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.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Recent Editorials

Here are some recent editorials I wrote for The Gulf Today. (Posted for my records):
Dubai a cradle of innovation
Dubai is a city of superlatives. The pursuit of happiness through hard work and the fondness for the Number 1 slot make Dubai the world’s most inspiring and sought-after destination. 
The inspiration springs from the leadership. The objectives of The Fifty-Year Charter, which aims to speed up the journey of prosperity, progress and sustainability in Dubai, well reflect the visionary zeal of the leaders. 
Vice President, Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum has made it clear that Dubai is determined to cement its position as global business capital. Once a goal is set, track record proves that Dubai never fails to achieve it, however hard the path may be.
Sheikh Mohammed’s vision for the next 50 years focuses on building upon the accomplished achievements, to reach a fully integrated city of law and the spirit of mercy and compassion, where its inhabitants enjoy prosperity and progress, as well as creating a conducive environment for future generations.
Foresight is a crucial word in a fast changing world. Whether it’s individuals or nations, those who procrastinate or fail to anticipate are bound to lose.
As Sheikh Mohammed points out, the new era requires keeping abreast of the changes that are taking place in today's world with creative thinking that anticipates the future challenges to ensure that Dubai will maintain its achievements and influential position to become a centre of the world.
The city’s magnetic appeal is also due to its year-round calendar of festivals, events and shopping experiences.
Figures speak volumes about the success story. The Emirate saw 1,777,913 passengers pass through its sea, air, and land ports from Dec.23, 2018 through Jan.1, 2019.
Constant upgradation and innovative initiatives, coupled with service par excellence by the staff have paid off, with the Dubai International Airport receiving its one billionth passenger last month. A billion people have taken Dubai to their destination. Dubai is a part of their story for a billion people. And that’s an awesome achievement.
No wonder, the Emirate remains on track to becoming the most visited city for global travel, business and events.
All factors indicate that Dubai is making sustained progress towards its Tourism Vision 2020 goals of welcoming 20 million visitors per year by 2020.
“We must look forward and anticipate the future, so that our country lead globally,” once stated Sheikh Mohammed. That vision is paying rich dividends.
New year should see
end to trade war
 The year gone by cannot be termed as great for global trade. While trade frictions between China and the United States affected business confidence and investment, political uncertainty and slower global growth added to the worry.
In fact, several global stock markets suffered their worst year in a decade. Wall Street advanced in low-volume trading on Monday as revelers gathered to ring in 2019, marking the end of the worst year for US stocks since 2008, the height of the financial crisis.
December was a particularly testing time for US equities. The S&P 500 saw its worst December since the Great Depression and the Nasdaq confirmed it was in a bear market, or 20 per cent below its high.
Asian and European markets too suffered similar losses during the year.
The 2018 Asia-Pacific Trade and Investment Report, earlier issued by the UN’s development arm in the region, ESCAP, cautioned that an escalating tariff war and resulting drop in confidence next year could cut nearly $400 billion from the global gross domestic product and drive regional GDP down by $117 billion.
The report underscored that neither China nor the US could win a trade war, explaining that both would see significant economic losses.
Washington and Beijing imposed tit-for-tat tariffs on more than $300 billion worth of goods in total two-way trade last year, locking them in a conflict that has begun to eat into profits.
The International Monetary Fund too cut its global growth forecast in October to 3.7 per cent for both 2018 and 2019, down from 3.9 per cent projected in July.
Fortunately, there is some scope for optimism.
The presidents of China and the US have exchanged messages vowing to boost cooperation despite the bruising trade war on the 40th anniversary of the countries' diplomatic relations.
US President Donald Trump, who has frozen the latest planned tariff hike, has indicated  "big progress" after a call with his counterpart Xi Jinping. Xi too has underlined the importance of working with the US "to advance China-US relations featuring coordination, cooperation and stability."
Moving the globe further away from an open, fair and rules-based trade system cannot be termed sensible.
Protectionist and unilateral approaches on trade are not the best way forward and only tend to fuel uncertainty and fear among investors. Uncertainty is a bane and huge hurdle to progress. Co-ordination is anytime better than confrontation.
German hack exposes
cyber vulnerability
While technology brings with it huge advantages, there is a dangerous flip side to it. Private data that has been stolen from hundreds of German politicians, including Chancellor Angela Merkel, and released online indicates the extent to which damage could be inflicted by unscrupulous hackers on individuals and organisations.
The fact that the information, which comprised home addresses, mobile phone numbers, letters, invoices and copies of identity documents, was published via Twitter in December but only came to light this week shows that the world needs to recognise the vulnerability of the virtual world and act more vigorously to counter such malicious activities. 
The extent of the damage could be surmised from the fact that among those affected were members of the Bundestag lower house of parliament, the European Parliament, as well as those from regional and local assemblies. Deputies from all parties represented in the Bundestag were also affected, as well as President Frank-Walter Steinmeier.
Beyond politicians, the leak also exposed the private data of celebrities and journalists.
Some consolation comes from the fact that preliminary investigation indicated no sensitive information or data from Merkel's office had been leaked.
It may be recalled that last year, the country’s domestic intelligence service, the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, said there had been repeated cyberattacks against MPs, the military and several embassies that were allegedly carried out by Russian Internet espionage group "Snake." Computer networks belonging to the German government came under sustained attack and data from foreign ministry staff were stolen.
The fact that no right-wing politicians in the country were targeted in the latest cyber attack gives a twist to the controversy, which needs to be analysed by the investigative agencies.
It is true that such digital attacks are something most countries will have to adapt to in future. The susceptibility of such a powerful nation to cyber attacks hints at problems countries with much lesser facilities and infrastructure could face.
Such cyber crimes are not acceptable anywhere in the world and can only be perceived as an attack on democracy and institutions. Whichever individual or organisation is behind such act should be identified and made accountable. 
"Cyber vandalism," as former US president Barack Obama once dubbed such actions, needs a stronger response. What is called for is an effective system that could help utilise the benefits of digital technology even while protecting against negative impacts.
Give peace a chance
in Afghanistan
It is distressing that senseless violence continues unabated in Afghanistan despite a flurry of diplomatic efforts aimed at bringing the Taliban to the negotiating table and ending the 17-year war.
More disturbing is also the fact that civilians continue to bear the brunt of the war.  According to the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), 8,050 civilians died or were wounded between January and September, with use of suicide bombings and other improvised explosive devices (IEDs) by anti-government elements, accounting for almost half the casualties.
What will rattle human conscience is the fact that 5,000 children in Afghanistan were either killed or maimed within the first three-quarters of 2018.
Children there make up 89 per cent of civilian casualties from explosive remnants of war, such as unexploded shells, mortars or grenades.
On Monday, in the southeastern province of Paktika, eight civilians were killed and 12 wounded when a roadside bomb exploded near a market in Janikhail district. The militants are said to have left the bomb in a village square. Among the dead were two brothers aged 10 and 12. A group of children had been trying to remove the explosive device from the ground when it exploded.
The war in Afghanistan is America's longest overseas military intervention. It has cost Washington nearly a trillion dollars and killed tens of thousands of people.
US President Donald Trump's plan to slash troop numbers in Afghanistan has also added to the confusion.
While many worry that the withdrawal of US troops could lead to political instability and give the Taliban more power, others are hopeful their departure will facilitate peace talks.
Top Afghan officials insist that in the past four and a half years, security has been solely in the hands of Afghans and the final goal as part of those efforts is for Afghan National Defence and Security Forces (ANDSF) to stand on their feet and protect and defend soil on their own.
As per                         The Independent, fatalities in Afghanistan have been significantly higher in the past four years that the ANDSF have spent battling with the Taliban. At least 28,529 Afghan security forces have been killed since 2015, whereas American fatalities are low in contrast.
Whatever the background, all sides involved in the conflict should now work earnestly towards reconciliation and see to it that peace returns at the earliest. The Afghan people have suffered for too long for no mistake of their own.