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World News and Trends: Overview of the planet's problems

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Overview of the planet's problems

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Senseless, random violence made headlines around the country, most recently the September murder of seven people inside a Fort Worth, Texas, church.

Major stories also included the two high-school seniors who killed or wounded 35 students and faculty at Columbine High School in Colorado in April, the deranged young man who shot 11 people on an Independence Day-weekend killing spree in Indiana and Illinois and the madman who gunned down three youngsters, two day-care-center employees and a postal employee in California in August.

The aftermath showed the now-familiar stunned reactions and the shocked embraces of weeping teenagers as they, along with other survivors and relatives, struggled to deal with yet another incomprehensible shooting outrage.

According to a recent report in USA Today, "556 people in 44 cities died in gun-related incidents from April 20 when 12 students and teacher were shot to death in Littleton, Colorado, through September 1."

Another such survey showed that "last year about 2.6 million Americans [students] in grade six through 12 carried a gun outside school for protection or as a weapon, excluding hunting [game]."

Most of the mass killings are carried out by unsuccessful loners generally thought of as "losers" by the rest of society—frustrated outsiders who assume they have little to lose by expressing their murderous rage against various groups. Judaism and Christianity have been recent targets.

The United Church of God has published two free booklets, Making Life Work and The Ten Commandments, that show how we can structure our families in such a way that the conditions that produce these tragedies can be surmounted and avoided. Please request your free copies. (Sources: USA Today, The Independent on Sunday [London], The Evening Standard [London].)


The stereotypical image of Colombia is of a nation that supplies much of the world's illegal drugs. Yet civil war is probably this South American nation's main problem. For most of the last three decades a series of unsuccessful governments has fought a losing battle against left-wing guerrillas. Revolutionary forces control 40 percent of Colombia's territory.

This nation has known little peace this entire century. Tens of thousands have lost their lives and thousands more have been forced off their land. By some estimates civil war has displaced more than a million Colombians. (Source: The Independent on Sunday [London].)


Some people seem to think that the HIV epidemic is all but over. Not true. AIDS remains Africa's deadliest killer.

Michael Adler is professor of genitourinary medicine at Royal Free College Medical School in Britain. He writes: "AIDS now results in more deaths than any other infectious disease in the world, having overtaken tuberculosis and malaria. It is the biggest cause of death in Africa (and probably the rest of the developing world). Currently 34 million people are living with AIDS . . . Sixteen thousand new infections with HIV occur each day."

Zambia and Zimbabwe are becoming nations of orphans. In Zambia one in five adults is infected with HIV. In Zimbabwe the government says that soon nearly a million children under 15 will have no mother. The nations of Sub-Saharan Africa account for 20.8 million cases of HIV (compare this with 500,000 in Western Europe). The nine countries with 10 percent or more of their adult populations infected with HIV are all African nations.

AIDS is projected to kill 30 million Africans in the next 20 years. As The Independent's science editor observed: "The explosive threat of AIDS in Africa threatens to undermine the health and social improvements of the past 20 years, causing widespread economic collapse across the entire region." (Sources: The Financial Times, The Times, The Independent, The Daily Telegraph, The Economist [all London].)

East Timor

Asia's 27th independent state has emerged in turmoil. Just when the Kosovo conflict seemed to settle down, East Timor exploded as a result of its tragic bid for independence from Indonesia after 24 years of occupation. This Asian area is yet another abode for a United Nations peacekeeping force.

For almost four decades Indonesia itself has been a dormant volcano under the rule of Gen. Suharto. In the aftermath of his demise the region is threatened with a fate somewhat like Yugoslavia's after Marshall Tito's death.

As Time magazine put it: "Thugs supported by the Indonesian military lay waste to East Timor-killing hundreds, rocking the government in Jakarta and ruining the country's reputation in the eyes of the world." Nuns and priests have been massacred. Some 150,000 Timorese are living like refugees. Meanwhile Western nations including Britain wonder about the wisdom of their generous arms supply to this area of the world. This is the ugly side of Britain's $4.2 billion-a-year weapons trade. (Sources: The Sunday Times, The Daily Mail, The Times, The Metro [all London], Time.)


Many are the woes of Russia. Militarily the country is in the midst of an escalating war in Chechnya and conflict with Islamic forces in Dagestan (in the North Caucasus) that may be directly related to a spate of terrorist strikes in Moscow. Also, the latest of many charges of corruption—accusations of Russian money laundering through a New York bank—prompted Newsweek to state: "Virtually no one from the nation's business elite to President Boris Yeltsin to his major political opponents in next year's presidential elections seems untainted any longer by corruption."

Environmentalists are worried because of possible radioactive contamination from underground storage tanks around the Russian state. On the political scene there is growing domestic turmoil in Moscow as the capital city is witness to many ambitious power plays and increasing calls for the resignation of President Yeltsin. (Sources: Newsweek, The Times [London].)


"Millions of Animals Now Worthless." "Prices Paid to Farmers Plummet to All-Time Lows." "No Cash for Sheep Farmers."

Such headlines are not from the tabloid press; they represent stark reality. These newspaper accounts reflect the critical state of British agriculture. Farmers are losing money on almost everything they breed or grow. Only wheat is an exception to the trend.

Income on the farm has plunged 75 percent in the last three years. Soon hundreds of rural communities could become virtual ghost towns and farms transformed into other uses. A recent $255 million government aid program has failed to pacify angry farmers.

Overproduction and the cessation of substantial European Union subsidies are the main factors. Inevitably farms will be lost to families. The possible long-term significance of these developments should not be lost on us. In a future national crisis, a country may need all of her agricultural lands, particularly if the nation is subjugated and threatened with starvation. (Sources: The Independent on Sunday, The Independent, The Daily Mail, The Times [all London].)

In summary

Earlier this year Newsweek observed: "Suddenly the world looks like a troubled, dangerous place again." Apparently the American public agreed. In a Newsweek poll, 39 percent of respondents believe our planet is a more perilous place than it was during the Cold War. Only 18 percent thought it safer.

Although the troubles in the Balkans have settled somewhat, less-publicized areas continue in crisis. Consider, for example, Ethiopia and Eritrea. Though far away from the current attention of most of the world's news media, these two African countries are fighting the world's biggest war. (Up to 43 wars of varying degrees of intensity are being waged as we go to press.)

Many thousands have been killed, wounded or taken captive on both sides. China, Bulgaria, Russia and Romania are supplying fighter aircraft to these two opposing countries. Both have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on modern weaponry. Already poor countries, they are foolishly misspending their national substance at the expense of their citizenry. Surely national health and economics should be a more important priority. But, as Foreign Affairs stated, "a rising trend is the propensity of African states to invade each other."

Natural disasters in major population centers have recently made the news. Devastating earthquakes with much loss of life have recently occurred in Turkey, Greece and Taiwan. As a general sign of the times, Jesus Christ warned us that there would be "earthquakes in various places" (Matthew 24:7).

Space prevents us from a truly comprehensive panoramic picture of the world in any one article. But these events and trends suggest we still live in a dangerous and troubled age. (Sources: Newsweek, Foreign Affairs, The Washington Times.)

One passage in the book of Revelation is particularly relevant in explaining the present state of affairs. ". . . The great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world . . ." (Revelation 12:9). We live in an age that has been seriously misled by Satan. In the ultimate sense he is primarily responsible for the tragic events in our troubled world.

Jesus Christ warned us that "[we] will have tribulation" (John 16:33). Though He originally spoke these words to His first disciples, they apply to our age as well. Christ called His own generation "adulterous and sinful" (Mark 8:38), an expression that fits our own age all too well.

The testimony of the New Testament is consistent. The apostle Paul described the world this side of the Kingdom of God as "this present evil age" (Galatians 1:4). Another apostle, John, wrote that "the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one" (1 John 5:19), reminding us of the one whom God holds ultimately responsible for the wayward human condition.

Today we anticipate events that will finally produce the final crisis, followed by the joyous beginnings of Jesus Christ's millennial reign on this earth (Revelation 20:1-6). In the meantime, one great responsibility we have is to warn our peoples of a coming great time of trouble unprecedented in all of world history (Matthew 24:14, 21-22; 28:18-20; Jeremiah 30:7; Daniel 12:1). GN