Sunday, February 14, 2016

Recent Editorials


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

Conflicts leave children

scared and scarred

At a time when they are supposed to be studying at school or playing in the garden, millions of children in conflict zones are forced to face frightful situations like losing their homes, family members, friends, safety and the daily routine.

Unable to learn even the basic reading and writing skills, they risk losing their future.

The latest observation by Unicef that some 250 million children - one in nine children worldwide - live in countries affected by violent conflicts reflects a scary situation.

As per estimates, Unicef would now need a full $2.8 billion in 2016 to help millions of children in humanitarian emergencies around the world. The money would allow UN to reach 76 million people -- 43 million of them children -- across 63 countries.

The biggest chunk of that amount, ($1.2 billion), as can be surmised, is needed for aid in war-ravaged Syria and to help the millions of Syrian refugees in neigbouring countries.

Syria has suffered too much for too long. More than 260,000 people have been killed in nearly five years of brutal conflict in Syria, while more than four million people have fled as refugees and some 13.5 million people remaining in the country are in desperate need of humanitarian aid.

Figures rattle: As per UN reports, more than 200,000 children applied for asylum in European Union countries in the first nine months of 2015, adding to the 30 million children across the globe forced from their homes by 2014 due to war, violence and persecution.

Actually, more people are displaced now than at any moment since World War.

Over half a billion children live in areas where floods are extremely common and nearly 160 million live in high or extremely high drought severity zones.

UN officials had mentioned last week that nearly 24 million children living in crisis zones in 22 strife-torn countries are being deprived of a school education.

The number of children trapped in humanitarian crisis around the world is beyond belief.

Unfortunately, education continues to be one of the least funded sectors in humanitarian appeals. In Syria, one in four schools have been destroyed and more than two million children are out of school.

As UN officials point out, education is a life-saving intervention in emergencies. It should be borne in mind that if a child does not go to school for five years, a generation is lost.

A glorious example of

2-nation friendship

Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces His Highness Sheikh Mohamed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan’s first State Visit to India at the invitation of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has elevated the already-robust relations between the two nations to a much higher level.

As is well known, the two countries have been enjoying strong bonds of friendship based on civilisational links, age-old maritime trade and vibrant people-to-people contacts, the foundations of which were laid by the founding father of the nation, Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan.

Sheikh Mohamed has rightly pointed out that late Sheikh Zayed’s historic visit to India in 1975 represented a fundamental starting point for the development and progress of all relations between the two countries over the past decades.

Indians living in the UAE consider it second home and the credit for that goes to the large-hearted Emiratis, whose hospitality and affection are adorable.

Nearly 2.6 million Indians live in the UAE making up the largest UAE expatriate community.

It may be recalled that during Prime Minister Modi's historic visit to the UAE in August 2015, the two nations agreed to further strengthen their cooperation in several key areas, including trade and investment, security, counter-terrorism, joint defence production, space cooperation, IT and electronics.

The joint statement issued at the end of the three-day visit of Sheikh Mohamed has fervently emphasised the importance of expanding growth and trade opportunities to drive the strategic partnership forward.

The prevailing trade relation figures reflect a robust relationship. India is considered to be the UAE’s primary trade partner, accounting for about 9.8% of its total non-oil trade.

India is also the largest importer of goods from the UAE, buying about 14.9% of that country’s exports and about 8.7% of its re-exports, becoming the second-largest market of the UAE in the latter category.

It is not just that. India ranks third among countries that export to the UAE, accounting for about 9.2% of the total imports by the UAE.

The total volume of foreign trade between the two countries amounted to $60 billion in 2014, making the UAE India’s primary trade partner in the Middle East and North Africa.

Interestingly, economic sources expect the value of trade exchanges between the UAE and India to hit $100 billion in 2020.

The UAE and India have set a shining example of how mutual understanding and dynamic cooperation can lead to robust engagement, ultimately benefiting the people.

Ban just spoke the truth

and Israel can’t digest it

Truth is indeed bitter and it is not a surprise that Israelis are unable to digest it when United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon insists that Palestinians are losing hope in the face of nearly 50 years of stifling Israeli occupation.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s criticism of the UN chief for revealing the truth is nothing less than disgraceful.

This is what Ban said at the opening of the 2016 Session of the UN Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People: “Young people especially are losing hope. They are angered by the stifling policies of the occupation. They are frustrated by the strictures on their daily lives. They watch as Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, expand and expand. They see the dream of a sovereign, contiguous and independent Palestinian state slip away.”

He also stated: “The people of Palestine have lived through half a century of occupation, and they have heard half a century of statements condemning it. But life hasn’t meaningfully changed. Children have become grandparents. We issue statements. We express concern. We voice solidarity. But life hasn’t changed.”

Each and every word in this is an honest reflection of world opinion, especially of peace-loving people. There is absolutely no reason for Israel to feel enraged by this honest expression of truth.

The UN has repeatedly cautioned that Israeli settlements are illegal under international law, threatening to destroy the two-state solution. But Israel keeps snubbing the world body by continually building illegal settlements.

Ban has also correctly emphasised that provocative acts, such as Israel’s plans for over 150 new homes in illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank and the declaration of 370 acres in the West Bank, south of Jericho, as “state land” are bound to increase the growth of settler populations, further heightening tensions and undermining any prospects for a political road ahead.

The situation in Gaza too is a matter of serious concern. Eighteen months after the last Israeli war there, the humanitarian situation there remains perilous. Gazans are struggling to meet basic needs like water and electricity, besides being strangled by dire unemployment.

The message is loud and clear: The status quo cannot continue as it undermines the future of Palestinians. The one and only path to a just and lasting solution involves an end to the occupation, leading to a sovereign, independent State of Palestine.

A summit in UAE that

will benefit the world

World attention remained focused on the UAE on Monday and for valuable reasons.

The three-day World Government Summit in Dubai, titled “Shaping Future Governments,” under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, has taken off in style with highly constructive ideas pouring in from top dignitaries.

The thrust of the message from the leaders from all walks of life was for governments across the world to be responsive to their citizens.

The biggest announcement came in the form of a new government that will comprise less ministries but more ministers handling national, strategic and dynamic files.

As Sheikh Mohammed explained, “We want a young and flexible government that would fulfill our youth’s aspirations and achieve our people’s ambitions.”

As expected, Sheikh Mohammed’s inspiring interaction with his 10 million social media followers during a live conversation turned out to be a major highlight of the day.

The Summit in Dubai has attracted more than 3,000 personalities from over 125 countries, and 125 speakers in over 70 sessions.

US President Barack Obama addressed the crucial subject of ongoing strife shaking the Middle East ever since the Arab Spring started in 2011. His direct message was that when governments truly invested in their citizens, their education and health, and when universal human rights were upheld, countries were more peaceful, more prosperous and more successful.

The most fertile times in the history of civilizations come from a culture of discovery, which was prevalent in the Arab world for centuries over a thousand years ago during the Golden Age of Islam.

This powerful message was well put forth by Neil deGrasse Tyson, Director of the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History.

Over two thirds of all stars have Arabic names and the words algebra, algorithm find their origins in the Arabic word al-jabr. As he put it, if the region had sustained this pace of discovery, it would’ve produced Nobel Laureates every year.

A suggestion by Paul Anderson, who teaches AP science in an American school, on how classroom game design helps improve learning added another constructive element to the session.

As per Anderson’s view, a classroom should resemble a workshop where one reads, watches videos, work on skills and then applies them to a project to solve problems in the real world.

The summit holds great value especially because several priceless reports are being issued in cooperation with knowledge partners from major global scientific research institutions.

If at all anything, the summit goes to show that the UAE values peace and prosperity not only for its citizens and residents, but also beyond, globally.

Dire humanitarian

situation in Syria

The worsening human rights situation in and around the city of Aleppo and other parts of Syria is a matter of serious concern as shocking violations and abuses are committed on a daily basis.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, has aptly termed the situation grotesque.

As he explained, the warring parties are constantly sinking to new depths, without apparently caring in the slightest about the death and destruction they are wreaking across the country.

Women and children, the elderly, the wounded and sick, people with disabilities, are being used as bargaining chips and cannon fodder day after day, week after week, month after month.

Since the latest offensive by government forces began last week in the Governorate of Aleppo, reportedly accompanied by numerous air strikes by Russian and Syrian aircraft, some 51,000 civilians have been displaced and a further 300,000 are at risk of being placed under siege.

There have also been several civilian casualties and major destruction of civilian infrastructure.

Also, according to UN officials, a military offensive by Syrian government and allied forces has cut off 120,000 people in the northern Homs governorate since mid-January, worsening hunger and killing patients unable to get to medical care.

There are reports of increasingly acute shortages of food, basic commodities, medical items and fuel in the area.

With the irregular supply routes used until mid-January now cut off, food items that are still available are now being sold at much higher prices.

Sadly, bread prices are already 10 times higher than in the city of Homs, and unaffordable for most families.

The last UN aid convoy reached rural northern Homs in October 2015. The UN has been trying to send additional supplies since then, but has been unable to get approval.

The reality is that thousands of civilians in other parts of Syria are facing dire humanitarian conditions, particularly those under sieges imposed both by government forces and affiliated armed groups, and by armed opposition groups, besides Daesh.

As UN officials rightly point out, all the parties to a conflict have obligations under international humanitarian law not to place the civilian population in peril by taking shelter amongst them, or in protected structures such as schools and hospitals.

A lasting peaceful resolution of this horrific war is the need of the hour and that can be attained through urgent and serious dialogue.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

An eye on the employee

(My last article in Business@Qatar - posted for my records)