War talk is on the wind once again. The feverish frenzy to kill each other is soon going to overtake us. Man will exult in the blood of man in the mad race for the leftover resources in the innards of the earth.
In 1 AD, we humans were estimated to be around 300,000,000. In 1850, we first passed the 1 billion mark. We were 3.9 billion on January 1 of 1970 and today we number 6.9 billion. Our plunder of mother earth and our mutual murder has increased by a direct proportion to the increase in our numbers over the eons.
It is time for a State of the Earth report.
While the twenty-first century has already taken a gory start, it was the last century that stands out as the most horrific and brutal testimony to our blood-lust. We killed three times more people in wars in this one century alone than in all the previous five centuries.
Since the end of the Second World War in 1945 there have been over 250 major wars in which we put to death more than 23 million of our brethren, made homeless tens of millions and injured and bereaved countless millions. 3 out of 4 fatalities of these wars have been our women and children. 50 million of our fellow beings have been forced to flee their homes because of our conflicts since the 1990s alone.
To our children, especially, we have been exceptionally vicious in these conflicts. We killed more of them than soldiers in these wars. In the past decade alone, we snuffed the lives of around 2 million of our children in armed conflicts and injured three times as many. Even more heart-rending is the fact that we are using 300,000 of our children as soldiers in current armed conflicts in more than 30 countries around the world, with some as young as 10 years of age or even younger.
We have been killing ourselves in a variety of ways. The use of landmines, for example, has been just one of our methods. By one estimate, we have planted between 60 and 70 million landmines in the ground in at least 70 countries, maiming or killing approximately 26,000 civilians every year, including 8,000 to 10,000 of our children.
Next, small arms have been the weapons of our choice in 46 out of 49 major conflicts since 1990, enabling us to slaughter four million of our species, about 90 per cent of whom were civilians--80 per cent being women and children again. We now have more than 500 million small arms and light weapons in circulation around the world--one for about every 12 of us.
Not content with the rate of killing, we devised weapons of mass destruction during the last century. The horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are now a tale of the yore. With a typical modern 150-kiloton hydrogen bomb, we can now cause somewhere between 736,000 and 8,660,000 deaths, depending on the population density of our target city.
We took such liking to this weapon that we today have on planet earth, the only home known to our species, approximately 30,000 nuclear warheads, with some 5,000 of these on hair-trigger alert ready to be launched on a few minutes' notice. Such was our fondness for these weapons that just one country alone, the United States, has spent almost $5.5 trillion on nuclear weapons and weapons-related programs since 1940.
While the global military expenditure has crossed US $ 1000 billion in 2004, almost half the world's people subsist on less than $2 a day, with about 1.2 billion people living on less than $1 per day. Today, there are still 125 million of our children who never attend school. Another 150 million children of primary age start school, but drop out before they can read or write. One in four of us adults in the developing world--872 million people--is illiterate, and the numbers are growing.
Further, we have shackled the poorest of the poorest amongst us in a ruthless stranglehold of debt burden. It is considered to be the biggest single barrier to development in the Third World, the most powerful tool that some of us in the western nations use to keep whole countries in bondage. It is estimated that the Third World pays the developed North nine times more in debt repayments than they receive in aid. Africa alone spends four times more on repaying its debts than it spends on health care. Every child that is born in the developing world is strapped with a debt of 400 dollars to the richest nations from the moment of his birth.
The pursuit of wealth at any cost has made our world topsy-turvy. The assets of the 200 richest people in 1998 were reported to be more than the total annual income of 41% of the world’s people. Just three families--Bill Gates, the Sultan of Brunei and the Walton family--are estimated to have a combined wealth of around $150 billion. Their value equals the annual income of 600 million people living in the world’s poorest countries.
The richest 20% of the world population now receives 150 times the income of the poorest 20%. The bottom line for poverty and incomes is that the share of the poorest 20% of the world's people in global income now stands at a miserable 1.1%. It continues to shrink. And the ratio of the income of the top 20% to that of the poorest 20% rose from 30 to 1 in 1960, to 61 to 1 in 1991--and to a startling new high of 78 to 1 in 1994. The income gap between the richest fifth of the world's people and the poorest fifth, measured by average national income per head, increased from 30 to one in 1960, to 74 to one in 1997.
As a result of this viciously unequal distribution of wealth, 826 million people remained undernourished in 1996-98. Hunger continues to afflict an estimated 793 million people around the world, including 31 million in the U.S. Every day, 24,000 people die from hunger and other preventable causes. Nearly 160 million children are malnourished worldwide. Almost 800 million peopleabout one-sixth of the population of the world's developing nationsare malnourished. 200 million of them are our children.
880 million of us around the world lack access to basic healthcare, and 1.3 billion lack access to safe drinking water. 17 million people die each year from curable diseases, including diarrhea, malaria and tuberculosis. 5 million of these people die due to water contamination. Each day in the developing world, 30,500 children die from preventable diseases such as diarrhea, acute respiratory infections or malaria. Malnutrition is associated with over half of those deaths.
We have not been exactly idle on our environment front, too.
We have chopped down half of our forests that originally covered 46% of our planet’s lands with only one-fifth now remaining pristine and undisturbed. In Latin America, for example, forests are being lost at most alarming rates. The rate of forest loss in Mexico alone is estimated at 600,000 to 2.5 million acres per year. The lush forests that blanketed half of Panama at mid-century, covered only about 10% of the country by the year 2000. Up to 47% of the world's plant species are now at risk of extinction.
Species have been disappearing at 50-100 times the natural rate, and this is predicted to rise radically. In the next 20 to 50 years, we will drive to extinction between 10 and 20 percent of all other species on planet earth. If we persist in our ways, an estimated 34,000 plant and 5,200 animal species--including one in eight of the world's bird species--face total disappearance.
Almost a quarter of the world's mammal species will face extinction within 30 years. 60% of the world's coral reefs, which contain up to one-fourth of all marine species, could be lost in the next 20-40 years. Sixty percent of our world's important fish stocks are threatened from over-fishing. More than 20 percent of the world's known 10,000 freshwater fish species have become extinct, been threatened, or endangered in recent decades.
The severe rape of our environment has resulted in desertification and land degradation that threatens nearly one-quarter of the land surface of the globe. Over 250 million people are directly affected by desertification, and one billion people are at risk. Global warming is expected to increase the Earth's temperature by 3C (5.4F) in the next 100 years, resulting in several adverse effects on the environment and human society, including widespread species loss, ecosystem damage, flooding of populated human settlements, and increased natural disasters.
The above data is almost 10 years old. No rocket science is involved in calculating the prevailing situation.
This century, we are already in the midst of a bleeding war. In the twilight of gloom, one can clearly see the gathering storms of yet another war on the rapidly darkening horizons. Just as in the showers of blood, only the blood suckers thrive, there are some of us who want a perpetual war to perpetuate themselves. One can clearly hear the ominous rustling on the winds. Ironically, as the vampires are rising from the dead, the keepers of the silver bullets have gone to into a deep slumber.
Mark Twain was on the mark when he said: “Man is the only animal that deals in that atrocity of atrocities, War. He is the only one that gathers his brethren about him and goes forth in cold blood and calm pulse to exterminate his kind. He is the only animal that for sordid wages will march out... and help to slaughter strangers of his own species who have done him no harm and with whom he has no quarrel.... And in the intervals between campaigns he washes the blood off his hands and works for ‘the universal brotherhood of man’.”
So this, then, is the state of the earth. -------------------------------------------------- Copyright 2006 by Anwaar Hussain. The writer, a former officer of the Pakistan Air Force, is now based in the United Arab Emirates. This story is reproduced courtesy of Fountainhead, Mr. Hussain's blog. Mr. Hussain may be reached by email at