Watching the World
Severe Food Shortages
Late last year, flooding and droughts throughout China led about 20 million of the nation’s inhabitants to face severe food shortages, reports Beijing’s China Daily. According to an official with the Ministry of Civil Affairs, unusually severe natural disasters causing major crop damage also threatened another 80 million people in rural provinces. It is estimated that some 114 million acres [46 million ha] of land used for agriculture were damaged over a nine-month period by drought, freezing temperatures, and extensive flooding of the Yangtze River.
“About one in five of the world’s 5.14 billion people do not believe in God—or in any god or gods,” says the magazine Asiaweek. “Either that or the faith of their forefathers plays no part in their lives.” It is estimated “that about 840 million people practise no religious observances and that an additional 230 million consider themselves unbelievers.” Many belong to a church in name only, and more are now avoiding organized religions. “According to a recent Gallup survey, 78 million Americans do not belong to a church or synagogue or attend only on infrequent special occasions, up from 61 million in 1978,” says Psychology Today. “But even among regular churchgoers, the survey points to a growing disaffection with church practices.” A majority feel that too much time is spent on such matters as money raising. About 25 percent said they turned away from churches in search of “deeper spiritual meaning.”
Peace Hopes Grow
“Suddenly, a season of peace seems to be warming the world,” says a New York Times editorial. Certainly, new and unusual hopes for world peace have dawned this past year. Five bitter and prolonged regional wars started to wind down and were brought closer to a peaceful resolution during 1988. Conflicts in the Middle East, Asia, Africa, and Central America that were boiling hot at the beginning of the year had cooled enough toward the year’s end for peace processes to begin. The Times commented: “Rarely have so many such wars seemed to be drawing to a close at once.”
Stress From Lack of Work
Stress brought on by boredom and a lack of work leads to sickness, inefficiency, and personal problems asserts BUPA, a British private health insurance group. The group claims that some overworked employers refuse to delegate work, while, at the same time, their underworked employees are not inclined to ask for more work. Sickness and absenteeism claim an annual toll of 360 million lost workdays, notes The Times of London, and some companies could be spending as much as from 7 to 10 percent of their wage bills on sick pay.
Best Climate Spots
“There are only a few spots on the globe where people can expect to feel comfortable all year,” states The Daily Yomiuri, a newspaper of Japan. Most suffer from winters that are too cold or summers that are too hot, or both. Reporting on a worldwide temperature and humidity study, Takeshi Kawamura of Tsukuba University, who headed the study, stated that the majority of the comfortable locations are in Africa and Latin America, with the Ethiopian plateau, the Cape of Good Hope at the tip of the African continent, and the northern Andes Mountains in Peru highly recommended. Also good is the coastline from South Africa up to Namibia, the southwest coast of Australia, and Mexico’s plateau region. The worst location for heat and discomfort, he said, is in the Persian Gulf area.
The suicide rate has risen sharply in the Federal Republic of Germany. Alcoholism, drugs, and unemployment were cited as major causes by the German Society for Suicide Prevention at its annual meeting in Regensburg. However, experts also found serious indications suggesting that a tendency toward suicide is inheritable, reports the German newspaper Schweinfurter Tagblatt. The country reportedly has 13,000 suicides and half a million suicide attempts each year.
Children’s Greatest Fears
While children’s greatest fear is that of their parents’ dying, the second is the fear of nuclear war, says Dr. Bohdan Wasilewski, professor of psychosomatic medicine at Warsaw University in Poland. Speaking during a visit to Australia, he claimed to have seen children as young as six in fear of the prospect of nuclear war. “When young people have problems they can’t solve, like the threat of war, they tend to escape from life to take alcohol and drugs and even consider suicide,” he said. Some other common symptoms include increasing neurotic problems and a lack of interest in the future and in education.
Have you ever marveled at how a spider’s web stretches without breaking when flies hit it at high speed? Engineers looking for materials that are both light and resilient have long envied spider’s silk. Now, however, British biotechnologists have patented a method of isolating the gene sequence that is responsible for the web silk’s unusual properties. And by injecting these instructions into a special bacterium, they claim they can produce silk to order, reports The Times of London. They claim the material has the potential for use in the manufacture of bulletproof jackets for the police and armed forces, as well as for commercial uses.
“The world’s armies include about 200,000 youths, some as young as 12 years of age,” states The New York Times. These findings are contained in a report from a subcommission of the UN Human Rights Commission. Some of the youths have been forcibly conscripted by their governments, while others have been urged by their parents to enlist in order to gain jobs and food, and for the family to receive payment if the child dies in battle. Thus, a number of countries have violated the international law that stipulates 15 years of age as the minimum for recruitment into the armed forces.
Chance of Nuclear War Increasing?
As more and more nations develop nuclear weapons, the chance that they may be used in regional conflicts is rising. “The big-power [U.S., U.S.S.R., France, Britain, China] monopoly on nuclear weapons is ending,” reports Newsweek. “Four other countries [India, Israel, Pakistan, and South Africa] have reportedly built atomic warheads—and developed the means to deliver them—and others are not far behind.” Said one government official: “I don’t know of any time when there have been more countries pursuing the nuclear-weapons option.” And another added: “The danger of nuclear war is rising . . . because of what smaller or less industrialized nations are doing.”
“What’s the world’s most heavily forested country?” asks Asiaweek. “Canada? Norway? Brazil? No, it’s Japan.” “In the ratio of forest to total area, no other major or middling country comes close.” A full 67 percent of Japan—145,841 square miles [377,727 sq km]—is covered with forest, mostly evergreens growing on mountain slopes. Houses and apartments for the 38.9 million households occupy just 2.5 percent of the land, and factories and other industrial sites only 0.4 percent.