Year 2021; its milestones, challenges and setbacks

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Every year leavesits marks on the history;a fewlandmarks are very unique,whilesome challenges stay with us for longer period of time.From this perspective, year 2021 was no different than its forerunners.The year brought a lot of changes in our everyday lives and in many respects some of these changes will stay with us for good. The year dominated with the ongoing pandemic and its continuedhammering on the economic recovery on national as well as on global levels. Some nations did better than the others.
Even though the COVID-19 originated from Wuhan China, but China did an excellent job for itscontainment in a very short time through absolute lockdowns of its cities.To cope with an unprecedented number of the Covid patients, China build many full-servicehospitals and medical centers from ground upin miraculously very short times and mobilizedits healthcare staff (doctors, nurses, and technicians) nationwide to work at the staff shortage sites.China became the personal protection and lifesaving factory for the global supply of the PPEs, disinfectants, and ventilators by running its factories round the clock. In many cases, China donated these lifesaving supplies to the poor countries who couldn’t afford against the rich countries biddings.China also took the lead by developing and approving the very first vaccine (CanSino) of any kind on June 24, 2020. It was also first time in the medical history that a vaccine was approved in about eleven monthsversus the normal time of several years testing. Since then, many vaccines have been approved by the WHO for their emergency uses.
As the world was feeling some relief from the COVID, its new variants have started showing up which are highly infectious more contagious compared to the original one,like the Delta virus spread earlier this year and just recently Omicron’s assault.According to the WHO and other sources, as of December 29, 2021, over 9 billion doses of COVID 19 vaccines have been administered worldwide and over 5.5 billion people have died from this outbreak!
Theyearmade great strides on many fronts, particularly in adoption of digitizationand virtual interaction at accelerated rates. The adoption and penetration of the digital technology through the smartphones was very visible in telemedicine, banking, touchless payment system, bookings, virtual meetings,education, and food &medicine deliveries. The technology exploded the ecommerceand made it the preferred choice for shopping.
These landmark changes in businesses and commerce completely changed the entire landscape and made the entire operations seamlessly nimble, flexible, and adaptable on a very short notice. Because of the higher demands by the consumers due to the ecommerce adaptation, the supply chain experienced its bottlenecks and constraints to keeping up the pipelines full and making deliveries on time. Particularly,with the ongoing trade war between the USA and China added further challenges in the extended supply chain originating from China and far-flung areas of the globe. This createdunbalanced global trade resulting intotraffic jams of the ocean linersat the ports.At the same time, OPEC+ cartel did not increase their productionand that created energy and fuel costs escalations. As a result, the ocean freightsskyrocketed by many folds. At the end of the supply chain, all these costswere passed on to the consumers and that was the beginning of the global inflation!This added more misery to the population of the low-income countries who were already struggling in making needs of their daily lives. Central banks tried to intervene by adjusting the money supply and the interest rates but so far they have not been successful.
Tokyo Summer Olympics 2020 were postponed and took place a year later(July 23-Aug 8, 2021) without any live spectators. This Olympics has added new evets like skate boarding, surfing and Karata to its roster making a total of 33 sports the highest ever in its history.
Also, the famous 2020 Dubai Expo was postponed and finally opened in October of this year (October 1, 2021-March 31, 2022) with lots of pomp and glory along with amazing fireworks.
Another major landmark achieved during this year was about convening COP-26 conference under the UN leadership that brought together more than 198 countries in Glasgow, Scotland in October (13-31, 2021), about a year later than its original date. The conference outlined many resolutions, particularly related to the fossil fuels end replacing them with the renewables for reducing the carbon footprint in order to reach NetZero target by year 2050. Even though the resolutions are not binding butare very promisingas long as every nation and every individual will do his/her own part in reducing its own carbon footprint. To compliment the COP-26, under the leadership of the Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS), Saudi Arabia played its pivotal roleby organizing it’s conferenceson climate change, termed as SaudiGreen Initiative (SGI),and the Middle EastGreen Initiative (MGI).Both these conferences were very well attended by many regional heads of states, global corporate leaders, investment bankers, environmentalists, heads of the multilateral donors and the activists. Both the conferences were of great success and many landmark announcements were made by the major players ofthe fossil fuel producers, global leaders, and the delegates.
In the US, 2021 was very unique in its entire historyand a challengefor its democratic values and beacon of globalleadership. First time in its history, the presidential elections outcome was not only challenged by the sitting president (Donald Trump) in the Whitehouse but his followers on January 6, 2021,attackedthe US capital building in Washington DC. Since then, many arrests have been made related to the insurgency and the investigation is still going onby the congress.
In 2021, Pakistan had its own share of excitements, challenges, and disappointments. Under the current government, many landmark decisions were made for improving the ailing economy, creating favorableFDI environment,reforms for improving exports,creating jobs, reducing pollution throughtree plantations, reviving negotiations with the IMF, securing vaccine doses for its population, maintaining momentum for the CPEC projects, recognizingPakistani diasporafor their contribution to its foreign exchange reserves, strengthening its vigilant on its borders,expressing its resolve for finding permanent &peaceful solutions about Kashmir, Afghanistan and other humanitarian issues. Strengtheningof its relations with thetime-testedbrotherly economic partners, particularly Saudi Arabia, UAE and China werefurther prioritized.
On the domestic front, PM Imran Khan and his PTI government had made many great strides by offering bank financed affordable housing, low interest farmersloans, internships for the youths, free provisions for thepoor,health cards for universal health coverage, just to name a few. For the diaspora, not only recognizing their contribution to Pakistan’s economy but alsoto granting them to vote inthe national elections, haveproperty investment rights, allowing to buy cars for their families, funding education for their children, etc.
On the economic front, 2021 had been a very challenging year, to say the least! Negotiations with the IMF put Pakistan between a rock and a hard place by putting demands that were instinctively very unfavorable and in direct contradictions to the government domestic policies, like raising taxes andincreasing energy prices. Combination of many economic factors brought Pakistanat the brink of its yet another balance of payment crisis. But like in the past, timely help from Saudi Arabia, China, and the UAE, in addition to the IMFfirst tranche release of ~$1 billion dodged the crisis, at least for now. FATF’s full compliance by Pakistan still remains a sour point for additional fund release by the IMF.
On the international front, India’scontinued heavypresence of its security forcesand deterioration of the living conditions has created humanitarian crisis in the occupied Kashmir. Pakistan has been raisingthe UN resolution violations and emergence of the humanitarian conditions on all the international platforms but without any success.
Abrupt evacuation of the US forces from Afghanistan on August 30created new challenges for Pakistan and a nightmare for possible tsunami influx of the additional refugees into its territory. Even though the conditions in Afghanistan are still very fluid, but it is too early to say if the current Taliban government will be different and keep its promises for not to retaliate against anyone and honoring human rights for its entire population.Due to the US freeze on Afghan foreign banks accounts, Pakistan and other international agencies are very much concerned about fast worsening of the humanitarianconditions in the country due to lack of food, medicine and appropriate shelters as the harsh winter is settling in the war-ravaged country. Multilateral agencies are pushing the USA to release some of the frozen funds on humanitarian grounds to supply food, medicine, etc.directly to the people through the NGOs and other non-Taliban related organizations. Hopefully, this will help to avoid extreme starvation, and bitter cold winter to Afghans, particularly women, children, and the elderly population.
These events clearly show that how challenging 2021 has been and we all should take lessons to avoid a similar tragedy in the future. Let’s welcome 2022 with open arms as the year of hope, peace, new medical discoveries for pandemic elimination, and collective prosperity. Last but not the lease, we all need to play our individual part in decelerating the global warming through reduction of our own carbon footprintsto get closer to theNetZero 2050 goals in order to save our planet earth for the future generations.

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