by Jim Lobe
(IPS) WASHINGTON -- The Bush administration's "war on terrorism" has diverted the world's attention from the deeper roots of global insecurity, according to the latest edition of Worldwatch Institute's annual 'State of the World' report, which calls poverty, disease and environmental decline the "true axis of evil."
'State of the World 2005: Redefining Global Security,' which will be translated into some two dozen languages, urges global foreign policymakers to adopt what former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev calls in the book's forward "a policy of preventive engagement" to address these challenges, in part to foster a renewed spirit of international cooperation.
"Unless these threats are recognized and responded to, the world runs the risk of being blindsided by the new forces of instability, just as the United States was surprised by the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11," said Worldwatch president Christopher Flavin at the book's launch here Wednesday.
According to Michael Renner, who co-directed the State of the World project, terrorism is "only symptomatic of a far broader set of deep concerns that have produced a new age of anxiety."
These concerns amount to "problems without passports" that, absent collective action, are likely to worsen in the coming years and, in any case, cannot be resolved "by raising military expenditures or dispatching troops. Nor can they be contained by sealing borders or maintaining the status quo in a highly unequal world."
Those concerns include "endemic poverty, convulsive economic transitions that cause growing inequality and high unemployment, international crime, the spread of deadly armaments, large-scale population movements, recurring natural disasters, ecosystem breakdown, new and resurgent communicable diseases, and rising competition over land and other natural resources, particularly oil."
All of these problems create the conditions in which political instability, warfare, and extremism thrive, according the report, which argues that the adoption of prevention-focused programs to deal with these challenges is generally a far more effective cost-efficient use of pre-emption than deploying military power.
"Global military spending is now approaching one trillion dollars a year," Renner told IPS. "Preventive strategies to deal with social and environment problems generally cost so much less."
This year's 'State of the World,' which includes contributions from some 20 authors on issues ranging from demographic change, infectious diseases, and transnational crime, to food security, the oil economy, and arms expenditures, underlines the importance of collective action and international cooperation.
Of current problems, the world's heavy dependence on fossil fuels is one of the most destabilising, according to the report. With competition heating up for access to these energy sources, they are fueling geopolitical rivalries -- as between China and Japan for Russian oil and gas; civil wars; and serious abuses in human rights of indigenous populations.
Despite reports of new finds, oil in fact is being found in smaller and smaller quantities and in ever more-remote regions. Amid rising global demand, production has plateaued or actually declined in 33 of the largest 48 largest producers, including six of OPEC's 11 members, according to the report.
Moreover, severe swings in price and supply -- spurred over the past year by political uncertainties and the war in Iraq -- is undermining economic security globally. At the same time, the burning of fossil fuels for energy is contributing to global warming and climate change that not only pose long-run threats to human safety, but also contribute to the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, such as the four hurricanes that devastated Florida and parts of the Caribbean last summer and fall.
Access to water is also a growing global concern. While regional water agreements have made cooperation, rather than conflict, the norm among neighboring countries in much of the world, water shortages, such as that which has affected much of the horn of Africa, including Sudan's Darfur province, are fueling violent conflict within countries, according to the report.
Worldwide, some 434 million people currently face water scarcity, while insufficient access to water is a major cause of lost rural livelihoods that compel farmers to abandon their homes and fields.
By 2025, between 2.6 billion and 3.1 billion people are expected to be living in water-stressed or water-scarce conditions. Already more than 30 countries -- most of them in Africa and the Middle East -- have fallen below even the most conservative benchmarks for sufficient per capita cropland or renewable freshwater.
The adequacy of food and its distribution are also growing problems, which, in the absence of a solution, contribute to global insecurity. Worldwide, nearly two billion people suffer from hunger and chronic nutrient deficiencies, while the number of people who suffer chronic hunger -- those who go to bed hungry every night -- actually increased over the past decade to some 800 million last year.
On the health front, infectious diseases killed nearly 15 million people in 2002, including some three million AIDS victims, most of whom die in their peak parenting and wage-earning years.
Twenty previously well-known diseases, including tuberculosis and malaria, have re-emerged or spread geographically over the last decade, while at least 30 diseases not previously known to be infectious have been identified since 1975.
Other demographic factors contributing to instability include the "youth bulge" -- a situation where people aged 15 to 29 account for more than 40 percent of all adults -- currently affecting more than 100 developing countries. In many, particularly in the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa, youth unemployment runs at more than 20 percent.
The more than 200 million young people who are unemployed or under-employed -- and thus may be forced to resort to crime or insurgency to earn enough to support their families -- represent a serious destabilising force for many societies, according to the report.
All of these problems are best handled through international cooperation, according to the report, which calls for wealthy nations to roughly double their foreign aid budgets so as to meet the UN's Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) of halving the number of absolute poor, sharply increasing access to basic health care, and assuring universal primary education by 2015.
Shifting just 7.4 percent of donor governments' military budgets into development assistance would provide the necessary funds, according to the report.
In that respect, the outpouring of aid to help victims of the South Asian tsunamis marks a potential breakthrough, according to Renner, who said it demonstrated "the enormous need for broad international cooperation in which people say, 'We really do have shared risks and responsibilities. We really must work together.'"
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