Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Recent Editorials

Here are some recent editorials I wrote for The Gulf Today. (Posted for my records):
World cannot afford
to lose war on hunger
Some 821 million people, or one of every nine people on the planet, suffered from hunger last year, marking the third consecutive annual increase, according to the UN's latest hunger report.
If this statistics does not rattle the collective conscience of humanity and persuade the world to initiate remedial measures, what else will?
As global hunger mounts obstinately, a commitment to zero tolerance for food waste from both consumers and food industry is the need of the hour.
An estimated 155 million children under five years old are chronically malnourished, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation.
What most people tend to forget is that small actions could make a big difference when it comes to tackling global hunger.
It is estimated that globally some 1.3 billion tonnes of food is lost or wasted each year. A reduction in that shocking figure presents what the UN Habitat agency calls “an enormous opportunity for tackling food insecurity.”
The UAE, on its part, deserves praise for being a key point in providing food supplies to the entire region.
As Minister of State for Food Security Mariam Hareb Almheiri points out, the UAE has taken major steps to guarantee its future food security as a national priority, through adopting a series of relevant policies.
The UAE has established a national committee responsible for achieving sustainable development goals and developing agriculture policies to encourage the production of high quality food products through utilising the latest agricultural technologies, as well as for developing national standards for food markets and products.
Khalifa Ahmed Al Ali, Managing Director of the Food Security Centre, is right when he says that the paradigm shift achieved in food security by the UAE is not limited to local level. Its impact has reached abroad as the UAE has supported and implemented many agricultural, livestock and fishery development projects globally.
The country's livestock exceeded 4.5 million, which in itself provides an important aspect of food security related to meat, dairy products and others.
The world population is expected to reach 9 billion in 2050. Farmers need to find new productive ways to farm food and diversify their crops.
Everyone has a role to play in achieving ZeroHunger. People, organisations and governments should do their bit. 
The good news is it is possible and merely calls for responsible action from all sides. Wasting less, eating better and adopting a sustainable lifestyle are key to building a world free of hunger.
Declining wildlife
a mounting concern
Every human being has a responsibility to protect the planet that we live in, as much as we do for our individual homes. Unfortunately, reckless human activity — how we feed, fuel, and finance our lives — is taking a heavy toll on wildlife and the natural resources we need to survive.
In what would rattle collective human conscience, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has stated that from 1970 to 2014, 60 per cent of all animals with a backbone — fish, birds, amphibians, reptiles and mammals — were wiped out by human activity.
For freshwater fauna, the decline in population over the 44 years monitored was a staggering 80 per cent. Latin America was hit hardest, seeing a nearly 90 per cent loss of wildlife over the same period, as per the WWF's "Living Planet" report.
It does not give cozy comfort to note that the earth has lost almost half of its shallow water corals in the past 30 years and that a fifth of the Amazon has actually disappeared in 50 years.
The situation is really bad, and it keeps getting worse, as WWF International Director General Marco Lambertini points out. The consolation, though, is the reasons for the crisis are known and corrective measures are possible. What it calls for is collective will.
As far as the UAE is concerned, the country is fortunate that its Founding Father, late Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, himself was an ardent nature lover and conservationist who laid a strong foundation for environmental protection.
Though the UAE is situated in one of the most arid regions, it boasts alluring mangroves, wadis, salt marshes and lagoons.
The UAE’s idea of conservation was exemplified by an incident last year when an entire project venue was shifted to rescue a bird. His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, UAE Vice President and Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, and Sheikh Mohamed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, were travelling to a forest area when they spotted a houbara bustard bird laying eggs near a project site. They immediately ordered to shift the project to another part of the area to protect the bird and its eggs.
There is a dire global need to reduce carbon emissions, prevent habitat loss and fight climate change. Destroying nature at this pace would have dangerous consequences on human beings. It’s better to wake up before it’s too late.
N-treaty spat makes
world less safer
At a time when the world looks increasingly divided on multiple issues, US President Donald Trump’s decision to exit a Cold-War era treaty that helped eliminate a class of nuclear weapons marks a huge setback for arms control and makes the world less safer.
The Intermediate-Range nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), negotiated by then US President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1987, had a noble goal of eliminating land-based short-range and intermediate-range nuclear and conventional missiles by both countries.
US authorities believe Moscow is developing and has deployed a ground-launched system in breach of the INF treaty that could allow it to launch a nuclear strike on Europe at short notice.
While such an apprehension is legitimate, Washington would do better to make Russia see sense by talking and making it adhere to the treaty rather than withdraw from it.
Nuclear weapons are the most dangerous enemies of humanity. Nuke weapons have the potential to destroy an entire city killing millions, cause inconceivable damage to environment and ruin the lives of future generations with long-term catastrophic effects.
As per the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), at the  start  of  2018  nine  states —United  States,  Russia, United  Kingdom,  France, China, India, Pakistan, Israel and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea — possessed  approximately 14,465 nuclear  weapons.
Russia and the US together still account for nearly  92  per  cent of all  nuclear  weapons. Despite making limited reductions to their nuclear forces, Russia and the US have long-term programmes under way to replace and modernise their nuclear warheads, missile and  aircraft  delivery  systems,  and  nuclear  weapon production  facilities.
The awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) last year was seen as a timely acknowledgement of the world’s genuine concerns over nuclear weapons.
ICAN, a coalition of non-governmental organisations in 100 countries, vigorously campaigned for a UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which was adopted by 122 nations in July last year.
ICAN's Executive Director Beatrice Fihn sent a loud message: "Nuclear weapons are illegal. Threatening to use nuclear weapons is illegal. Having nuclear weapons, developing nuclear weapons, is illegal, and they need to stop."
There is simply no alternative to dialogue on nuclear arms control. Risk-reduction measures, including transparency in nuclear-weapon programmes and further reduction in all types of nuclear weapons is the best way forward. For that, leaders need to keep the dialogue process alive.
Air pollution, the
invisible killer
As many as 93 per cent of children under the age of 15 — a full 1.8 billion youngsters, including 630 million under the age of five — breathe dangerously polluted air, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), and this is hugely worrisome news.
It’s as good as saying that almost all children on the planet are affected by foul air.
With exposure to toxic air killing some 600,000 children under the age of 15 each year, silence cannot be an answer to the challenge posed by the silent killer. 
Polluted air is poisoning millions of children and ruining their lives, as WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, points out. This is absolutely inexcusable. Every child should be able to breathe clean air so they can grow and fulfil their full potential.
The situation should be considered serious especially because when pregnant women are exposed to polluted air, they are more likely to give birth prematurely, and have small, low birth-weight children.
Air pollution also impacts neurodevelopment and cognitive ability and can trigger asthma, and childhood cancer. Children who have been exposed to high levels of air pollution may be at greater risk for chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease later in life.
Children are particularly vulnerable because they breathe more rapidly than adults and so absorb more pollutants.
It should, nevertheless, be acknowledged that some countries are taking a serious note of the issue and initiating corrective measures.
Norway’s capital Oslo, for example, is paving a fossil-free, electrified path in its push towards improving air quality. The city has implemented methods of recycling waste into heat and electricity and offers cyclists precedence over private cars.
China is moving in the right direction by ordering 1.18 million residential households in 11 cities located in three central provinces to switch to natural gas heating this winter as part of the anti-air pollution campaign.
World leaders should commit to act against this serious health threat. As experts point out, all countries should work towards meeting WHO global air quality guidelines to enhance the health and safety of children.
Governments should adopt measures such as reducing the over-dependence on fossil fuels in the global energy mix, investing in improvements in energy efficiency and facilitating the uptake of renewable energy sources.
Exclusive use of clean technologies and fuels for household cooking, heating and lighting activities can certainly improve the air quality within homes and in the surrounding community.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Recent Editorials

Here are some recent editorials I wrote for The Gulf Today. (Posted for my records):
Need to talk about
mental health care
The World Mental Health Day 2018 passed off quietly on Wednesday with not much people talking about how important it is to share, care and seek support in these days of increasing stress caused by technology, environment and other social issues.
A startling warning has been issued by the "Lancet Commission" report that mental health disorders are on the rise in every country in the world and could cost the global economy up to $16 trillion between 2010 and 2030 if a collective failure to respond is not addressed.
The report by 28 global specialists in psychiatry, public health and neuroscience, as well as mental health patients and advocacy groups, has distinctly highlighted that the growing crisis could cause lasting harm to people, communities and economies worldwide.
The world community cannot afford to take this lightly considering the magnitude of the challenge. Efforts should be intensified to end the stigma that prevents people from seeking help for their mental health.
Mental illness has also risen dramatically worldwide in the past 25 years, partly due to societies ageing and more children surviving into adolescence.
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that around 300 million people worldwide have depression and 50 million have dementia. Schizophrenia is estimated to affect 23 million people, and bipolar disorder around 60 million.
Half of all mental illness begins by the age of 14, but most cases go undetected and untreated. In terms of the burden of the disease among adolescents, depression is the third leading cause. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15-29-year-olds.
British Prime Minister Theresa May has taken the correct step by naming a minister for suicide prevention as part of a new push to tackle mental health issues. Incidentally, there are more than 4,500 self-inflicted deaths every year in England, and suicide remains the leading cause of death among men under the age of 45.
The importance of talking as the first step towards getting help should be reinforced in the community. As experts point out, prevention begins with being aware of and understanding the early warning symptoms of mental illness. Parents and teachers can help build life skills of children and adolescents to help them cope with everyday challenges at home and at school.
The Lancet Commission report is absolutely right in calling for a human rights-based approach to ensure that people with mental health conditions are not denied fundamental human rights, including access to employment, education and other core life experiences.
Rising temperature
a mounting challenge
A landmark report by the United Nations has issued a dire warning that time is running out to avert climate disaster and the advice deserves to be taken very seriously as it will affect each and every individual on planet earth — man or woman, rich or poor, child or elderly.
Limiting global warming to 1.5°C will require far-reaching and unprecedented changes, such as ditching coal for electricity to slash carbon emissions, as per the exhaustive Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, and leaders of the world better wake up to reality.
The landmark Paris Agreement adopted in December 2015 by 195 nations at the 21st Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change included the aim of strengthening the global response to the threat of climate change by holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.
Unfortunately, actions on the ground so far do not match the pace at which the crisis is growing.
Earth's surface has already warmed one degree Celsius — enough to lift oceans and unleash a crescendo of deadly storms, floods and droughts — and is frighteningly on track towards an unliveable 3C or 4C rise.
Extreme weather conditions, rising sea levels and diminishing Arctic sea ice are merely a tip of the iceberg compared to massive damage that humans could pay as a price for inaction.
If anyone thinks that the problem is merely for the future generations to worry about, the thought is futile because at current levels of greenhouse gas emissions, we could pass the 1.5C marker as early as 2030.
The report rightly seeks huge changes in land, energy, industry, buildings, transportation and cities. Global net emissions of carbon dioxide need to fall by 45 per cent from 2010 levels by 2030 and reach "net zero" around 2050.
The stakes are especially high for small island states, developing nations in the tropics, and countries with densely-populated delta regions already suffering from rising seas.
Scientists and experts have given their verdict. Now it is the duty of governments to act on the subject. Lethargy could prove disastrous.
The good news is that it is possible to tackle the climate challenge and limit global warming to 1.5°C. What is called for is global collective will and concrete action. There is absolutely no time to waste.
A salute to
the elderly
To forget the elderly is to ignore the wisdom of the years, once wrote Donald Laird. As the world marks the International Day for Older Persons on Monday, the crucial contributions being made by this hugely respectable segment of society should be recognised and saluted.
As per United Nations estimates, almost 700 million people are now over the age of 60. By 2050, 2 billion people, over 20 per cent of the world’s population, will be 60 or older. With this in mind, enhanced attention to the particular needs and challenges faced by most older people is clearly required.
It’s a collective responsibility of those living in any country to care for the elderly.
Thankfully, countries like the UAE leave no stone unturned to help the aged and deserve praise for doing so.
For example, the Sharjah Social Services Department (SSSD) is all set to launch the seventh Elderly Services Forum 2018, to be held under the slogan, "Sharjah Age-Friendly City,” to highlight the most prominent services and programmes of age-friendly cities.
The SSSD has also conducted a survey on entertainment programmes for the elderly, aiming to achieve the department's vision of promoting a safe and secure society and enhancing family stability.
The gesture comes in line with the SSSD’s strategy to empower the elderly, discussing the most prominent proposals that serve several old people.
In Dubai, the Dubai Municipality has provided dedicated walkways for the elderly people on public beaches. The special pathways have been built for the People of Determination and the elderly to enable them to cross the beach and reach the sea easily.
Obaid Salem Al Zaabi, Permanent Representative of the UAE at the United Nations, pointed out in Geneva recently that the UAE has been paying proper attention and care to older persons and the Ministry of Community Development is working with civil society organisations to provide an integrated social care and inclusion system.
The country has been undertaking additional efforts to mitigate challenges facing older persons. Programmes are in place protecting elderly persons from social exclusion and providing them with services, while respecting the dignity of every person.
All this is possible due to the UAE society’s deep-rooted values of caring and love for older people.
The International Day of Older Persons offers another opportunity to highlight the important contributions that older people make to society.
Lend refugees
a helping hand
When people are forced to flee their homes due to war, violence or persecution, it hits at the core of collective human conscience and raises questions about what the international community is doing to address the issue.
With 68.5 million people forcibly displaced worldwide as of the start of this year and funding by governments for refugee and other displacement situations barely matching, the worries of United Nations officials are understandably growing.
As per a new report released by the Donor Relations and Resource Mobilisation Service of UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, based on contributions to date, it expects funding for 2018 to meet just 55 per cent of the $8.2 billion that is needed.
This compares to 56.6 per cent in 2017 and 58 per cent in 2016. In short, donor funding is falling increasingly behind even as the number of forcibly displaced worldwide has grown.
The trend is certainly worrisome as the consequences for refugees and internally displaced people in particular are too real.
UN officials say they are witnessing increases in malnutrition, health facilities being overcrowded, housing and shelters becoming increasingly dilapidated, children either in overcrowded classrooms or doing without school altogether, and growing protection risks because of shortages of personnel to deal with unaccompanied children or victims of sexual violence.
Six refugee and displacement situations globally are particularly badly hit. These include Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Syria and Somalia.
The Sharjah International Children’s Film Festival (SICFF 2018) organisers deserve praise for doing their bit to raise awareness on the issue.
In seeking to raise understanding and awareness of the refugee crisis, the sixth edition of the Festival, organised by Funn Establishment – Sharjah Media Arts for Youth and Children, has selected 13 short films that can inspire and provoke people to act, and establish an understanding of what its like to be forced to leave homes and countries, with nowhere to go.
Beginning from Oct.14 until 19, the festival audiences can anticipate films that seek to bridge the understanding of displacement crisis.
The world community should step up assistance and see to it that vulnerable people are not left out. The refugee issue is a global humanitarian challenge that must be collectively addressed due to its significant impact on global stability and peace.
The future of entire generations of children and young people in countries affected by conflicts and unrest are at stake.
Blood donors
are life savers
Blood transfusion saves lives and improves health, but many patients across the world requiring transfusion do not have timely access to safe blood. Such unavailability of blood often leads to preventable deaths.
Blood is the most precious gift anyone can give to another person — the gift of life.
Providing safe and adequate blood should be an integral part of every country’s national health care policy and infrastructure, as World Health Organisation officials suggest.
Just last week, Dubai Health Authority’s (DHA) Dubai Blood Donation Centre underlined the importance of blood donation, indicating that while all blood types are needed, negative blood types are in greater demand due to their rarity.
As per Dr Mai Raouf, Director of the Dubai Blood Donation Centre, only 0.6 per cent of the UAE population are AB negative, 1.8 per cent are B negative, 2.4 percent are A negative, 4 per cent are O negative. The O-positive blood types are most common and are found in 38.6 percent of the population.
There is a continuous demand for all blood types as blood lasts for only 42 days and, hence, donors are always needed to come forward to replenish these stocks.
Interestingly, the Dubai Blood Donation Centre, which has an international accreditation from the American Association of Blood Banks since 2012, has taken a number of steps to provide smart services that ease the customer’s journey. Among them is the DAMMI App, which makes it easier to find the time and place to make blood donations in Dubai.
The app allows blood donors to answer donation eligibility questionnaire and read pre-donation educational material through their mobile phones before they reach the donation centre.
The Ministry of Health and Prevention (MOHAP) provides blood donation services within the priority health services by providing blood units and their components for hospitals in the private and government sectors.
Dr Hussein Abdel-Rahman Rand, Assistant Under-Secretary for Health Clinics and Centres, recently made an interesting observation that the UAE, with the support of its wise leadership, has become self-sufficient in safe blood, with 100 per cent of the blood supply in the MOHAP coming from voluntary blood donations.
This has positioned the UAE at the regional level in terms of safe blood transfusion services.
Blood donors, who help save several lives every year whether through regular or emergency donations, truly deserve a hearty salute.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Generation ‘gaffe’

The children now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise.
These are not my words, but of great philosopher, Socrates.
So it is that generation after generation, we are used to blaming GenNext for all the ills in the society.
There is a need to press the “pause” key on this trend and acknowledge that the present generation kids are gems, who work very hard, are more focused, and sadly, are deprived of much leisure and playtime that the earlier generations enjoyed.
Bullock cart days offered much spare time, competition was less and colleagues behaved like family. Just a few decades ago, phones and television were luxury items, leaving more time for social get-togethers. No computers meant plenty of time for oneself and no 24/7 duties.
Doctors earlier never asked for a dozen medical tests for even minor ailments like cold, cough and sneezing. A doctor would just ask the patient to open his mouth wide like a hippopotamus and immediately declare, “You have diphtheria.”
Fast forward. Children have no time for their parents, friends or even themselves. Round-the-clock classes means they have little time to eat, play or make merry. When they fall sick, the list of medical tests could test anyone’s patience.
Rat race has made them machines, while machines are injected with artificial intelligence to compete.
In spite of such a challenging field of action, today’s kids shine like stars and often use charming words like “Awesome, Cool.”
Stop blaming kids and instead salute them.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Recent Editorials

Here are some recent editorials I wrote for The Gulf Today. (Posted for my records):
World cannot afford
to lose war on hunger
The war against hunger is truly mankind’s war of liberation, once stated John F. Kennedy. Unfortunately, the global war on hunger is losing steam and the unpalatable truth is that the number of undernourished people actually increased from 777 million to 821 million over the last two years.
The implication is also that global hunger reached an alarming ten-year high in 2017, as indicated by the UN’s annual multi-agency flagship report on the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World.
The trend confirms a worrying reversal of positive movement seen earlier in the new millennium.
A glance at the figures could rattle anyone’s conscience. Globally, one in nine do not have enough food to eat. In sub-Saharan Africa, more than one in four may have suffered from chronic hunger in 2017. Asia has the largest number of undernourished people — 515 million.
Nearly 151 million children under five suffered from stunting due to malnutrition, a condition that hampers physical and mental development. More than 50 million children under five are too thin for their height and more than 38 million are overweight.
Achieving zero hunger by 2030 is one of the UN's Sustainable Development Goals adopted by member states in 2015. The setting of such a goal is indeed noble, but lack of timely, coordinated and effective action may mar the objective.
Children are paying a heavy price. Save the Children charity’s warning that 600,000 children in war zones could die from extreme hunger by the end of this year as funding shortfalls kick in and warring parties block supplies from getting to the people who need them should be taken very seriously. 
UN experts have identified three primary drivers across the world as reasons for the increase in hunger: the intensification of conflict, an economic downturn and the effects of climate change.
Climate variability and extremes are already undermining food production in some regions and if action to mitigate disaster risk reduction and preparedness is not taken the situation will only get worse as temperatures are expected to rise and become more extreme.
While the root causes of hunger have been diagnosed, world leaders need to join hands and address the issue by implementing peace and climate resilience initiatives.
It should never be forgotten that hunger is the world’s most solvable challenge. What is called for is collective will and action. Not a single person on earth should go to bed hungry because of deprivation.
Time for truce
on trade war
The global markets are increasingly feeling the heat of the trade war ignited by US President Donald Trump and the escalating frictions could throttle global growth and strike at the heart of the trading system.
Trump, who is challenging China, Mexico, Canada and the European Union on trade issues, has also expressed displeasure about the large US trade deficit with Japan.
Fears over a rapid intensification of the trade brawl hit emerging markets and sent stocks to a fresh 2018 low on Monday, hurting major currencies with India’s rupee tumbling to record lows and Russia's rouble at its weakest in two years.
India is already witnessing street protests over the issue of falling rupee and rising prices. With a general election less than nine months away, demonstrations against record high petrol and diesel prices shut down businesses, government offices and schools in many parts of India on Monday, while in some places protesters blocked trains and roads and vandalised vehicles.
Russia's rouble weakened beyond 70 versus the dollar for the first time since March 2016 before recovering its losses, buckling under pressure from uncertainty about US sanctions and concern ahead of a central bank meeting on Friday.
Last week, Trump blamed the European Union and raised the spectre of slapping tariffs on Europe's auto industry. Auto tariffs would be seen as a blow by Germany and would add to existing levies on steel and aluminium that Trump imposed on Europe in June. The EU imposed a raft of counter-duties in return.
Trump went to the extent of saying earlier that the European Union was "possibly almost as bad as China" when it comes to trade.
Trump’s latest warning that he may slap tariffs on virtually all Chinese imports to the United States and Beijing’s retort that it would certainly retaliate has literally pushed the fight on to the next stage.
Washington is considering extending penalties to an additional $267 billion of Chinese products. That would be on top of $50 billion of goods already hit by 25 per cent duties and another $200 billion on which Washington is poised to raise tariffs.
China matched Washington's first round of tariff hikes on $50 billion of its goods, but owing to lopsided trade balance Beijing is running out of imports for retaliation.
What is called for is an immediate truce on trade war. Meaningful and sincere negotiations would prove more sensible in sorting out such issues rather than throttling markets with uncertainty.
Endless anguish of
Afghan civilians
The continuing wave of violence and ever-rising number of civilian casualties in Kabul and across Afghanistan is a matter that cannot be ignored anymore.
An entire generation of children in the country has only witnessed violence in their lives, at a time when they should have been studying in school and playing in the gardens.
According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, nearly 4.2 million people in Afghanistan are in acute need of humanitarian assistance, including 1.9 million internally displaced by conflict, and more than 60,000 refugees who have returned home need help to restart their lives.
Afghan people are forced to suffer for no mistake of their own. Compounding the problem, the country is facing a massive drought that is affecting 70 per cent of its territory, and putting 1.3 million women, children and men at risk.
In the past two days alone, Taliban fighters have killed nearly 60 members of the security forces in a spate of attacks in the northern areas and threatened a provincial capital for the second time in as many months.
An unprecedented ceasefire in June followed by talks between US officials and Taliban representatives in July raised hopes that peace negotiations could bring an end to the 17-year conflict. But the continuing deadly violence has diluted all optimism.
The intensified fighting also raises questions about the peaceful conduct of Afghanistan's long-delayed parliamentary elections scheduled on October 20.
The already overstretched security forces will be tasked with protecting thousands of polling stations around the country even when they are struggling to beat back insurgents.
Civilians have suffered beyond imagination. The conflict killed 763 civilians and injured 1,495 in the first three months of this year alone, as per United Nations statistics. The 2,258 civilian casualties, documented from Jan.1 to March 31 by UNAMA, are at the similar levels recorded in the first three months of 2017 and 2016.
The endless cycle of violence has undermined peace and stability in the country for too long and should end immediately. While the ordinary and vulnerable people continue to live in insecurity and fear, those responsible for heinous crimes have been managing to escape punishment.
A categorical rejection of all forms of violence is the only way forward. Militants should realise that nothing could be achieved through such senseless violence. Those involved in killing of innocent people should be made accountable and forced to face the law.
Another unfair US move
against Palestinians
Washington’s bias in favour of Israel is becoming increasingly obvious with each passing day and this raises serious questions whether it can act as a legitimate moderator in the Middle East peace process.
President Donald Trump’s latest order to stop $25 million in assistance earmarked for the care of Palestinians in East Jerusalem hospitals can only be seen as yet another mean and unjustified act by the United States, in an attempt to arm-twist Palestinians into negotiations.
Such a move will directly threaten the lives of thousands of Palestinians and the livelihoods of thousands of hospital employees.
What shocks the world community is that the latest action follows the recent move by Trump to halt funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which has been a lifeline for millions of Palestinian refugees since it was set up nearly 70 years ago.
The freezing of funds to the UNRWA, recognising occupied Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, relocating US embassy from Tel Aviv to occupied Jerusalem, refusing to restrain the occupation forces from illegally expanding settlements are all acts that expose Washington’s prejudice against Palestinians.
Last month, the Trump administration said it would redirect $200 million in Palestinian economic support funds for programmes in the West Bank and Gaza.
It is hugely distressing that Trump has preferred to mix politics with humanitarian issues. The US covers 40 per cent of costs in six east Jerusalem hospitals that provide care for Palestinians from the Israeli-occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
Bassem Abu Libdeh, director of Makassed hospital, has already cautioned that US decision to cut funding to hospitals serving the Palestinians will have a "severe effect."
The US aid cut has come at a time when the hospital is going through a suffocating crisis as a result of the lack of flow of financial aid.
Any individual or country proposing to act as a mediator should rise above all bias. Through its recent deeds, Washington has raised more suspicion about its intentions by trying to please Israel while ignoring legitimate Palestinian appeals.
Israel’s sole goal is to prolong the occupation and entrench the grave suffering of the Palestinian people. America should not allow itself to be seen as a partner in such a demeaning endeavour.
Trump has made it clear that he is working to force the Palestinians to negotiate. Force should be applied against the aggressors and not the victims, Mr Trump.
Physical inactivity a
global health problem
Technology brings with it huge advantages, but the flip side is its harmful impact on the health of individuals across the globe. Sedentary jobs are making more and more people less active and the health consequences could be dire.
Now a World Health Organisation (WHO) study has warned that insufficient physical activity is a leading risk factor for non-communicable disease, negatively impacting mental health and overall quality of life and the message should be addressed in all earnestness.
Inactivity is actually putting the physical and mental health of as many as 1.4 billion adults at risk, as per WHO.
The study, published in The Lancet Global Health journal, has coherently highlighted the well-established benefits of being physically active, including a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, hypertension and diabetes, as well as breast and colon cancer. Additionally, physical activity has positive effects on mental health, can delay the onset of dementia, and help people maintain a healthy weight.
The study has made it clear that by the end of 2016, in 55 of 168 countries, more than one-third of the population was insufficiently physically active and this should be seen as a major cause for concern.
The greatest levels of insufficient activity comparing women and men appeared in South Asia (43 versus 24 per cent), Central Asia, Middle East and north Africa (40 vs. 26 per cent), and high-income Western countries (42 vs. 31 per cent).
Fitness and health awareness programmes could go a long way in motivating people to stay fit and events like the Dubai Fitness Challenge (DFC) deserve special praise.
Incidentally, the Dubai Fitness Challenge, the flagship fitness initiative launched last year by Sheikh Hamdan Bin Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and Chairman of the Dubai Executive Council, will return with a wider public programme in 2018.
The inaugural DFC 2017 saw the public and private sectors come together as a response to a city-wide movement, to encourage 786,000 citizens and residents of all ages and fitness levels to commit to 30 consecutive minutes of daily physical activity for 30 days, as well as organise other events across Dubai and the rest of the UAE throughout the month-long festival.
Countries need to scale up policy actions to promote physical activity. As experts point out, investing in policies to promote walking, cycling, sport and active recreation can contribute directly to achieving many of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Recent Editorials

Here are some recent editorials I wrote for The Gulf Today. (Posted for my records):
Antarctic ice loss not a cozy trend
Antarctica has lost a staggering three trillion tonnes of ice since 1992, as per a consortium of 84 scientists reported in the journal “Nature,” and this is a loud wake-up call for naysayers who keep expressing doubts about the continent's shrinking ice mass.
The scientists’ warning should be taken seriously because they insist that the frozen continent could redraw earth's coastlines if global warming continues unchecked.
The matter is so serious that low-lying coastal cities and communities home to hundreds of millions of people face existential threat.
Up to now, scientists have struggled in determining whether Antarctica has accumulated more mass through snowfall than it loses in meltwater run-off and ice flows into the ocean. But more than two decades of satellite data — the new findings draw from 24 separate space-based surveys — have finally yielded a more complete picture.
West Antarctica has proven far more vulnerable to global warming, especially the Antarctic Peninsula, where more than 6,500 square kilometres of ice shelves have sheared off into the sea since 1995.
Already floating, ice shelves breaking off into icebergs do not add to sea level. But massive glaciers on West Antarctica slowly gliding seaward hold enough water to push oceans up by 3.5 metres.
Climate change is a matter that affects each and every living organism on earth. Without rapid cuts in carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions, we will be heading for dangerous temperature increases by the end of this century, well above the target set by the Paris climate change agreement.
Weather-related disasters caused some $320 billion in economic damage, making 2017 the costliest year ever for such losses.
In social as well as economic terms, the 2017 Atlantic hurricane season was devastating, washing away decades of development in an instant.
In South Asia, major monsoon floods affected 41 million people.
In Africa, severe drought drove nearly 900,000 people from their homes.
Wildfires caused destruction across the world.
Climate change is moving much faster than anticipated. Ice loss of 2.7 trillion tonnes since 1992 added about eight millimetres to sea level.
It will be irresponsible for the present generation to leave an inhospitable planet for the future generations to inherit.
The observation by the scientists on Antarctic ice melting is another ringing alarm for action to slow the warming of our planet. Any lethargy on this front could prove too expensive for humanity.
Tariff war is not
good for world
At a time when everyone thought the world would be spared a dreaded tariff war, US President Donald Trump has struck again.
Weeks of back and forth between Washington and Beijing that have veered in tone from conciliatory to hostile had left observers bemused, but Friday saw Trump unveiling hefty tariffs on $50 billion of Chinese imports, prompting China to announce equal levies on US goods.
Raising tensions between the world's two largest economies are certainly not pleasing news. What is worrisome is that such actions could shake investor confidence and bruise global growth.
China has swiftly retaliated by imposing "equal" tariffs on US products. "We will immediately launch tax measures of equal scale and equal strength," the commerce ministry said in a statement on its web site which also called on other countries to "take collective action" against this "outdated and backwards behaviour."
Beijing has also made it clear that it will negate agreements it had reached with the US during previous consultations over the penalties.
Washington’s warning of "additional tariffs" should China hit back with tit-for-tat duties on American goods and services exports merely ignites the row further.
Trump has riled key allies by pursuing protectionist trade policies, including the imposition of steel and aluminum tariffs on the European Union, Canada and Mexico.
He stunned his counterparts by backing out of a joint communique agreed by Group of Seven leaders in Canada last weekend that mentioned the importance of free, fair and mutually beneficial trade.
Already, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has hinted at a new front in the trade row with the United States, warning that Europe's strategic interests rode on the future of Europe's car industry and hinting at competition probes of US Internet giants.
Trump has repeatedly criticised Europe, and Germany in particular, for running large trade surpluses over the United States.
Trump should heed the International Monetary Fund (IMF) warning that his new import tariffs threaten to undermine the global trading system, prompt retaliation by other countries and damage the US economy.
As per IMF Director Christine Lagarde, the tariffs will have a larger economic toll if they prompt retaliation from trading partners like Canada and Germany.
Moving the globe further away from an open, fair and rules-based trade system cannot be termed sensible at a time when the world is hugely inter-connected. One only hopes good sense prevails.
World should stand by
people of determination
The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) is one of the most widely-ratified international human rights treaties, which reaffirms that people with disabilities are entitled to the same treatment as everybody else.
Cementing and protecting the rights of around 1.5 billion people around the world in accordance with the Convention is a moral imperative, as rightly pointed out by United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres.
Mere signing and ratifying the Convention is not enough. Vigorous implementation holds the key.
Countries should robustly apply the Convention to their development policies, investments and legal systems so as to fulfil the central pledge of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development: to leave no one behind.
Talking on the subject, the UAE deserves praise for always remaining in the forefront when it comes to the welfare and empowerment of the people of determination.
Continuing a slew of measures aimed at empowerment, Vice President and Prime Minister of UAE and Ruler of Dubai His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum last year launched the National Strategy for Empowering People with Special Needs.
The policy revolves around 6 pillars including health and rehabilitation, education, vocational rehabilitation and employment, mobility, social protection and family empowerment, and public life and sports.
Importantly, Sheikh Mohammed declared that people with special needs will be referred to as “people of determination” to recognise their achievements in different fields.
The creation of the People of determination Advisory Council is a huge step to empower this segment and enables them to play an important part in the country’s development.
The UAE’s Federal Law No.29 of 2006 protects the rights of people of determination and guarantees them the right to live with dignity.
Sheikh Mohammed has always maintained that people of determination represent an integral component of UAE’s society and have the right to enjoy a happy and dignified life like other community groups.
As per UN officials, every minute, more than 30 women are seriously injured or disabled during childbirth. Women and girls with disabilities face multiple barriers to accessing education, health services and jobs.
Across the world, people of determination still often face overt discrimination, stereotyping and lack of respect for their basic human rights – with women and girls disproportionately affected.
Other countries can take a cue from the UAE and initiate intense efforts so that people of determination can fully participate in society.
UN vote a victory for
Palestinians, justice
The backing for a resolution by as many as 120 countries at the UN General Assembly calling for greater protection for Palestinians and deploring the use of excessive, disproportionate and indiscriminate force by the Israeli military against Palestinian civilians, particularly in Gaza, sends a powerful warning message to the occupation forces and is an unambiguous victory for Palestinian human rights and justice.
There is no justification for the use of live ammunition by Israeli forces against civilian protesters, including children, as well as medical personnel and journalists.
Israel has for long been emboldened by the unstinted and blind support extended by Washington and the stunning helplessness of the world community, which has remained silent in the face of the most violent crimes and human rights violations systematically perpetrated against the Palestinian people by Israeli forces.
Israel stands exposed as not a single Israeli has been fatally attacked, but at least 129 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire during peaceful protests near the border with Gaza that began at the end of March.
The largest number of deaths occurred on May 14, the day the United States moved its embassy in Israel to occupied Jerusalem from Tel Aviv.
US Ambassador Nikki Haley’s allegation that Arab countries are trying to score political points at home through the resolution makes absolutely no sense in view of such merciless killings of innocent Palestinians.
It may be recalled that in December, 128 countries defied US President Donald Trump and voted in favour of a UN General Assembly resolution calling for the United States to drop its recognition of occupied Jerusalem as Israel's capital.
The General Assembly had then largely ignored Trump's threats to cut off aid to any country that went against the US and voted 128-9 to denounce the president's action.
The UN’s position is that occupied Jerusalem is a final status issue that must be resolved through negotiations between the parties.
The international community should be more vigilant now and see to it that the Israeli occupation forces fully abide by legal obligations and responsibilities under the fourth Geneva Convention on protecting civilians.
All that the peace-loving people across the world ask for is the protection of Palestinian civilian population.
Israel should realise that it has crossed all limits. The world will not tolerate any more atrocities by its forces and the backing of such a large number of countries for the UN resolution is an indication of that view.