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A level playing field is the buzzword these days. This is being used by all and sundry from the critics of the cricket pitches on which we lost some vital matches to the voting exercise about to take place in Pakistan. So what is this all important element that the whole world is searching for and finds it so elusive.

According to Cambridge dictionary, it is described as “a situation that is fair because everyone has the same chance of succeeding”. Phrases ”A level playing field” and ”Level the playing field” were first used as idioms in the 1970s to describe fair opportunities in business.

Is it also so fair in other vital areas in the world and indeed is the entire world a level playing field or not? A cursory glance over the world and its resources, standards of living of people from different countries and backgrounds, distribution of natural resources and critical factors like education, job opportunities and even life expectancy tell a different story.

Looking at vital resources, such as food, water, and energy, you are confronted with the reality that they are not shared equally around the world. Both the supply and consumption of resources are unequal, leaving some people in areas of surplus and security, and others in deficit and insecurity.

How can you even imagine a level playing field when something as basic for human survival as water has such unequal distribution that boggles the mind. In this case Brazil has the largest renewable water resources worldwide, at an estimated 8,647 billion cubic meters while Russia is estimated to have the second-largest resources in the world, at 4,525 billion cubic meters. In contrast Lebanon has the third highest risk for water scarcity in the world just behind Qatar and Israel. Not a very level playing field, is it?

According to UNICEF’s latest data, more than a quarter of the world’s population did not use safely managed drinking water services in 2022, resultantly 5.8 billion people had access to safely managed drinking water that left another 2.2 billion people without safe and easy access and proving yet again that a level playing field is just an illusion.

In this lot Eritrea, Papua New Guinea and Uganda are the three countries with lowest access to clean water close to home, with Papua New Guinea the second lowest in the world at 37% and Uganda a new addition to the list this year at 38% access.

Not to say that there are not attempts to create a level playing field as far as access to clean drinking water is concerned. The proportion of the world’s population using safely managed water services increased from 69% in 2015 to 73% in 2022, according to UNICEF estimates.

One of the prime examples of this concept of level playing field was the establishment of the United Nations. After the Second World War, it was realised that such conflicts arise from the fact that large and powerful countries tend to dominate and even subjugate smaller countries.

It was decided to create a level playing field where less powerful nations would be protected by the UNO against any intransigencies by the powerful. The UNO was supposed to be the watchdog against any injustices to the weak and was supposed to guard the interest of the weak and save them from unlawful aggression and invasion.

This was supposed to be a better version of the League of Nations which was established after the First World War in 1920 to prevent a repetition of the First World War and to achieve international peace and security. We all know this organization failed miserably.

The successor organization has also not done so well. Today the chief of UNO António Guterres is calling for a ceasefire in Gaza again and again but nobody pays heed to what he says. It is clear to see that the dream of creating a level playing field for all nations big and small under the umbrella of the United Nations has failed.

It was a non-starter from the very beginning. The idea of a level playing field is just an idea and a good idea but not a practical one. The world will remain an uneven playing field and in all facets of life and in peace and war there will be the privileged and unprivileged and losers and winners some dancing on their victories and others crying on their misfortune.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2024

Zia Ul Islam Zuberi

The writer is a well-known columnist


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