Three years ago, Boris Johnson made a unique address to the British public. Sitting at a desk in Downing Street, hands firmly clasped and hair more kempt than usual, Johnson told the nation: “You must stay at home.”
The first lockdown had begun.
Today, nobody wants to talk about COVID. Focus has shifted to other permacrises, such as the soaring cost of living, the NHS meltdown and the war in Ukraine.
Not wanting to think about or talk about the pandemic is understandable when it has been so exhausting. Who wouldn’t rather it just went away? But the pain, grief, hassle and economic impact are still very real.
As a research lead for the International Public Policy Observatory (a collaborative research group that informs policymakers about the best ways to address social harms in the UK), my work focuses on how governments are tackling society’s recovery from the pandemic. Policymakers tell me that while the world has mentally moved on from the pandemic, experiences from that period continue to shape their conversations about society’s resilience, and how we tackle everything from school snow days to climate change.
Although we no longer want to talk about COVID, it’s very apparent that its ramifications are widespread.
Illness is still with us, with around 2 million people reporting symptoms of long COVID. A recent study in Scotland found that nearly half the people infected with COVID reported feeling only partially recovered six to 18 months later (4% had been vaccinated). And despite the welcome decline in deaths, many people are still catching COVID.
I am one of those that have long COVID symptoms. But while I’m lucky enough to be able to plough on, many others can’t keep working. Ploughing on regardless is neither a good personal policy nor a good national policy. By ignoring the underlying COVID causes, it’s too easy to ignore the deep longer-term issues that confront us.
Smack in the middle of so many problems
In his first speech as UK prime minister, Rishi Sunak recognised the scale of the economic crisis and that “the aftermath of COVID still lingers”. But it’s doing a lot more than lingering. It’s smack in the middle of so many of our current problems.
Despite all the other effects on the economy, the UK is still reeling from the scale of the recession caused by the pandemic. It was an unprecedented economic crisis in modern times, with a GDP drop of 11% when the lockdown hit hard in 2020 – the steepest drop since consistent records began in 1948.
Pandemic-induced losses for both economic output and employment will be significant in coming years, according to the International Monetary Fund.
It’s also not surprising that finances are in dire straits. The UK government borrowed an extra £330 billion across 2020-21 and 2021-22.
Denying the centrality of COVID also matters because there are unique UK problems that there is still time to address. Other countries are recovering faster from COVID.
The UK is one of the few countries where economic inactivity among older age groups is still higher than it was pre-pandemic. Although the exact reason for this “great resignation” is unclear, the pandemic has exacerbated the UK’s trend towards deteriorating health.
To recover from COVID, the UK can learn from other countries. The emergence of an accelerating mental health crisis has commanded increasing attention from policymakers around the world.
For example, in Norway, the government has allocated funds to youth mental health to create more easily accessible treatments. And in India, a free national tele-mental health service has been launched, with 23 centres offering phone-based support at all hours offered in multiple languages.
Remembering COVID also matters because the crisis provided an opportunity to reset so many things in society and the economy. Do you recall some of that early optimism at the start of the lockdowns? About no longer commuting, about re-engaging with your local parks and green spaces, about clapping key workers outside your front door? That feels like a very distant memory now. But some countries have implemented changes that outlasted the pandemic.
In Australia, telehealth services for mental health treatment, which were temporarily introduced during the pandemic were made permanent in January 2022 to allow citizens better access to remote options.
Personally, I’m trying to face my long COVID head-on. Doing more hospital tests, telling people more about it, and using the online NHS post-COVID recovery programme. Global recovery from the pandemic is not over yet, but there is still time to make changes. The recovery phase provides opportunities to review, reset and transform the UK’s prospects for the decades to come.
Jonathan Breckon does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.recession pandemic treatment deaths lockdown recession gdp recovery india uk ukraine
Despite one of the US military’s greatest fiascoes, American troops are still in Somalia fighting an endless war
Thirty years after the Battle of Mogadishu, the US continues waging war in Somalia, with little public knowledge, scrutiny or constructive results.
Nearly 30 years after the infamous Battle of Mogadishu, the U.S. military is still conducting operations in Somalia.
Popularized in the U.S. by the 2001 film “Black Hawk Down,” the Battle of Mogadishu occurred on Oct. 3, 1993, and saw the downing of two U.S. helicopters and the deaths of 18 American soldiers. Some of their bodies were dragged along city streets by Somali militants.
The battle was considered one of the worst fiascoes in U.S. military history.
Since then, the U.S has waged economic and military warfare in Somalia to first eliminate the Union of Islamic Courts, a grassroots legal and political group, and most recently to attack the militant group al-Shabaab. There have been at least 282 U.S. counterterrorism operations in Somalia, including drone strikes and other aerial bombardments.
But its my belief as a scholar of contemporary U.S.-Somali relations that the U.S. efforts to develop political stability and eliminate terrorism has achieved the very opposite and not brought an end to political violence in the war-torn country.
In fact, al-Shabaab is still waging one of the largest and deadliest insurgencies in the world.
To meet the latest threat, President Joe Biden has increased military assaults in Somalia that target al-Shabaab insurgents, conducting dozens of airstrikes so far in 2023. In May 2022, Biden also agreed to send about 500 U.S. troops to Somalia.
But the question remains: Why are U.S. forces still intervening in Somalia?
The cost of US involvement in Somalia
Between 2007 and 2020, the U.S. spent at least US$2.5 billion on counterterrorism operations in Somalia, according to Costs of War, a 2023 Brown University study. This amount was largely spent by the U.S. Department of State and does not include the unknown expenditures of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency and U.S. Defense Department.
For comparison, between 2001 and 2022 the U.S. spent approximately $2.3 trillion, or nearly 1,000 times more, on “counterterrorism” wars in Afghanistan.
The U.S. spends time and money training the Somali National Army, assisting in surveillance and drone strike operations. Many of their activities are not publicly traceable. According to one U.S. congressional staffer who wished to remain anonymous, “even the U.S. government’s own officials do not know the total amount that has, and continues to be, spent on counterterrorism in Somalia.”
Understanding the crisis in Somalia
Located in East Africa on the coast of the Indian Ocean, Somalia is one of the poorest countries in the world.
Decades of civil war coupled with extreme droughts have caused the roughly 17 million people to exist in dire living conditions.
In 2022, about 43,000 people died from drought, while more than one million have been displaced so far just in 2023 by drought, famine and ongoing violent attacks. The nexus of climate chaos and political violence poses significant challenges for the Somali government. And yet, the counterterrorism and climate policies enacted by the Somali government continually exacerbate these problems.
In 2005, under the Bush administration, the CIA backed an unpopular and violent attempt to overthrow the Union of Islamic Courts. The group comprised about a dozen local Islamic courts in southern Somalia that solved social disputes, reopened schools and ended roadblocks erected by violent warlords.
The Union of Islamic Courts was generally popular among the Somali people living within their jurisdiction and seen by many residents as a welcomed alternative to the prior decade of civil war that decimated the region.
The US global war on terrorism
In the post-9/11 era, U.S. government officials were wary of an Islamic government coming to power in Somalia and were fearful of the Union of Islamic Courts. When the CIA’s effort failed to topple the group, the U.S. government then backed an Ethiopian military invasion of Somalia in late 2006.
During this brutal two-year invasion, many members of the Union of Islamic Courts were killed or chased out of Mogadishu, and a small group of youth began a recruitment campaign using the slogan “al-Shabaab,” or “the youth” in Arabic.
In my view, this U.S.-supported Ethiopian invasion was largely responsible for creating the conditions of political uncertainty and violence that prevail today.
Al-Shabaab portrayed the U.S.-backed Ethiopian invasion in religious and nationalist terms and painted the U.S. and Ethiopia as Christian invaders of a Muslim country.
After two years of war, Ethiopia withdrew its troops, claiming their mission to rid the extremist threat was accomplished.
This assertion proved to be false, as al-Shabaab insurgents recaptured nearly all territory lost by the UIC.
Time for a US reckoning on Somalia?
The economic harm and social devastation caused by the U.S. government is extensive, and there is little reason to believe the U.S. approach to Somalia will change in the near future.
On Sept. 6, 2023, for instance, the U.S. military reportedly provided “remote assistance” to an aerial strike operation conducted by the Somali government that killed five civilians.
Besides devastating the families left behind in the wake of violence, the lack of transparency and accountability has created an enduring tragedy for the Somali victims of the U.S.’s covert activities.
The U.S. role in Somalia does not absolve al-Shabaab of its crimes, as the militant group continues to recruit from socially and economically disenfranchised communities in Somalia. Among those crimes are bombings of civilian targets throughout Africa and the Middle East, resulting in hundreds of deaths.
But in my view, a demand for reparations from the Somali government before an international tribunal may force a U.S. reckoning on its global war against terrorism that nevertheless still rages on in Somalia.
Jason C. Mueller does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.army extremist africa
Why are some Chinese women still looking to the West for love?
Their desire to pursue marriage abroad not only reveals their longing for a better life but also reveals the pervasive gender, age and class inequalities…
Robert, an American truck driver in his 50s, lived in a trailer park in the Deep South. After divorcing his wife, who had cheated on him, he joined an online dating agency that connected Western men with Chinese women through translator-assisted email exchanges.
Robert told me he had become frustrated with American women, whom he felt were overly materialistic and had lost their “traditional family values.” (To protect the identities of my interviewees, I’ve used pseudonyms.) Yet Robert could barely afford to travel to China to meet the women with whom he exchanged emails. To save up, he often ate just a few dumplings for dinner, sometimes skipping the meal altogether.
Across the ocean, several Chinese women had gathered at their local dating agency, waiting to speak with their translator. Among them was Ruby, a former businesswoman in her mid-40s who had received a generous divorce settlement from her wealthy Chinese ex-husband and had retired in leisure. Next to Ruby stood another divorcee in her 40s, Daisy, who struggled to make ends meet as a department store sales clerk.
Despite their immense class differences, both women shared the same hope of marrying a Western man and moving abroad.
Commercial dating agencies like the one described here facilitate email exchanges and marriages between women from developing countries, such as Russia, Ukraine, China or Colombia, and men from economically advanced Western countries, such as the U.S., U.K., Canada or Australia. It’s a US$2 billion global business. From 2008 to 2019, I conducted research for my book “Seeking Western Men: Email-Order Brides under China’s Global Rise” at three international dating agencies in China, interviewing 61 Chinese female clients.
I wanted to know why, despite China’s meteoric economic and cultural rise, so many women – especially those who were financially well-off – were still looking to the West for love and companionship.
Options narrow with age
Despite China’s staggering male-female gender imbalance – where single men outnumber women by more than 30 million – middle-aged divorced women still face significant struggles.
There’s the stereotypical Western media representation of “mail-order brides” – young women who marry older Western men to escape poverty. This dynamic persists. But contrary to this stereotype, the majority of women enrolled at the dating agencies where I conducted research were middle-aged and divorced.
None of them felt coerced, and they cited age discrimination in China as their No. 1 reason for seeking Western men.
As Ruby confided, “Here, rich men want a young girl who is 20 to show off.”
Although it’s no secret that divorced or widowed men in many countries remarry younger women, the pressure to do so is particularly acute in China, where women as young as 27 years old are stigmatized as “leftover.”
Adding to the complexity, women with children from previous marriages – especially those with sons instead of daughters – face even more challenges in the local marriage market. Chinese women attribute this to societal norms that expect young men to own a home or have made a down payment before tying the knot. This means that parents are expected to financially assist their sons with mortgages, and many single men don’t want to assume this financial responsibility when marrying a woman with a son.
Infidelity also ranks among the top concerns for women, in large part due to the country’s post-1978 economic reforms, which spawned a new capitalist upper class. Many newly wealthy men – even those who were already married – started seeking younger, more sexualized women.
Ruby told me that her affluent ex-husband, who had a number of extramarital affairs, once quipped that “men are like teapots, each teapot should be matched with multiple teacups.”
It wasn’t just China’s newly wealthy class of men who started seeking romance outside of their marriages. Women told me of husbands who had lost their jobs and then turned to drinking, gambling and infidelity to cope with their newfound financial struggles.
While many female clients sought Western men as a tonic against Chinese men’s infidelity, this was hardly a concern for women who were mistresses to wealthy businessmen.
One former mistress, Jennifer, said, “I believe in patriarchy.” She preferred the company of rich men with multiple partners over faithful but less prosperous men.
As these mistresses aged, however, their wealthy paramours abandoned them for younger women. But they were unwilling to settle for lower-status, less successful men in China. After years of being out of the workforce, their lavish consumption habits were at odds with their weakened labor market prospects.
As a result, they turned to marriage migration as an option for escape.
Spurned by the service sector
Meanwhile, my interviews with sales clerks and nannies shed light on the challenges faced by middle-aged women without college degrees. Many of them had been laid off from state-owned factories in the 1990s, when over 30 million workers lost their jobs.
These women struggled to find new work in China’s service sector, which prioritizes hiring young, good-looking women. Daisy, a 43-year-old, felt fortunate to have secured a job at a luxury department store, but she feared for her future job prospects.
Meanwhile, less attractive women often had to work in less desirable positions: as nannies helping mothers take care of newborns, or street vendors who earned less than $5 per day. Without access to health insurance, retirement benefits or other social safety net programs, many of these women were desperate to leave China.
Finally, many struggling single mothers marry Western men so their children can study overseas.
Some of them want their children to escape China’s exam-driven education system that can burden students with excessive schoolwork and no playtime. Others feel that the Chinese job market favors social connections over qualification.
Joanne, a retail manager with dreams of sending her teenage son to the U.S. for college, pointed out, “Unlike in the U.S., a lot of good jobs in China depend on ‘hou tai’” – the Chinese term for “social background” or “lineage.”
“Having a degree is not enough,” she added.
Mixed marriage experiences
Interestingly, of the 30 women in my study who were financially secure, only 12 ended up marrying Western men. By comparison, 26 of the 31 financially struggling women married and moved abroad.
This is because many financially secure women were used to dating wealthy Chinese businessmen and politicians, so they often rejected their working-class Western suitors. After meeting these men face to face, they realized that they lacked the refined taste, lifestyle and sexual experience of their Chinese lovers.
By contrast, the financially struggling women held a different perspective. Daisy, who married a French mechanic, eventually grew to appreciate her husband for being kind and caring to her, even though she was not initially attracted to him and called him “foolish and clumsy, like someone from the peasant class.”
Moreover, Daisy valued the opportunity to work as a waitress and earn $1,500 per month, which enabled her to send some money home to her daughter in China.
Likewise, Robert, the truck driver, eventually found love with a Chinese woman. She moved into his trailer and worked as a masseuse on the side to send money back to her sons in China.
While some brides felt content in their new marriages, others suffered. For example, Joanne found herself in a toxic relationship with a controlling American man. Yet she stayed with her husband because her older age, limited English skills and her son’s need for financial support as a college student in the U.S. left her with few other options.
As Joanne’s experience shows, given the gender, age and class inequalities that continue to plague modern-day China, single Chinese women can find themselves choosing between a rock and a hard place.
Monica Liu does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.canada russia ukraine china
The Green Revolution is a warning, not a blueprint for feeding a hungry planet
Did the Green Revolution, which brought high-tech agriculture to developing nations in the 1960s, prevent famine? Recent research takes a much more skeptical…
Feeding a growing world population has been a serious concern for decades, but today there are new causes for alarm. Floods, heat waves and other weather extremes are making agriculture increasingly precarious, especially in the Global South.
Amid these challenges, some organizations are renewing calls for a second Green Revolution, echoing the introduction in the 1960s and 1970s of supposedly high-yielding varieties of wheat and rice into developing countries, along with synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. Those efforts centered on India and other Asian countries; today, advocates focus on sub-Saharan Africa, where the original Green Revolution regime never took hold.
But anyone concerned with food production should be careful what they wish for. In recent years, a wave of new analysis has spurred a critical rethinking of what Green Revolution-style farming really means for food supplies and self-sufficiency.
As I explain in my book, “The Agricultural Dilemma: How Not to Feed the World,” the Green Revolution does hold lessons for food production today – but not the ones that are commonly heard. Events in India show why.
A triumphal narrative
There was a consensus in the 1960s among development officials and the public that an overpopulated Earth was heading toward catastrophe. Paul Ehrlich’s 1968 bestseller, “The Population Bomb,” famously predicted that nothing could stop “hundreds of millions” from starving in the 1970s.
India was the global poster child for this looming Malthusian disaster: Its population was booming, drought was ravaging its countryside and its imports of American wheat were climbing to levels that alarmed government officials in India and the U.S.
Then, in 1967, India began distributing new wheat varieties bred by Rockefeller Foundation plant biologist Norman Borlaug, along with high doses of chemical fertilizer. After famine failed to materialize, observers credited the new farming strategy with enabling India to feed itself.
Borlaug received the 1970 Nobel Peace Prize and is still widely credited with “saving a billion lives.” Indian agricultural scientist M.S. Swaminathan, who worked with Borlaug to promote the Green Revolution, received the inaugural World Food Prize in 1987. Tributes to Swaminathan, who died on Sept. 28, 2023, at age 98, have reiterated the claim that his efforts brought India “self-sufficiency in food production” and independence from Western powers.
Debunking the legend
The standard legend of India’s Green Revolution centers on two propositions. First, India faced a food crisis, with farms mired in tradition and unable to feed an exploding population; and second, Borlaug’s wheat seeds led to record harvests from 1968 on, replacing import dependence with food self-sufficiency.
Recent research shows that both claims are false.
India was importing wheat in the 1960s because of policy decisions, not overpopulation. After the nation achieved independence in 1947, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru prioritized developing heavy industry. U.S. advisers encouraged this strategy and offered to provide India with surplus grain, which India accepted as cheap food for urban workers.
Meanwhile, the government urged Indian farmers to grow nonfood export crops to earn foreign currency. They switched millions of acres from rice to jute production, and by the mid-1960s India was exporting agricultural products.
Borlaug’s miracle seeds were not inherently more productive than many Indian wheat varieties. Rather, they just responded more effectively to high doses of chemical fertilizer. But while India had abundant manure from its cows, it produced almost no chemical fertilizer. It had to start spending heavily to import and subsidize fertilizer.
India did see a wheat boom after 1967, but there is evidence that this expensive new input-intensive approach was not the main cause. Rather, the Indian government established a new policy of paying higher prices for wheat. Unsurprisingly, Indian farmers planted more wheat and less of other crops.
Once India’s 1965-67 drought ended and the Green Revolution began, wheat production sped up, while production trends in other crops like rice, maize and pulses slowed down. Net food grain production, which was much more crucial than wheat production alone, actually resumed at the same growth rate as before.
But grain production became more erratic, forcing India to resume importing food by the mid-1970s. India also became dramatically more dependent on chemical fertilizer.
According to data from Indian economic and agricultural organizations, on the eve of the Green Revolution in 1965, Indian farmers needed 17 pounds (8 kilograms) of fertilizer to grow an average ton of food. By 1980, it took 96 pounds (44 kilograms). So, India replaced imports of wheat, which were virtually free food aid, with imports of fossil fuel-based fertilizer, paid for with precious international currency.
Today, India remains the world’s second-highest fertilizer importer, spending US$17.3 billion in 2022. Perversely, Green Revolution boosters call this extreme and expensive dependence “self-sufficiency.”
The toll of ‘green’ pollution
Recent research shows that the environmental costs of the Green Revolution are as severe as its economic impacts. One reason is that fertilizer use is astonishingly wasteful. Globally, only 17% of what is applied is taken up by plants and ultimately consumed as food. Most of the rest washes into waterways, where it creates algae blooms and dead zones that smother aquatic life. Producing and using fertilizer also generates copious greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change.
In my view, African countries where the Green Revolution has not made inroads should consider themselves lucky. Ethiopia offers a cautionary case. In recent years, the Ethiopian government has forced farmers to plant increasing amounts of fertilizer-intensive wheat, claiming this will achieve “self-sufficiency” and even allow it to export wheat worth $105 million this year. Some African officials hail this strategy as an example for the continent.
The Green Revolution still has many boosters today, especially among biotech companies that are eager to draw parallels between genetically engineered crops and Borlaug’s seeds. I agree that it offers important lessons about how to move forward with food production, but actual data tells a distinctly different story from the standard narrative. In my view, there are many ways to pursue less input-intensive agriculture that will be more sustainable in a world with an increasingly erratic climate.
Glenn Davis Stone receives funding from the National Science Foundation and the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation.africa india russia ukraine
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