2010-2020 Trends in South Asia and Beyond

Making predictions is hazardous business. After all, who would have forecast with any accuracy the Soviet defeat in Afghanistan and the fall of the Berlin wall in late 1980s, or the terrorists attacks of September 11, 2001, or the near-collapse of the US financial markets in 2008, the kind of events that fundamentally changed the world. This new decade of 2010-2020 could also bring long-lasting but hard to predict events that are described by Nassim Taleb as rare but high-impact Black Swan Events. However, I do think this new decade is likely to be defined by the fundamental issues of access to food and water, in addition to the continuing concerns about terrorism and security. Each of these challenges has the potential to precipitate major events that could bring about fundamental yet unpredictable changes in the world order.

Food:

A combination of population explosion, water scarcity, and climate change are causing serious concerns about access to affordable and reliable food supply in many nations. Climate change in parts of India has resulted in multiple crop failures after seven or eight bad years in a row, putting local people deeper and deeper in debt. An estimated 200,000 Indian farmers have ended their lives since 1997.

There has been a rush by some of the rich but food-poor nations to buy up farmland to grow food in poor nations, raising concerns about the potential for food riots. New ideas and technologies are required to bring about a new "Green Revolution" to feed the growing population of the world.

In June, news agency Reuters reported that the government of Pakistan had offered 404,700 hectares (ha) of farmland for sale or lease to foreign investors. It is the usual suspects of the Gulf states and South Korea who are the likely targets of the government's drive for investment. Oil rich, food poor states from the Middle East and food deficit prone South Korea have been spurred by the high food prices of 2007 and 2008 to increase their food security by investing in agricultural land abroad.

Also in June 2009, Swedish multi-national food company Tetra Pak announced the signing of an memorandum of understanding with local company Engro Foods to create a dairy hub in the Sahiwal district of the Punjab. The hub will serve 15 villages in the district and aims to promote more efficient production and bring smallholders into the formal dairy market chain.

In July, the Pakistani minister for investment said that the country would be happy to provide land for Korean companies to build food and dairy processing facilities, according to Pakistan Agribusiness Report. Also in July, the chief minister of the Punjab said that there was a large amount of interest in investing in the province's agriculture from Qatar.

Water:

The year began with an ominous warning by Sardar Aseff Ali, Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission, about the potential for a water war between India and Pakistan. Such warnings clearly reinforce the gravity of the water situation, requiring creative solutions.

Water is becoming more scarce, and water wars are likely to erupt in several regions of the world. Among the 25 most populous countries in 2009, South Africa, Egypt and Pakistan are the most water-limited nations. India and China, however, are not far behind with per capita renewable water resources of only 1600 and 2100 cubic meters per person per year. Major European countries have up to twice as much renewable water resources per capita, ranging from 2300 (Germany) to 3000 (France) cubic meters per person per year. The United States of America, on the other hand, has far greater renewable water resources than China, India or major European countries: 9800 cubic meters per person per year. By far the largest renewable water resources are reported from Brazil and the Russian Federation - with 31900 and 42500 cubic meters per person per year.

According to the United Nations' World Water Development Report, the total actual renewable water resources in Pakistan decreased from 2,961 cubic meters per capita in 2000 to 1,420 cubic meters in 2005. A more recent study indicates an available supply of water of little more than 1,000 cubic meters per person, which puts Pakistan in the category of a high stress country. Using data from the Pakistan's federal government's Planning and Development Division, the overall water availability has decreased from 1,299 cubic meters per capita in 1996-97 to 1,101 cubic meters in 2004-05. In view of growing population, urbanization and increased industrialization, the situation is likely to get worse. If the current trends continue, it could go as lows as 550-cubic meters by 2025. Nevertheless, excessive mining of groundwater goes on. Despite a lowering water table, the annual growth rate of electric tubewells has been indicated to 6.7% and for diesel tubewells to about 7.4%. In addition, increasing pollution and saltwater intrusion threaten the country's water resources. About 36% of the groundwater is classified as highly saline.

The solution to the water crisis lies in better management of water resources to conserve water and new technologies to economically recycle or produce fresh water from sea water. For example, about 98% of the water in Pakistan is used in farming through a very inefficient flood irrigation method, leaving only two percent for other consumers and commercial-industrial users. A California study recently found that water use efficiency ranged from 60%-85% for surface irrigation to 70%-90% for sprinkler irrigation and 88%-90% for drip irrigation. Potential savings would be even higher if the technology switch were combined with more precise irrigation scheduling and a partial shift from lower-value, water-intensive crops to higher-value, more water-efficient crops. Rather than flood irrigation used in Pakistani agriculture, there is a need to explore the use of drip or spray irrigation to make better use of nation's scarce water resources before it is too late. As a first step toward improving efficiency, Pakistan government has launched a 1.3 billion U.S. dollar drip irrigation program that could help reduce water waste over the next five years. Early results are encouraging. "We installed a model drip irrigation system here that was used to irrigate cotton and the experiment was highly successful. The cotton yield with drip irrigation ranged 1,520 kg to 1,680 kg per acre compared to 960 kg from the traditional flood irrigation method," according to Wajid Ishaq, a junior scientist at the Nuclear Institute for Agriculture and Biology (NIAB).

Low-Cost Housing:

Housing construction by traditional methods has failed to keep pace with the rising demand, particularly in the developing countries like India and Pakistan experiencing rapid urbanization. New, cheaper and faster construction methods are needed to address the basic shelter needs of the people. There are a number of modular, pre-fabrication and rapid on-site assembly methods are being explored in developing nations.

Mass Literacy:

Literacy has become as fundamental a need as food and water in this day and age. And yet, UNESCO data indicates that 770 million adults around the world remain illiterate, over 35% of them in India. New focus and methods are needed to reach out to the illiterate masses of the world as part of a worldwide mass literacy campaigns.

Low levels of literacy continue to hobble many developing nations, limiting the productivity and economic opportunities for the growing young populations, and causing concerns about social and political instability and growth of international terrorism.

International Terrorism:

The threat of global terrorism is likely to gain strength and spread with new bases in new geographies. A new and more creative and comprehensive strategy will be necessary to counter this growing threat in the realm of ideas and policies. Any new strategy must take into account the following facts to be effective:

1. Al Qaeda was an organization with central leadership, command and control located in Afghanistan prior to 911. But that is no longer true. According to former State Department official Mathew Hoh who served in Afghanistan, al Qaeda is an elastic, amorphous entity, one based not on geography but ideology. “Al Qaeda is a collection of ideas, of independent, autonomous cells,” Hoh says. “They don’t need a lot of funding. They need an apartment with an Internet connection.”

2. Even the 911 hijackers were not all recruited and trained in any one country. They came from different nations and were educated and trained mostly in the United States and Western Europe. What they shared in common was an ideology rather than a geography.

3. Hundreds of al Qaeda members, including many top leaders, have been captured or killed by Pakistani and US military in the region since 911. And yet, the violence is worse than ever before.

4. There have been multiple reports of al Qaeda popping up in several countries around the world such as Yemen and Somalia, confirming Mathew Hoh's arguments that al Qaeda is not confined to a particular geography in central or south Asia.


Security:

With increasing carnage in several countries, including Pakistan, and growing fears of terrorism, there is an urgent need to develop and use new tools, technologies and methodologies to anticipate and prevent acts of terror resulting in mass casualties.

Counter-insurgency:

There are many insurgencies growing around the world, including South Asia, in response to real or perceived injustices. In addition to the Afghan Taliban insurgency against foreign forces, other examples include Taliban and Baloch insurgencies in Pakistan, and Maoists and Kashmir insurgencies in India.

In addition to the political dialog to understand and address genuine grievances of the insurgents, there is a great need to develop techniques and training for counterinsurgency.

Green Energy:

Clearly, conservation alone will not suffice when it comes to the world's growing energy needs. There will continue to be significant research and development into exploiting energy from water, wind and sun, as well as innovation in safer and greener nuclear technology such as thorium nuclear reactors.

Extreme Affordability:

The incredible success of relatively inexpensive mobile telephones in poor nations, such as Bangladesh, India and Pakistan, has created the awareness among the big corporations and the entrepreneurs that the poor can be a very lucrative market.

Understanding the need to design for extreme affordability with scarce resources is giving birth to a new generation of entrepreneurs. These are entrepreneurs with a social conscience who are motivated by the desire to do good and do well at the same time. They are finding new ways to empower the poor by satisfying their basic needs, such as water, electricity and telephones.

Conclusion:

Regardless of any forecasts of the future, it is extremely important for all nations of the world, particularly the United States, China, the United Kingdom, Israel, Iran, India, North Korea and Pakistan to learn from the mistakes of the last decade to try and make the new decade a better stretch of ten years for the entire humanity. This will require sincere efforts and creative energies of the people from the aforementioned countries and the help of the rest of the world.

Related Links:

Water Crisis

Pakistan's Farmland Controversy

United Nations Literacy Decade

Facts and Myths of Obama's Afghan Surge

Can Energy from Thorium Save Planet Earth?

Social Entrepreneurs Target India and Pakistan

Housing Construction and Economic Growth

Climate Change Worsens Poverty in India

Pakistan's Decade of 1999-2009

Godfather's Vito Corleone: Metaphor for Uncle Sam Today?

Marching Toward Hell by Michael Scheuer

Pakistan's Choice: Globalization or Talibanization

Soviet Defeat in Afghanistan

Comments

Riaz Haq said…
Here's a relevant opinion by Soutik Biswas of BBC:

Has India's "Deciding Decade" begun? A study, done by a Delhi-based economic research firm along with a leading newspaper, thinks so. It says that India's GDP can grow at an average annual rate of 9.6% for the next 10 years even if there were no reforms. Incomes will double, the middle class will burgeon and urbanisation will proceed at breakneck speed.

Now the bad news. Even with this scorching growth, more than 250 million people of a total population of 1.3bn will still be "very poor" in 2020, the study says. That's not all: not even 100 million Indians will be graduates or post graduates despite the growth. Clearly, without radical reforms in education and infrastructure taken up with missionary bipartisan zeal, millions of Indians will still be hungry, poor and illiterate. Are India's politicians and bureaucrats up to the task? On present evidence, hardly. But we all live in hope.

The decade has also begun with a rash of good news stories. The government is planning to give out passports within three days of verification, make compulsory baby seats in cars and provide cheaper food for the poor. At least one state is launching madrassas or religious schools where English will be the medium of instruction. The government is also promising to introduce more women-friendly laws, harsher punishment for sexual crimes and fast track courts. All this just proves how much ground India has to cover. And Indian governments are famous for making announcements that take months, sorry, decades to implement. So we will wait and see.

But there is a piece of truly good news that holds out hope for India. Bihar, India's basket case state - poorest, most lawless, underdeveloped - appears to have clocked the fastest rate of growth during 2008-2009. If the Bihar government is to believed, the state's growth rate - 11.4% - is higher than India's industrially developed states. It is being attributed to good governance, buoyant revenues, increased government spending and a swelling unorganised private sector. If this is true then Bihar has all the makings of a miracle economy.

Bihar's remarkable "turnaround" shows the way for India, in a way. It also proves, as political philosopher Pratap Bhanu Mehta says, that "for the first time in modern Indian history, Indians, including the very marginalised, have a sense that change is possible: our destinies are ours to shape".

A sobering thought to keep in mind though. Impressive growth figures are unlikely to stun the poor into mindless optimism about their future. India has long been used to illustrate how extensive poverty coexists with growth. It has a shabby record in pulling people out of poverty - in the last two decades the number of absolutely poor in India has declined by 17 percentage points compared to China, which brought down its absolutely poor by some 45 percentage points. The number of Indian billionaires rose from nine in 2004 to 40 in 2007, says Forbes magazine. That's higher than Japan which had 24, while France and Italy had 14 billionaires each. When one of the world's highest number of billionaires coexist with what one economist calls the world's "largest number of homeless, ill-fed illiterates", something is gravely wrong. This is what rankles many in this happy season of positive thinking.
Riaz Haq said…
A blogger calling himself "Israel's Financial Expert" makes a number of forecasts "11 Big Surprises" for 2010-2020 decade. These range from the collapse of Euro to overthrow of government in Beijing to Pakistan's economic collpase. Here is what it says about Pakistan:

4. Pakistan Collapses- The nuclear state fell victim of various terrorist groups who eventually succeeded in overthrowing the regime. The country falled into a bloody civil war. The U.S military, in a planned operation which was planned during the Bush years took control of the military facilities and dismantled them. The civil war affected India, which increasingly suffered from terrorist attacks throughout the decade. The collapse of Pakistan symbolized a new phase in the global "War on Terror" with the pro- American Gulf States becoming the main target.

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