From Triple Crisis by Martin Khor:
While political events will no doubt dominate the news in 2014, social issues such as health and environment and coping with the rising cost of living will be just as important in the new year.
Good health is the basis of everything else that is positive in life. Thus, a preview of key social issues in 2014 should begin with health.
In Malaysia, a major concern is the dramatic rise in dengue, with 39,222 cases in 2013, a 90% jump from a year before.
There is a re-emergence of the deadly human variety of avian flu, with 47 deaths from 147 cases in China coming from the new H7N9 strain in April-December last year.
A few years ago there was the expectation that a flu epidemic could sweep through the world, affecting millions of people. The flu pandemic in 2009 killed thousands of people, including in Mexico and Indonesia, but it was fortunately contained.
Experts believe it is a matter of time before there is another and possibly more deadly outbreak of flu or other epidemics.
Action is also urgently needed to curb antibiotic resistance, which is a medical time-bomb of our times.
The WHO director general Margaret Chan warned that we are approaching the end of modern medicine and a post-antibiotics era as many disease-causing pathogens are becoming immune to many antibiotics.
This has resulted in a resurgence of deadly diseases like TB. Some strains of malaria are also becoming resistant to the usual medicines used to treat it.
Late last year the United States announced action to phase out the use of antibiotics in animal feed, following similar action in some European countries. Using these drugs in livestock is cause of the rapid rise in antibiotic resistance.
Thia year should see more actions to slow down resistance, especially in developing countries. The WHO assembly in May is expected to highlight this issue.
On the environmental front, water issues deserve our top priority. The oceans are warming, due to climate change, and this results in the increased rainfall and floods, especially in Asia.
On the other hand there is an increasing shortage of water as sources of water retention are damaged for example by deforestation, hill cutting and urbanisation.
Meanwhile, the demand for water rises as agriculture and industry compete with households for its use.
Last year saw parts of Malaysia, especially the Klang Valley, suffering from acute water shortages. A long-term strategy with short-term action plans is needed to conserve, retain and manage water and its use.
Climate change-induced storms and other extreme weather events can be expected as well this year.
In the Asian region, the Philippines, India, Bangladesh, China, Indonesia and Japan have taken the brunt of the effects in recent years, Malaysia could also be affected in future.