These are five recent Editorials I wrote for our newspaper- The Gulf Today. (Posted for my records)
Mars mission lifts Indian spirits
As an Indian rocket — Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle-C25 — soared from its launching pad on Tuesday from the spaceport in Sriharikota, it also lifted the spirits of Indians and space enthusiasts.
The country’s first Mars orbiter was successfully placed in orbit in a copy-book style, becoming the first Asian country and the fourth in the world going for a mission to the red planet, a staggering 780 million kilometres away. Only the US, Europe, and Russia have sent probes that have orbited or landed on Mars. India has never before attempted inter-planetary travel, and more than half of all missions to Mars have ended in failure, including Japan’s in 2003 and China’s in 2011.
Of all the planets in the solar system, Mars has sparked the greatest human interest. The conditions in Mars are believed to be hospitable since the planet is similar to Earth in many ways. For ages, humans have been speculating about life on Mars. The question that is to be still answered is whether Mars has a biosphere or ever had an environment in which life could have evolved and sustained.
The Mars Orbiter Mission, known as “Mangalyaan,” was revealed only 15 months ago by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The gold-coloured probe, the size of a small car, will aim to detect methane in the Martian atmosphere.
The mission has come under fire from critics who see it as a waste of money. A few took to social media to say that building toilets and offering basic amenities for the deprived population deserve better attention than such missions.
But as Chairman of Indian Space Research Organisation K. Radhakrishnan put it, India’s budget for space exploration is only 0.34% of its total annual budget, of which seven per cent has been allocated to planetary exploration. The probe’s 4.5 billion rupee ($73 million) price tag is a fraction of the cost of NASA’s Maven mission, also due to launch in November.
Such missions have a positive implication for the rest of the economy and help a great deal in cyclone forecasting. The Mars mission is, in fact, cheaper than some of more lavish spending schemes, including a $340 million plan to build the world’s largest statue in the state of Gujarat, including surrounding infrastructure. With such projects, India gets an opportunity to capture more of the $304 billion global space market with its low-cost technology.
Do not throw away
chance to end hunger
Approximately 870 million people in the world do not eat enough to be healthy. It means that one in every eight people on earth goes to bed hungry each night. Yet, Oct.16, 2013 passed off as just another day without a stimulating debate or captivating media attention even as the United Nations marked the World Food Day.
It is disgusting to note that 1.3 billion tonnes of food go to waste every year -- around a third of the total food produced. With just a quarter of that, 842 million hungry could easily be fed.
On the positive side, 62 out of the 128 countries monitored by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) have reached the Millenium Development Goal of cutting by half the number of hungry people from 1990 levels, showing the target is achievable by 2015. The number of the world's hungry has gone down recently - mainly thanks to economic growth in developing countries and higher farm productivity.
Nevertheless, even some developed countries continue to face the hunger challenge. America is seen as a land of plenty, but for one in six people in the United States, hunger is a reality. Under the Supplemental Poverty Measure, there are 49.7 million people living in poverty, 3.1 million more than are represented by the official poverty measure (46.5 million).
In Britain too, the number of people resorting to food banks for emergency help to feed their families has more than tripled following the squeeze on benefits which intensified in April. The Trussell Trust, the country’s biggest food bank operator, is said to have distributed food to 355,985 people, including nearly 120,000 children, between April and September compared with 113,264 during the same period in 2012. It handed out food to more people during those six months than in the whole of 2012.
Conflict zones add to the problem. Some humanitarian crises around the world such as North Korea and Yemen risk being forgotten. Logistics is a big issue in the regions where food products are in short supply, like in Africa.
However, if there's a will, there's a way. More vigorous steps should be initiated as part of a joint global action to eradicate hunger. The goal should be to ensure balanced diets. Such collective action should also be backed up by efforts to stem food wastage. It will be a huge blot on humanity if the plight of the hungry is ignored.
Eastern giants move
in right direction
When two powerful “billionaire” nations talk about peace and progress, the world better take a serious note of it. Sounding an optimistic tone in relationship merely six months after a three-week tense standoff along the boundary, India and China have inked a key agreement to establish peace along the border when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Premier Li Keqiang met for talks in the Great Hall of the People on Wednesday.
Li says that the meeting has injected "new vitality" into the relations. Delhi has been seeking to gain greater access to Chinese markets and readjust a trade balance tilted heavily towards Beijing.
The two sides have now agreed to boost communication about border manoeuvres, hold periodic meetings at designated crossing points, and have patrols refrain from any provocations. As per the agreement, patrols should not follow or "tail" patrols of the other side in contested areas.
They have also agreed to hold joint counterterrorism training in southwest China at an early date, strengthen cooperation in international and regional affairs, and work together to tackle terrorism. Another accord enables a Chinese power equipment service centre in India. China has offered to help India with railway construction. The two nations also are exploring a trade corridor.
India ran a $39 billion trade deficit with China over the last fiscal year. With growing economies and a combined population of 2.5 billion, the neighbours have set a target of $100 billion in bilateral trade by 2015, up from $61.5 billion last year. The bilateral trade is expected to touch $1 trillion by 2050.
Li Keqiang made his first foreign visit to India on May 18, 2013 in a bid to resolve border disputes and to stimulate economic relations. Li mentioned at that time that there were three main reasons for his visit: To increase diplomatic co-operation, to cement relations in trade and other areas and, finally, to formulate strategy for common prosperous future.
China and India are two of the world’s oldest civilisations and have co-existed in peace for millenniums. But in the recent years, there have been strains in the ties. The two have failed to reach a concrete solution to the long-standing border dispute. In fact, both the countries have steadily established heavy military infrastructure along border areas.
The latest agreements will help rebuild trust and cooperation. The Asian giants need to convert these tiny steps into leaps to achieve rapid progress and prosperity. After all, where there's a will, there's a way.
UK needs to amend
visa rules for Emiratis
Talk about bilateral ties and the UAE-British relationship, covering economic, strategic and cultural interests, stands out as a shining example for others to follow.
There are over 100,000 British citizens resident in the UAE and around 50,000 Emiratis visit the UK each year. There are approximately 170 flights each week between the UAE and the UK, operated by British Airways, Etihad Airways, and Emirates. Over one million British visitors travel to the UAE annually.
Media reports now indicate that the British government will shortly announce visa exemption rules for UAE nationals. It may be recalled that British Ambassador to the UAE, Dominique Jeremy, had confirmed in April that there were on-going discussions on facilitating visa procedures for Emiratis visiting the UK.
Regular meetings of the UAE-UK Taskforce help reinforce the relations. Hugh Robertson, MP, Minister for the Middle East and South Asia, recently hosted the eleventh meeting of the UAE-UK Taskforce in London. Closer consular co-operation, including that of crisis management, was one of the hot topics of discussion at the meeting. The meeting recognised the positive work of the UAE-UK Consular Committee in providing regular and effective dialogue on consular issues.
Nothing can highlight the close ties better than Britain extending strong support to Dubai's bid for Expo 2020. Prince Harry gave his backing to Dubai’s bid at a charity event. Prime Minister David Cameron issued an open letter to the world in favour of Dubai and, in May, Foreign Secretary William Hague said he was pleased to announce that the UK would support the UAE as host nation.
As Cameron himself wrote, in just 50 years Dubai has been transformed from a small fishing and pearling town into one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world. This is a city where you will hear Arabic, Urdu, Malayalam, Somali, Tagalog, Russian and English all being spoken and where more than 200 nationalities live and work.
The UAE-UK Business Council has helped increase bilateral trade, taking both the countries closer to their 2015 target of £12 billion. The two are continuing collaboration on clean energy, justice and law enforcement.
The UAE has striven to be a source of stability, economic growth and innovation in the entire region. Considering the special relations between the two powerful nations, it is imperative that London clears a long-pending proposal to waive visas for Emiratis without wasting more time.
Syrian refugees’ plight worsens
In a stunning revelation, the United Nations now says that 40 per cent of all Syrians are in need of humanitarian aid. The war in the country has left 9.3 million Syrians requiring help from the UN and other aid organisations, including the upwardly revised figure of 6.5 million people who are now internally displaced.
The United Nations expects another two million Syrians to become refugees in 2014 and 2.25 million more to be displaced during the year within the Syrian Arab Republic.
What is more distressing is that around three-quarters of Syrian refugees are women and children, and almost 490,000 are women and girls of reproductive age. The majority are facing economical and emotional difficulties and the crisis is placing a strain on communities and infrastructure and services in host countries.
As the ordeal of ordinary Syrians continues, international peace attempts are yet to yield concrete results. The UN-Arab League envoy on Syria Lakhdar Brahimi has declared that a peace conference he hoped to hold this month has been delayed, but that he is still striving for a summit by the end of the year. He has not announced a clear date for talks in Geneva.
Non-governmental organisations say that protection of civilians in the areas of armed conflict and meeting health concerns, especially post-natal care, have been challenging given the complicated security environment, reduced capacity of public health facilities and the high fees for services in private health facilities.
Due to the escalating violence, increased political tensions and deteriorating economic conditions, women are being exposed in different places to domestic and other forms of gender-based violence. Rising psychological stress among women, their families and health care providers have been observed by field workers and UN partners.
Almost 97 per cent of Syria’s refugees are hosted in the immediate surrounding region, with around one million in Lebanon, followed by Jordan, Iraq and Turkey. The spillover of the crisis into its four neighbouring countries is impacting economic and human development outcomes in those countries at the national and local levels. Key sectors including investment, tourism, trade and local production are affected at varying levels of intensity.
The crisis is also raising concerns over possibilities of triggering tensions between refugees and local populations in those countries. The situation in Syria urgently calls for a robust development response to complement ongoing humanitarian and refugee efforts. It is imperative that international donors do more to help Syrian refugees. Mere words of support will not do. It is time for action.