Here are some recent editorials I wrote for The Gulf Today. (Posted for my records)
UAE’s confident leap
into the future
The first meeting of the UAE’s newly-reshuffled Cabinet, presided over by UAE Vice President, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, has set the ball rolling for yet another huge round of achievements by setting high goals for growth and prosperity.
The idea is very clearly to expedite progress. As Sheikh Mohammed urged ministers: “I would like from you all to present a 100-day work plan, especially for the new ministries and those which had many changes. Today, countries and governments are measured not by size but by its speed. I want you to be in the field with the people, addressing challenges and hammering out solutions and make a real change in government work.”
Earlier, the world watched in amazement and wondered as to why the UAE established a Ministry of Happiness, Tolerance, and the Future, and why a 22-year-old Minister of Youth was named!
Sheikh Mohammed himself has answered the question. As he put it, “The changes reflect what we have learned from events in our region over the past five years. In particular, we have learned that failure to respond effectively to the aspirations of young people, who represent more than half of the population in Arab countries, is like swimming against the tide. Without the energy and optimism of youth, societies cannot develop and grow; indeed, such societies are doomed.”
The UAE is a young country. The leadership invests in them and empowers them precisely because they are the future.
Tolerance is also a key word holding great significance. Sheikh Mohammed has explained perfectly well the power of tolerance. “When the Arab world was tolerant and accepting of others, it led the world: From Baghdad to Damascus to Andalusia and farther afield, we provided beacons of science, knowledge, and civilisation, because humane values were the basis of our relationships with all civilisations, cultures, and religions. Even when our ancestors left Andalusia, people of other faiths went with them.”
Yes, tolerance is no catchphrase, but a quality that the Emiratis cherish and practice.
While in the past decade, the performance of the UAE government has been a source of pride and full of achievements, the beauty about the Emirates is that no one believes in resting on laurels.
As Sheikh Mohammed observed, in the coming decade, there is a need to double the effort and achieve more progress in services and development.
Continuing bloodshed in Afghanistan is a matter of serious concern and the latest disclosure by the United Nations that the number of civilians killed or wounded in the country last year was the highest adds to the worry.
As per the annual report produced by the UN Assistance Mission (UNAMA) in coordination with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Office UN report, hostilities in 2015 in Afghanistan left more than 3,500 civilians dead, including an unprecedented number of children – one in four casualties over the past year was a child – and nearly 7,500 others wounded.
The report shows that increased ground fighting in and around populated areas, along with suicide and other attacks in major cities, were the main causes of conflict-related civilian deaths and injuries in 2015.
Unama has documented 11,002 civilian casualties (3,545 deaths and 7,457 injured) in 2015, exceeding the previous record levels of civilian casualties that occurred in 2014.
The latest figures indicate an overall increase of four per cent during 2015 in total civilian casualties from the previous year. The UN mission began its systematic documentation of civilian casualties in 2009.
Incidentally, ground engagements between parties to the conflict caused the highest number of total civilian casualties (fatalities and injuries), followed by improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and suicide and complex attacks.
The situation has become more complicated as US and other international troops moved from a combat role to a training, advisory and assistance role on Jan.1, 2015, leaving Afghan forces to take the lead in fighting the resurgent militants as they targeted towns and cities.
Disturbingly, the report has documented a doubling of civilian casualties due to the deliberate targeting by militants of judges, prosecutors and judicial institutions. There were 188 such cases last year, of which 46 involved fatalities.
It is sad that the attacks are happening at a time when many Afghans hope for the restart of a peace dialogue that could lead to normal life and peace.
Unprincipled attacks prohibited under international law are happening with almost complete impunity and this cannot be allowed to continue anymore.
Also, unfortunately, women and children have been the worst affected in the conflict. Many families have been left without breadwinners. The international community should take instant action to put a stop to the killing and maiming of civilians.
The mindless violence just cannot be allowed to continue anymore.
More evidence linking the Zika virus to birth defects in babies has been found by scientists in Brazil and this is definitely a matter of extreme concern.
Brazil, with some 1.5 million people infected, is at the centre of the outbreak that has spread to more than 30 countries.
It may be recalled that the World Health Organisation (WHO) earlier this month declared a public health emergency of international concern due to Zika.
US President Barack Obama is asking the Congress for more than $1.8 billion in emergency funds to fight Zika at home and abroad and pursue a vaccine.
Taking the fight against the scourge further, WHO has stated that it might be necessary to use controversial methods like genetically modified mosquitoes to wipe out the insects that are now spreading Zika across the Americas.
The problem with the method, however, is that it may be impossible to know the long-term effects of wiping out an entire insect population.
Researchers in Brazil have been working to determine whether Zika has caused a big rise in cases of microcephaly, a birth defect in which babies are born with abnormally small heads and may have developmental problems.
A virus transmitted by Aedes mosquitoes causes Zika virus disease. People with Zika usually have symptoms that can include mild fever, skin rashes, conjunctivitis, muscle and joint pain, malaise or headache. These symptoms normally last for 2-7 days.
Sadly, as of now there is no specific treatment or vaccine currently available. The best form of prevention is protection against mosquito bites.
The virus is known to circulate in Africa, the Americas, Asia and the Pacific.
The situation has reached such a stage that the International Atomic Energy Agency has agreed to provide nuclear-derived early detection tools and training support to help Latin American and Caribbean countries rapidly identify cases of the Zika virus.
As experts suggest, the more immediate and relatively simple set of actions that can be taken to combat the spread of the Zika is to ensure the removal of stagnant water used by mosquitoes to breed.
It goes without saying that ponds and other areas where stagnant water collects should be drained and removed.
The fight against Zika has so far not proved to be easy. The virus is potentially devastating and, hence, it is essential that all remedial measures are strengthened to bring it under control, without losing any more time.
Air pollution poses
A revelation by the American Association for the Advancement of Science that more than 5.5 million people worldwide die prematurely every year due to household and outdoor air pollution comes as shocking news.
Also sadly, two countries with billionaire population, India and China, account for 55 per cent of these deaths.
Countries across the globe should lend an ear to scientists who warn that the number of premature deaths will continue to climb in the years ahead unless more aggressive measures against pollution are adopted.
A Global Burden of Disease study, done by the Institute for Health Metrics, has revealed that air pollution ranks behind high blood pressure, diet and smoking as the fourth greatest risk factor for fatalities worldwide.
Power plants, industrial manufacturing, vehicle exhaust and burning coal and wood all release small particles into the air that are dangerous to a person's health.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) recently described air pollution as a "public health emergency" across the globe, in a serious warning about the dangers of unclean air.
According to WHO officials, there are many components of air pollution, both gaseous and solid.
But high concentrations of small and fine particulate pollution is particularly associated with high numbers of deaths from heart disease and stroke, as well as respiratory illnesses and cancers.
Measurement of fine particulate matter of 2.5 micrometers or less in diameter (PM2.5) is considered to be the best indicator of the level of health risks from air pollution.
Experts point out that preventive measures include ensuring that houses are energy efficient, that urban development is compact and well served by public transport routes, street design is appealing and safe for pedestrians and cyclists, and waste is well managed.
Such activities not only clean the air but can also serve as a catalyst for local economic development and promotion of healthy urban lifestyles.
While in India, a major contributor to poor air quality has been the practice of burning wood, dung and similar sources of biomass for cooking and heating, burning coal is the biggest contributor to poor air quality in China.
It is reported that outdoor air pollution from coal alone caused an estimated 366,000 deaths in China in 2013.
Air quality monitoring systems should be well developed so as to improve surveillance for all illnesses related to air pollution. Health is wealth and there can be no compromise when it comes to dealing with the deadly menace of air pollution.