Monday, March 14, 2016

Recent Editorials

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

Women in UAE have
more reasons to smile

As the world gleefully marked the International Women’s Day on Tuesday, women in the UAE had more reasons to smile.
The UAE government has always been in the forefront when it comes to ensuring that opportunities in almost all sectors are open to everyone without any bias on the basis of gender.
Of course, the seeds of such a progressive approach were laid at the foundation itself by none other than the Founding Father of the Nation, Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, a leader who set an example for empowering women and unleashing her potential.
Hard work, humility, perseverance, enterprise, determination… name it and one would find that Emirati women have all these positive traits and much more, which they use constructively, helping build a strong nation.
The country has witnessed a series of milestones in women’s empowerment.
In February last year, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum announced the formation of the UAE Gender Balance Council, which was designed to activate the role of women as an essential partner in building the country’s future.
In March, Her Highness Sheikha Fatima Bint Mubarak, Chairwoman of the General Women’s Union, Supreme President of the Family Development Council and President of the Supreme Council for Motherhood and Childhood, launched the Strategy for Empowerment of Emirati Women 2015-2021.
The strategy provides a framework for federal and government institutions and organisations in developing work programmes to empower women in all areas of sustainable development.
Women have made up 17.5 per cent of the Federal National Council. Five women hold ministerial positions in the Cabinet, including Najla Mohammad Al Awar, who has been holding the position of Secretary-General of Cabinet since 2006.
Three of the UAE’s ambassadors, one Consul-General and the UAE’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations in New York are women.
The list of successful women achievers in diverse fields is endless. The status of women within the UAE has flourished along with the country’s growth.
One may recollect what President His Highness Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan once mentioned: "Nothing pleases me more than seeing Emirati women assuming their role in society and achieving their rightful position. Nothing should hinder the march of women’s progress. Like men, women have the right to assume the highest positions according to their abilities and qualifications."

Unending suffering
of Syrian children

The Syrian people have suffered too much for too long. A highly disturbing news has now emerged indicating that children living in besieged areas of Syria face hunger, scant access to medicine and potentially lasting psychological impacts as the conflict nears its fifth anniversary.
The report by the Save the Children fund estimates that more than 250,000 children are affected by violence and deprivation in besieged areas.
Such are the stories of deprivation the victims face that tears would gush out of the eyes of even a stone-hearted man. People do not have access to even basic necessities, such as bread.
The Deutsche Presse Agency has quoted a Syrian humanitarian aid worker as saying that in a besieged area, the lack of food has driven many to develop "arts of survival" such as cooking soup using grass.
Distressingly, during the winter, children have been seen running towards buildings hit by barrel bombs to collect destroyed furniture to use as fuel for cooking and heating.
Top UN officials have also mentioned about signs of havoc and harsh evidence of the toll the war has taken on children.
Entire neighbourhoods have been flattened. A children's centre in Al Waer, formerly an orphanage, was struck by a mortar attack two years ago, killing eight children and injuring 30 more.
In Homs, doctors took a UN official into a surgical ward as they treated a victim who had just been shot in the face by a sniper. The doctors had only old surgical instruments with which to remove pieces of the patient's shattered jawbone. The anaesthetic medicine was past its expiry date.
According to UN estimates, there are more than eight million children who need assistance: six million inside Syria and more than two million who have fled the violence to neighbouring countries.
The international community has a responsibility to end the suffering of Syrians.
The long-term effects from the war on Children may be devastating.
Deliberate starvation of civilians amounts to war crimes under the international human rights law and international humanitarian law.
There is a dire need for the immediate lifting of all sieges imposed by any of the parties to the conflict in all besieged towns in Syria where close to 500,000 people are trapped.
UN officials are right in calling on all parties to ensure unconditional, unimpeded and sustained access to the 4.6 million people who are in hard-to-reach or besieged locations across the country.

Tackle Africa food
scarcity challenge

The Food and Agriculture Organisation’s (FAO) Crop Prospects and Food Situation report has indicated that 34 countries — nearly 80 per cent of them in Africa — do not have enough food for their people because of conflicts, drought and flooding and this comes as highly disturbing news.
Conflicts in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, and the Central African Republic have taken a heavy toll on agricultural production, worsening the humanitarian crisis in those countries.
The world should now take a serious note of climate change impact as the report has pointed out that drought associated with El Niño has sharply reduced 2016 crop production prospects in Southern Africa, while expectations for the harvest in Morocco and Algeria have been lowered due to dry conditions.
Also in areas of Central America and the Caribbean, ongoing dry conditions linked to El Niño may affect sowing of the main season crops for the third consecutive year.
Not surprisingly, in most cases, the impact of conflict extends into neighbouring countries such as Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of Congo that are hosting refugee populations.
Other countries on the FAO list facing food shortages include Zimbabwe, Burkina Faso, Chad, Djibouti, Eritrea, Guinea, Liberia, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Sierra Leone, Burundi, Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya, Lesotho, Madagascar, Mozambique, South Sudan, Sudan, Swaziland, Uganda, Afghanistan, Myanmar and Nepal.
According to World Food Programme figures, some 795 million people in the world do not have enough food to lead a healthy active life. That's about one in nine people on earth. The vast majority of the world's hungry people live in developing countries, where 12.9 per cent of the population is undernourished.
Sub-Saharan Africa is the region with the highest prevalence (percentage of population) of hunger. One person in four there is undernourished.
The WFP estimates that $3.2 billion is needed per year to reach all 66 million hungry school-age children.
It is now known that the El Nino periodically wreaks havoc on world weather patterns, causing drought in some parts and floods in others.
As per indications, conditions have generally worsened in the past three months, mainly in the Southern Africa sub-region, where food prices have reached record highs.
The number of countries needing outside food assistance grew from 33 in December, after the addition of Swaziland where El Nino-associated drought conditions have sharply lowered 2016 cereal crop production prospects.
The implication is that the international community needs to step in and initiate swift corrective action.

End the senseless
killings in Iraq

The continuing loss of life resulting from acts of terrorism and armed conflict in Iraq is highly deplorable and a huge cause for concern. It is the common people of Iraq who have been paying a heavy price as the vicious cycle of violence continues unabated.
In the latest violence, a truck bomb exploded at a crowded checkpoint outside the city of Hilla on Sunday, killing and wounding several people and also raising questions about the safety and security of the ordinary Iraqis. This is said to be the heaviest casualty from any car bomb attack in Iraq this year.
Ostensibly, a truck packed with explosives was detonated after being pulled over by checkpoint security as it tried to enter Hilla.
According to UN officials, in February alone, acts of terrorism, violence and armed conflict in Iraq claimed the lives of 670 people, including 410 civilians.
As per figures verified by the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq, 260 members of the Iraqi Security Forces and 410 civilians were killed, while 240 security forces personnel and 1,050 civilians were injured.
Although the overall casualty figures were down from the 849 killed and 1,450 injured in January, February was marked by the viciousness of some attacks, including suicide bombers hitting places of worship, a market and a funeral.
The flying of the Iraqi flag above the main government complex in Ramadi recently marked the military’s first major victory over Daesh in 18 months when the terrorists made a shock advance.
The victory broke the back of Daesh and indicated a positive beginning in the process of liberation of other areas held by it.
However, the continuing targeting of civilians by heartless terrorists indicates that they are reverting to their old guerrilla tactics and ramping up suicide car bomb attacks on civilian targets. This should not be allowed. 
It is also good that the United Nations has stepped up its efforts to cut off all sources of funding for Daesh and other terrorist groups, including ransom payments, no matter by whom.
With terrorists increasingly employing elusive tricks to raise and transfer funds, covering their tracks and leaving little evidence to identify tainted resources, the international community must stay ahead of the curve to combat their ploys, as UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon recently suggested.
Iraqis deserve peace and the international community should do everything within its means to help them achieve precisely that, at the earliest. 

Militancy can’t crush
Tunisian peace resolve

The deadly clashes at the Tunisian town of Ben Guerdan near the Libyan border on Monday that left several people, including civilians, killed or injured are an indication that terrorists want to reverse the path of progress that the country has taken by directing its efforts towards economic recovery and development.
Tunisians deserve praise for refusing to bow to such intimidation  and instead sticking to the progressive path.
In fact, Monday's assault was the type of militant operation Tunisia’s government had feared as it prepares for potential spillover from Libya, where Daesh militants have expanded their presence.
Incidentally, this has been the second deadly clash in the border area in less than a week.
It is increasingly clear that the militants have taken advantage of a power vacuum since the NATO-backed overthrow of Moamer Qadhafi in 2011 to set up bases in several areas of Libya, including the Sabratha area between Tripoli and the Tunisian border.
Tourism is a lifeline for the economy of Tunisia and this is what terrorists aim to ruin.
Western governments have been increasingly alarmed by the growing Daesh presence in Libya just 300 kilometres across the Mediterranean from Europe and have made contingency plans for intensified military action.
European Union leaders have increased cooperation with Tunisia, promising more economic assistance. A handful of US, British and French special forces have already been reported in Libya.
Britain also announced last week that it was sending a team of around 20 soldiers to Tunisia to train troops patrolling the border with Libya.
February's US strike on the Deash training camp outside Sabratha is said to have targeted the suspected mastermind of two of last year's attacks, Noureddine Chouchane.
Washington has stated that Chouchane was likely among the dozens of militants killed, and that the strike probably averted a mass shooting or similar attack in the country.
Tunisia has built a 200-kilometre barrier that stretches about half the length of its border with Libya in an attempt to stop militants infiltrating.
Over four years after a revolt toppled Zine Al Abidine Ben Ali, it has completed its transition to democracy with free elections and a new constitution.
Tunisia deserves international support as it sets its sights on redevelopment. There are many economic challenges that the country has been facing.
If at all anything, the terrorist threat should only increase the determination of the international community to help Tunisia root out the repulsive phenomenon.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Recent Editorials

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.

Protect civilians
in Afghanistan

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.

Bolster measures
against Zika

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
top challenge

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.