Counting the Cost

Trillion-dollar lunar bounty: The scramble to return to the moon

We explore India’s plans to probe the moon, discuss the rise in world hunger, and look at the Muslim fashion industry.

Fifty years ago this week, Neil Armstrong became the first man to step onto the moon. Since then, only a dozen men have walked on the moon – the last in 1972.

Now, there is renewed interest.

China plans to build a lunar base by 2030 and NASA hopes to have men and women on the moon by 2024.

Over the next five years, the space agency is expected to spend $30bn on this. It is funding several projects from lunar landers to a mini-space station that will allow spacecraft to dock around the moon.

Billionaires Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos are also spending billions to get to the moon and Mars.

But there is a new emerging power. India is trying to become the fourth nation to land a probe on the moon.

The Chandrayaan-2 mission hopes to land a lunar rover close to the South Pole – a previously unexplored area – some time in September.

There, India hopes to find signs of water and helium-3. There is thought to be one million metric tonnes of helium-3 on the moon – each tonne estimated to be worth about $5bn.

Realistically, only about 250,000 tonnes of it could potentially be mined; but that would be enough to power the earth for at least two centuries.

The Indian Space Research Organisation’s mission is expected to cost just $125m. India has built a reputation for its low-cost space exploration. Its budget of $1.7bn a year is just a tenth of NASA’s $19bn.

“From a scientific point of view there’s a tremendous interest in exploring parts of the moon than Apollo didn’t go to,” says Professor Ian Crawford, from Birkbeck University of London.

He believes finding other minerals and resources to mine would also make it easier to set up research posts on the moon, which could then aid in further space exploration.

“In terms of the future exploration of space, if we can find things in space which we can use without having to lift out of earth’s gravity, then this will make space exploration much more affordable in the long term.”

Why is world hunger back on the rise?

The number of people going hungry has risen for the third year running after a period of improvement, the United Nations (UN) says.

The world body blames conflict, climate change, and an economic slowdown for the new uptick.

More than 820 million people, or 11 percent of the global population, suffer from hunger.

Africa has the highest numbers, with one in five people going hungry. In East Africa, the figure rises to nearly one in three people.

According to five UN agencies, more than two billion people worldwide cannot get safe, sufficient or nutritious food.

“The news is not good,” says Cindy Holleman, a senior economist with the Ford and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and coauthor of the report, The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2019.

“Hunger is increasing in countries that are experiencing economic slowdowns or downturns. And what’s important, we’re finding, is that it’s not in low-income countries, but middle-income countries,” she says.

“Many of the middle-income countries that are experiencing a rise in hunger are heavily dependent on primary commodities for trade. And what is happening is that over the last few years, primary commodities – like oil, minerals, fuels – prices have been declining. And this has affected the overall revenue that’s open for countries.”

Big brands and the Muslim fashion industry

Burberry, Dolce & Gabbana and DKNY have all attempted to crack one of the fastest-growing markets – Islamic fashion.

What started as brands targeting wealthy Muslims with one-off fashion lines for religious occasions, has grown to a global trend for women who prefer to dress conservatively.

According to the Pew Research Center, Muslims are the world’s fastest-growing major religious group. By 2050, it estimates there will be 2.7 billion Muslims worldwide, making up 29.7 percent of the global population.

And when it comes to the Islamic or modest fashion sector, spending is forecast to grow five percent annually to $361bn by 2023.

Turkey is the biggest spender on modest fashion: $28bn a year. This is followed by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Indonesia. But it is not a one-size-fits-all-trend; what is popular in Indonesia may not have the same appeal in the Middle East.

“This is not a new thing, it’s not a passing fancy. It’s been around since the beginning of time and it will be until the end of time,” says Alia Khan, chairwoman of the Islamic Fashion Design Council, talking about the rise of the Islamic fashion industry. “It’s actually surprising that we didn’t see a platform like this years ago.”

She credits social media, and the presence of “Muslim fashionistas” and “modest social influencers”, as having a lot to do with global fashion brands beginning to take notice.

“There is some due diligence required” in brands understanding this audience, Khan says. “It’s a completely different mindset, it’s a different audience, it’s a different consumer behaviour. And if the brand can understand that, they will succeed.”