|Wednesday, 8 January 2003|
2002 - a year of comfort among uncertainty
by Ruwantissa Abeyratne
2002, we forged ahead toward self introspection and self realization in a year of uncertainty. Most of all, we sought solace from the evil and discord that has been ravaging the world for decades.
A glaring example of this national and international mood swing lies in popular culture, which is perhaps the most sensitive barometer proving our fascination with the triumph of good over evil, if only to give us some respite from a world of recrimination and retribution where evil often overcomes good.
The world's preoccupation with fantasy, where sentiment and magic opened to us an imaginary world of cinematic wonder, provided the needed balm to soothe our shattered nerves.
The first in the series of the Lord of the Rings - Fellowship of the Ring, one of J.R.R. Tolkien's brilliant masterpieces of the '50s, released after only 3 months after the 11th September 2001 attacks, appealed to audiences seeking a clearer definition of moral turpitude and clarity. The movie grossed $860 million worldwide, just behind Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, a movie taken from J.K Rowling's Harry Potter books which relate the story of an orphan child who inherits magical powers from his parents and uses them to fight jealousy and evil.
At the present time, the second in the Lord of the Rings series - The Two Towers, where sword and sorcery overcomes the might of evil, is running to packed houses in North America and Europe, once again giving the ephemeral illusion of cinematic persuasion that no matter how powerful the evil is, truth and virtue will always overcome it.
Fantasy aside, it is most encouraging to observe that people in many parts of the world took positive initiatives to pursue accord over discord and good over evil in a down to earth practical sense. In our own country, the peace process, which certainly deserves Nobel recognition for all parties involved, was arguably the most honest and sublime example of political compromise the world saw in 2002. Both parties have so far acted with mature responsibility in seeking consensus on realistic issues rather than looking for nuances of disagreement that would suspend or break the peace process.
The federalism option, at this point of negotiation, shows above any other consideration that the coming together of warring parties was not "begotten by despair upon impossibility". Neither does it reek of the traditional suspicion and disingenuousness that have been the archetypes of bilateral negotiations, whatever be the subject matter. The lack of intellectual betrayal and presence of abiding transparency can only earn such a process good wishes of everyone for the success it deserves and admiration and praise for those behind this overarching endeavor toward peace.
During 2002, the international arena was not devoid of its own inarticulate pauses of uncertainty followed by rapid and robust political initiatives of the international community to ensure peace. However, the most spectacular milestone in the year occurred in the economic field where on 1 January 2002 citizens of 12 countries in Europe, of Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Holland, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Portugal and Spain - none of whom were individually involved in a voting process for a change of currency in their countries, saw their marks, francs, pesetas, lire, escudos and other similar currencies merged into a single currency - the Euro.
The change into one single currency had an overlapping period of two months, until the end of February 2002, where new and old currency circulated together. After the deadline, the former currencies ceased to be legal tender. As a result, 300 million people are now transacting all their business in one currency - euros, heralding a landmark in what is widely considered the biggest monetary change in history,.
Of course, the mingling of 12 different currencies into one was not a simple exercise, logistically speaking. A huge logistical operation involving the deployment of troops for weeks beforehand to help transport the 50 billion euro coins that were first minted, which weighed almost 240,000 tons, and the 14.5 billion banknotes from 15 printing presses across the EU had to be launched. Additionally, a significantly large clutch of technicians were required to convert more than 200,000 in the early hours of New Year's Day 2002.
The inherent challenges in this implosion of currency were inevitable. One such challenge was to adapt motorway toll booths, telephone boxes, ticket machines and parking meters to accept the euro. People still carried their old currency to checkouts wanting to pay in their familiar old currencies and querying the change they received in unfamiliar euros, thus causing queues in supermarkets and other stores.
Although French President Jacques Chirac called the currency conversion "the biggest and most significant economic and financial reform in 50 years," it is reported that opinion polls conducted in 2001 reflected that only half the people in France knew the change was coming. The survey further revealed that forty percent of people across euroland felt badly informed about the change.
Another economic backlash in practical terms was that some shoppers were resentful when they discovered that prices were rounded up where conversions from the old currency came up with awkward fractions. It was reminiscent of the United Kingdom in 1971, where, when the country switched to a decimal currency consumers were unhappy that prices were invariably rounded up rather than down.
There were also apprehensions that the conversions may give rise to currency crimes by devious criminal minds. A particular concern was that with so much money being transported around Europe, there were opportunities for hijackings by armed robbers.
It is believed that Europe will never be quite the same after such a crucial step towards economic and monetary union. It is yet another step toward stabilization in an era of uncertainty. However, this economic measure has still quite some distance to go, with three EU countries - the UK, Denmark and Sweden - choosing not to participate.
The World Summit on Sustainable Development, convened in Durban, South Africa, addressed particularly the issue of bio-diversity and sustainable agricultural development. One particular point of view submitted to the Conference was that the subject of rice presented inherent problems in terms of its growth and genetic engineering. Particular reference was made at the Conference to the "Golden Rice Project". The Conference's attention was focused by one particular commentator that artificial spliced genes from microbes led to allergies in a particular breed of rice.
A similar concern was raised regarding an ongoing project concerning artificial "Vitamin A" rice, also known as "wonder-rice". It was claimed that most of Vitamin A rice was produced for countries in Latin America or Asia. A specific concern was that in India alone, the total amount of types of rice were reduced from about 30,000 different types to about 12 different types through genetic engineering.
The Conference noted the need for good technology and know-how in order that the world be given some cognition of the genetic constructions of rice and questions of development and permaculture pertaining to the growth of rice. The Conference arrived at numerous conclusions, inter alia, calculated to ensure a proper balance between biodiversity and agriculture. One of the most stark revelations of the events of September 11, 2001 was that world security could be seriously breached through the misuse of civil aviation. In recognition of this grave threat, on 19 and 20 February 2002, a high level ministerial conference on aviation security was held in the Headquarters of the International Civil Aviation Organization, Montreal. Sri Lanka was represented at this Conference.
At this Conference, attended by member states of the International Civil Aviation Organization, Some 714 participants from 154 Contracting States and observers from 24 international civil aviation organizations endorsed a global strategy for strengthening aviation security worldwide and issued a public declaration at the conclusion of their two-day meeting.
A central element of the strategy is an ICAO Aviation Security Plan of Action, which includes regular, mandatory, systematic and harmonized audits to enable evaluation of aviation security in place in all 187 Member States of ICAO. An indicative cost of the security oversight programme is US$ 17 million, of which more than 15 million will have to come from new contributions.
The programme will cover initially the period 2002 to 2004 and serve to identify and correct deficiencies in the implementation of ICAO security-related standards. Dr. Kotaite called upon all members of the world aviation community to give their full and unconditional support to the Plan of Action and to all elements of our global strategy, in terms of human and financial resources, so that air transport remains the safest and most efficient mode of mass transportation.
The Conference called for the Council of ICAO to develop the Plan of Action for adoption not later than 14, June 2002 and implementation commencing immediately thereafter within the shortest feasible time frames.
The Declaration adopted at the conclusion of the Conference reaffirms condemnation of the use of civil aircraft as weapons of destruction as well as of other acts of unlawful interference with civil aviation wherever and by whomsoever and for whatever reason they are perpetrated, while being mindful of the need for strengthening measures to prevent all acts of unlawful interference with civil aviation.
It emphasizes the vital role which civil aviation plays in economic development; stresses the preeminence of safety and security as underlying fundamentals in civil aviation which need global address; and reaffirms the responsibility of States for the security and the safety of civil aviation, irrespective of whether the air transport and related services concerned are provided by Government, autonomous or private entities;
One of the salient features of the Declaration is that it notes the significant improvements in aviation security recently initiated in a large number of States; recognizes that a uniform approach in a global system is essential to ensure aviation security throughout the world and that deficiencies in any part of the system constitute a threat to the entire global system; and affirms that a global aviation security system imposes a collective responsibility on all States. The Declaration also notes that the additional resources which will be required to meet enhanced aviation security measures may create an undue financial burden on the already limited resources of developing countries.
Several States, including Sri Lanka, pledged financial and human resource assistance toward the implementation of the action plan proposed by ICAO. Perhaps the most significant message sent out by the High Level, Ministerial Conference is that the world community would now have to establish a carefully synchronized and thoughtfully orchestrated plan of action and system of progressing toward achieving substantial enforcement of aviation security.
Also highlighted at the Conference was the fact that, on a more short term level, and of no less critical importance, are the insurance and security implications that require urgent actions.
Produced by Lake House