Saturday, August 27, 2016

Free bird

Stepping out of my third-floor home, I crossed the building’s ground floor when I noticed a couple of beautiful, colourful birds locked in a balcony.
Just outside the glass pane, hardly six feet away, was a gigantic tree, where mynahs and sparrows were merrily chirping.

For a moment, my mind was rattled and I exclaimed to the watchman, “How sad! Such beauties in jail! And the world is wide open for the birds on this tree.”
“You are wrong,” his perception differed. “The ones in the balcony live in air-conditioned rooms. They are fed at the right time and are safe from any danger. Just watch the cat under the tree. It would pounce on any of the sparrows that you admire on the tree anytime.”
His logic instigated a dilemma.
Is he right?
For a moment, I almost thought so.
Then wisdom dawned on me, and I told myself there is nothing in the world that can match freedom, whatever the cost.
As William GT Shedd put it, a ship is safe in harbour, but that’s not what ships are for.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Revellers usher in Eid with joy

(My article in The Gulf Today, posted for my records) 

SHARJAH: The UAE woke up to a joyful mood on Wednesday as “Eid Mubarak” greetings filled the air right from Tuesday night.
The hot, humid weather failed to deter the spirits of the enthusiastic residents who thronged the streets and hugged each other.
Many had decked up their homes and could be seen queuing outside sweet shops to buy delicacies for family and visitors.
Sharjah resident Toqeer Usman said one should not forget the underprivileged during the great occasion and refrain from indulging in extravagance. “It should be a spiritual celebration, spreading love and tolerance among all people.
“I am expecting a large number of guests at home. I wanted to pick up the sweets before it runs out. Eid for me is a perfect time to be with family and near ones,” said Zoya Mehmood, a Sharjah resident, who was spotted at a popular sweet joint in Rolla.
Incredibly, people held on to the strength of traditions by exchanging greetings and gifts, even while embracing digital technology in a way that the spiritual connection was not lost.
The social media was abuzz with Eid greetings, cutting across all nationalities and religions and ringing in a spirit of love and brotherhood, which is the prime message of Islam.
Several colourful events have been lined up across the Emirates on the Eid days.
While the prime attraction is likely to be fireworks displays, shopping deals, stage shows and a variety of buffets are also on the menu.
Years of tradition will continue with the faithful thronging mosques to listen to the Eid sermon and prayers.
Eid Al Fitr, also called the festival of fast-breaking, marks the end of the holiest month in the Islamic calendar and the beginning of the lunar month Shawwal.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Recent Editorials

Here are some recent editorials I wrote for The Gulf Today. (Posted for my records)
When will peace
return to Iraq?
What can be more agonising than the merciless killing of several innocent people during the Holy Month of Ramadan by mindless and ruthless terrorists!
Just a week after the Iraqi security forces recaptured Fallujah from the dreaded Daesh, a number of people have been killed or wounded in the deadliest single terrorist attack this year in Baghdad. Many of those killed were children.
The heartless militants chose a time when the streets were crowded at night at the end of a day's fasting.
Iraq has been forced to endure endless misery for a long time, ever since a war was imposed on it by Washington based on lies that it possessed weapons of mass destruction.
Shockingly, there has been a long list of deadly attacks in Iraq this year.
On June 9, two suicide bomb attacks near the entrance of a military base in Taji killed 18 people. On May 17, a series of attacks, including suicide bombings, claimed over 48 people in Baghdad.
On May 12, 16 people were killed when gunmen attacked a cafe with gunfire and grenades in Baghdad and then detonated suicide belts against security forces in pursuit. Daesh claimed the attack on the cafe in Balad town that is popular with fans of Real Madrid football club.
The list extends with such grim statistics.
The situation is also worst for children. One out of every five Iraqi children are said to be at serious risk of death, injury, sexual violence, abduction and recruitment into armed groups, according to a new United Nations report.
In “A Heavy Price for Children: Violence destroys childhoods in Iraq,” Unicef has stated that some 3.6 million children are in danger – an increase of 1.3 million in 18 months.
The report also states that 4.7 million children are in need of humanitarian aid, which amounts to one-third of all Iraqi children, as military operations in Fallujah and around Mosul lead to deteriorating living conditions.
At a time when the world hoped for a period of calm during the month of peace and compassion, it is highly unfortunate that violence continues to take its toll on civilians in Iraq.
As UN officials point out, terrorists did not spare an occasion to strike at markets, mosques and areas where people gathered in order to exact maximum casualties among civilians.
The international community needs to unite more strongly to fight and defeat the monstrous forces of extremism.

Heinous, cowardly
attacks in Turkey
The terrorist attacks that targeted Istanbul's Ataturk International Airport and resulted in several deaths and injuries are heinous and despicable acts that targeted innocent people.
Terrorism is a common enemy of all human beings. Terrorists are responsible for innumerable abuses against people from all faiths, ethnicities and nationalities, and without regard to any basic value of humanity.
Sadly, the year 2016 has seen a slew of such mass killings in Turkey.
Until June, almost 200 people have been killed and thousands wounded in bombings in Istanbul and Ankara.
A bombing in Istanbul's historic Sultanahmet Square in January claimed the lives of 11 German tourists. Car bombings in Ankara in February and March killed more than 60 people.
For a destination that hosts historic sites like the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia church at Sultanahmet, the explosions have proved economically devastating.
The senseless attack in Ataturk is also the latest to target airports and the aviation industry, coming three months after suicide bombers struck Brussels airport.
Data published on the morning of the attacks already signalled a grim outlook.
Tourist arrivals not only fell in May for a record tenth month, but as hotels and resorts enter peak season, the slump is said to have deepened.
Basaran Ulusoy, the president of the Association of Turkish Travel Agencies, has been quoted as saying that the industry is headed for a 35-40 per cent drop in income in 2016.
Figures released at the end of May by the Turkish tourism ministry showed that the month had seen the worst drop-off in visits in 22 years, down 35 per cent on 2015's figure.
April's figure had already been 30 per cent down on the previous year.
While visitor figures from countries like Germany and Britain, have been particularly weak, almost 90 per cent of Russian tourists have stayed away as Ankara and Moscow entered a war of words after Turkish forces downed a Russian warplane.
That's bleak news for an industry that normally brings in close to $33.2 billion in foreign currency each year.
The UAE has rightly called on the international community to stand united and uproot the bane of terrorism.
As stated by Sheikh Abdullah Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, UAE Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, the heinous act contradicts all religions, human values and principles.
There is a dire need to intensify global efforts to combat violent extremism by promoting tolerance, understanding and peaceful dialogue.

Cracks in the
Any parting is painful. The majority of British voters, though, have opted for “freedom” over the pain that comes with parting.
The implication of the Brexit verdict is that a 28-member commission in Brussels cannot anymore steer the laws and choices of the British people.
The London-Brussels divorce, after four decades of often-troubled relationship, has not only triggered a seismic blow to the European Union (EU) bloc, but has also left a trail of socio-economic tremors across the globe.
With events unfolding through the day, Friday marked a turning point in the history of Britain. The verdict prompted Prime Minister David Cameron to resign and sent the world financial markets into a freefall.
The vote result threatens to lead to the break-up of the United Kingdom itself after Scotland raised the prospect of another independence vote.
Top anti-EU campaigner Nigel Farage, leader of the UK Independence Party, says that June 23 will "go down in our history as our independence day," while Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has declared that a second independence vote is now highly likely after a 2014 referendum backed staying in the UK.
Amid the turmoil, the man who led the “Leave” campaign to a convincing win, Conservative MP Boris Johnson, insists that Britain is not becoming isolationist. On the contrary, he argues that the country will head for a prosperous future by taking back control of laws and policies.
Incidentally, Brexit has also reawakened fears of a domino-effect ripple of exit votes in Eurosceptic member states that could imperil the integrity of the bloc.
Dutch far-right MP Geert Wilders and French National Front leader Marine Le Pen have already called for referendums on EU membership in their own countries.
Almost a quarter of EU citizens view the bloc "very negatively,” according to the most recent Euro barometer public opinion poll conducted by the EU Commission in November 2015.
There can be no doubt that Brexit is now the biggest blow to globalisation, challenging the world’s cuddling of freer movement of goods, services and people.
The economic impact was harsh on Friday. Sterling, global stocks and oil prices plummeted with the US stocks tumbling the most since February.
What looks certain, at least in the short term, is uncertainty. With Brexit, one can expect a lot of volatility in the coming days. What is essential is a calm and consensual approach to implementing the Brexit process. In this, global unity will serve better. After all, divided we fall.

Endless plight of
the Rohingya
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, is absolutely right in asking the Myanmar government to take concrete steps to end the systemic discrimination and human rights violations against minority communities, particularly the Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine state.
A report requested by the UN Human Rights Council in July 2015 has documented a wide range of rights violations, including arbitrary deprivation of nationality, severe restrictions on freedom of movement, threats to life and security, denial of rights to health and education, forced labour, sexual violence and limitations to political rights.
It also notes that for those formally charged, fair trial guarantees are often not respected.
The report has clearly highlighted the possibility that the pattern of violations against the Rohingya may amount to crimes against humanity.
Some 120,000 Rohingya remain displaced in squalid camps since fighting erupted in Rakhine State between Buddhists and Muslims in 2012. Thousands have fled persecution and poverty.
Rakhine has one of the lowest literacy rates in the country, and non-citizens, including Rohingya, are excluded from studying certain professions including medicine, economics and engineering.
Some 30,000 Muslim children in camps depend on temporary learning spaces supported by humanitarian organisations.
Incidentally, Myanmar leaders have told UN officials that the government will avoid using the term "Rohingya" to describe the persecuted Muslim minority.
The country’s representative to the United Nations Human Rights Council, Thet Thinzar Tun, criticised the use of "certain nomenclature" by a UN representative as "adding fuel to fire" and "only making things worse."
"For the sake of harmony and mutual trust between two communities, it is advisable for everyone to use the term 'the Muslim community in Rakhine State'," she is reported to have said.
The country’s popular leader Aung San Suu Kyi has disappointed rights groups by avoiding direct discussion of the issue and asking for "space" while she seeks to build trust.
Adding to the problem, there has been an alarming increase in incitement to hatred by ultra-nationalist Buddhist organisations.
It is true that the government has taken some initial steps like creating a Ministry of Ethnic Affairs and establishing the Central Committee on the Implementation of Peace, Stability and Development of Rakhine State.
But there is still a long way to go. Entrenched discrimination should end. As UN officials point out, it must be a top priority for the government to immediately halt violations and prevent further ones taking place against ethnic and religious minorities.

Israel’s ‘don’t
care’ arrogance
Less than a week after the United Nations and its diplomatic partners in the Middle East peace process released a report urging Israel to stop its settlements policy, Israel has snubbed the international community again by approving hundreds of new settler homes in the occupied West Bank.
Under the approval granted by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman, planning for 560 new homes in the large Maale Adumim settlement east of occupied Jerusalem will be allowed to move forward.
Incidentally, the settlement already includes a population of more than 37,000.
Netanyahu has also given approval for the planning of 240 new settler homes in occupied east Jerusalem settlement neighbourhoods.
Most countries consider Israeli settlements on occupied land illegal.
The diplomatic Quartet’s recommendations clearly mention that Israel should cease the policy of settlement construction and expansion, designating land for exclusive Israeli use, and denying Palestinian development.
The report has urged Israel to implement positive and significant policy shifts, including transferring powers and responsibilities in Area C, consistent with the transition to greater Palestinian civil authority contemplated by prior agreements.
While many European countries have recognised the Statehood of Palestine, several European parliaments have also recommended that their governments follow suit.
Also, during a recent visit to the Palestinian territories, UN chief Ban Ki-moon had asked Israel to address key underlying causes of violence. They include growing Palestinian anger, the paralysis of the peace process and endless occupation.
However, arrogant Israel just would not bother to heed any suggestion aimed at bringing peace to the region.
Peace talks have been at a complete standstill since a US-led initiative collapsed in April 2014.
Permanent Representative of the UAE to the UN and other International Organisations in Geneva, Obaid Salem Al Zaabi, rightly criticised last week the continuing violations against the rights of Palestinians by Israel and its dangerous policies, including incitement of hate, arresting and killing of Palestinians and seizure of Palestinian properties.
The international community should ensure that a comprehensive, permanent and just settlement is reached to end the Israeli occupation within a set timeframe.
Israel should be forced to withdraw from all lands it continues to occupy since 1967, including East Jerusalem, so as to create an opportunity for a fully independent and viable Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital.
Protecting the rights of the Palestinian people, who have endured hardship under ruthless occupation for decades, is a duty of all peace-loving people and countries.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Connect on FB

Hi guys, Thanks for staying with me on this blog for so many years. Some have turned out to be the best of my friends through this blog. It would be great to connect with you all on Facebook too. My ID is Ramesh Iyengar. Thanks once again.

Recent Editorials

Here are some recent editorials I wrote for The Gulf Today. (Posted for my records)

Many more Aylans, but
the world is asleep
With 13,000 people rescued in just one week and hundreds presumed drowned, the migrant flow across the Mediterranean to Italy continues to remain high, crying for better world attention.
According to the UN refugee agency, there have been over 46,700 arrivals so far in 2016, compared to 47,463 in the same period last year.
This is an unambiguous signal that thousands of people are still willing to risk their lives on the rough seas than stay back in their homeland where they face poverty, persecution or conflict.
Interestingly, there is no indication that migrant flows are shifting to the Mediterranean from the Aegean route from Turkey to Greece.
Those making the crossing to Italy mostly originate from the Horn of Africa and sub-Saharan Africa, with a very small number of Syrians.
There have also been disturbing reports from survivors of people being forced to board boats and dinghies on Libyan beaches at gunpoint, as well as people being shot dead if they refuse or try to escape.
Meanwhile, just like the photograph of the three-year-old Syrian boy Aylan lying lifeless on a Turkish beach last year, a photograph of a drowned migrant baby in the arms of a German rescuer has now emerged.
German humanitarian organisation, Sea-Watch, distributed the picture taken by a media production company on board and which showed a rescuer cradling the child like a sleeping baby.
The idea ostensibly is to persuade European authorities to ensure safe passage to migrants.
In a tear-jerking description, the rescuer informed the media that he had spotted the baby in the water "like a doll,” arms outstretched.
"I took hold of the forearm of the baby and pulled the light body protectively into my arms at once, as if it were still alive ... It held out its arms with tiny fingers into the air, the sun shone into its bright, friendly but motionless eyes."
The Sea-Watch organisation has stated that in the wake of the disastrous events it becomes obvious to the organisations on the ground that the calls by European Union politicians to avoid further death at sea sum up to nothing more than lip service.
Yes, lip service, indeed, it looks like.
It is better for Europe and the rest of the world to wake up to reality before more and more innocent lives are lost on the rough seas, sharpening questions about the collective conscience of humanity.

Don’t kick out spirit
of sportsmanship
Violent clashes between fans in France have fouled the opening days of the Euro 2016 soccer tournament and this disgraceful.
Sports should be treated as sports, just that. Fans should enjoy the games and not indulge in such senseless violence. It is not acceptable.
Some people have landed in hospital in serious condition in Marseille after the clashes before and during Saturday's game.
The violence in the stadium was limited compared to the scenes before the match when hundreds of fans pelted each other with cafe chairs and bottles in the Vieux-Port area of Marseille.
Pictures of a father trying to protect his young son while masked Russian fans were kicking and punching retreating fans around him have gone viral raising questions about the authorities' failure to intervene.
The Union of European Football Associations’ (UEFA) threat to kick Russia and England out of the European Championship finals if their fans are involved in more violence makes perfect sense.
With more high-risk matches to come, the UEFA executive committee has correctly made the public "warning" in a statement which expressed disgust for the clashes.
Russia has been charged with crowd disturbances, racist behaviour and letting off fireworks for its fans' part in the stadium trouble.
Russia's Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko has conceded that his country's fans "behaved improperly."
However, he has also laid the blame on the match organisers for failing to separate supporters.
In the next two summers, Russia will host the FIFA-organised Confederations Cup in four cities and the 2018 World Cup in 11 cities.
Adding to the problem, the violence on Saturday spread along the Mediterranean coast to Nice, where Northern Ireland fans were drawn into fights with local youths and seven people were hurt.
France has deployed more than 90,000 police, soldiers and private security agents across the country to ensure safety for the tournament.
But that does not seem to have restrained the hooligans who furiously targeted innocent victims in the melee.
Fans should not be allowed to take law into their hands. English and Russian football authorities need to heed UEFA’s call to appeal to their supporters to behave in a responsible and respectful manner.
The goal of any sporting activity is to inculcate a spirit of comradeship, not enmity. Those who fail to understand this and indulge in violence cannot call themselves “fans.” They are hooligans and deserve to be booked for the reprehensible offenses they commit.

Time to face the
superbug threat
US health officials have reported the first case in the country of a patient with an infection resistant to all known antibiotics.
This is a matter of grave concern as the superbug could pose serious danger for routine infections if it spreads.
The infection was reported in a study appearing in Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy, a publication of the American Society for Microbiology.
It said the superbug itself had first been infected with a tiny piece of DNA called a plasmid, which passed along a gene called mcr-1 that confers resistance to colistin.
"This heralds the emergence of truly pan-drug resistant bacteria," said the study, which was conducted by the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. "To the best of our knowledge, this is the first report of mcr-1 in the USA."
According to the World Health Organisation, antimicrobial resistance occurs when microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites change in ways that render the medications used to cure the infections they cause ineffective.
When the microorganisms become resistant to most antimicrobials they are often referred to as “superbugs.”
This is a major concern because a resistant infection may kill, can spread to others, and imposes huge costs to individuals and society.
Dr Paul Hoskisson, a member of the Microbiology Society Council, has been quoted by                        The Independent as warning that the world could be as little as 10 years away from the “terrifying” point at which many infections start to become untreatable.
Antimicrobial resistance is too serious an issue to be ignored.
British Prime Minister David Cameron has already called on  leading countries to tackle resistance by reducing the use of antibiotics and rewarding drug companies for developing new medicines.
As he explained, in too many cases antibiotics have stopped working. That means people are dying of simple infections or conditions like TB (tuberculosis), tetanus, sepsis, infections that should not mean a death sentence.
The US case is certainly a wake-up call for the world, although it is not the first time that colistin resistance has appeared.
Cameron has a strong line of reasoning when he says: "If we do nothing about this, there will be a cumulative hit to the world economy of $100 trillion and it is potentially the end of modern medicine as we know it."
The medical world needs to wake up to the serious threat before it gets out of hand.

Stamp out illegal
wildlife trade
The booming illegal trade in wildlife products is eroding earth’s valuable biodiversity and driving whole species to the brink of extinction.
The killing and smuggling also undermines economies and ecoystems, fuelling organised crime, feeding corruption and insecurity across the globe, as top United Nations officials point out.
The discovery this week of 70 dead tiger cubs, as well as tiger skins, talismans and other wildlife parts at a Buddhist temple in Thailand highlights the gravity of the situation.
In April 2015, Thai customs confiscated more than three tonnes of African elephant ivory, the second-largest seizure in the country’s history.
The World Environment Day, which is being observed on Sunday, is appropriately themed on the illegal trade in wildlife in a bid to raise awareness of this severe problem. Tigers are one of the key species in the campaign.
The World wildlife Fund said in April that the number of wild tigers in the world stands at around 3,890, with more than 100 wild tigers in Thailand.
The illegal wildlife trade has become a high global priority to tackle, with the UN General Assembly adopting a resolution in July 2015 urging all countries to make this a serious criminal offence.
The damage is visible. In 2011, a subspecies of Javan rhino went extinct in Vietnam, while the last western black rhinos vanished from Cameroon the same year.
Sadly, more than 35,000 elephants are slaughtered each year on the African continent from an approximate population of over 450,000 in the wild.
It is not that the world is too passive on the issue.
Efforts to counter the illicit trade - including stronger policies, awareness campaigns and law enforcement – did score some successes. However, many species remain at risk and it will take a sustained global effort to turn the tide.
The United States has moved in the right direction by announcing a near-total ban on the trade of African elephant ivory, finalising a years-long push to fight the poaching of the threatened animals.
Incidentally, America is the world's second-largest consumer of illegal ivory after China, even though it comes with notable exemptions including for antiques.
The new rule, which takes effect July 6, "substantially limits" imports, exports and sales of ivory across state lines.
China has also pledged to ban the ivory trade domestically and in March widened a ban on ivory imports.
The message is loud and clear: Show zero-tolerance for illegal trade in wildlife.

Slavery should have no
place in modern society
That an evil system like slavery still exists in the modern century across the globe on a huge scale is beyond one’s comprehension.
Australia-based human rights group Walk Free Foundation’s third Global slavery Index has revealed that almost 46 million people are living as slaves globally with the greatest number in India but the highest prevalence in North Korea.
The index has increased its estimate of people born into servitude, trafficked for sex work, or trapped in debt bondage or forced labour to 45.8 million from 35.8 million in 2014.
Incidences of slavery were found in all 167 countries in the index, with India home to an estimated 18.4 million slaves among its 1.3 billion population.
Incidentally, about 58 per cent of people living in slavery are in just five countries - India, China, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Uzbekistan.
The 2014 Nobel Peace Prize for children's rights activist Kailash Satyarthi, who was awarded along with Malala Yousafzai of Pakistan, was seen by many a sign that India would be forced to better protect its 1.25 billion citizens from abuse.
Unfortunately, child labour, trafficking of sex workers, and bonded labour remain widespread despite India's rapid economic growth over the past decade.
Laws meant to keep children in school and out of the workplace are routinely flouted, as millions are forced into difficult and sometimes toxic jobs including rolling cigarettes, blowing glass in factories, mining in stone quarries or dyeing leather in tanneries.
If at all there is anything like a minor consolation, it is the step the Indian government took last week by unveiling a draft of its first comprehensive anti-human trafficking law to treat survivors as victims rather than criminals.
North Korea has ranked as worst in terms of concentration with one in every 20 people - or 4.4 per cent of its 25 million population - in slavery and it is sad that its government is doing the least to end this.
The United Nation's International Labour Organisation estimates 21 million people globally are victims of forced labour but this does not take into account all forms of slavery.
Abraham Lincoln once mentioned: “Whenever I hear anyone arguing for slavery, I feel a strong impulse to see it tried on him personally.”
Slavery is an issue that should prick human conscience.
The international community can no more afford to shut its eyes to this dreadful reality and should initiate swift and effective action to free the world from slavery.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Recent Editorials

Here are some recent editorials I wrote for The Gulf Today. (Posted for my records) 

3D printing: Dubai gives

future a bright shape

Innovation is a continuous journey with no time limit and Dubai knows this best.

The opening in Dubai of the “Office of the Future,” the first 3D-printed office in the world, is another shining example of how the Emirate adopts novel initiatives and ideas and also encourages teams to adopt innovation in their work.

As Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum correctly stated, the UAE has emerged as one of the major incubators of innovation and future technology in the world today and its focused initiatives to shape the future have become global models that can be emulated in all sectors.

It should be noted that the opening of the first 3D-printed office in the world comes just less than one month of launching Dubai 3D printing strategy, which showcases a modern model of construction.

There can be no doubt that the competitive advantages of 3D printing, in terms of lower costs and faster delivery, will make the UAE one of the most important sustainable economic hubs, enabling the effective use of this technology to establish future cities in all sectors.

What is highly interesting in the case of the 3D printed office is that the labour cost could be cut by more than 50% compared to conventional buildings of similar size.

A huge 3D-printer was used to print the building. The labour involved in the printing process included one staff to monitor the printer, in addition to seven people to install the building components on site, besides 10 electricians and specialists to take care of the mechanical and electrical engineering. That’s it.

It may be recalled that this week, the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority released an Expression of Interest for the construction of 3D-printed laboratories, to conduct research on drones and 3D-printing technologies at the Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park, the largest single-site project in the world.

The Solar Park would be able to generate 1,000 megawatts (MW) by 2020 and 5,000MW by 2030.

Sheikh Mohammed recently mentioned that the future is not built on possibilities and numbers but on clarity of vision, planning, action and implementation.

In the medical products sector, the focus will be on developing 3D printed teeth, bones, artificial organs and medical and surgical devices and hearing aids.

It is heartening that the UAE is successfully embracing technology for the service of entire humanity.

State of the planet’s

health not cozy

The most authoritative study the United Nations has ever published on the state of the planet’s health has indicated that th e environment is deteriorating faster than previously thought.

This makes it imperative that governments across the globe act fast to reverse the worst trends.

The Global Environmental Outlook (GEO-6): Regional Assessments is a compilation of six separate reports, which provide highly detailed examinations of the environmental issues affecting each of the world’s six regions: the Pan-European region, North America, Asia and the Pacific, West Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, and Africa.

In what should be considered a wake-up call, the regional assessments, which involved 1,203 scientists, hundreds of scientific institutions and more than 160 governments, find that the world shares a host of common environmental threats that are rapidly intensifying.

Across the planet, climate change, loss of biodiversity, land degradation and water scarcity are growing problems that need to be urgently addressed.

On the positive side, the assessments find that there is still time to tackle many of the worst impacts of environmental change, such as the damage to marine ecosystems and the rising level of air pollution.

Warming in the Arctic has increased at twice the global average since 1980.

The Asia-Pacific region needs to take extra precautions. About 41 per cent of all natural disasters reported over the last two decades occurred in that region, which also accounted for 91 per cent of the world’s deaths attributable to natural disasters in the last century.

India tops the chart with nearly 40 million people in the country projected to be at risk from rising sea levels, followed by more than 25 million in Bangladesh, over 20 million in China and nearly 15 million in the Philippines.

People in Mumbai and Kolkata have the maximum exposure to coastal flooding in future due to rapid urbanisation and economic growth.

Hundreds of people also die every year from heat in India, with May and June usually the hottest months.

Temperatures soared to a scorching 51ÂșC in Rajasthan city on Thursday setting a new national record.

India faces its worst water crisis too, with about 330 million people suffering from drought after two weak monsoons.

Low-carbon, climate-resilient choices in infrastructure, energy and food production coupled with effective natural resource governance are key to protecting the ecological assets that underpin a healthy society, as UN experts suggest.

A rustic disregard for this suggestion could prove costly for entire humanity.

Israeli killing of kids

most cowardly act

Israeli atrocities have been increasing by the day and it is a matter of deep distress that the international community is not giving the matter the attention it deserves.

A cursory glance at the happenings on the ground would reveal the scale of horrors heaped by Israel on harmless Palestinians.

UN children’s agency, Unicef, has revealed that 25 Palestinian children were killed in just the last three months of 2015 and the number of children detained was the highest in seven years.

More than 1,300 Palestinian children were injured during the spike in attacks by Israel, almost all in the West Bank and Arab East Jerusalem.

One of the most shocking cases happened in Hebron in the West Bank on Oct.25 when a 17-year-old girl was taken by the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) soldiers for a search and shot with at least five bullets and killed.

An eyewitness had clearly stated that she was not presenting any threat at the time she was shot, and was shouting that she did not have a knife.

The world community should have made Israel accountable for such brutal killings, but nothing of that sort happened.

Such insensitive attitude only encourages Israel to become more belligerent and vicious in its non-stop hate killings.

Since October, 204 Palestinians have been killed on flimsy reasons.

The number of Palestinian children aged between 12 and 17 held by the Israeli army is also a matter of concern, as Unicef points out. The figure stood at 422 at the end of December, the highest recorded since March 2009.

Crimes committed by Israeli settlers too have been continuing unabated.

For example, on Saturday night a group of rowdy settlers attacked a Palestinian house in Tal Rumeida neighbourhood in the southern West Bank city of Hebron, injuring a woman and her child.

The goons stormed the family house of Riyad Abu Hazza, where they beat the wife, causing several bruises and cuts across her body. One of the invaders then pepper-sprayed Hazza’s daughter on her face, causing her to faint.

Palestinians commemorate the Nakba day, 15 May 1948, every year, as it is the date when over 700,000 Palestinians were displaced from their homes.

The best way out for the Palestinian factions is to close ranks and maintain national unity. The only option left for Israel is to end the disgraceful occupation without any more delay.

Make urban air quality

a health priority

Air pollution is a major cause of disease and death.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has revealed that almost everyone in large cities in poor and middle-income countries faces excessively high air pollution and this is a matter of serious concern.

Over three million people die prematurely each year because of this.

The populations in low-income cities face the highest risk for respiratory diseases and other long-term health problems, according to the latest global urban ambient air pollution database presented by the agency.

India especially has to take a special note of the report as it has four of the 10 cities in the world with the worst air pollution.

Nevertheless, while WHO experts acknowledge India faces a huge challenge, many countries are so bad that they have no monitoring system and cannot be included in its ranking at all.

It may be recalled that New Delhi was ranked worst in 2014 with a PM2.5 reading of 153. It has since tried to tackle its toxic air by limiting the use of private cars on the road for short periods.

When dirty air blankets cities the most vulnerable urban populations – the youngest, oldest and poorest – are the most impacted.

According to WHO officials, most sources of urban outdoor air pollution are well beyond the control of individuals and demand action by cities, as well as national and international policymakers to promote cleaner transport, more efficient energy production and waste management.

In general, urban air pollution levels were lowest in high-income countries, with lower levels most prevalent in Europe, the Americas and the Western Pacific region.

The common causes of air pollution include too many cars, especially diesel-fuelled vehicles, the heating and cooling of big buildings, waste management, agriculture and the use of coal or diesel generators for power.

As urban air quality declines, the risk of stroke, heart disease, lung cancer, and chronic respiratory diseases, including asthma, increases for the people who live in them.

Among the corrective affordable strategies suggested by experts are reduction of industrial smokestack emissions, increasing use of renewable power sources such as solar and wind, and prioritising rapid transit, walking and cycling networks in cities.

Air pollution is wreaking havoc on human health. When air quality improves, health costs from air pollution-related diseases shrink and worker productivity expands.

It is imperative that city and national governments make urban air quality a health and development priority.

Duterte has tough

tasks lined up

Populist politics is increasingly becoming a global trend and the Philippine election results seem to endorse that pattern.

Firebrand politician Rodrigo Duterte, 71, has secured a landslide presidential victory built on foul-mouthed populist tirades that exposed voter anger at the establishment.

The longtime mayor of the southern city of Davao has mesmerised Filipinos with vows of brutal but quick solutions to crime and poverty, while offering himself as a resolute strongman capable of resolving a host of social and economic problems.

Visibly, Filipinos have become tired of hearing fake promises from politicians about rapid economic growth, end to corruption, crime reduction and a slew of other issues.

The fact that over 25% of the population still lives under the poverty line, a figure that has not changed for several years, is enough indication that the benefits of economic prosperity have not been percolating to the lower strata of society.

Duterte has now been pushed into national politics after 22 years as mayor of Davao and a government prosecutor before that.

In those two jobs, Duterte gained recognition by going after criminals, although he was accused of carrying out hundreds of extrajudicial killings.

That even earned him the nickname "Duterte Harry," a reference to the Clint Eastwood movie character with little regard for rules.

Nevertheless, it is his tough-talking image that has drawn voters in droves in his favour.

Many of his supporters view his work in Davao as exemplary.  He has provided rehab for women victims of violence and created centres for drug addicts who want to reform and restart their lives. He has also set up child- minding centres for parents who do not have housemaids.

Indications are that one of his Davao rules, night-time curfews for minors, would be imposed nationwide, while a ban on the serving of alcohol after midnight would also be considered.

Now that the verdict is out, Duterte needs to moderate his inflammatory comments. Fortunately, there are indications of that.

He has offered an olive branch to his rivals by stating: “I want to reach out my hand and let us begin the healing now.”

He has also indicated that he is willing to talk with China over a highly sensitive territorial dispute in the South China Sea, a significant reversal of stance.

It would be heartening if Duterte could replicate the good things he did for Davao, while shunning the unconventional policies that do not hold value for human rights.