This page was last updated February 3, 2010

The world is facing enormous challenges and here are a few important pages and articles that have struck me

Things to ponder

*  800 million people go to bed hungry every night..

*  The richest 10% of the world's adults own 85% of the world total of global assets. Half the world's adult population, however, owns barely 1% of global wealth.

*   In 2008, we passed the point where 50% of the world's population is living in cities.

*  The US spends almost three times as much on subsidies for domestic cotton production as it does on aid for the whole of Africa

*  Every European cow receives $2.50 a day in EU subsidies, while 75% of all Africans live on less than $2 a day

*  The common agricultural policy  (EU subsidies) accounts for 90% of a French farmer's pre-tax income

70% of all fresh water used in the world goes to irrigate crops, while nearly 20% of people have no safe drinking-water supply. More than one billion people live without clean water. Some 2.6 billion - half of the developing world's population - lack access to any kind of sanitation. The two issues are inextricably linked, for without proper sanitation pollution of drinking water is almost inevitable.

*  Women work two-thirds of Africa's working hours, and produce 70 per cent of its food, yet earn only 10 per cent of its income, and own less than 1 per cent of its property.

*   For North Americans the "ecological footprint" - the land and water a person needs to sustain their lifestyle - is 9.6 hectares (23.7 acres). For the typical African it is 1.4 hectares. If every country lived frugally, only half the planet's resources would be needed to meet demand. But if the world adopted a US lifestyle, four extra planets would be needed.

* The average Briton flushes 50 litres of water down the lavatory each day - ten times what many Africans have for drinking and washing.

* The average European uses 200 litres of water a day compared with less than 20 per person per day in Africa. (North Americans use 400 litres.)

* 1.8 million children under five die each year from diarrhoea caused by contaminated water.

* Every $1 spent on sewage saves $8 in lost productivity.

* The $10bn the Millennium Development Goal needs to halve the number of people without clean water equals five days of global military spending.

Sources and resources on some Major Global Issues

Global Policy Forum’s mission is to monitor policy making at the United Nations, promote accountability of global decisions, educate and mobilize for global citizen participation, and advocate on vital issues of international peace and justice.

AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

Oxfam runs a campaign to Make Trade Fair. This is only one of their Campaigns: Oxfam campaigns for policy and practice change on Fair Trade, Conflict and Humanitarian Response, and on issues such as Debt Relief, Arms Trade, Poverty Reduction and Universal Basic Education.

Christian Aid is much involved in campaigns in facor of trade justice. It runs an ongoing news service.

Eldis  supports the documentation, exchange and use of evidence-based development knowledge, a service provided by the Institute of Development Studies, Sussex. They offer many resources on a vast range of topics, and provide an ongoing NewsBlog.

The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) works in favor of "sustainable solutions for ending hunger and poverty."


For Human Rights see Amnesty International 

For Children's issues see Unicef

For Health issues see WHO.

I also have started a separate page on Global Warming

Articles on various topics I reckon are worth reading and recommending


An important new topic in the coming time will be the potential consequences of population ageing and shrinking birthrates across the world.

The overall statistics can be seen through the Guardian's Datablog

Fred Pearce has just published a book on Population ageing  :  Peoplequake: Mass Migration, Ageing Nations and the Coming Population Crash, 352pp, Eden Project Books
He has also written on the potential disasters resulting from low birthrates.


George Monbiot has neatly summarized the shameful sources of Britain's wealth past and present in the Guardian


(Global warming is now a daily topic, not possible to keep track of it in detail any longer!

The point where 50% of the world's population lives in cities, to be passed in 2008, makes it important to reflect on what form the world's cities should take. The bulky report  Endless City, edited by Ricky Burdett and Deyan Sudjic, was published by Phaidon  in 2008. A lengthy Guardian article by one of the authors summarizes its main contents.


The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is to issue a grave warning on the future consequences of reduced water supply on April 6. The Independent on Sunday published this preliminary summary.

Will Hutton, who writes for the Guardian, has published a book The Writing on the Wall (Little, Brown), critical of China and of the West's response to its recent development. The main thesis is contained in an extract published in the Guardian where other extracts and columns by him (see the China article archive) can also be read.

The BBC givs a vivid vignette of the pollution rampant in China's coal-mining region.


New statistics from the World Institute for Development Economics Research on the distribution of wealth in the world are, as is to be expected, not very cheering. The richest 10% of the world's adults own 85% of the world total of global assets. Half the world's adult population, however, owns barely 1% of global wealth. Read the Guardian's report on this, or the BBC's.

The UN's annual Human Development Report (November 11, 2006) is anticipated in an Independent article about the challenge of providing clean water and sanitation for the poor, and the consequences of the current failure to do so.

A powerful documentary film from Switzerland warns of the disaster facing the world when oil production peaks.

Unless fishing is severely limited and controlled, there will be no fish left in the oceans in less than 50 years time.

The very important Stern Review (October 30, 2006) says that climate change represents the greatest and widest-ranging market failure ever seen. From the BBC. The main points from the Guardian. His central argument is that spending large sums of money now on measures to reduce carbon emissions will bring dividends on a colossal scale. It would be wholly irrational, therefore, not to spend this money. If we do nothing to stem climate change, there could be a permanent reduction in consumption per head of 20%.

Each year, the day that the global economy starts to operate with an ecological deficit is designated as ‘ecological debt day’ (known internationally as ‘overshoot day’).  This year it was  it was October 9. This marks the date that the planet’s environmental resource flow goes into the red and we begin operating on a non-existent environmental overdraft. Humanity first went into global ecological debt in 1987, when the year's resources were spent by December 19. Since then, the date has leapt forward year by year to November 21 by 1995 and October 11 last year.   (1) Article in New Economics Foundation: (2) An article from the Independent: (3) A commentary in the Independent:  (4) Article in the Guardian

Some very striking points are made in Africa - Up in Smoke 2. The second report on Africa and global warming from the Working Group on Climate Change and Development. Link here to (1) an introduction by the New Economics Foundation (2) an article by the same; (3) the whole report in PDF; (4) a BBC report; (5) a summary in the Independent; (6) an article in the Observer. Arid or semi-arid areas in northern, western, eastern and parts of southern Africa are becoming drier, while equatorial Africa and other parts of southern Africa are getting wetter, the report says.

The Korea Times dated Oct 3 had an item of some interest on the growing difference between rich and poor in Korea. The key phrases are: The wealthiest 1 percent of Koreans, about 500,000 people, controlled about 57 percent of privately owned land at the end of last year, the Ministry of Government Administration and Home Affairs said yesterday. According to the ministry, the richest one million Korean taxpayers, or 2.1 percent of the total population, owned more than 35,000 square kilometers of land, which is about 72 percent of the country's individual properties measured at 56,457 square kilometers... Only 27% of the total population own any land at all. Landowners from (ie resident in) Seoul, Inchon and other cities in the metropolitan area owned 35.2 percent of the country's total private land. For comparison, at the end of 2004, the top 1 percent of property owners (480,000) owned 51.5 percent of private land.

WWF's biannual Living Planet Report 2006 (link to full text) is a very alarming report on the way humanity is destroying the ecosystem.

A workshop held in Taize on major world issues, led by Michel Camdessus, a specialist in worldwide economic questions, former director of the International Monetary Fund and member of the Pontifical Commission on Justice and Peace.

The Independent published a special issue devoted to Africa's problems, including this fine article about Africa's women.

John Feffer is an expert on Korea and his lengthy paper on Globalization and Korean Agriculture is extremely interesting for anyone concerned about recent trends in global agriculture and food cultures. He has also written an extremely fine review of some recently published translations of Korean literature (including our Ten Thousand Lives by Ko Un) in The Nation.

The desperate efforts of Africans trying to reach Europe are provoking equally desperate measures by European authorities to prevent their arrival, while the people are suffering and dying. The situation in Somalia is especially terrible, as the Independent reported on May 25. The BBC covered the story of events in Senegal twice, once recording recent events and then a few days later locating them in a longer, more personal history. Then the Guardian reported the arrival in Barbados of a ship carrying corpses from Senegal, apparently deliberately cut adrift.

UNICEF has issued a new report, indicating that 10 children die every minute as a result of malnutrition. The Independent ran an article about it. Since very many of these deaths are the result of infections caught by drinking unclean water, this other Independent article, about the water wasted on irrigating cash crops for British markets, might be of interest. All published late April-early May 2006.

The United Nations has just issued its 2nd World Water Development Report. It is alarming, as the BBC reports. The 4th World Water Forum  opened in Mexico March 16

It is often hard for people in the West to realize the significance of what is happening in China. This fine March 2006 article in the Guardian gives a good impression of the way things are moving in one major city. There is an index of major Guardian articles about China.

The BBC has an ongoing special scetion devoted to the Food Crisis in Africa. In late March, it reported on the new report about the loss of soil fertility in most of sub-Saharan Africa caused by over-intensive and poverty-stricken farming. In sub-Saharan Africa soil quality is classified as degraded in about 72% of arable land and 31% of pasture land.

Noam Chomsky recently gave an interview (Guardian, March 15) on the big changes under way in the relationship between Latin America and the United States. The BBC puts what he says alongside quotations from Otto Reich (former adviser to President George Bush). The BBC is devoting a series of broadcasts to Latin America, highlighting the same regional developments, with a detailed initial analysis (April 3).


 George Monbiot argues that the rich world's brutal diplomacy is worsening the plight of poor nations.

 Soya (Soy bean) is in almost everything but the effects of eating it are less clear than they might be, and the way growing it to feeed animals is taking over entire coutries, destroying priceless human and natural habitats is certainly too little known. (The Guardian, Nov. 7 2004)

 On the (much needed) abolition of the death penalty in the United States (note the appalling sentence: 'The US and Somalia are now the only countries that have not signed up to the Convention on the Rights of the Child.') (The Guardian, November 22, 2004)

 A hope-inspiring article on progress in cancer research. (The Observer, November 28, 2004)

 A very moving and sharply annotated report, quoting 8 African women to illustrate the plight of the continent. (June 2005)

 A touching page devoted to coping with the news that you (or someone close) has Cancer. (July 2005)

 The first part of a  harrowing account of the state of things in the city of Chongjin (North Korea) after 15 years of economic and social collapse. (LA Times, may require registration) and also the second part. (July 2005) If ever the site closes access, it might be possible to read a copy of both parts combined into a single file here.

A disturbing article about the way billions of dollars have vanished in Iraq since it was 'liberated' by  America. (July 2005)

A November 2005 Guardian article on the fight against AIDS in Africa, by Madeleine Bunting, with links to other resources.

A November 2005 article from the Independent summarizing the latest (dramatic) Report (summary here, press release here, full report here) from the European Environment Agency.

The BBC (Dec 2005) reports research suggesting strongly that the Gulf Stream is weakening, threatening to cool North Europe.

Harold Pinter's Nobel Prize acceptance speech asks the Major Question of the ghastly role played by the United States in modern world history, often in the name of civilization, democracy and God.

The BBC indicates the cunning linguistic deception involved in recent US references to torture.

Bruce Cumings presents a strong and very well-researched account of Korean history since 1945 in a review of 2 books about North Korea.

A Guardan article (Dec 12, 2005) on what is at stake in the December 2005 Hong Kong WTO negociations. Also a Guardian leader on the same question, that includes the information that "the immediate cause (of the current impasse in negociations) is the refusal of Europe - and France in particular - to make any fresh reforms in the common agricultural policy (CAP) which, according to the Economist, accounts for 90% of a French farmer's pre-tax income."

An article (Dec 9, 2005) viewing the WTO negociations from the viewpoint of ActionAid.

An article on the African trade plight in the (US-based) Environmental Working Group's site (November 2005) mainly focussing on the cotton isse, but including the now-notorious statistic: "World Bank chief economist Nicholas Stern estimates that a European cow receives $2.50 a day in subsidies, while 75% of Africans live on less than $2 a day."

George Monbiot (Guardian, December 29, 2005) mentions some very terrible events in Britain's recent (imperial / colonial) history (and recalls there were many more), asking why almost no one even knows they happened. A very important reminder that Britain's past is far from the positive, civilizing image so diligently propagated.

Max Hastings (October 2005) writes about the horrors inflicted on the world’s fish and the oceans by overfishing.

(2005) European Sugar and the African Economy / Agricultural Subsidies / WTO

A list of recent Guardian articles about Fair Trade.

A simple quiz introducing some fundamental  statistics about Africa (like: 300,000 people die of poverty and disease every month). From the Learning Africa educational resource.

(Related articles)  George Monbiot points to some small print in the G8 Africa debt-relief project in June 2005  and has some sharp points to make in another article July 2005

A full-length study from Sweden (2003) on the international problems caused by the EU's Common Agricultural Policy, with a clear initial reminder of the way 40% of the EU's total budget goes to agriculture although it represents only 4% of the EU's Gross Domestic Product.

Downside for Africa in cutting sugar price.  The Guardian June 2005

Global Policy Forum offers a selection of links to articles about Agricultural Subsidies: Rich countries spend billions subsidizing their agricultural sector, leading to chronic overproduction and dumping surpluses on global markets. Poor countries demand reform of this trade practice that impoverishes small-scale farmers while enriching large agri-business.

In May 2005 Africa Focus ran a shortened form of a Christian Aid document: Europe / Africa: Partnership for Whom?

Oxfam has protested (November 2005) at the latest European proposals, as it already did in June 2005 when the broad lines were already clear. In June 2005, they published a full Critique of the EU's proposals.

In April 2005 Christian Aid issued a major report, For Richer or Poorer: Transforming economic partnerships between Europe and Africa. (Full text in PDF)

Oxfam has published (December 1, 2005) a briefing paper denouncing the EU and the US for paying $13 in illegal farm subsidies (press release)