The incoming email said it all. "Do you think there could have been the start of any year more eventful than this one?" it read.
In our modern era it would be hard to find, I think. Australian floods, New Zealand earthquakes, Japanese earthquakes and tsunamis. The latter complicated by the damage to the nuclear plants and the revelation that Reactor 3 appears to contain a little more than "household fuel"! If that is true, in non-nuclear proliferation treaty signatory Japan, I think they are going to face some serious questions not only from the global community but also from their own people. No wonder they were so coy with their initial information. But just as an aside, does this particular disaster reinforce, and maybe for many years the arguments used by opponents of nuclear fuels that they carry risks that are not yet fully containable? Personal view - it may slow the process and will force users to re-examine the safety of their installations, which will not be a bad thing, but eventually the world will adapt to nuclear programmes. In the meantime we remain in the hands of fossil fuels - for which there has to be a finite end, and no current alternatives.
But natural disasters have only been a part of the incidents that have disturbed our first quarter. We had/still have the Middle Eastern turmoil on which I have already commented and may do again reasonably soon. There have been some recent developments - Libya in particular about which more in a minute. Saudi Arabian and UAE troops moving into Bahrain to restore order; an interesting development in that it indicates solidarity within the GCC, but indicates a more confrontational stance vis a vis Iran, with which country the UAE in particular does a great deal of business. (And why has Iran been so quiet -not all well at home Mr Ahmadinadinnerjacket?) A greater focus on Saudi Arabia where the main troubles seem to have been confined to the ultra religious and Shiite Eastern Province but also where it seems clear that while the reform-minded King Abdullah is generally popular, many of the extended Royal family are not. Syria now, as you will have read, beginning to rise - rather as expected, and demonstrating in the process that you don't actually need the Internet, Facebook or Twitter to organise a rebellious uprising. But it is not just the Middle East that is having problems – look at the Ivory Coast.
And back to Libya briefly, where Western politics and NATO in particular seemed at one point in time to have "failed" the revolutionaries by their dithering. While most people in the democratic West would, rightly, have trouble agreeing to intervene in the affairs of a country that was being led by a democratically elected leader, this cannot apply in the case of Libya.
While the rebels originally said they would like to achieve reforms themselves without any outside assistance, it rapidly became clear that this was not going to be an easy task against a trained army and an apparently trained air force. A "no fly" zone was proposed, which was a measure even supported by the Arab League as a means of preventing air attacks by Libyans on Libyans, but it just took too long to agree on its implementation showing up the defenders of world peace as being incompetent, indecisive or just incontinent.
At least we have the sight of senior Libyan Government officials beginning to defect and that is a welcome sign, while negatively at the other end of the spectrum we have coalition forces now mistakenly blowing up some of the rebel forces. I hope they work out who is who sooner, rather than later!
By the way, I have seen suggestions somewhere that all these political problems in the Middle East started as a result of the revelations in Wikileaks. I would think not, and wouldn't wish to give them credit anyway – but I am sure someone soon will start trying to pin the blame on “Leaks” for the natural disasters! I have also read, and indeed been on the receiving end of emails that blame the media for exaggerating the magnitude of the natural disasters. I mean, the media doesn’t always cover itself in glory, but it’s hard to exaggerate human suffering when you have the pictures. Just be thankful you are not in the middle of any of it.
Meanwhile back in Hong Kong we are still fussing about underground trains being 5 minutes late very occasionally, and castigating our beleaguered Financial Secretary for handing out small sums of money to the population. You know, we really need to think a little bigger than we do and realise that we have some advantages that are quite unique. But I will write about that in another blog.
Report on the First Quarter of 2011? – Natural disasters have dominated, heralding perhaps a further shift in our climates within its 500 year cycles, political tensions principally in the Middle East and the economy limping along in rehab in the West, faring better in the East, but keep an eye on China.