and economy. It is creating a situation of unwanted competition and struggle between the nations. Ideological fundamentalism is the generator of terrorism in the world. Islamic fundamentalism is one such example, leading to the rise of terrorist outfits like ISIS in Syria and Iran, Jaish-E-Muhammad, Al-Qaeda etc. We need to understand that there is no religion greater than Humanity. That ideology is totally abhorrent which disturbs communal harmony and raises conflicts in the society.
5. Global Inequalities
Equality is the prime political ideal of the contemporary world. We know that the French Revolution of 1789 was inspired by the ideals of Liberty, Equality, Fraternity; which became the major driving force for modern thinking. But at present every nation is facing a serious problem of “Inequality” in this Global atmosphere. There is widespread inequality in employment, income and in the availability of education and health services throughout the globe. Nelson Mandela had once said, “Massive Poverty and obscene inequality are such terrible scourges of our times – times in which the world boasts breathtaking advances in science, technology, industry, and wealth accumulation – that they have to rank alongside slavery and apartheid as social evils”.
Today there is an inequality crisis in the world. According to the Credit Suisse Global Wealth Report, the world’s richest 1 per cent, those with more than $1 million, own 44 per cent of the world's wealth. Their data also shows that adults with less than $10,000 in wealth makeup 56.6 per cent of the world's population but hold less than 2 per cent of global wealth. This indicates the level of income inequality and poverty in the world. Today, there are more than 700 million people below the International Extreme Poverty Line i.e. $1.9 per day. A World Bank report suggests that due to the ongoing pandemic approximately 88 – 115 million more people may also come under this line.
Referring to the report of Global Hunger Index 2020, it can be clearly seen that the state of hunger in the world is at medium level. India is placed at 94th position out of 107 countries with a serious condition of Hunger. Apart from this there exist social and cultural inequalities. One such form of increasing inequality can be seen in the Gender gaps in the world. According to the report of the World Economic Forum 2019, it will take 99.5 years for the world to eradicate gender inequality. This unequal distribution of wealth in the world is dividing it into two unequal parts, which is the main reason behind the contemporary Global tensions and crises.
By Soham Agarwal
Soham is a first year student at Hindu College, University of Delhi.