Here are some editorials I wrote for The Gulf Today. (Posted for my records)
The breaching by Daesh militants of the perimetre of Palmyra in Syria, an ancient city termed by Unesco as the “birthplace of human civilisation,” puts at risk the local civilian population as well as one of the most significant sites in the Middle East.
Arab League chief Nabil Al Arabi has rightly stated that Daesh's capture of this historic city is an eminent threat to one of the most important heritage sites in the world.
Top United Nations officials have also warned that continued attack from militant groups espousing virulent forms of intolerance puts global cultural diversity under attack. And, they are absolutely correct.
In fact, with the conflict engulfing both Syria and Iraq and Daesh extremists fanning across a region rich in archaeological and cultural legacy, there is increasing worry over the practice of cultural cleansing which risks destroying millennia of history.
In what should also come as a serious concern for the world community, Maamoun Abdulkarim, the head of the Antiquities and Museum Department in the Syrian capital Damascus, has been quoted as saying, “There are arrests and liquidations in Palmyra. Fighters are moving in residential areas, terrifying people and taking revenge.”
Known in Syria as "the pearl of the desert,” Palmyra is home to colonnaded alleys and elaborately decorated tombs. Palmyra contains the monumental ruins of a great city that was one of the most important cultural centres of the ancient world.
From the 1st to the 2nd century, the art and architecture of Palmyra, standing at the crossroads of several civilisations, married Graeco-Roman techniques with local traditions.
Dating back to the Neolithic, the aesthetic city was first attested in the early second millennium as a caravan stop for travellers crossing the Syrian desert.
Any damage to such precious heritage sites would undoubtedly prove to be a colossal loss for entire humanity and the world community needs to act before it is too late.
Daesh had sparked international outrage this year when it blew up the ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud and smashed artefacts in the Mosul museum, both in Iraq.
The best way for the international community to fight back is by effectively espousing the need for openness and acceptance of the world’s diverse traditions.
Militants should not be allowed to get away with cultural cleansing. The international community should initiate rapid action to protect innocent civilians and the irreplaceable cultural heritage of Palmyra.
Job insecurity a
An observation by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) that only a fourth of the global workforce have stable contracts, while 75 per cent are employed on temporary or short-term contracts in informal jobs indicates a growing job insecurity worldwide.
To add to the worry, the ILO flagship annual report, World Employment and Social Outlook 2015 representing 84 per cent of the global workforce, also notes that women are disproportionately represented among those in temporary and part-time forms of wage and salaried employment.
What is increasingly clear is that the global economy is not creating a sufficient number of jobs and the trend is indeed too scary.
ILO estimates that global unemployment figures reached 201 million in 2014, over 30 million higher than before the start of the global crisis in 2008.
The first edition of the new, annual flagship report, entitled The Changing Nature of Jobs, shows that while wage and salaried work is growing worldwide, it still accounts for only half of global employment, with wide variations across regions.
For example, in the developed economies and Central and South-Eastern Europe, around eight in ten workers are employees, where as in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa the figure is closer to two in ten.
Growing inequality is proving to be another bane. Income disparity is increasing or remains high in the majority of countries – a trend that is aggravated by the rising incidence of non-permanent forms of employment, growing unemployment and inactivity.
The income gap between permanent and non-permanent workers has increased over the past decade.
Interestingly, an estimate based on some 40 countries with available data finds that more than one in five jobs worldwide is linked to global supply chains.
This effectively highlights the increasing importance of global supply chains in shaping some of the employment and income patterns that are observed in labour markets today.
Also, despite the positive steps made towards improving pension coverage, social protection, such as unemployment benefits, is still mainly available only for regular employees.
Providing jobs to more than 40 million additional people who enter the global labour market every year will certainly prove to be a daunting challenge.
As top ILO officials point out, the only way forward is to find ways to stimulate investment opportunities and boost job creation and productivity, while ensuring adequate income security to all types of workers, not just those on stable contracts.
India feels the heat
of global warming
Meddling with nature can have a devastating effect on humanity and this has been proved several times. Scientists have vociferously stated that climate change is the reason behind various challenges like aggressive weather, prolonged droughts and intense flooding.
Now comes the news that around 800 people have died due to a major heat wave that has swept across India, melting roads in New Delhi even as temperatures neared 50 degrees Celsius.
Large parts of India have endured days of scorching heat, prompting fears of power cuts as energy-guzzling air conditioners work overtime.
It is the poorest sections of the society that pay a heavy price during such times.
Unable to stay indoors due to inevitable circumstances, several sections like labourers, farmers, slum-dwellers and the homeless are forced to endure the baking weather conditions.
Hundreds of such people die at the height of summer every year across the country, while thousands suffer power cuts from an overburdened electricity grid.
India's power industry is known to be struggling for long to meet rapidly-rising demand.
There is growing fear that the hot, dry conditions could plunge the worst-affected states into drought before monsoon rains arrive.
This climate phenomenon is not about India alone. It is a global challenge.
Last year was the warmest since records began in the 19th century and average world temperatures have already risen by about 0.85C, raising the risk of heat waves, floods and rising world sea levels as polar ice melts.
Scientists say much sharper emissions cuts are needed in coming decades to keep global warming within 2 degrees C of pre-industrial times.
This calls for a sustained, worldwide shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources to power homes, cars and industries.
UN officials had earlier expressed alarm about the high temperatures in vast areas of the ocean surface, including in the northern hemisphere.
The Indian authorities need to do more to protect lives. A massive health and safety awareness campaign should be launched targeting especially those working outdoors to help them identify the initial symptoms of heat-related illnesses.
People should also be educated on the importance of adequate hydration. Drinking water tanks should be provided at the worst-affected areas and medical facilities should be put in place.
People need to take their own precautions too. Even a simple act of wearing a cap while venturing out could go a long way in protecting one from the furnace-like conditions.
The entire world knows about the plight of the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar. The United Nations has called the Rohingya one of the most persecuted groups in the world. It is in this context that Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi’s long silence on the subject is deafening.
It‘s not that no one is taking note of her stance.
An international gathering in Oslo to discuss the plight of Rohingya Muslims boasts a star-studded cast, with three Nobel Peace Prize laureates among those calling on the world to wake up to the unfolding tragedy. And Suu Kyi is not among them. She just is not even invited.
Desmond Tutu, who won the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize for his opposition to South Africa's brutal apartheid regime, explained the situation very well when he stated, "If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality."
The Rohingya have faced decades of state-sanctioned discrimination in Myanmar, which is predominantly Buddhist. In the past three years, Rohingya were targeted by violent mobs of Buddhist extremists, leaving hundreds dead and sparking an exodus of more than 120,000 people.
Over the past several weeks, the world has watched with horror news reports about hundreds of Rohingya drifting in over-crowded vessels in the Andaman Sea, half-starved, disease-stricken and dying.
More than seven boats carrying around 2,600 people are thought to be still at sea, according to data from UNHCR and the International Organisation for Migration.
The United States has cautioned that the deadly pattern of migration across the Bay of Bengal would continue unless Myanmar ends discrimination against the Rohingya, a mostly stateless minority of 1.1 million people who live in apartheid-like conditions, mostly in the western state of Rakhine.
The popular daughter of Myanmar's late independence hero, Aung San, seems to share the "anti-Rohingya" sentiment of much of the population, though she denies that.
The treatment of the Rohingya not only violates human rights norms, but complicates Myanmar’s relations with its neighbours. It is clear that the distinct ethnic group has been singled out for systematic and most severe forms of state-directed repression.
Suu Kyi’s failure so far to sternly denounce religious bigotry in Myanmar raises uneasy questions about her stature. After all, as Tutu powerfully put it, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”
Dawn of a new era
in UAE space quest
When it comes to goals and achievements, the UAE always sets its sights high. The launch of the Strategic Plan for the UAE Space Agency on Monday is aimed at establishing a new international standing for the nation in the space sector.
As the country’s space ambitions soar and highly-talented Emiratis are trained to become leaders in the space sector, a loud and clear message is being sent out to the world: Emiratis are willing and able to take on any challenge. The sky’s the limit, literally.
The launch and placing into orbit of Dubai Sat 1 and Dubai Sat 2 are already among the remarkable feats. The UAE then decided to enter the space race with a project to send an unmanned probe to Mars by 2021 in the Arab World’s first-ever mission to another planet.
It is not just that. The UAE Space Agency is also working on the establishment of the first Space Research Centre in the Middle East.
As His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai noted, “The Hope Probe and the UAE Space Agency are milestones for the development of the UAE. Building a new space sector that is integrated and comprehensive is a value-added step for our national economy, technical knowledge, human capital, and international reputation.”
Interestingly, Chairman of the UAE Space Agency Dr Khalifa Mohammed Al Rumaithi has highlighted that the path to space dates back to 1976, when the late Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan met the NASA team responsible for the Apollo Moon programme.
That meeting inspired nearly three decades of efforts guiding the UAE towards space and will be realised with the arrival the Hope Probe at the red planet in the coming years.
Money spent on such projects is hugely worthwhile. As of 2012, space was a $304 billion global sector. These activities included commercial space products and services and direct-to-home television. Satellite radio and radio programming are also made available via space assets.
The UAE’s investments in space technologies already exceed Dhs20 billion. The major advancements made in the field in such a short span are indeed a great accomplishment.
The inspiration undoubtedly comes from the visionary leadership. It was Sheikh Mohammed who mentioned, “The moment we stop taking on such challenges is the moment we stop moving forward."