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.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

‘Spiderman’ saved baby, and honour of migrants

(My salute to migrants - Editorial for The Gulf Today)
While video footage of Malian "Spiderman" Mamoudou Gassama scaling four storeys of a Paris building with his bare hands to save a child dangling from a balcony has catapulted him to global fame, the incident has also brought into sharp focus the plight of millions of migrants, who risk their lives on rough seas and unknown territories just in the hope that one day the sun would shine and they might find a better life.
French President Emmanuel Macron has sent the right signals by hailing the 22-year-old Malian migrant as an "example" and offering him citizenship.
However, Gassama’s act of heroism comes as lawmakers debate a controversial bill in France that would speed up the deportation of economic migrants and failed asylum-seekers, thousands of whom live in sordid camps in the capital.
Like almost all other refugees and migrants, Gassama’s story has also been one of huge challenges. He has been living illegally and working in construction since arriving in September last year following a perilous journey from his homeland to Libya and then Italy.
On his arrival in France after travelling the Mediterranean migrant route, Gassama was just given a mattress on the floor in a room occupied by his brother and three relatives from his home village.
Migrants and refugees are humans too. It’s the strangulating circumstances they are in that force them to look for greener pastures. Exploitation, extreme weather conditions, new cultures and food habits, hostile hosts are just a few of the line of thorns they are forced to overcome.
The birth of a baby boy, aptly named Miracle, on board a ship in the Mediterranean after his migrant mother was rescued trying to make the crossing from Libya last week highlights the length to which migrants go seeking safer places.
‘Miracle’ is said to be the 36th baby to be born on board one of the ships that patrol the Mediterranean.
Migration is not a crime. Slamming doors, closing borders and keeping people out will never ever be a solution. Fair migration laws will benefit all and that’s precisely what the international community should strive for.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Recent Editorials

Here are some recent editorials I wrote for The Gulf Today. (Posted for my records):
Trump, Kim should seize
peace opportunity
After a few turbulent days of diplomatic brinkmanship that sent tensions soaring, there is some positive news from across the Korean peninsula.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has committed to complete denuclearisation and to a landmark summit with US President Donald Trump, as per a statement by South Korean President Moon Jae-in.
Though Trump rattled a sabre on Thursday by cancelling the planned June 12 meeting with Kim in Singapore citing "open hostility" from Pyongyang, fortunately, within 24 hours he reversed course, saying it could still go ahead.
The “Will they, won’t they?” question has been answered with “Yes, they will.”
The need to protect the momentum and seize the opportunities available to find a peaceful path forward should never be underestimated.
What is heartening is that the peace process has sustained, despite the on and off hiccups. Just last year, Trump and Kim were trading war threats and insults after Pyongyang tested its most powerful nuclear weapon to date and missiles it said were capable of reaching the US mainland.
There are still stark differences between the two sides. Washington wants North Korea to give up all its nukes in a verifiable way as quickly as possible in return for sanctions and economic relief.
Pyongyang has a different view of what denuclearisation might look like and remains deeply worried that abandoning that deterrent would leave the country vulnerable to regime change.
Scepticism reigns on whether Kim would actually ever fully abandon his nuclear arsenal. Moon has also indicated that North Korea is not yet convinced it can trust security guarantees from the United States.
If successful, recent efforts towards lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula would formally end one of the world’s longest unresolved conflicts, which began in June 1950. An armistice brought about a ceasefire in 1953, but the war never officially ended because the parties failed to reach agreement over a peace treaty.
Discussions across the table, however heated, are any time better and safer for humanity than firing of ballistic missiles and calling names via social media. Direct talks between the leaders of the United States and North Korea are crucial to resolving the crucial nuclear issue.
Sustainable peace and denuclearisation are the ultimate goals. All sides involved should seize the historical opportunity to settle matters through honest and productive dialogue.
Any other path is strewn with huge risks not only for the Korean peninsula, but the rest of the world too.
No place for hatred
in a sane society
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 virtuous message seems to have lost its way before reaching Nottingham city in Britain.
It is appalling to note that three out of five of Nottingham's Muslims have been victims of hate crime. Many victims specifically cite Islamophobia and religion as the motivation behind the offences.
As per a report in                         The Independent, Citizens UK, in collaboration with academics from Nottingham Trent University and the University of Nottingham, collected the experiences of 1,202 people in Nottingham, including the frequency, causes and locations of hate crime.
The report, titled “Still No Place For Hate,” found more than a third (35 per cent) of all people surveyed in the city had experienced a hate crime, an increase of six per cent since the last report in 2014.
“I wear the Islamic dress and the perpetrator was shouting that I was hiding a bomb,” one respondent said. “On another incident whilst driving in my car, a passerby was shouting and calling me Bin Laden.”
“Regularly am followed when I go out in a hijab and abused the whole journey back home,” a woman reported. “Regularly get abuse online and on Facebook.”
There is no place for such hatred in a sane society. Every person is entitled to human rights without discrimination.
The rights to equality and non-discrimination are cornerstones of human rights law. Yet blatant racism, xenophobia 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.
Sajid Mohammed, leader of Citizens UK subsidiary Nottingham Citizens, has pointed out that “Everyone from the new Home Secretary to Nottingham school girls as young as 12 have ended up victims of hateful slurs.”
Communities can and must change this dreadful trend. There should be 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 report serves as a perfect reminder that the authorities need to do much more to challenge hate. Leaders should be sincere in working with the community and find ways to better promote tolerance and respect for diversity.
They should realise that if there is no harmony in society, they will also have to pay a price, if not today, some day.
Air pollution
a global threat
More than 90 per cent of the global population is breathing in high levels of pollutants, says the World Health Organization (WHO) and that is as good as saying almost entire humanity is affected.
The implication is that air pollution levels remain dangerously high in many parts of the world. Considering the seriousness of the subject, the global community needs to take rapid and coordinated remedial measures.
New data from WHO shows that 9 out of 10 people breathe air containing high levels of pollutants. Updated estimations reveal an alarming death toll of 7 million people every year caused by ambient (outdoor) and household air pollution.
Sadly, the poorest and most marginalised people bear the brunt of the problem.
As Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of WHO, points out, it is unacceptable that over 3 billion people – mostly women and children – are still breathing deadly smoke every day from using polluting stoves and fuels in their homes.
Ambient air pollution alone caused some 4.2 million deaths in 2016, while household air pollution from cooking with polluting fuels and technologies caused an estimated 3.8 million deaths in the same period.
More than 90 per cent of air pollution-related deaths occur in low and middle-income countries, mainly in Asia and Africa, followed by low and middle-income countries of the Eastern Mediterranean region, Europe and the Americas.
As per WHO officials, ambient air pollution levels are lowest in high-income countries, particularly in Europe, the Americas and the Western Pacific. Europe also has the highest number of places reporting data. Unfortunately, Africa and some of the Western Pacific have a serious lack of air pollution data.
Not all is lost, however. The positive news is that more and more governments are committing to monitor and reduce air pollution.
Air quality can be improved by implementing policy measures such as banning the use of coal for “space heating” in buildings, using clean fuels for electricity production and improving efficiency of motor vehicle engines.
Cities like Copenhagen and Bogotà have improved air quality by prioritising dedicated networks of urban public transport, walking and cycling. There is a lesson for others to learn here.
It is true that air pollution does not recognise borders.
WHO experts have rightly stated that improving air quality demands sustained and coordinated government action at all levels. Countries need to work together on solutions for sustainable transport, more efficient and renewable energy production and use and waste management.
Protect civilians
caught in conflict
With more than 128 million people worldwide requiring immediate humanitarian aid, mostly due to war and violence, the international community should do more to protect civilians caught in conflict.
As per United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, last year alone, more than 26,000 civilians were killed or injured in many countries affected by conflict, including Afghanistan, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Iraq.
It is in this background that the UAE’s call on the UN Security Council and Member States to join in protecting civilians and upholding international law by focusing on prevention to address the root causes of conflict assumes deep significance.
There is a need to recognise that regional conflicts require regional solutions and reinvigorate the Council to ensure that it takes both action in response to conflicts and follows through on its existing resolutions.
As Ambassador Lana Zaki Nusseibeh, UAE's Permanent Representative to the United Nations in New York, explicitly pointed out at the Open Debate on the protection of civilians in armed conflict, the failure of the Council to respond decisively to conflict around the world has exacted a profound human toll.
What is called for is a re-energised unity of purpose within the Council and renewed action to maintain international peace and security.
With the conflict in Syria, for example, now entering its 8th year, the world is experiencing the challenge of multiple armed conflicts that have severe implications for civilian communities. These conflicts have in many instances been worsened and prolonged by the Security Council’s failure to act.
The Syrian people have been denied humanitarian assistance for too long largely due to the inaction of the Council to pass any resolutions or implement adopted resolutions on Syria.
The Israeli occupation forces have been inflicting much suffering on Palestinians for decades. Israel’s recent actions at the Gaza Fence, which include attacks on doctors and paramedics, clearly violated the protection for medical personnel assisting wounded civilians guaranteed under the Fourth Geneva Convention and international law.
Ambassador Nusseibeh rightly condemned Iran’s arming of various non-state actors in order to avoid sovereign accountability for its actions, thereby putting the region at greater risk.
The UN Council needs to take bold steps towards countering the threats posed by non-state actors to better address 21st century challenges. States such as Iran should be held accountable for their attempts to violate international law and continued violations of the UN Council’s resolutions.

Monday, April 30, 2018

Recent Editorials

Here are some recent editorials I wrote for The Gulf Today. (Posted for my records):
Afghan attacks
a monstrous act
Monday turned out to be another tear-jerking day for Afghanistan.
Savage bombings carried out by cold-blooded terrorists claimed the lives of several innocent people, including children and brave journalists doing their job.
There is absolutely no justification for such monstrous attacks and the perpetrators should be swiftly brought to justice.
The suicide attack that killed a group of Afghan journalists as they gathered to cover a bomb explosion in Kabul was evidently a deliberate act targeting the media, as the bomber had presented a press card to police before joining the group standing near a blast site.
A BBC reporter, Agence France-Presse chief photographer for Afghanistan were among the victims, on the deadliest day for journalists in the country since the fall of Taliban in 2001. Also killed was Maharam Durani, a young female producer who had joined Radio Azadi, a local station, just a week earlier.
Globally, it was the worst attack on journalists in a single incident since 31 reporters and photographers were killed in a massacre in the Philippines in 2009.
As per the Afghanistan Journalists Safety Committee, at least 80 journalists and media workers have been killed working in the country since 2001. But there had never been a day when so many were killed in the same attack.
Such horrific attacks have been taking place in succession. Just last week, a suicide bomber attacked a voter registration centre in Kabul, killing 60 people and wounding at least 130 others. There were 22 women and eight children among the fatalities.
A month before, a suicide bomber targeted a shrine in Kabul in an attack that killed 31 people.
The heartless terrorists did not spare even children. In Kandahar, where NATO-led forces operate out of a big air base, 11 children were killed and 16 wounded when a suicide bomber drove his explosive-laden van into a convoy.
The international community needs to wake up to the reality in Afghanistan where bloodshed has become a norm and civilians are not able to live in peace for years. The suffering faced by Afghan families should be brought to an end.
The killing of such a large number of journalists in the exercise of their profession is a direct assault on freedom of expression.
The Afghan government should do more to protect civilians and journalists.
Those who organised and enabled such cruel attacks should not be allowed to get away and must be held to account.
Positive signals in
Korean peace push
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has indicated that his country would not only shut its nuclear test site in May but also invite experts and journalists from the United States and South Korea when that happens. This is hugely positive news from Pyongyang and undoubtedly a step in the right direction.
Following Friday’s historic summit between the leaders of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the Republic of Korea, the world is increasingly hopeful that the two countries would swiftly implement all agreed actions, including ridding the Peninsula of nuclear weapons.
Nuclear weapons are the most dangerous enemies of humanity. The scale of devastation they could cause is inconceivable. A single nuclear bomb detonated over a large city could kill millions of innocent people.
An armistice brought the fighting on the Korean peninsula to an end in 1953, but 65 years later, a final peace agreement has still not been reached.
Kim informed South Korean President Moon Jae-in during the summit that the North would have no need to keep nuclear weapons if Washington commits to formally ending the 1950-53 Korean War and signs a non-aggression pact with Pyongyang.
That leaves the ball in Washington’s court.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, on his part, insists that the US has an "obligation" to pursue a diplomatic solution with North Korea, and there is a "real opportunity" for progress.
It’s not that there are no hiccups. While Pyongyang says it will close its nuclear test site, Kim and Moon did not outline concrete measures to be taken to achieve that goal of denuclearisation.
If Kim offers commitment on this extremely sensitive subject and also keeps his words, the United States should not hesitate to take matching positive actions.
It’s so far so good insofar as the peace process is concerned and the world community increasingly hopes that all sides keep their promises through right action.
Let bygones be bygones.
Advancing harmony and peace on the Korean Peninsula is not only good for the region, but the entire world.
As Sheikh Abdullah Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, UAE Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, pointed out, the groundbreaking summit between the two Koreas represents a turning point on the path towards ending tension on the Korean Peninsula and establishing peace and security there.
It is absolutely necessary to keep the momentum of such efficient steps. The international community should also spare no effort in providing all needed support.
Do not ignore plight
of displaced people
More than 40 million people are displaced by conflict and another 25 million annually by disaster within the borders of their own countries, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM).
The numbers not only startle but also indicate the need for collective and effective global action to tackle the root causes of internal displacements.
To compound the worry, children, on average, make up over half those numbers.
Internally displaced people (IDP) is a label given to those who remain in their homeland, as opposed to refugees, who flee across borders.
“In 1998, internal displacement was recognised as one of the world’s greatest tragedies and 20 years later, it still is,” as William Lacy Swing, head of IOM, points out.
Unfortunately, the number of internally displaced people has nearly doubled in two decades due to ongoing new displacements, a lack of solutions for those being left behind in protracted crises and a chronic shortfall of almost 50 per cent of funding needed to meet basic humanitarian needs.
Thus, the daily tragedy of internal displacement continues for millions of people around the globe.
The Syrian conflict has led to more than 6.1 million internally displaced people, with more than 13 million people inside the country requiring humanitarian assistance, including nearly six million children.
In Idlib Province alone, some 1.5 million people are said to be displaced in various locations, making it “the biggest refugee camp in many ways.”
The agony of the world’s most persecuted community, the Rohingya in Myanmar, cannot be ignored. Over 400,000 Rohingya Muslims still living in Rakhine State continue to face a life of hardship and marginalisation due to movement restrictions.
These restrictions severely compromise their rights and obstruct their access to health, livelihoods, education and other essential services.
About 2.2 million people became internally displaced in the Democratic Republic of Congo last year alone, nearly doubling the total number of internally displaced people to 4.5 million.
Internal displacement is a serious issue, but the phenomenon has largely been neglected.
It should not reach a situation where insecurity and hopelessness set in the minds of displaced persons. It is the duty of the rest of humanity to wake up and extend a helping hand.
The victims face a desperate humanitarian situation. The international community should initiate action to alleviate the suffering of millions of men, women and children who get trapped in conflict zones around the world.
World should question
Israel on brutal killings
With over 43 Palestinians killed and more than 5,500 injured during protests in Gaza over the past month, it is increasingly obvious that Israel has been using brutal and excessive force against non-violent protesters.
The international community cannot afford to remain a silent spectator to such monstrous killings by the occupation forces.
Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, has rightly called on Israel to ensure that its security forces do not resort to use of excessive force amid the ongoing demonstrations.
The staggering number of injuries caused by live ammunition only confirms the sense that excessive force has been used against demonstrators — not once, not twice, but repeatedly.
Unfortunately, such repeated warnings by the UN and other peace-loving organisations and individuals have gone unheeded, as the approach of the Israeli security forces does not seem to have changed.
Amnesty International is also absolutely correct in calling for an arms embargo of Israel over the use of live fire. For four weeks the world has watched in horror as Israeli snipers and other soldiers, in full-protective gear and behind the fence, have attacked Palestinian protesters with live ammunition and tear gas, as the human rights organisation has stated.
Israel has so far unabashedly rejected calls for an independent inquiry into the deaths along Gaza's border, which is a clear indication of its guilty conscience.
Israel's open-fire rules are unambiguously unlawful as they allow soldiers to use lethal force even in situations where their lives are not in danger.
Another cause for concern is that over the last four weeks, four children were shot dead by Israeli forces, three of them by a bullet to the head or neck. A further 233 were injured by live ammunition, with some sustaining injuries that will result in lifelong disabilities, including through the amputation of limbs.
The use of excessive force against any demonstrator is reprehensible, but children enjoy additional protection under international law, as Zeid points out.
It is extremely difficult to see how children can present a threat of imminent death or serious injury to heavily protected Israeli security force personnel.
If the images of a child being shot as he runs away from Israeli security forces do not shake the conscience of humanity, what else will!
The importance of reaching a fair solution to the Palestinian cause that ensures a decent and dignified life for the Palestinian people should never be underestimated.