Here are some recent Editorials I wrote for The Gulf Today. (Posting for my records):
A huge leap for
UAE space plan
Thanks to its accomplishments in multifarious fields, the UAE is globally recognised as a role model for the entire region. Now, the country’s aeronautical engineers have taken the country’s feats to a much higher level with UAE Vice President, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum launching the implementation phase for building KhalifaSat.
It is a very proud moment for the UAE as the KhalifaSat will be the first Arab-made satellite, catapulting the Arab region into a new era of space industry and competition in space sciences. The fact that an exclusive national team, comprising 45 Emirati engineers, is working on building the KhalifaSat is bound to boost the confidence of youth in the country and inspire them to achieve more.
Launching the project at the Emirates Institution for Advanced Science and Technology (EIAST), Sheikh Mohammed has made it clear that KhalifaSat is a message to all Arabs that Arab ushering into the space era is neither out of reach nor impossible and the UAE will be a leader in this industry.
Established by the Dubai government in 2006, the Emirates Institution for Advanced Science and Technology (EIAST) is part of a strategic initiative to inspire scientific innovation, technological advancement and to advance sustainable development in the UAE. EIAST is made up of a core team of UAE scientists and experts who are working to position the nation as a global leader in the field of science and technology through the development of new expertise and Intellectual Property.
The EIAST has seen milestones in its quest for scientific excellence - notably the launch and placing into orbit of Dubai Sat 1 in 2009, and the launch of Dubai Sat 2. It now has two fully-functioning satellites in orbit allowing the institution to take and process images from around the globe.
DubaiSat-1 has the capability to provide high resolution optical images of 2.5m panchromatic and 5m in multispectral bands, while in DubaiSat-2 this has been refined to offer an even more focused Ground Sampling Distance of 1m panchromatic and 4m in multispectral bands.
It is heartening to see Emirati youth composing the first Arab team to build a satellite and launch it into outer space in 2017. The country’s confidence in them, as Sheikh Mohammed rightly puts it, is boundless. The excellence of Emirati youth in space sciences, engineering and energy surely opens before the nation new huge development prospects for the first time.
of the marginalised
In an interesting coincidence, while world leaders honoured Nelson Mandela as an unparalleled champion of human rights, the global community also marked the International Human Rights Day on Dec.10.
The United Nations observes the anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in which the institution affirms that all human beings should enjoy certain unequivocal rights, including security of person, freedom of thought and education. On this day, the global community is called on to acknowledge contemporary human rights issues and achievements.
According to the International Labour Organisation, the most widespread demand of women and men is perhaps the opportunity to work in dignity. Some 20.9 million people were in forced labour during the period between 2002 and 2011, and there are still 168 million children in child labour, according to UN figures. In addition, 870 million workers and their families live in poverty on the $2 per day line, while about 400 million in extreme poverty.
While modern technologies help a great deal in highlighting human rights issues, they also have a flip side. As UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay puts it, the social media and other innovations to improve communications and information-sharing help magnify the voice of human rights defenders, shining a light on abuses and mobilising support for various causes in many parts of the world.
Unfortunately, they also facilitate human rights violations. The use of mass electronic surveillance and data collection, as well as the use of autonomous weapons systems known informally as “killer robots,” pose deeply troubling ethical and legal questions.
However, one can draw comfort from countries like the United Arab Emirates that attach great importance to human rights. The UAE has persistently initiated efforts to improve its laws and legislation and raise them to international standards. It now ranks first in the Arab world and 14th globally in an International Rights Index released by the International Network for Rights and Development based in Switzerland.
Around the world, there is a need for greater political will and resources to implement laws and standards designed to promote and protect the rights and dignity of all people.
Though the UN and several other NGOs are striving to do their best, there is clearly a long way to go. The international community should increase efforts to transform human rights from abstract promises to genuine improvement in the daily lives, especially among marginalised or excluded groups.
E-junk piles up
Electronic and electrical gadgets that have reached the end of their life are expected to jump by a third in volume by 2017 posing major challenges for sorting and recycling. The scary scenario of “toxic wasteland,” mostly in the poorest countries, calls for top priority attention before it gets too late.
Startling details have been revealed by Solving the E-Waste Problem Initiative ((StEP), a partnership of UN organisations, grassroots groups and industry. By the end of 2017, the total annual volume from refrigerators, TVs, mobile phones, electronic toys, computers, screens and other electrical or electronic castoffs will reach 65.4 million tonnes, 33 per cent up on the end of 2012.
According to StEP, this amount "could fill a line of 40-tonne trucks end-to-end on a highway straddling three-quarters of the Equator. Last year, around 48.9 million tonnes of e-waste were produced, an average of seven kilogrammes for each of the seven billion people on the planet.
In 2012, China and the United States topped the world’s totals in market volume of electrical and electronic equipment (EEE) and e-waste. China put the highest volume of EEE on the market in 2012 – 11.1 million tonnes, followed by the US at 10 million tonnes.
Those positions were reversed when it came to the total volume of e-waste generated per year, there being more products put on the market in the past in the US which are now likely to be retired. Here the US had the world’s highest figure of 9.4 million tonnes and China generated the second highest e-waste total of 7.3 million tonnes.
But not all is lost. Waste can be valuable if recycled. A study estimated that a million cellphones can yield 24 kilogramme of gold, 250 kilogramme of silver, 9 kilogramme of palladium and more than 9 tonnes of copper.
Among recommendations by experts to meet the challenge are creation of trade codes for used electronic products to enable better tracking and distinction of shipments, and open access to shipment-level trade data to enable accurate analyses of export flows.
It’s the poor nations that serve as e-waste dumping ground. The lack of comprehensive data has made it hard to grasp the full magnitude of the problem. Solving the E-waste issue fosters inclusive solutions-oriented dialogue, cooperation and consensus by providing a global platform for sharing information, knowledge and recommendations founded on expert scientific research and members’ experiences.
middle class hopes
Soaring food prices pose a huge challenge to many countries across the globe. It is mostly the middle and lower income groups that bear the brunt of the punch when price rises outpace increase in income.
In the world’s largest democracy, India, millions of families are part of an aspiring class, with at least a mobile phone, a television or a two-wheeler in their possession. However, as economic growth slows and inflation spikes, many families are forced to tighten their household budgets.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has been under fire for presiding over one of the worst inflation episodes in the post-Independence India. The consumer prices have been rising at an average annual pace of 10 per cent over the last five years. Prices in November were 11.2 per cent higher than a year earlier. According to a survey of inflationary expectations by the Reserve Bank of India, Indian households expect consumer prices to rise another 13 per cent next year.
In Pakistan, the inflation rate was recorded at 10.90 per cent in November of 2013. The Muslim League Nawaz is wasting no time in executing a two-pronged counter-strategy of deflating rates of commodities as it braces for a Pakistan Tehreek-Insaf (PTI) "mammoth" anti-inflation rally set for Dec.22.
With the PTI vowing to amass 200,000 supporters for its rally to protest against price hikes, Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif has deployed all government and political machinery to dilute its impact. A committee to look into the matter has established a call centre and advertised a toll-free number where citizens can complain about price hikes in the city. Special magistrates have been appointed at wholesale markets to control rates of other commodities.
Many other countries are facing a similar predicament. For example, increasing prices of basic commodities in Egypt have led to more families falling into poverty. The prices of many foodstuffs, utilities, forms of transportation and items of clothing have almost doubled over the past two years. According to the UN World Food Programme, even if poverty does not cause crime, it has led 13.7 million Egyptians, or 17 per cent of the population, to suffer from food insecurity.
To cut costs, many families are forced to look for challenging ways to balance the budget. Some stop eating out, while others shift to public transport instead of own vehicles. Many even reduce consumption of vegetables. People living off a fixed-income, such as retirees, see a decline in their purchasing power. As millions are at the receiving end when prices shoot up, it is the duty of governments to act with responsibility and initiate prompt corrective measures.
Global action needed
to protect privacy
Protecting every single individual’s privacy is the hallmark of a civilised society. However, privacy has become one of the biggest challenges in this new electronic age.
Deeply concerned that electronic surveillance, interception of digital communications and collection of personal data may negatively impact human rights, even the United Nations General Assembly recently adopted a consensus resolution strongly backing the right to privacy. It has called on all countries to take measures to end activities that violate this fundamental “tenet of a democratic society.”
It is in this background that former US National Security Agency contractor and whistleblower Edward Snowden’s warning of the dangers posed by loss of privacy in a message on Christmas Day assumes serious significance.
He has cautioned that a child born today will grow up with no conception of privacy at all. “They'll never know what it means to have a private moment to themselves, an unrecorded, unanalysed thought. And that's a problem because privacy matters, privacy is what allows us to determine who we are and who we want to be."
Andrew Grove, co-founder and former CEO of Intel Corporation, shared his thoughts on Internet privacy in an interview in 2000: “At the heart of the Internet culture is a force that wants to find out everything about you. And once it has found out everything about you and two hundred million others, that's a very valuable asset, and people will be tempted to trade and do commerce with that asset. This was not the information that people were thinking of when they called this the information age.”
The UN assembly has weighed in on the issue, underscoring that the right to privacy is a human right and affirming, for the first time, that the same rights people have offline must also be protected online.
As Snowden puts it "We have sensors in our pockets that track us everywhere we go. Think about what this means for the privacy of the average person."
The matter is too serious to be ignored. It involves and affects every individual on earth. The right to privacy, the right to access to information and freedom of expression are closely linked.
Surveillance without safeguards to protect the right to privacy risks impacting negatively on the enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms. It is necessary for governments across the globe to make people confident that their private communications are not being unduly scrutinised by the State.