Hello 2022, you're looking fresh and fantastic. And I like how you arrived, waking me in Kyiv's twinkly pre-dawn with fireworks and live music. Mind if I ask a few favours? Don't worry, I'll start small.
Please deliver us from Covid confusion. I mean, what gives? First there's no need for masks, then we must mask up. Close all businesses, now re-open – oh sorry, shut down again. The same with children and schools. The vaccines are here to save the day. Except many folks prefer horse de-wormer, and anyway here comes an explosion in breakthrough cases.
New case numbers are the best metric to gauge the pandemic. Actually, it's deaths. No, hospitalisations. Most recently, Omicron is either the harbinger of the apocalypse or Noah's dove, heralding a new dawn. So, could you please help somebody stand up and explain what in the world is going on? Thank you.
Also, it would be fantastic if this is the year we in the media are able to find our groove again. No story in my lifetime has been as complex, multi-layered and ever-changing as Covid-19. It's health and public safety, it's politics, society and culture, travel and business and the global and local economies. Every week it develops a new appendage, and every week some top news outlet seems to miss the boat. They say one can never step into the same river twice because it's always moving and evolving – that's been the case with reporters and Covid-19.
Assuming we cannot stop it, grant us the will to better mitigate climate change. In particular, I'd like a sharp reduction in the negative impact of the years-long drought in the formerly Fertile Crescent, which has ravaged a sizeable chunk of the Middle East. In northern Syria, the drought and political inaction have crushed farming and impoverished millions, driving many to join ISIS just to put food on the table.
Similarly in Turkey, the number of farmers has fallen by one third and farmer debt has leapt nearly 100-fold since 2003. In Iraq, countless farmers have given up as lakes and rivers have dried up. "The land that we had, it was our gold. Now look at us: no salaries, nothing," a farmer in Diyala province told the LA Times.
Please stop Russia and Ukraine from going to war with each other. More death, danger and destruction seem unlikely to resolve the differences between Moscow and Kyiv, or our global problems more broadly.
Continuing on foreign policy, it would be great if Turkey's rapprochement with a slew of former regional rivals continues. With any luck, by the end of the year we'll see a regional drilling operation in the eastern Mediterranean that involves Turkey, Egypt, Israel, Greece, Cyprus and France.
Staying in the neighbourhood, please help Lebanon, a country that has blessed me with countless delights and some of my best work, halt its tumble into the abyss. If you're Lebanese these days, there's a decent chance you've recently left for somewhere more stable, such as nearby Cyprus, or bought a gun to protect your family as chaos grips the neighbourhood. The parallels with pre-civil-war early-1970s Lebanon are significant and troubling, yet the economic freefall continues amid rampant corruption and inflation.
Which reminds me, could you maybe take a minute to curb the inflation that's been bedevilling the globe? The US is struggling with its highest inflation in nearly 40 years. Britons are said to be facing a "cost-of-living catastrophe". Sky-high inflation is driving renewed protests in Tunisia. Even countries seeing economic growth are feeling the bite: India's wholesale inflation hit a record high in November; while bakers in Turkey – the world's highest per capita consumer of bread – can barely afford to make their daily loaves. Thankfully, we've already started to see some signs of recovery, so you're off to a decent start, 2022.
Meanwhile, please allow for broader and faster delivery of vaccines to the world's poor. It's been more than a year since wealthy countries started vaccinations and eight months since countries such as the US had huge stockpiles. Yet, while more than three out of four citizens of high-income countries have been vaccinated, less than 9 per cent of people in the poorest countries have received their first jab. The world has produced 12 billion doses, but almost half the global population (3.4 billion people) remains unvaccinated. This needs to be remedied.
Speaking of which, let's make this the year we're able to achieve something resembling an end to the pandemic. That might mean it becomes an endemic, permanent feature of our health landscape, like influenza, or that it's somehow snuffed out entirely by a brilliant new vaccine. Whatever the case, it's time to start devising ways to move forward. Humans are social creatures and we need to be able to move about our cities, towns, countries and continents with relative freedom or our sense of civilisation begins to crumble.
In fact, it's probably already begun. Please, 2022, remind us how to discuss, debate and even argue, rather than assume, insult and dismiss. Pick a country, just about any country – maybe outside the relative stability of the Gulf. India, Turkey, the US and the UK. France, Poland, Australia, Indonesia, the list goes on and on.
All face rampant political polarisation, a yawning gap between supposedly conservative voices on one side and purportedly progressive views on the other. They no longer hear each other because they're no longer listening. And they're no longer listening because each side now sees the other as capable of little more than distortion and hyperbole. Efforts to bridge the divide tend to come off as cloying or patronising. A good case in point is the recent Kurdish art show in Turkey, which generated too much heat and was shut down early by the government, just as debates began to rage.
So let us engage in argument. Arguing with, rather than dismissing, one's foe is a sign of respect, a sign that you take their opinion seriously enough to sincerely consider. Tolerating those with whom we disagree is OK, but it falls short of the mark. It's through committed, mature and even passionate debate that we'll most likely be able to wade through very real and significant differences and find a path toward understanding, even connection. That's how we'll begin to address some of the hurdles I've detailed above.
Show us the way, 2022.