Our 10 future enemies

Greater Kashmir

World Economic Forum’s spectacular 2014 Global Risks Report released ahead of the Davos meeting next week tells us what could threaten our lives in the coming decade. Will J&K take note please, and prepare?

War between nations is back as the most likely risk facing the humanity. And extreme weather, yes you heard it right – extreme weather – is the second greatest risk that we would face in the coming decade.
The latest Global Risks Report of the World Economic Forum (WEF) has come up with a rather stunning listing of the risks world would face in the coming ten years – risks in terms of their likelihood and impact.
The 2015 edition of the report is a product of very painstaking work involving over 900 leading experts and decision makers from across the globe. It is a message that must propel us into action. It must make policy makers in Jammu & Kashmir to factor in this situation into our planning and policy making processes. Looking closely at what the report is saying, we realize that Jammu & Kashmir is one of the most vulnerable to these risks due to its geography and political situation.
So why is this report talking about the interstate conflict again being the greatest risk to the world in the coming decade? Didn’t we think that wars between countries are passé? Wouldn’t we imagine that global economic inter-dependencies make the prospect of wars between nations a remote prospect?
Let us take our region as an example. The last one year has seen India-Pakistan bilateral peace process coming to a halt. Armed hostilities between the two countries along the Kashmir border are a normal feature now. Positions and stances have hardened on both the sides. The fringe thinking that only armed confrontation could eventually “make permanent peace” between the two hostile nations seems to creep into what is normally understood to be the rational policy-making approach. Given the risks associated with the far right assuming power, and the challenges emanating from a variety of non-state actors in the region, a full-fledged war is no longer a fantasy.
Then let us look beyond. The conflict in Ukraine is poised to sharpen the struggle between the west and Russia for geo-political dominance in Europe. If the Cold War was characterized largely by non-violent power struggles between the west and the former Soviet Union along the eastern European borders, a war is now already raging.
While several inter-state conflicts are clearly foreseen across the African continent in the coming decade, what the coming ten years could actually witness is inter-state wars at a greater scale in the Middle East. The ongoing conflict in Syria has a real potential of engulfing Lebanon and Iran in the coming years. The immunity of Saudi Arabia in such a situation could hardly be imagined. And one doesn’t need to think hard to imagine the risks associated with such a situation.
The Global Risks Report 2015 lists “extreme weather events” as the second biggest risk facing the humanity in the coming ten years. Extreme weather events are not an alarmist’s worst case scenarios anymore – they are already here. What we witnessed in Kashmir in September 2014 was partly an extreme weather event. I heard stories from elderly people in Amman and Cairo last month about why they see this winter in the region as the worst they had ever experienced. People in countries like Egypt and Saudi Arabia are now thinking about ways how to make their houses winter cold-resistant.
In Jammu & Kashmir what we really need to do now is mainstream natural disaster risk reduction into our development planning. If we fail to do it now, tomorrow is going to be too late.
The third biggest risk listed in the Global Risks Report is what it calls the “Failure of national governance”. It is somewhat curios to have this risk at No. 3 position, but there are compelling reasons why that is the case. Depleting natural resources, rising populations and unemployment, stiff competition in resource sharing and youth bulge are the prime challenges that will be faced by many governments in the coming decade. The inability of governments in equitable resource re-distribution is likely going to be the key challenge in the coming decade. Didn’t we, by the way, witness something similar in J&K in the past few years?
With squeezing resources on the one hand, and ballooning aspirations and needs of the people on the other, J&K would be one of those places where political governance would come under big stress.
The other risks in the 10-risk list in the report include: state collapse or crisis, unemployment or underemployment, natural catastrophes, failure of climate-change adaptation, water crises, data fraud or theft and cyber attacks.
Unemployment and underemployment are significant risks for Jammu & Kashmir. Our state policy making needs to integrate long-term scenario building into it. We cannot afford the very short-sighted annual planning process, which quite often do not factor in long term trends.
When it comes to the impact, some of the top 10 global risks for the coming decade are water crises, failure of climate-change adaptation, fiscal crises and unemployment or underemployment.
In Jammu & Kashmir, if our economic architecture is not soon redesigned to create a sustainable fiscal structure, the impact, we all know, is going to be very difficult. Although we are right in the midst of a fiscal crisis, the coming years could make it worse.
There is no way one could dismiss this report as “routine” or “common-sensical.” This report requires an in-depth understanding and localized analysis. Jammu & Kashmir state must now emphasize on integrating future scenario building into our long term policy planning, prepare crisis exercises; assess vulnerabilities and their potential for cascade effects; and, importantly, train top decision-makers.
These risks are real, and our children deserve our today’s efforts to help their tomorrow.