Disappointment may just be waiting round the corner for all sanguine folks eagerly waiting to bid adieu to 2020. Here’s a look at some of the not-so-great things we may have to brace ourselves for in 2021.
2020 is a pretty number. It’s even, it’s alliterative, and it’s got an almost musical ring to it. When the world ushered in 2020 – with rambunctious celebrations like any other – little did they know that this interesting-sounding year was going to turn out to be one of the worst years. Ever. A pandemic. Successive lockdowns. Burgeoning unemployment. Slashed incomes. Smothered plans.
Barring maybe just a handful of businesses and people, 2020 wasn’t kind to anyone. And while most of us are hoping that 31st December 2020 will mark the end of it all, bringing in a New Year that will make us look back on the year gone by with an enormous sigh of relief, there’s no good news ahead. In an interview with The Associated Press, David Beasley, head of the UN Agency – the World Food Program – has warned that the following year is going to be even worse than this year.
We are going to have famines of biblical proportions in 2021.David Beasley, Head of the UN World Food Program
Yes. Disappointment may just be waiting round the corner for all sanguine folks eagerly waiting to bid adieu to 2020. There’s going to be famines, starvation, and much more. Here’s a look at some of the not-so-great things we may have to brace ourselves for in 2021:
A Hunger Pandemic
To begin with, 2021 is sure to witness the inevitable ripple effect of the coronavirus pandemic of 2020. As the Nobel Peace Prize-winning agency head has forewarned, we may see a lot of “famine, starvation, destabilization and migration”, particularly in low and middle-income countries. For, even as their decimated economies are yet to recover, COVID-19 is resurging, triggering a fresh wave of lockdowns. And more lockdowns will only mean stalled economic activities and widespread unemployment – once again. With deferred debt payments resuming in January 2021, governments are going to find it really hard to control the rapid economic deterioration.
Of course the agency is doing all it can to avert an economic catastrophe – raising money from governments, discussing prioritizing welfare programs with world leaders virtually, and talking to parliaments about the impending crises, among others. But at this point, it’s simply impossible to tell how the crisis will pan out or how the most vulnerable nations will prepare themselves to cope with the dreaded domino effect of COVID-19 in 2021.
Well, Donald Trump may have gone (and maybe even not, after all), but that does not mean all authoritarian strongmen have. Joe Biden and Jacinda Ardern will be around yes, but the world will also have leaders like Jair Bolsonaro, Viktor Orbán, Rodrigo Duterte, Vladimir Putin, Narendra Modi, and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in 2021. The continuing popularity of these authoritarian figures evidences the power of their messianic appeal. An appeal so strong, it sways millions into believing that their pugnacious, muscular approach is the right one to steer the country out of a crisis. Besides, the brutal crackdowns on peaceful, popular protests in Belarus, Hong Kong, and Thailand are a potent reminder of the quiet legitimacy that government repression has come to enjoy across the world.
Watch: The Spread of Authoritarianism across since the initial outbreak of the coronavirus
Significantly, COVID-19 has perpetuated, even aided and strengthened the tools of authoritarianism everywhere.
Peaceful demonstrations can be banned using the ruse of social distancing, more power can be concentrated at the center citing a national crisis, raising human rights issues can easily be labelled “anti-national” in times of a public health emergency, and surveillance mounted using facial recognition technology and contact tracing applications. Result? The rise of the near-totalitarian, surveillance state.
Rise of Ethno-Nationalism
It is pertinent to note that some of the 20th century’s most feared dictators, such as Hitler and Mussolini, were able to come to power against the backdrop of the worldwide Great Depression. That these shrewd demagogues were able to exploit widespread social and economic insecurity to fuel xenophobia and aggressive ethno-nationalism points to the enduring lure of communal solidarity during hard times.
This could mean not only the rise of hyper-nationalism in the troubled post-COVID-19 world, but the acceptance of it by large swathes of the population deluded to believe that certain “enemies within the country” must be blamed for their problems. As crafty strongmen the world over struggle to contain widespread discontentment over the economic slowdown, their politics will increasingly rely on scapegoating “others”. Syrian refugees in European nations, and minority groups in South Asia – Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Myanmar – may be the first to be impacted.
As much as many of us would wish for attitudes and practices to progress as time itself progresses, 2021 may well see a return to primitive attitudes and baser tendencies, the shaping of a world fraught with ethnic and religious tensions, polarized beyond belief.
Watch: UN Chief António Guterres speaks on Human Rights in the context of COVID-19
Bad. But Not Without Spots of Good.
Of course 2021 sounds like another nightmare. More hunger, more poverty, more unemployment, more fake news, more persecution of minorities, more authoritarianism, more crackdowns, more of just about every negative force created or nurtured in 2020.
But hope is not lost. History abounds with instances of cataclysms spawning positive developments, including peace and progress. So, a hunger pandemic – while tragic and devastating – may well force governments in underdeveloped and developing countries to rethink their agendas, focusing more on health care and nutrition instead of defense. Likewise, there will be protests to counter authoritarianism, notwithstanding the fear of crackdowns. And the futility of conflicts sparked by narrow, illiberal ethno-nationalism will dawn on more people than we can imagine at present.
Hope, after all, may be a flimsy word, but it is meaningful enough to make us want to soldier on. Another day. Another year.