Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Recent Editorials

Here are some recent Editorials I wrote for The Gulf Today. (Posted for my records):
Don’t turn migrants’ dream into nightmare
When the image of Aylan Kurdi, a three-year-old Syrian boy, rattled collective human conscience and made global headlines after he drowned on Sept.2, 2015 in the Mediterranean Sea, it was expected that the approach of governments and people towards refugees and migrants would turn more humane.
Alas, that has not turned out to be the case.
Shocking images of a drowned Salvadoran migrant and his two-year-old daughter who died while trying to cross the Rio Grande river from Mexico to the United States have now emerged raising questions whether humanity as a whole is turning compassion-deficient.
The searing photograph of their bodies, found face down in shallow water with the 23-month-old girl's arm around her father's neck, captured by journalist Julia Le Duc and published by Mexican newspaper             La Jornada, also highlights the perils faced by mostly Central American migrants fleeing violence and poverty and hoping for asylum in the United States.
Contrary to the portrayal of certain political worlds leaders, migration is a positive global phenomenon. It powers economic growth, reduces inequalities and connects diverse societies.
In a touching briefing to the UN Security Council recently, Filippo Grandi, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, stated that during his three and a half decades as an international civil servant, he had never seen such toxicity, such poisonous language in politics, media and social media, directed towards refugees, migrants and foreigners.
Grandi emphasised that the stigmatisation of refugees and migrants was unprecedented and that traditional responses to refugee crises appeared increasingly inadequate.
It should be acknowledged that Germany, under Chancellor Angela Merkel, has a set a brilliant example of how those seeking refuge need to be treated with dignity and care. 
The US and Mexico are presently implementing tougher policies to stem the flow of undocumented migrants, mostly from Central America, travelling north. At least six have died in recent days.
Most migrants insist they are fleeing violence and poverty in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, and plan to seek asylum in the US.
However, US President Donald Trump's hardline stance on immigration is visibly driving migrants to take more dangerous routes.
The image of Óscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez and his 23-month-old daughter Valeria, who drowned crossing the Rio Grande, will haunt the conscience of all considerate human beings for years to come.
Ramírez’s tragedy highlights the plight of migrants in similar situations. Frustrated because his family from El Salvador was unable to present themselves to US authorities and request asylum, he reportedly swam across the river on Sunday with his daughter, Valeria.
He set her on the US bank of the river and started back for his wife, Tania Vanessa Ávalos, but seeing him move away the girl threw herself into the waters. Martínez returned and was able to grab Valeria, but the current swept them both away.
With the UN refugee agency indicating that a record 71 million people have now been displaced worldwide by war, persecution and other violence, the world community cannot anymore afford to turn a blind eye to the crucial issue.
Collective and effective global measures to tackle the root causes of displacements are essential.
It should never be forgotten that migrants are humans too. Fair migration laws will benefit all and that’s precisely what the international community should strive for.
The question remains how many more innocent lives need to be lost before the world community wakes up to the endless plight of migrants and refugees!
Don’t ignore warming world’s warning signals
Climate change is accelerating faster than efforts to counter it and laxity on the part of the international community could prove disastrous for future generations.
The consolation, though, is the visibly increasing awareness on the subject, especially among youngsters. The protest by thousands of students from across Europe on Friday near a coal mine in western Germany urging governments to take bolder action against climate change sends a clear signal that climate change is now one of the hottest issues on the European political agenda.
Protesters from 16 countries took part in the rally in Aachen, near Germany's border with Belgium and the Netherlands.
What has added to global disappointment is the push by most European Union nations for the world's biggest economic bloc to go carbon-neutral by 2050 being dropped to a mere footnote at a summit on Thursday after fierce resistance from Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary .
France and Germany took the right approach of leading efforts for the 28-member EU to lead by example in setting an ambitious new climate goal ahead of UN climate talks in September that US President Donald Trump has abandoned.
Unanimity was needed and last-ditch persuasion efforts in what diplomats described as "impassioned" talks that dragged on for four hours failed to ease fears among the central and eastern European states, including Estonia, that it would hurt economies like theirs dependent on nuclear power and coal.
Scientists have repeatedly warned that ending fossil fuel use by mid-century is a must if countries want to achieve the 2015 Paris climate accord's most ambitious goal of keeping global temperatures from rising more than 1.5 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial times.
British broadcaster and environmentalist David Attenborough has stated that climate change is humanity's greatest threat in thousands of years, and he is absolutely right.
The situation is dire because, as Attenborough noted, the issue could lead to the collapse of civilisations and the extinction of "much of the natural world."
The extreme cold in North America, record high heat and wildfires in Australia, heavy rains in parts of South America, and heavy snow on the Alps and Himalayas should be seen as warning signals.
Even with just one degree Celsius of warming so far, Earth has been bombarded with raging wildfires, widespread crop failures and super-storms exacerbated by rising sea levels.
Climate change has even been damaging polar bears' sea-ice habitats and forced them to scavenge more for food on land, bringing them into contact with people and inhabited areas.
Germany, Europe's biggest economy, has long promoted clean renewables such as solar and wind while phasing out nuclear power -- but it is still missing its climate goals because of a reliance on cheap coal.
Especially since last year's scorching summer — when drought slashed crop yields, forest fires raged and shipping was halted on dried-out rivers -- many people in Germany tend to agree with the protesters' demand on carbon fuels.
In the United States, ignoring scientists' increasingly urgent warnings, the Trump administration ordered a sweeping about-face last week on Obama-era efforts to fight climate change, easing restrictions on coal-fired power plants. The Trump administration is also proposing to roll back a mileage rule requiring tougher mileage standards for cars and light trucks. 
A growing number of people, governments, cities and businesses understand that climate solutions can strengthen economies and improve air quality and public health. Unfortunately, it looks like there is still a long way to go.
#YouthForGood a noteworthy initiative
The UAE and benevolence are synonymous terms. When the social media helps strengthen the country’s humanitarian activities, it is all the more good.
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey’s launching of a major philanthropic initiative, #YouthForGood, together with the UAE’s Youth Hub and Shamma Bint Suhail Faris Al Mazrui, Minister of State for Youth Affairs, is hugely creditable.
The project is noble especially because it involves youngsters and instills in them virtuous social responsibilities.
The competition calls on UAE-based youth to create a greater impact in local communities, whether through civic engagement, volunteering or charitable partnerships.
#YouthForGood will be open to participants of three to five people over the next three months. The initiative encourages the young people of the UAE to utilise the power of Twitter to launch a creative, engaging and active Twitter account that will fuel philanthropic efforts locally in their community.
There will be huge recognition for the winning team too as it will be awarded with the acclaimed Twitter MENA Award and a Twitter for Good Ads Grant.
Incidentally, the #YouthForGood initiative, the first of its kind in the world, aims to promote the use of Twitter to support humanitarian and social causes and sustain a culture of volunteering among youth in the region and the world.
It forms part of the broader global #TwitterForGood campaign, with the philanthropic mission to harness the positive power of Twitter to bring communities together.
His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai has been among the early adopters of social media in the region and completes a decade of his presence on Twitter this June.
Over the past decade, he has garnered 9.71 million followers on this Twitter account. The Dubai Ruler was on the 11th spot on the list of 'The 50 most followed world leaders in 2018'. He had a following of 9 million Twitter users then.
As Sheikh Mohammed himself commented, "The UAE represents positive change and hope in our Arab region and we are keen to encourage our young people to harness the power of online platforms such as twitter to create a positive impact on their communities. #YouthForGood is a significant initiative in this direction."
Social media has become a part of life. It brings with it huge advantages and has set off a knowledge explosion, knitting the entire world into a global village.
The UAE is among the few countries that have resolutely nurtured the huge positive potential of social media for the good of the society. The country has persistently kept pace with technology drawing praise from the international community.
In fact, the country is the second highest regional investor in Artificial Intelligence (AI) over the past 10 years, investing as much as  $2.15 billion in total, according to the AI Maturity Report in the Middle East and Africa (MEA) a study commissioned by Microsoft and conducted by Ernst & Young.
The bulk of this investment went towards social media and Internet of Things, transactions, followed by notable spending across eight technologies, including smart mobile and machine learning.
Shamma Al Mazrui well highlighted the scope of the youth initiative by stating, "The #YouthForGood reflects Twitter’s potential to impact communities by supporting real time communication across borders and barriers. This initiative gives our youth a chance to organise around a common purpose and unite to create a force for good using the power of Twitter."

Monday, April 22, 2019

Recent Editorials

Here are some recent Editorials I wrote for The Gulf Today. (Posted for my records):
Show no tolerance towards intolerance
The world community needs to join hands and send out a clear and loud message that racism, bigotry and xenophobia are a bane that have no place in a sane society.
In a latest incident of racism in football, a video circulated on social media ahead of Chelsea's Europa League match at Slavia Prague this week showed a group of six supporters chanting racist abuse against Egypt forward Mohamed Salah repeatedly.
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp has not only condemned the disgusting racist abuse aimed at Salah, but has also rightly called for lifetime bans for the Chelsea fans accused of taunting the Liverpool star.
Liverpool has stated that the video showed "vile discriminatory chants" and is "dangerous and disturbing", while Chelsea has issued a statement pledging to use all available punishments against those involved.
The culprits should be identified at the earliest and forced to face the law.
It may be recalled that four Chelsea supporters were previously suspended by the club after Manchester City winger Raheem Sterling was racially abused at Stamford Bridge in December.
Bigotry comes in varied forms. There are many instances of helpless migrants and refugees facing the worst form of hatred.
In a heartfelt briefing to the UN Security Council on Tuesday, Filippo Grandi, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, stated that during his three and a half decades as an international civil servant, he had never seen such toxicity, such poisonous language in politics, media and social media, directed towards refugees, migrants and foreigners.
Grandi emphasised that the stigmatisation of refugees and migrants was unprecedented and that traditional responses to refugee crises appeared increasingly inadequate.
The best way to tackle the issue is strong political will and improved responses, as enshrined by the UN Global Compact for Refugees, adopted last December.
The UN Security Council has a critical role to play, particularly in terms of solving peace and security crises, supporting countries that are hosting refugees, and working to remove obstacles to solutions.
As indicated by Grandi, the consequences of the toxic language surrounding refugees and migration can be gauged by the example of the recent mosque shootings in Christchurch, New Zealand, which left 49 innocent people dead.
The response of the New Zealand government is certainly a good example of effective leadership and how to respond to such toxicity, in a firm and organised manner, restating solidarity with refugees, and reaffirming the principle that our societies cannot be truly prosperous, stable and peaceful, if they do not include everyone.
The UAE, on its part, is a shining example of cultural and religious diversity, which proudly hosts over 120 churches and many other places of worship that belong to religious minorities living in the country.
As part of the "Istanbul Process" regarding the implementation of Human Rights Council Resolution No. 16/18 on combatting intolerance, negative stereotyping, stigmatisation, discrimination and violence against people for their religion or beliefs, Obaid Salem Al Zaabi, UAE Permanent Representative to the UN in Geneva and Chair of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation Group in Geneva, recently participated in a relevant meeting organised by the European Union.
Al Zaabi well concluded that open communities, which are free from racism and extremist ideologies, can achieve economic, cultural and social successes. That is aptly proved by the UAE’s experience over 47 years.
Attacks in Sri Lanka a barbaric act
Terrorism is a language of the cowards and those with evil mindsets. Terrorists engage in indiscriminate violence and destruction with the wrong notion that they can strangle social harmony and break the unity of peace-loving people around the world.
The series of devastating bomb blasts that ripped through hotels and churches holding Easter services in Sri Lanka killing or wounding several hundreds of innocent people is an abhorrent, barbaric act that implies the fight against evil mongers needs to be strengthened further.
The dreadful violence violated the sanctity of holy places of worship. Such bloody acts of terror could be avoided by strongly promoting the values of diversity and peaceful coexistence.
The world community should unite more strongly than ever to erase the scourge of terrorism. Countries need to act more vigorously to build partnerships to promote the cherishable values of tolerance and peace.
His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, UAE Vice President, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, has echoed the feelings of the entire nation while tweeting: “Terrorists are those who betray worshippers in their places of worship, plant fear in their hearts and try to ignite religious conflicts in societies. Our condolences to the people of Sri Lanka, to the world and to everyone who works tirelessly towards tolerance and coexistence.”
The UAE has always maintained an unequivocal position of denouncing terrorism in all its forms and manifestations regardless of their motivations, justifications and sources.
As the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation stated, the international community needs to close ranks and uproot the scourge of terrorism in order to ensure international peace and security.
Sri Lanka had suffered deadly militant attacks for years, especially by ethnic Tamil militants during a decades-long civil war that ended in 2009 when Sri Lankan forces crushed the insurgency. It had witnessed relative peace during the past decade.
There have been reports that Sri Lanka's police chief Pujuth Jayasundara had issued an intelligence alert to top officers 10 days ago, warning that suicide bombers planned to hit "prominent churches." Why did the warning not receive the kind of attention it should have is a question that needs to be answered.
Last year, there were 86 verified incidents of discrimination, threats and violence against Christians, according to the National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka, which represents more than 200 churches and other Christian organisations.
This year, it recorded 26 such incidents, including one in which Buddhist monks allegedly attempted to disrupt a Sunday worship service, with the last one reported on March 25.
Out of Sri Lanka's total population of around 22 million, 70 per cent are Buddhist, 12.6 per cent Hindu, 9.7 per cent Muslim and 7.6 per cent Christian, according to the country's 2012 census.
The perpetrators of the monstrous act in Sri Lanka should be caught at the earliest and punished severely in order to send a strong message to terrorists that there is no safe place for them on earth.
Global response to hunger remains poor
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 as many as 113 million people in 53 countries experienced high levels of food insecurity last year, as indicated by a new, joint UN and European Union (EU) report.
It is upsetting to note that too many men and women across the globe struggle to feed their children a nutritious meal. Hunger is the world’s most solvable challenge and all that is called for is conscientious action through collective initiatives.
With all the technological advancements and economic progress that the world has witnessed, if millions of people are still forced to go to bed on an empty stomach, then it can only be seen as a blot on humanity.
The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), World Food Programme (WFP) and EU “Global Report on Food Crises 2019” shows that the number going chronically-hungry has remained well over 100 million over the past three years, with the number of countries affected actually rising. That is indeed disheartening.
According to the report, nearly two-thirds of those facing acute hunger come from just eight countries: Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Nigeria, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. And although there were 11 million fewer people believed to be in food crisis in 2018 compared with 2017, in 17 countries, acute hunger either remained the same or increased.
With an additional 143 million people in another 42 countries just one step away from acute hunger, rapid remedial measures are the need of the hour.
Conflicts and climate-related disasters have proved to be big villains. Climate and natural disasters pushed another 29 million people into acute food insecurity in 2018, and that number excludes 13 countries — including North Korea and Venezuela — because of data gaps.
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.
Achieving zero hunger by 2030 is one of the UN's Sustainable Development Goals adopted by member states in 2015. UN officials had earlier cautioned that world hunger rose in 2017 for a third consecutive year due to conflict and climate change, jeopardising the global goal.
The rising numbers living in slums exacerbate the challenge. About one-third of the urban population is in slums with limited access to welfare benefits and safety nets, which impacts on their food security, nutrition and livelihoods.
World leaders should not waste time but act together so as to tackle the issue by implementing peace and climate resilience initiatives.
WFP Executive Director, David Beasley, has correctly highlighted the importance of attacking the root causes of hunger: conflict, instability, impact of climate shocks.
Boys and girls need to be well nourished and educated, women need to be empowered and rural infrastructure strengthened in order to meet the Zero Hunger goal.
Programmes that make a community resilient and more stable will also reduce the number of hungry people. And one thing we need world leaders to do as well, as Beasley suggests, is step up to the plate and help solve the conflicts, right now.
Conserve every drop or land in deep waters
Every form of life on earth depends on water for subsistence. Access to water underpins public health and is critical to sustainable development and a stable and prosperous world. Yet, World Water Day 2019, marked on March 22, passed by indistinctly without many people even realising its significance.
A 16-nation study by the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) into how water supplies affect children caught up in emergencies has highlighted that a lack of safe water is far deadlier for children than war in more than a dozen conflict-affected countries. This should serve as a wake-up call for action by the international community. 
The study also shows that children under five are on average more than 20 times more likely to die from illnesses linked to unsafe water and bad sanitation, than from conflict.
According to the report, every year, 85,700 children under 15 die from diarrhoea linked to unsafe water, sanitation and hygiene facilities (WASH), compared with 30,900 from conflict. Some 72,000 under-fives die annually from similar illnesses linked to WASH-access problems, compared to 3,400 from war-related violence.
The challenge is widespread could be surmised by the fact that the Unicef data covered as many countries as Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Iraq, Libya, Mali, Myanmar, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.
By the end of the 2017, conflict, persecution or human rights violations forcibly displaced an unprecedented 68.5 million from their homes. Disasters displaced another 18.8 million. As UN officials point out, such mass displacement places strain upon natural resources and water-related services at transition and destination points for both existing populations and new arrivals, creating potential inequalities and a source of conflicts among them.
Population and economic growth have placed unprecedented pressures on water, with water scarcity affecting over 40 per cent of the world's people. The Middle East and North Africa is the most water-scarce region in the world, with over 60 per cent of the region’s population living in areas with high or very high surface water stress, compared with a global average of about 35 per cent, as Saeed Mohammed Al Tayer, Managing Director and CEO of the Dubai Electricity and water Authority (DEWA), points out.
Citizens and residents of the UAE are fortunate as the wise leadership attaches great importance to water security, which is one of the seven strategic sectors of the National Innovation Strategy, and one of the main pillars of UAE Vision 2021. The UAE water Security Strategy 2036 aims to ensure sustainable access to water during both normal and emergency conditions.
In 2010, the UN recognised the right to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation as a human right that is essential for the full enjoyment of life and all human rights. Regulatory and legal frameworks must recognise the right to water for all people.
Water issues call for global solidarity and joint measures. What is needed is solid commitment. All members of society should conserve natural resources, especially water. Governments and relevant organisations should coordinate to provide sustainable solutions to use water more efficiently and raise awareness about its challenges. All measures should be taken to ensure water security for future generations.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Recent Editorials

Here are some recent Editorials I wrote for The Gulf Today. (Posted for my records):
Need to address Islamophobia globally
In the wake of the gruesome terrorist massacre in New Zealand, which has triggered extreme grief across the world, there is a dire need for the international community to initiate more serious measures to counter Islamophobia and eliminate intolerance and violent extremism in all its forms.
The dastardly shooting of innocent people as they prayed peacefully in mosques has shaken the conscience of humanity. The remarkable solidarity shown by the rest of the world for the victims and their families does offer solace, but there’s much more that needs to be done by the global community so as to avert such horrific crimes in future.
Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that, once stated Martin Luther King, Jr. Unfortunately, that righteous message seems to have lost its way in the Internet era.
The Christchurch massacre has bared the link between Islamophobia and terrorism in a way that none can argue otherwise. To think that a man could fill himself with such venomous hatred for fellow human beings he live-streams himself via a head-mounted camera online while firing at peaceful worshippers indicates that things are heading in a wrong direction. Somewhere the cherished values of peace, compassion and love for fellow beings advocated by every religion are being lost.
The rights to equality and non-discrimination are cornerstones of human rights law. Yet blatant racism and religious hatred continue to remain the bane of certain societies. It should never be forgotten that discrimination against individuals affects the society as a whole.
Countries need to have zero tolerance towards hate crime. Trust in the police will be eroded if hate crime cases are not handled with the seriousness they deserve.
The world is increasingly a global village and the fact should be acknowledged. Building bridges is anytime better than separation walls. The dead from Friday's barbaric massacre span generations, aged between three and 77, according to a sombre list circulated among relatives. Some victims came from the neighbourhood, others from as far as Egypt or Fiji. At least two of the dead were from the same family— a father and son. India has stated that five of its nationals were killed, while Pakistan said nine of its citizens were among the dead.
The mosque attacks have shaken peaceful New Zealand, a country that prides itself on welcoming refugees fleeing violence or persecution. At a time of growing hostility towards diversity and the latest killings, the outpouring of compassion from authorities and people of New Zealand is truly laudable.
The highly respected Al Azhar University in Egypt has called the attack a dangerous indicator of the dire consequences of escalating hate speech, xenophobia and the spread of Islamophobia.
It’s undoubtedly time for global introspection and corrective action.
As Dr Anwar Bin Mohammed Gargash, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, wisely pointed out in his Twitter messages: “The New Zealand terrorist massacre highlights the necessity to address Islamophobia globally. While it is a time for grieving and reflection surely the link between Islamophobia and terrorism is firmly established. Reconsidering other terror attacks around the globe, surely the way forward is greater acceptance, diversity & inclusion. This should be our approach in defeating extremism.”
Global warming a burning issue, indeed
Student protests seeking action on climate change have been snowballing into a vigorous global movement and world leaders better take a serious note of the burning issue. Blind denial of global warming won’t hold water any longer.
Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg, who protests weekly outside Sweden's parliament, has successfully ignited a heated debate on the subject that cannot be doused with empty words.
Classrooms in capitals from Bangkok to Berlin, Lagos to London emptied last Friday as organisers of the student strike tried to stage 1,000 demonstrations in as many as 120 countries.
Just on Wednesday, a major report from the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) released at the UN Environment Assembly in Nairobi, cautioned that human activity is damaging the planet so badly, exacerbated by climate change, that it will increasingly put our health at risk.
Unless environmental protections are drastically scaled up, there could be millions of premature deaths by the middle of this century, with pollutants in freshwater systems becoming a major cause of death by 2050. In addition, more chemicals, known as endocrine disruptors, will have an adverse effect on male and female fertility, as well as the neurological development of children.
Leaders should heed scientists’ caution that fossil fuel use releases greenhouse gases, which trap heat and lift global temperatures, bringing more floods, droughts, heat waves and rising sea levels.
While nations meeting at the UN environment assembly did announce that they had agreed to "significantly reduce" single-use plastics over the next decade, it is disappointing that the pledge — which only referred to man-made global warming and made no mention of the fossil fuels driving it — fell far short of the steps needed to tackle earth's burgeoning pollution crisis.
The 2015 Paris climate conference pledge to keep the increase in global average temperatures to below 2 degrees Celsius (35 F) above pre-industrial levels requires a radical cutback in use of coal and fossil fuels.
Data released recently by the United Nations World Meteorological Organization made it abundantly clear that the past four years were officially the four warmest on record.
The analysis showed that the global average surface temperature in 2018 was approximately 1° Celsius above the pre-industrial (1850-1900) baseline — a huge cause for concern.
The pattern indicates trouble. The year 2019 has picked up where 2018 left off, with Australia experiencing its warmest January on record. Intense heat waves are becoming more frequent as a result of climate change.
Sea ice cover in the Arctic and Antarctic both marked the second lowest ever observed. There were 14 weather-related disasters costing one billion dollars or more.
Devastating forest fires, droughts, floods and hurricanes are now the norm rather than the exception. Such climatic catastrophes make it imperative on world nations to intensify efforts to cut down carbon emissions and expedite climate adaptation measures.
The agony of Maldives is a glaring example. The low-lying Maldives is among countries most vulnerable to the effects of climate change such as rising sea levels and coral reef deterioration.
The planet is heating up and a cool attitude could prove disastrous. Time is definitely running out to limit global warming to 1.5˚C. Climate change adaptation needs to be a high priority for the global community.
Disturbing signals from North Korea
Reports that North Korea has restored part of a rocket test site it began to dismantle after pledging to do so in a first summit with US President Donald Trump last year sound disturbing.
It is perturbing especially because North Korea had carried out six nuclear tests between 2006 and 2017. In the wake of diplomatic efforts led by the US and South Korea to denuclearise the Korean Peninsula, and the lull in rocket launches, there was optimism in the air.
In 2017, Pyongyang claimed it had become a nuclear state, capable of fitting a viable nuclear weapon on an ICBM that could reach as far as the United States' eastern seaboard. In response, the UN Security Council had to ban North Korea's main exports — coal and other mineral resources, fisheries and textile products — to cut off its access to hard currency.
Just last week, the second meeting between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, which was supposed to build on their historic first summit in Singapore, ended in a deadlock and no joint statement could be signed. By abruptly cutting short their meeting, the two leaders scuttled hopes for an agreement with tangible progress towards ending the North's nuclear programme that could have raised confidence across the region.
While the failure of the summit came as a shock, South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency and two US think tanks have reported that work was underway at the Sohae Satellite Launching Station at Tongchang-ri even as Trump met Kim Jong Un at the second summit.
Washington and the rest of the world want North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons programme and everything associated with it. Trump's national security adviser, John Bolton, has come up with tough words for Pyongyang. "If they're not willing to do it, President Trump has been very clear — they're not going to get relief from the crushing economic sanctions that have been imposed on them and we'll look at ramping those sanctions up in fact," Bolton has warned.
Separately, two US senators have also sought to pile up pressure on North Korea by reintroducing a bill to impose sanctions on any bank that does business with its government.
One has to wait and see how Pyongyang responds to the tough approach from Washington. Collapse of the peace process could lead not only the Korean region, but also the entire world on a risky path.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Recent Editorials

Here are some recent Editorials I wrote for The Gulf Today. (Posted for my records):
Children bearing brunt of conflicts
A child is an uncut diamond, once wrote Austin O’Malley. Children hold a special place in any society. They are to be protected. All children have the right to live free from violence, which harms their physical and mental growth. Unfortunately, what’s happening on the ground reflects a sad reality.
Charity organisation Save the Children International’s observation that at least 100,000 babies die every year because of armed conflict and its impact — from hunger to denial of aid, should rattle the conscience of every human being.
It is distressing that in the 10 worst-hit countries, a conservative estimate of 550,000 infants died as a result of fighting between 2013 and 2017. They succumbed to war and its effects, among them hunger, damage to hospitals and infrastructure, a lack of access to health care and sanitation and the denial of aid.
Children continue to face the threat of being killed or maimed, recruited by armed groups, abducted or falling victim to sexual violence and mere silence cannot be the response of the world community.
As per the charity’s CEO, Helle Thorning-Schmidt, almost one in five children are living in areas impacted by conflict — more than at any time in the past two decades. To add to the distress, the number of children being killed or maimed has more than tripled.
Under international humanitarian law, children and civilians should never be targeted for attacks. But the unfortunate reality speaks otherwise. For example, Israel’s violent practices in Gaza and the West Bank against innocent Palestinian children have been continuing unabated despite repeated warnings by the international community.
The United Nations Refugee Agency estimated recently that around 43 per cent of internally displaced people are children, and around three million Syrian children are refugees, and over 40 per cent of Syrian refugees do not have access to education.
This situation is just not acceptable. None of us grow up to be man or woman without passing through that beautiful, carefree phase called childhood.
A Peace Research Institute Oslo study commissioned by Save the Children group had also found that 420 million children were living in conflict-affected areas in 2017.
It issued a list of recommendations to help protect children, from steps such as committing to a minimum age of 18 for military recruitment to the avoidance of using explosive weapons in populated areas. One hopes such ideas are taken seriously and acted upon.
Mounting ‘e-waste’
a mammoth challenge
The environment and health are at increasing risk from the growing weight of electronic waste (e-waste), and it is disappointing that the world community is not giving the crucial subject due attention.
It’s estimated that each year, close to 50 million tonnes of electronic and electrical waste are produced globally, and only 20 per cent is formally recycled.
A joint report by seven UN entities, entitled, “A New Circular Vision for Electronics – Time for a Global Reboot,” has rightly called for a new vision for e-waste based on the “circular economy” concept, whereby a regenerative system can minimise waste and energy leakage.
A deliberative process must be instilled to change the system – one that collaborates with major brands, small and medium-sized enterprises, academia, trade unions and civil society.
Where there's a will, there's a way. Considerable work is already under way to harness a circular economy. For example, the Nigerian Government, the Global Environment Facility and UN Environment earlier announced a $2 million investment to formalise an e-waste recycling industry in Nigeria. The investment will leverage over $13 million in additional financing from the private sector.
As far as the UAE is concerned, it is fortunate that the country is fully aware of the challenge e-waste poses and takes serious and effective measures to deal with the situation.
As Dr Thani Bin Ahmed Al Zeyoudi, Minister of Climate Change and Environment, outlined recently, “Given the relatively high per capita income in the country, our people have demonstrated a high consumption rate. But we are also the most active in creating proper e-waste disposal procedures.”
An Integrated Waste Management system has been established, aiming to meet the UAE’s ambitious target of diverting 75 per cent of all municipal solid waste away from landfills by 2021 as outlined in the National Agenda of the UAE Vision 2021.
In May 2018, a federal law was issued on integrated waste management that governs the management of all types of hazardous and non-hazardous waste.
That’s not all. In partnership with the private sector, the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment has been supporting the establishment of one of the largest e-waste treatment facilities in the region soon with a processing capacity of 39,000 tonnes per year.
Globally, what’s called for is better e-waste strategies and green standards as well as closer collaboration between governments, employers and unions to make the circular economy work for both people and planet, as Guy Ryder, Director-General, International Labour Organisation, well suggests.
Protect users from
cyberspace risks
Technology is a double-edged sword. The immense benefit it offers comes with a flip side that poses potential dangers to users in varied forms. This makes it imperative for tight safety measures to be put in place.
Even as various government and private entities joined hands to mark the International Safer Internet Day 2019 on Tuesday, it would be prudent to take a serious note of a United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) report which indicated that online violence, cyber-bullying and digital harassment affected over 70 per cent of young people globally, and rightly called for concerted action to tackle and prevent this form of violence.
A recent one-million-strong Unicef poll of 15- to 24-year-old’s from more than 160 countries prompted the call, along with a series of student-led #ENDviolence Youth Talks held globally, which examined what parents, teachers and policymakers could do to keep them safe.
Interestingly, in the end, kindness stood out as one of the most powerful means to prevent bullying and cyberbullying.
According to the UN International Telecommunications Union (ITU), 94 per cent of 15- to 24-year old’s in developed countries are online, and more than 65 per cent of their developing country counterparts – well ahead of the pace of Internet usage among the general population. Half of the world’s total population, regardless of age, is online, which brings increased risks.
Unicef is absolutely right in stating that cyber-bullying can cause profound harm as it can quickly reach a wide audience, and can remain accessible online indefinitely, virtually “following” its victims online for life. Bullying and cyber-bullying also feed into each other, forming a continuum of damaging behaviour.
As per data from the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, the proportion of children and adolescents affected by cyber-bullying ranges from five per cent to 21 per cent, with girls at higher risk than boys.
The need to establish an effective mechanism to develop sustainable means of communication, while maintaining a safe Internet environment should never be underestimated.
The safety of children when they are online is one of the primary concerns of modern times. Parents should guide their children and prevent them from falling prey to fake news or messages posted on social media platforms.
Malicious cyber activity should be fought efficiently and unitedly. Greater coordination among countries is essential to enact a system for fair and safe use of cyber space.
Constant vigil is essential from all sides to protect honest social media users.
Efforts needed to make
food chain safer
Each year, food contaminated with bacteria, viruses, parasites, toxins or chemicals cause more than 600 million people to fall ill and 420,000 to die worldwide, as per UN organisations, and the only best way forward is to forge greater international cooperation to make the food chain safer.
The need to root out dangerous food should never be underestimated as it hampers progress towards sustainable development everywhere. This fact was amply highlighted at the first International Food Safety Conference, in Addis Ababa – organised by the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization, World Health Organization, World Trade Organization and the African Union.
Contaminated food is to blame for more than 200 diseases, ranging from diarrhoea to cancers -- and the economic impact is huge but often overlooked. Children under five suffer most, comprising 40 per cent of those who fall ill.
Illness linked to unsafe food overloads healthcare systems and damages economies, trade and tourism. The impact of unsafe food costs low- and middle-income economies around $95 billion in lost productivity each year.
To move to a healthy diet, a recent report by the EAT-Lancet Commission well suggested that the world double its consumption of fruits, vegetables, legumes and nuts while reducing at least by half, red meat and food with added sugar.
Facts can be bitter. Many may not know that one-third of the world’s croplands are used to grow feed for cows, rather than fruits, nuts, vegetables and whole grains which are needed for a healthy human diet. More than half of the world’s population suffers from some form of malnutrition.
The reality is that the world is witnessing changing food systems. Technological advances, digitalization, novel foods and processing methods provide a wealth of opportunities to simultaneously enhance food safety, and improve nutrition, livelihoods and trade. At the same time, climate change and the globalisation of food production, coupled with a growing global population and increasing urbanization, pose new challenges to food safety.
Food systems are becoming even more complex and interlinked, blurring lines of regulatory responsibility, as experts point out. Solutions to these potential problems require intersectoral and concerted international action.
Food safety must be a paramount goal at every stage of the food chain, from production to harvest, processing, storage, distribution, preparation and consumption.
The international community needs to strengthen political commitments and engage in key actions on food safety as the subject affects each and every individual on the planet.