Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Recent Editorials

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

3D printing: Dubai gives

future a bright shape

Innovation is a continuous journey with no time limit and Dubai knows this best.

The opening in Dubai of the “Office of the Future,” the first 3D-printed office in the world, is another shining example of how the Emirate adopts novel initiatives and ideas and also encourages teams to adopt innovation in their work.

As Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum correctly stated, the UAE has emerged as one of the major incubators of innovation and future technology in the world today and its focused initiatives to shape the future have become global models that can be emulated in all sectors.

It should be noted that the opening of the first 3D-printed office in the world comes just less than one month of launching Dubai 3D printing strategy, which showcases a modern model of construction.

There can be no doubt that the competitive advantages of 3D printing, in terms of lower costs and faster delivery, will make the UAE one of the most important sustainable economic hubs, enabling the effective use of this technology to establish future cities in all sectors.

What is highly interesting in the case of the 3D printed office is that the labour cost could be cut by more than 50% compared to conventional buildings of similar size.

A huge 3D-printer was used to print the building. The labour involved in the printing process included one staff to monitor the printer, in addition to seven people to install the building components on site, besides 10 electricians and specialists to take care of the mechanical and electrical engineering. That’s it.

It may be recalled that this week, the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority released an Expression of Interest for the construction of 3D-printed laboratories, to conduct research on drones and 3D-printing technologies at the Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park, the largest single-site project in the world.

The Solar Park would be able to generate 1,000 megawatts (MW) by 2020 and 5,000MW by 2030.

Sheikh Mohammed recently mentioned that the future is not built on possibilities and numbers but on clarity of vision, planning, action and implementation.

In the medical products sector, the focus will be on developing 3D printed teeth, bones, artificial organs and medical and surgical devices and hearing aids.

It is heartening that the UAE is successfully embracing technology for the service of entire humanity.

State of the planet’s

health not cozy

The most authoritative study the United Nations has ever published on the state of the planet’s health has indicated that th e environment is deteriorating faster than previously thought.

This makes it imperative that governments across the globe act fast to reverse the worst trends.

The Global Environmental Outlook (GEO-6): Regional Assessments is a compilation of six separate reports, which provide highly detailed examinations of the environmental issues affecting each of the world’s six regions: the Pan-European region, North America, Asia and the Pacific, West Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, and Africa.

In what should be considered a wake-up call, the regional assessments, which involved 1,203 scientists, hundreds of scientific institutions and more than 160 governments, find that the world shares a host of common environmental threats that are rapidly intensifying.

Across the planet, climate change, loss of biodiversity, land degradation and water scarcity are growing problems that need to be urgently addressed.

On the positive side, the assessments find that there is still time to tackle many of the worst impacts of environmental change, such as the damage to marine ecosystems and the rising level of air pollution.

Warming in the Arctic has increased at twice the global average since 1980.

The Asia-Pacific region needs to take extra precautions. About 41 per cent of all natural disasters reported over the last two decades occurred in that region, which also accounted for 91 per cent of the world’s deaths attributable to natural disasters in the last century.

India tops the chart with nearly 40 million people in the country projected to be at risk from rising sea levels, followed by more than 25 million in Bangladesh, over 20 million in China and nearly 15 million in the Philippines.

People in Mumbai and Kolkata have the maximum exposure to coastal flooding in future due to rapid urbanisation and economic growth.

Hundreds of people also die every year from heat in India, with May and June usually the hottest months.

Temperatures soared to a scorching 51ÂșC in Rajasthan city on Thursday setting a new national record.

India faces its worst water crisis too, with about 330 million people suffering from drought after two weak monsoons.

Low-carbon, climate-resilient choices in infrastructure, energy and food production coupled with effective natural resource governance are key to protecting the ecological assets that underpin a healthy society, as UN experts suggest.

A rustic disregard for this suggestion could prove costly for entire humanity.

Israeli killing of kids

most cowardly act

Israeli atrocities have been increasing by the day and it is a matter of deep distress that the international community is not giving the matter the attention it deserves.

A cursory glance at the happenings on the ground would reveal the scale of horrors heaped by Israel on harmless Palestinians.

UN children’s agency, Unicef, has revealed that 25 Palestinian children were killed in just the last three months of 2015 and the number of children detained was the highest in seven years.

More than 1,300 Palestinian children were injured during the spike in attacks by Israel, almost all in the West Bank and Arab East Jerusalem.

One of the most shocking cases happened in Hebron in the West Bank on Oct.25 when a 17-year-old girl was taken by the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) soldiers for a search and shot with at least five bullets and killed.

An eyewitness had clearly stated that she was not presenting any threat at the time she was shot, and was shouting that she did not have a knife.

The world community should have made Israel accountable for such brutal killings, but nothing of that sort happened.

Such insensitive attitude only encourages Israel to become more belligerent and vicious in its non-stop hate killings.

Since October, 204 Palestinians have been killed on flimsy reasons.

The number of Palestinian children aged between 12 and 17 held by the Israeli army is also a matter of concern, as Unicef points out. The figure stood at 422 at the end of December, the highest recorded since March 2009.

Crimes committed by Israeli settlers too have been continuing unabated.

For example, on Saturday night a group of rowdy settlers attacked a Palestinian house in Tal Rumeida neighbourhood in the southern West Bank city of Hebron, injuring a woman and her child.

The goons stormed the family house of Riyad Abu Hazza, where they beat the wife, causing several bruises and cuts across her body. One of the invaders then pepper-sprayed Hazza’s daughter on her face, causing her to faint.

Palestinians commemorate the Nakba day, 15 May 1948, every year, as it is the date when over 700,000 Palestinians were displaced from their homes.

The best way out for the Palestinian factions is to close ranks and maintain national unity. The only option left for Israel is to end the disgraceful occupation without any more delay.

Make urban air quality

a health priority

Air pollution is a major cause of disease and death.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has revealed that almost everyone in large cities in poor and middle-income countries faces excessively high air pollution and this is a matter of serious concern.

Over three million people die prematurely each year because of this.

The populations in low-income cities face the highest risk for respiratory diseases and other long-term health problems, according to the latest global urban ambient air pollution database presented by the agency.

India especially has to take a special note of the report as it has four of the 10 cities in the world with the worst air pollution.

Nevertheless, while WHO experts acknowledge India faces a huge challenge, many countries are so bad that they have no monitoring system and cannot be included in its ranking at all.

It may be recalled that New Delhi was ranked worst in 2014 with a PM2.5 reading of 153. It has since tried to tackle its toxic air by limiting the use of private cars on the road for short periods.

When dirty air blankets cities the most vulnerable urban populations – the youngest, oldest and poorest – are the most impacted.

According to WHO officials, most sources of urban outdoor air pollution are well beyond the control of individuals and demand action by cities, as well as national and international policymakers to promote cleaner transport, more efficient energy production and waste management.

In general, urban air pollution levels were lowest in high-income countries, with lower levels most prevalent in Europe, the Americas and the Western Pacific region.

The common causes of air pollution include too many cars, especially diesel-fuelled vehicles, the heating and cooling of big buildings, waste management, agriculture and the use of coal or diesel generators for power.

As urban air quality declines, the risk of stroke, heart disease, lung cancer, and chronic respiratory diseases, including asthma, increases for the people who live in them.

Among the corrective affordable strategies suggested by experts are reduction of industrial smokestack emissions, increasing use of renewable power sources such as solar and wind, and prioritising rapid transit, walking and cycling networks in cities.

Air pollution is wreaking havoc on human health. When air quality improves, health costs from air pollution-related diseases shrink and worker productivity expands.

It is imperative that city and national governments make urban air quality a health and development priority.

Duterte has tough

tasks lined up

Populist politics is increasingly becoming a global trend and the Philippine election results seem to endorse that pattern.

Firebrand politician Rodrigo Duterte, 71, has secured a landslide presidential victory built on foul-mouthed populist tirades that exposed voter anger at the establishment.

The longtime mayor of the southern city of Davao has mesmerised Filipinos with vows of brutal but quick solutions to crime and poverty, while offering himself as a resolute strongman capable of resolving a host of social and economic problems.

Visibly, Filipinos have become tired of hearing fake promises from politicians about rapid economic growth, end to corruption, crime reduction and a slew of other issues.

The fact that over 25% of the population still lives under the poverty line, a figure that has not changed for several years, is enough indication that the benefits of economic prosperity have not been percolating to the lower strata of society.

Duterte has now been pushed into national politics after 22 years as mayor of Davao and a government prosecutor before that.

In those two jobs, Duterte gained recognition by going after criminals, although he was accused of carrying out hundreds of extrajudicial killings.

That even earned him the nickname "Duterte Harry," a reference to the Clint Eastwood movie character with little regard for rules.

Nevertheless, it is his tough-talking image that has drawn voters in droves in his favour.

Many of his supporters view his work in Davao as exemplary.  He has provided rehab for women victims of violence and created centres for drug addicts who want to reform and restart their lives. He has also set up child- minding centres for parents who do not have housemaids.

Indications are that one of his Davao rules, night-time curfews for minors, would be imposed nationwide, while a ban on the serving of alcohol after midnight would also be considered.

Now that the verdict is out, Duterte needs to moderate his inflammatory comments. Fortunately, there are indications of that.

He has offered an olive branch to his rivals by stating: “I want to reach out my hand and let us begin the healing now.”

He has also indicated that he is willing to talk with China over a highly sensitive territorial dispute in the South China Sea, a significant reversal of stance.

It would be heartening if Duterte could replicate the good things he did for Davao, while shunning the unconventional policies that do not hold value for human rights.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Recent Editorials

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

UAE spares no effort in
combating extremism

The fact that the UAE has remained an oasis of peace despite turmoil in many countries of the region is a clear indication that its anti-terror measures are effective, strong and on absolutely right track.
The UAE has taken a firm and principled stand against all forms and manifestations of terrorism, regardless of their motivation and justification, wherever, whenever and committed by whosoever.
As the UAE’s Permanent Representative to the UN and other international organisations in Geneva, Obaid Salem Al Zaabi, rightly stressed at the UN's Geneva Conference on Preventing Violent Extremism, the country has been in the forefront of states that adopted a comprehensive strategy to combat terrorism and extremism through three main dimensions: Legislative, Religious and Cultural, and Media and Social Work.
The UAE has adopted legislations on combating violent extremism and terrorism, including law no. 1 of 2004 on combating terrorist crimes, the federal law no. 39 of 2006 on international judicial cooperation and criminal assistance and federal law no. 7 of 2015 on establishing the Abu Dhabi-based Hedaya Centre, the first-ever international centre dedicated to countering violent extremism.
The leadership has, particularly through the General Authority of Islamic Affairs and Endowments, instilled values of moderation, coexistence and tolerance in the community.
The remarkable role played by Sawab Centre, a joint initiative by the UAE and the United States to fight Daesh’s extremist ideology online, also deserves special mention.
Daesh makes totally false claims of following the example and teachings of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and there is a dire need to counter it.
The Sawab Centre effectively campaigns on its Twitter and Instagram pages that violent and radical actions by extremists bear no relation whatsoever to the real teachings of Islam and the practices of Muslims.
The world increasingly recognises the fact that global partnership is the best way to defeat violent extremism.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon explained well by stating that the vast majority of victims of violent extremism worldwide are Muslims, and the objective of extremists "is for us to turn on each other (and) our unity is the ultimate rebuke for that bankrupt strategy.”
A dynamic, multi-dimensional response from the international community is the best way to address the threat of violent extremism.
In this, the UAE deserves special credit for its highly successful and co-ordinated efforts along with the global community in addressing the deadly menace of extremism.

Growing intolerance
in Bangladesh

Bangladesh is known for its traditional values of secularism, free speech and respect for minorities, but that image is taking a severe beating following a series of systematic assaults by extremist groups in recent months specially targeting bloggers, intellectuals and minorities.
Now, a new hit-list naming 10 people, including Rajshahi University Vice Chancellor M Mizanuddin and former mayor Khairuzzaman Liton, has been released by an extremist outfit, causing concern that the situation is far from control.
The threat to the Rajshahi University vice chancellor comes weeks after a professor from the same university Rezaul Karim Siddiquee, 58, was attacked by motorbike-borne assailants and his throat was slit on April 23.
Siddiquee's murder led to widespread protests by teachers and students from the university who condemned the attack and voiced concerns about their colleagues' security.
Since the past few months, at least nine intellectuals, academics, writers, bloggers and activists have been hacked to death in targeted assassinations.
The attacks follow a similar pattern: a group of young men wielding knives or machetes approach their victim while he is strolling down the street or relaxing at home. The men spew hateful language and hack and stab the victim before disappearing, often without a trace.
Tuesday marks the World Press Freedom Day, and a coalition of rights groups has called for a UN-backed inquiry into the killings claiming that Bangladesh's government has failed to address the situation.
US Secretary of State John Kerry called Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina last week, urging Bangladesh to protect those at risk. He also offered US support for the investigation into the slaying last week of Xulhaz Mannan, a US Agency for International Development employee.
Since December, the US has said it is considering providing temporary sanctuary to some individuals at immediate risk, although it remains unclear whether that will happen.
The government, on its part, has been insisting that groups like Daesh or Al Qaeda have no known presence in the country.
While there have been some arrests, mostly of low-level operatives, there have been no major prosecutions so far and the authorities have struggled to make any headway in naming those planning the attacks.
Bangladesh is known as a moderate, progressive nation and extremists should not be allowed to tarnish that image. The authorities must ensure that those under threat are effectively protected.
The government should also conduct a serious investigation into the brutal murders and the perpetrators should be forced to face justice.

Soaring diabetes cases
pose bitter challenge

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has indicated that the number of people living with diabetes has nearly quadrupled to 422 million over 35 years and this surely is bitter news.
According to WHO, the world is facing an "unrelenting march" of the disease which now affects nearly one in 11 adults.
In 2012 alone, diabetes caused 1.5 million deaths. Its complications can lead to heart attack, stroke, blindness, kidney failure and lower limb amputation.
Diabetes is a chronic disease that occurs either when the pancreas does not produce enough insulin or when the body cannot effectively use the insulin it produces. Insulin is a hormone that regulates blood sugar.
The Middle East has seen the prevalence of diabetes soar from 5.9 per cent of adults in 1980 to 13.7 per cent in 2014.
A WHO specialist in the region, Dr Slim Slama, has stated that the region experienced the greatest rise in diabetes, moving from 6 million to 43 million and that’s a “huge, huge increase.”
Experts have repeatedly warned that failing to control levels of sugar in the blood has devastating health consequences.
It triples the risk of a heart attack and leaves people 20 times more likely to have a leg amputated, as well as increasing the risk of stroke, kidney failure, blindness and complications in pregnancy.
The increasing consumption of sugary drinks and other fattening food is undoubtedly a key factor, but modern, sedentary lifestyle that involves less physical activity compared to earlier generations is also a cause for worry. 
Incidentally, the increase in diabetes cases has coincided with growing rates of obesity — in the US and Britain, two-thirds of people are now overweight or obese.
What is worrisome is that diabetes medicines and technologies, including insulin, needed for treatment are generally available in only 1 in 3 of the world’s poorest countries. Access to insulin is a matter of life or death for many people with diabetes.
It goes without saying that there is a need for drastic global action to prevent and treat the disease.
As WHO officials rightly suggest, governments should ensure that people are able to make healthy choices and that health systems are able to diagnose, treat and care for people with diabetes.
The authorities should also regulate the fat and sugar content of foods to ensure there were healthy options available to people.
Individuals, on their part, should eat healthily, be physically active and avoid excessive weight gain.

India needs to tackle
deepening water crisis

India is facing the worst water crisis in years and, sadly, the situation is worsening by the day.
About 330 million people, or a quarter of the population, are suffering from drought following the failure of two successive monsoons.
The gravity of the situation can be gauged by the fact that armed guards are hired near some water reservoirs to stop water thefts by desperate farmers.
There are areas where thousands of residents get piped water for just two hours every fourth day.
Water trains are being sent to the worst-affected regions and many dejected farmers are now moving to cities and towns to work as daily wage labourers to overcome their financial losses.
Comments like “water is precious than gold” are heard too often and there seems to be no end to farmer suicides.
In fact, 116 farmer suicides were reported in the first three months of 2016 of this year alone.
It is the Bombay high court directive on the shifting of the Indian Premier League matches out of drought-hit Maharashtra this year that brought more focus on the worst drought scene in the cricket-crazy country.
Every time there is a water crisis, the attention turns to water rationing in urban areas. What is ignored is the fact that domestic usage accounts for less than 5% of India’s annual water consumption, while agriculture’s share is 90%.
Thirteen states, including Maharashtra, Karnataka, Telangana and Jharkhand, are presently reeling under severe drought and acute water shortage.
Four reservoirs in Madhya Pradesh have already dried up, leaving more than a million people with inadequate water and forcing the authorities to truck in supplies.
In many places, the groundwater level has receded more than 30 metres owing to less than half the average annual rainfall.
Data from Water Footprint Network, a global network on water issues, reveals that India fares miserably in terms of water efficiency of most crops.
Experts have rightly blamed mismanagement of water resources as one of the prime causes of the worsening situation, as powerful politicians push for bigger supplies to industries.
While attempts to link rivers so as to move water to dry regions does make sense in the long run, ensuring that canals do not leak can serve as instant measure to deal with the crisis.
The situation is critical and it is increasingly obvious that the authorities need to act on a war footing to strengthen water management.

Iraqis need to redouble
reconciliation efforts

The worsening political situation in Iraq is a matter of serious concern. Iraqis should realise that divisions and disputes among themselves would only benefit the dreaded Daesh.
The gravity of the situation could be gauged by the fact that thousands of protesters were inside Baghdad's Green Zone on Sunday after breaking into the fortified area and storming parliament prompting Prime Minister Haider Al Abadi to pursue and punish the rioters.
Demonstrators managed to pull down or scale slabs of heavy concrete blast wall to enter the fortified area where Iraq's main government institutions are located.
The action by the protesters is seen as the culmination of weeks of political turmoil and inaction by parliament.
Sadly, on the ground violence continued with two suicide car bombs claimed by Daesh claiming several lives and wounding many others in Samawa city.
The aim of the terrorists behind such attacks is obviously to weaken national unity and undermine the State.
Nevertheless, one particular news comes as a consolation.
The United Nations has indicated a sharp decline in killings due to ongoing violence. 
As per the report, 741 Iraqis were killed in incidents of violence in April, a sharp decline from the previous month.
Compared with April, at least 1,119 people were killed and 1,561 wounded in March.
Last week, UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, Kate Gilmore, had suggested that Iraq take concrete steps to plan for “the day after” the defeat of Daesh, calling for measures grounded in equality, the rule of law and a vision that earns the confidence of all the country’s diverse communities.
“All the leaders of Iraq, at every level, in both word and action, need to demonstrate a far greater commitment to peace, equality and to the rule of law than to grievances or to vengeance hardwired by sectarianism. There is a worrying absence of a political narrative that brings together all the diverse communities in Iraq, a narrative that includes all the minority communities. This must be urgently addressed,” she had warned.
Among some pressing concerns in Iraq are unchecked corruption, lack of accountability for crimes, growing number of internally displaced people and total destruction of some villages and towns.
The inference is that Iraqis of all affiliations and backgrounds should redouble their efforts to work towards unity and reconciliation.
The Iraqi government should also bring those behind various terrorist attacks to justice.