Here are some latest editorials I wrote for The Gulf Today (Posted for my records)
Food safety should
be global priority
Statistics can startle. The figures could be more disturbing especially if the matter concerns food safety. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), every year, diarrhoea caused by contaminated food and water kills 2.2 million people globally.
Unsafe food and water kills an estimated 700,000 children in the South-East Asia Region alone every year. Germany’s 2011 E.coli outbreak caused $ 1.3 billion in losses for farmers and industries and $ 236 million in emergency aid payments to 22 European Union member states.
It is in this background that the World Health Day will be marked on Tuesday, with WHO highlighting the challenges and opportunities associated with food safety under the slogan "From farm to plate, make food safe."
WHO officials say that unsafe food can contain harmful bacteria, viruses, parasites or chemical substances, and cause more than 200 diseases - ranging from diarrhoea to cancers.
Examples of unsafe food include undercooked foods of animal origin, fruits and vegetables contaminated with faeces, and shellfish containing marine biotoxins.
Fortunately for the UAE citizens and residents, food safety is given highest priority by the authorities.The Federal National Council recently passed a draft federal law on food safety after amending some its articles and introducing new ones. The law is enforced in all the UAE territories, including the free zones.
Under the law, dealing in adulterated food or foods unfit for human consumption at any stage of the supply chain is punishable by at least 3 months of imprisonment or a fine of Dhs100,000 to Dhs1 million.
WHO experts insist that at the consumer end of the food supply chain, the public plays important roles in promoting food safety. The steps include practising safe food hygiene, learning how to take care when cooking specific foods that may be hazardous (like raw chicken) and reading the labels when buying and preparing food.
Food safety is certainly a shared responsibility that requires participation of various sectors and support of international and regional organisations active in the fields of food, emergency aid and education.
Perfect co-ordination among the agencies holds the key. That is possible if there is a clear intention and collective pledge to work together.
Also, awareness campaigns on the issue will help intensify enforcement of food standards and prevent food-borne illnesses. There should be no doubt in anyone’s mind that when it comes to safe food, there can be no compromise, whatsoever.
Air pollution a top
challenge for India
At a time when concern over the impact of air pollution on the health of India’s 1.2 billion people is growing, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s suggestion to make every Sunday “bicycle day” and switching off street lights during a full moon makes sense. However, these are very tiny steps compared with the gargantuan challenge posed by air pollution.
The UN World Health Organisation (WHO) had earlier indicated that air pollution – both indoor and outdoor – killed some 7 million people across the globe in 2012, making it the world’s largest single environmental health risk.
A survey released last year by WHO found that Delhi, the Indian capital, was the most polluted city in the world, with an annual average of 153 microgrammes of the most dangerous small particulates, known as PM2.5, per cubic metre.
At least 3,000 people die prematurely every year in the city because of air pollution, according to a joint study by Boston-based Health Effects Institute and Delhi’s Energy Resources Institute.
The level was stated to be six times the WHO’s recommended maximum, 12 times US standards and more than twice the level considered safe by Indian authorities.
Squabbling among leaders also compounds the problem. Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party government in Delhi argues that combating the environmental menace should be a priority for all concerned and must not become a subject of political wrangling.
In a letter to Union Minister Prakash Javadekar after he exhorted the Delhi government to act against air pollution, Delhi’s environment minister Asim Ahmed Khan said that an action plan to improve air quality was already sent to the Union Ministry in the month of February.
The latest decision by the Indian government to launch a new air quality index sounds good, but the question remains whether that will suffice.
The government has promised that the new index would initially cover 10 cities — Delhi, Agra, Kanpur, Lucknow, Varanasi, Faridabad, Ahmedabad, Chennai, Bangalore and Hyderabad — each of which would have monitoring stations with Air Quality Index display boards.
The authorities should also ensure that the quality measurement tools are error-free as there are already complaints on this aspect.
As the matter involves the lives of citizens, various entities should join hands to combat air pollution. The launching of the index alone will not help if more stringent measures to curb the problem are not initiated. And, the action to set clean air standards should necessarily be time-bound.Cowardly act
in KenyaThe terrorist attack at Kenya's Garissa University that left several students dead is a cowardly, criminal act, as UAE President His Highness Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan rightly described it.
Al Shabaab’s operations have sown terror across Somalia and Kenya in recent years with coordinated attacks against hotels, shopping centres and other civilian areas.
The university siege marks the worst attack on Kenyan soil since the 1998 bombing of the US embassy in Nairobi by Al Qaeda, when a huge truck bomb killed 213 people.
The Shabaab also carried out the Westgate shopping mall massacre in Nairobi in September 2013 when four gunmen killed 67 people in a four-day siege.
The narrations by survivors highlight the viciousness of the killers in the latest attack. Hurling grenades and firing automatic rifles, the gunmen stormed the university at dawn as many students were sleeping.
Masked gunmen also taunted students before killing them, including forcing them to phone their parents to urge them to call for Kenyan troops to leave Somalia - before shooting them anyway.
Some students had to smear blood from their dead friends over their bodies to pretend they too had been shot.
The university has several hundred students from different parts of Kenya. The Kenyan government needs to check why intelligence alarm bells were ignored or if there were no such alerts at all.
Reports indicate that anger over the massacre was compounded by the fact there were warnings last week that an attack on a university was imminent. Local residents have blamed the authorities of doing little to boost security.
Interior Minister Joseph Nkaissery has vowed that his country would not give in to the Shabaab, which despite losing territory inside Somalia have stepped up operations in Kenya.
However, mere assertions will not do. The government needs to initiate swift and strong action to bring the perpetrators of this gory act to justice.
A series of foreign travel warnings in recent months have crippled Kenya's economically important tourism industry. On Wednesday, just hours before the Garissa attack began, President Uhuru Kenyatta said Kenya "is as safe as any country in the world."
The latest crime exposes the inhuman mentality of its perpetrators. The international community should remain united in solidarity to counter all such forms and manifestations of terrorism. The people of Kenya have a right to live in peace and harmony. Insane extremists should not be allowed to snatch this away.Shooting keeps alive
racism issue in US
The repeated shooting of a fleeing and apparently unarmed black man in the back by a white policeman in South Carolina points to the fact that racism issues are far from over in the United States.
Walter Scott, 50, was shot in North Charleston after a scuffle that began with his being stopped for a broken tail-light in his car. South Carolina state police have arrested officer Michael Slager, 33, and charged him with murder. The charge carries a sentence of up to life in prison or the death penalty.
The seemingly tough action against the cop comes as a solace, but it is obvious that the issue of racism itself needs to be addressed at a much higher level and with the seriousness it deserves.
A string of police shootings of African Americans in recent months has raised uneasy questions.
On July 17, 2014, African American father-of-six Eric Garner, 43, died after being held in a police chokehold while he was being arrested for selling individual cigarettes illegally in New York.
On Aug.9, a white police officer killed an unarmed black teenager, college student Michael Brown, 18, prompting violent protests and heavy-handed police tactics in Ferguson.
There were similar other incidents too.
In the recent case, even North Charleston mayor Keith Summey is said to have described the shooting by Slager as a “bad decision.”
Scott was hit by five bullets - three times in the back, once in the upper buttocks and once in the ear.
Apparently, even the sports arena is not totally free of racism-related issues. This can be gauged by the fact that the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) President Sepp Blatter has called for tougher punishment for teams and associations found guilty of racism and discrimination.
Slatter is convinced that monetary sanctions are increasingly ineffective. Using tough but appropriate words, he has stated, “"We have to punish not only through fines and stadium closures but we have to use our rules to suspend teams, to take away their points or even to relegate them if racism continues.”
The continuing incidents involving shooting of unarmed black men have kept alive accusations of police brutality and racism in the police force. The fact that officers have rarely been charged, even when the incidents were recorded, complicates the matter further.
The country that repeatedly preaches the world about equality cannot afford to take the subject lightly. Stern and sustained action to end the scourge is what is called for.