The Future is Now

The Future is Now 1992 was the year of environment. More than 100 heads of state and government gathered at Rio to discuss the health of the planet. But the conference refusea to look at underlying issues -lack of global democracy at one level and local democracy on the other -that favour exploitative forces. Instead, the conference dealt with symptoms of the disease and promised a few technocratic and regulatory pills.

1992 was also the year of market integration and GATT. Rich governments pushed harder for a powerful GATT to free world trade. The biggest wars, however, were fought within industrialised countries themselves over reduction of subsidies and for free trade in agricultural commodities. Their farmers fought for the right to preserve their lifestyles and production systems.

Prices of numerous Third World commodities took a beating in world markets. Cocoa and small banana producers faced the threat of the impending unification of the European Community market. And, there was no talk in GA TT of pricing systems that would reflect ecological costs. Meanwhile, the IMF continued to devalue debtor countries' natural resources.

In eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, the move towards markets proved to be extremely hazardous. Markets in industrialised countries did not show signs of health in 1992. Uneasy with the idea of free mar- kets, Americans voted Bill Clinton into the White House and made state intervention a respectable word again in Western circles. In Britain, the Conservative government found it hard to let its coal industry be pushed out by global market forces. In the Third World, India faced the problems of structural adjustment.

By the end of the year, even staunch donors such as Sweden, Norway, Finland and the Netherlands planned cutbacks in their aid budgets. Replenishments for IDA-I0 matched IDA-9 in real terms but there was no Earth Increment. The Southern argument in Rio that funds for environment should be added to funds for development produced no results.

Concentration of wealth brought in its wake migration, which became a political issue in numerous European countries. Migrant workers faced savage racist attacks, especially in reunited Germany. Even Germany's Social Democrats joined the Conservatives to change the Constitution to prevent further migration.

Biology and earth sciences boomed. the latter particularly because of the ozone scare and the changing world climate. Scientists searched for geneS for use as disease fighters. producers of industrial products and enhancers of plant productivity. But diseases such as malaria and diarrhoea remained as strong as ever, joined by a new scourge: AIDS.

Lifestyles continued to become more westernised. Asia moved steadily towards meat-oriented, Western food habits, creating new demands for grain even as land available for agriculture shrank and millions starved. Indian house- holds were swamped by Western programmes through satellite and cable television. And, demand for packaged goods increased in India's villages.

Ethnic tensions erupted in many places. While the Serbs attacked Bosnia-Herzegovina, India saw its secular values take a severe knock,in Ayodhya.

The new world order crept in slowly, but without its contours becoming any clearer. Sovereignty took a back seat as environmental concerns for global management came to the fore and human rights became a worldwide issue. US forces went to war-torn Somalia to help feed a starving nation. But the world was left wondering: Who will decide when intervention is needed and when it is good? Will the UN be used as a pliable world government to maintain global law and order and regulate environmeI1tal and human rights problems, while donor-dominated Bretton Woods institutions govern the world's ec0nomy together with GATT?

The tumultuous year raised many more questions than it answered, but it could well have set theagepda for the remaining years of the decade. And, itdreated vivid images of globalisation in an unequal world.

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