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     Volume 8 Issue 52 | January 9, 2009 |

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Straight Talk

Farewell to another Turbulent Year

Nadia Kabir Barb

Normally at the end of a year, I find myself feeling a little wistful and nostalgic. Each year makes us just that much older and, we hope, a little bit wiser with a few more experiences under our belts. I think back and ponder on all the events that have taken place and of course all the people and places that have been part of my journey to get me to this point in time. The New Year represents a fresh start for some, new hopes and dreams for others but just a feeling of anticipation and expectancy for most. We all wonder how the advent of another year will turn out for us. I have to admit that I was more than happy to see the back of 2008 as it has not been a particularly auspicious year for many but here we are already into our first week of 2009 and my sense of hope for a better year is rapidly turning into a feeling of apprehension. We need look no further than the Middle East and the Israeli attacks on Gaza to see that this year has not had the propitious start we would have wished for.

The global economic crisis because the headline of the year

I think the news dominating 2008 has to be the global economic crisis with stock markets around the world collapsing amidst increased fears of a worldwide recession, triggered by the now well documented issues in the US mortgage market and the staggering knock on effect on the world's banks. It feels like we still have not reached the end of the tunnel and no one seems confident about when the unpleasant surprises will stop. There have been job losses on an unprecedented scale around the world. Just to give you an example Citigroup, one of the leading financial institutions has in effect laid off almost 75,000 of its 375,000 employees. These redundancies and closures have not just been restricted to banks and financial institutions but have extended to almost every sphere of the economy be it in retail, the manufacturing sector or service industry. We have seen airlines going out of business, shops closing down and small companies sinking without a trace. With everyone feeling the pinch of the recession, we were also landed with the cost of fuel rising to an all time high and food prices soaring.

Last year we also witnessed the death and devastation caused by Cyclone Nargis which was recorded as the worst natural disaster to affect Burma, leaving in its wake more than 150,000 fatalities and gravely affecting the lives of hundreds of thousands more. If this was not enough, within a fortnight of the disaster in Burma, the Sichuan area of China was hit by an earthquake with a magnitude of 7.9, killing around 70,000 people and leaving almost 4 million people destitute. In neighbouring Tibet there were demonstrations against the Chinese government policies which escalated into violence on the streets of Lhasa and it surrounding areas.

For a while the Large Hadron Collider or the 'Big Bang Machine' took centre stage as the world's eyes were firmly fixed on its launch. 'It is a particle accelerator used by physicists to study the smallest known particles the fundamental building blocks of all things' and the idea is to revolutionise our “understanding, from the minuscule world deep within atoms to the vastness of the Universe. Physicists will use the LHC to recreate the conditions just after the Big Bang, by colliding the two beams head-on at very high energy.” People were frightened that Hadron Collider might inadvertently create a black hole or bring about the end of the world but luckily these fears were not realised, as an unanticipated faulty electrical connection between two magnets caused the Collider to be shut down after just 36 hours. In a way it ended up being very anti climactic.

Another story that outraged the international community was the appalling case of an Austrian woman Elisabeth Fritzl who was kept prisoner by her father Josef Fritzl in the basement under their home for twenty four years and subsequently gave birth to seven of his children. Soon after the emergence of the Fritzl case, another similar incident was reported in the UK and questions were raised as to how this kind of abuse had never been detected. Sometimes we try not to see things or acknowledge them as it makes us feel uncomfortable and I am sure these are not the only isolated incidents of this kind but the fact they were so widely publicised made us sit up and take notice.

The recent terrorist attacks in Mumbai was yet another horrific incident in an already disastrous year, which resulted in almost two hundred people losing their lives and injuring countless others. We could only look on in horror as the events unfolded in front of our eyes. The ruthlessness and premeditation with which these attacks were carried out evoked outrage in the rest of the world and rightly so.

Then there were a few elections that took place last year that seemed to have taken some prominence in my mind. Some results were expected, and others took the world by surprise. In Italy Silvio Berlusconi managed to secure a third term as the nation's Prime Minister. In Bangladesh, the long awaited elections resulted in a victory for the Awami League. Although in hindsight it seemed rather inevitable. Bangladesh politics somehow reminds me of a tennis match with the fate of the country being volleyed by either the Awami League or the BNP depending on who happens to be in power at a given point in time! But the election that had the entire world waiting with bated breath was that of the presidential elections in the US. It was a historical moment when Democratic candidate Barack Obama defeated Republican candidate John McCain becoming the first African-American US president. For many he symbolises hope and change and I do not envy him the burden of responsibility he has on his shoulders. Like many I wish for a year that will bring about some changes in the political and international arena that are for the better.

The legacy of cyclone Nargis.

So from my recollection 2008 has been one of those years that I am not particularly sad to leave behind but 2009 does not seem to have started off on the right note either. The situation in the Gaza with the Israeli attacks gaining momentum day by day and a growing body count is an unacceptable situation and at this time the Palestinians can only look to the international community for a solution to an already dire predicament. Let us hope that 2009 brings with it a way to resolve the conflicts that have dogged this area for decades.


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