Here are some editorials I wrote for The Gulf Today. (Posted for my records)
When vision is clear,
‘Hope’ soars higher
A gargantuan mission calls for a superlative vision. The UAE is blessed with a leadership that believes the journey of development will always remain a race for excellence.
It is such recognition of the need to set high goals and earnest efforts to achieve results that has placed the UAE as a shining star in the eyes of the global community.
So it is that when the entire country erupts in a celebratory mode in 2021 to mark the 50th anniversary of its founding, the orbiter of the Emirates Mars Mission, planned and managed by a 100 per cent Emirati team, will simultaneously arrive in Mars.
The Arab mission to Mars probe has pertinently been named “Hope” and the reasons behind the name have been lucidly elucidated by none other than His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai himself.
As he puts it, “This probe represents hope for millions of young Arabs looking for a better future. There is no future, no achievement, no life without hope.”
The mission is just not about one country reaping benefits. The probe will create mankind’s first integrated model of the Red Planet’s atmosphere. The spacecraft will collect and send back to earth over 1,000 gigabytes of new Mars data. This information will be received in the Science Data Center in the UAE through different ground stations spread around the world.
These invaluable data will subsequently be catalogued and analysed in the UAE by the Emirates Mars Mission science team, and then shared freely with more than 200 institutions worldwide for the benefit of thousands of space specialists.
Also, at a time when the world is worried about climate change, the mission data will help climate scientists understand changes in earth’s atmosphere over millions of years.
One thing that is unmistakably evident in this great endeavour is the commitment of the leadership to promote scientific talent.
The support offered by the administrative machinery to projects like the mars mission reinforces the belief that the leaders leave no stone unturned when it comes to helping the scientific community pursue dreams and reach for the stars.
Future generations can reap the rewards of such investment in science and knowledge. As Sheikh Mohammed sums up perfectly, “The Emirates Mars Mission will be a great contribution to human knowledge, a milestone for Arab civilisation, and a real investment for future generations.”Protecting planet
should be priority
While the world marked the Earth Day on Wednesday with increasing calls for global action to combat climate change, the words of UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon, need to be taken very seriously: “There can be no Plan B because there is no Planet B."
The threat is real and indications are already out there. The idea is not to fear, but to take right remedial measures so as to leave the future generations in a safe and secure environment.
High sea temperatures, the UN says, have contributed to exceptionally heavy rainfall, floods in many countries and extreme drought in others. Twelve major Atlantic storms battered the United Kingdom in early months of 2014, while floods devastated much of the Balkans throughout May.
Global sea-surface temperatures reached record levels in 2014. Also, 14 of the 15 hottest years recorded have all been in the 21st century.
A group of international experts representing research institute The Earth League has stated that there is a one in 10 chance that temperatures could rise by six degrees by 2100 unless emissions are reduced.
This year will be critical for humanity ahead of a global warming summit in Paris in December. World leaders will also meet this year to discuss financing for developing countries and UN sustainable development goals are due to be adopted in September.
No country can claim to be free of climate change impact, not even the world’s superpower. Hence it is that President Barack Obama used a visit to Florida's Everglades on Wednesday to warn of the damage that climate change is already inflicting on America's environmental treasures.
In Florida, rising sea levels have allowed salt water to seep inland, threatening drinking water for Floridians and the extraordinary native species and plants that call the Everglades home.
Christy Goldfuss of the White House's Council on Environmental Quality said without stepped-up action, Joshua Tree National Park in California could soon be treeless and Glacier National Park in Montana devoid of glaciers.
According to NASA satellite calculations, water is eating away at the Antarctic ice, melting it where it hits the oceans.
As experts have pointed out, there is a need for complete phasing out of greenhouse gases by 2050 and measures to build up resilience and safeguarding of carbon absorbers, such as forests, should be initiated. Governments must stick to their promises to combat climate change and move fast towards a zero-carbon society.The wonderful
world of words
Books shape an individual’s mind and wield tremendous power to transform lives for the better. It is the duty of every society to promote the book in order to fight illiteracy and build sustainable societies, which eventually help strengthen the foundations of peace.
While books have been targets for those who reject freedom and tolerance, it is heartening that a vast majority the world over still holds the printed word in great esteem.
This is clear from the enthusiasm with which the World Book and Copyright Day was marked around the globe on Thursday in over 100 countries by schools, public organisations and private businesses.
With 175 million adolescents in the world – mostly girls and young women – unable to read a single sentence, the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation insists that it is committed to leading the fight against illiteracy.
Each year, Unesco and the international organisations representing the three major sectors of the book industry – publishers, booksellers and libraries – select the World Book Capital for a one-year period, effective April 23 each year.
This year the city of Incheon in Republic of Korea was chosen in recognition of its programme to promote reading among people and underprivileged sections.
Interestingly, no discussion on books is complete without a mention of Sharjah, where the annual international book fair welcomes everyone to a wonderful world of words.
Sharjah stands out as a perfect model for others to emulate. Just this week, His Highness Dr Sheikh Sultan Bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, Member of the Supreme Council and Ruler of Sharjah, witnessed the Sharjah Book Authority (SBA) identity launch on the sidelines of the Children's Reading Festival.
What is amazing is that the authority's new identity involves the launch of Sharjah publishing city, which will be the first publishing free zone in the world that will offer professionals and stakeholders in the book and publishing industry the opportunity to benefit from package privileges to boost the publishing sector.
It is not just that. The SBA will also establish the first international distribution company in the Middle East offering services that cover both the Arab and African markets.
Sheikh Sultan’s own words on books reflect the vision: “We are keen to create a reading community and promote the benefits of reading among our children in addition to the provision of the best suitable books for all the family. Books must be available for all to benefit from and through this conception we could turn book fairs into an oasis of knowledge and light.”Endless anguish of
Scenes of severely injured children and civilians are a stark reminder of the immense suffering of the Syrian people.
Rights group Amnesty International’s claim of barrel bomb attacks and other "horrendous war crimes” against civilians in Aleppo is a matter of serious concern for the international community.
Barrel bombs - containers packed with explosives and projectiles that are dropped from helicopters - killed some 3,000 civilians in the northern Aleppo governorate last year, and have killed more than 11,000 in Syria since 2012.
According to Amnesty, armed groups also used imprecise weapons such as mortars and improvised rockets fitted with gas canisters called "hell cannons" in attacks that killed at least 600 civilians in 2014.
Barrel bomb attacks can cause immeasurable pain and devastation among a helpless population. People in Aleppo have reported seeing body parts everywhere.
Last year, the UN Security Council adopted a resolution condemning the use of barrel bombs in populated areas, threatening further steps in the case of non-compliance.
It is disappointing that no major international action has been initiated to protect innocent civilians from such horrific crime.
According to UN officials, hospitals in Aleppo require generator power because the population could rely on electricity for only one to three hours each day. It is estimated that over 1.3 million people need health assistance in Aleppo alone. Owing to lack of facilities and deteriorating security situation, the health situation continues to get worse across the country.
UN officials also say that the healthcare is jeopardised by a 70 per cent d
rop-off in local production of medicines and lack of availability of many life-saving treatments, as well as by shortages of surgeons, anaesthesiologists, laboratory professionals, and female health professionals.
The total number of available healthcare workers stands at just 45 per cent of 2011 levels.
The conflict in Syria has claimed more than 220,000 people and uprooted some 7.6 million within the country. Nearly four million have fled to nearby countries.
Torture, arbitrary detention and abduction of civilians in Aleppo are said to be widespread. The endless attacks have left Aleppo civilians in dire conditions. They lack basic supplies including food, medicine, water and electricity.
Going by the current situation, Amnesty’s assertion that the international community has turned its back on Aleppo's civilians in a cold-hearted display of indifference to an escalating human tragedy sounds true.
What is needed is rapid global humanitarian action to help civilians in Aleppo.Do not ignore plight
of displaced people
The figures are startling. By the end of 2014, a record-breaking 38 million people had been forced to flee their homes within their own country because of conflict or violence, according to a report released by the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) along with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
The huge numbers indicate the utter failure on the part of the international community to protect helpless civilians in troubled spots.
The figures, compiled by the NRC's the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre equal the total populations of New York, London and Beijing and represent a 4.7 million increase compared to 2013.
Internally displaced people (IDP) is a label given to those who remain in their homeland, as opposed to refugees, who flee across borders.
With internal displacement figures reaching a record high for the third year in a row, the report also shows that 11 million people were newly displaced by violent events throughout 2014, which amounts to 30,000 people forcibly displaced every day.
Surprisingly, 60 per cent of newly displaced people last year were in just five countries: Iraq, South Sudan, Syria, Democratic Republic of Congo and Nigeria.
Syria has turned out to be the country with the largest number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the world with 7.6 million displaced people or at least 40 per cent of its population, and Iraq suffered the most new displacement, with at least 2.2 million people fleeing areas that fell under Daesh control.
For the first time in more than a decade, Europe had massive enforced displacement caused by the war in Ukraine, where 646,500 people fled their homes in 2014.
The 2015 Global Overview highlights how protracted displacement contributes to this alarmingly high global total. In 2014, there were people living in displacement for 10 years or more in nearly 90 per cent of the 60 countries and territories under review.
When insecurity and hopelessness set in the minds of displaced persons, it pricks the conscience of humanity.
The message is loud and clear. Peace and humanitarian efforts need to be intensified. As Jan Egeland, head of the Norwegian Refugee Council, points out, “This report should be a tremendous wake-up call."
The international community should act immediately to break the trend where millions of men, women and children are getting trapped in conflict zones around the world. Enough time has already been lost and the results are proving disastrous on the ground.