Sunday, November 13, 2016

Recent Editorials

Here are some recent editorials I wrote for The Gulf Today. (Posted for my records) 
Bury acrimony, 
move forward

Months of bitter, venomous presidential poll campaign, where mudslinging remained a norm, has come to a stunning end, exposing deep divisions within the world’s lone superpower.
The wide margin of victory for Donald Trump negated the hollow predictions of polls, pundits and a large section of media, which grossly failed to gauge the pulse of ordinary Americans yearning for change.
The verdict reflected the voters’ worry over economy, jobs and lifestyle.
Trump won avid support among a core base of white non-college educated workers with his promise to be the "greatest jobs president that God ever created."
His fiery words during his campaign targeting a large section, including women and immigrants, left a bitter taste, meaning the nation needs healing time.
So does the rest of the world.
The vote outcome initially sending shockwaves through global markets is one glaring example.
Share markets plunged and the dollar tumbled. The Mexican peso fell to a record low. Japanese and South Korean authorities had to even call crisis talks.
Fortunately, though uncertainty remains over Trump's trade, immigration and geopolitical policies and the future of globalization itself, investors appeared somewhat comforted by his victory speech, in which he praised rival Hillary Clinton and urged Americans to "come together as one united people."
The Republican tycoon has not outlined any lucid plans or a line-up of people to implement radical promises that he has made.
He has stated he would dismantle the health insurance open to the uninsured introduced by President Barack Obama.
His threat to jail opponent Clinton, build a wall on the border with Mexican money or sharp criticism of NATO are issues that caught the world by shock and surprise.
Now that he takes over as president, it is imperative that Trump acts in a statesmanly manner on subjects like these.
In a globalised world, separation walls are not the answer. What is called for is intensified, positive engagement among nations. Washington should continue to promote democratic values and stand by its allies as a guarantor of peace.
Trump’s sober victory message pledging to reach out to opponents and extend hands of friendship abroad does come as a balm.
Lack of government experience may pose a challenge for the oldest man ever elected president.
Nevertheless, he has taken off on a positive note and should continue on that track, burying all the acrimony and conflict-ridden rhetoric that came as part of the poll campaign.

Need to address anxiety
over move on rupee

While the Indian government's sudden scrapping of the high denomination notes may be seen as a bold step, the severe hardship caused to the common people and the persisting confusion raises questions about the way the decision has been implemented.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi earlier announced the demonetisation of Rs1,000 and Rs500 notes in what he termed was a crackdown on "black money.”
Anxiety and confusion has gripped millions in the country as well as expatriates.
Serpentine queues outside banks where people waited for long hours to get lower denomination currency and new banknotes to pay for their daily basic needs are apparent indication of the worry among the people.
Several banks had to seek help from thousands of police personnel to manage huge queues.
Many were not able to buy groceries and essential items, ATM centres were crowded and shop owners were said to be refusing the notes.
Although a few people were able to exchange their old money for new notes, the strict caps on account withdrawals posed additional challenges.
Trading of farm commodities around the country was also disrupted and in many markets farmers were struggling to sell their produce.
Prices of perishable fruits and vegetables fell as traders were unable to sell them to vendors, who pay in cash.
Adding a tragic twist to the episode, a farmer in southern India committed suicide fearing she would be left penniless after the government's shock decision.
Kandukuri Vinoda, 55, had a large amount of cash at her home in 1,000 and 500 rupee notes and panicked that her savings had become worthless. She had ostensibly sold some land last month and had been paid in cash.
Some also see a political reason behind the announcement. Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav argues that the Modi government took the decision with an eye on the forthcoming assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh.
Terming the decision as imposition of "undeclared economic emergency,” Bahujan Samaj Party leader Mayawati has also alleged that the Modi government is diverting attention of voters from failures of his government.
Interestingly, the first demonetisation had happened under the British rule in 1946 and the first one after the Independence on Jan.16-17, 1978 when the Morarji Desai government demonetised bank notes of Rs1000, 5000 and 10,000 notes.
While the overall goal to tackle black money is appreciated, the Modi government could do well by providing enough breathing time for honest and common people to make alternative arrangements.

Give high priority to
low carbon future

The Marrakesh Conference, in which parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) are discussing how to advance action to combat climate change, offers an ideal opportunity to sustain momentum on climate action.
The international community should not let go of the golden chance to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change.
Adopted by 196 States that are party to the UNFCCC last December, the Paris Agreement, aims to strengthen the response by keeping the global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit it to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
In October, the accord cleared the final threshold of 55 countries representing 55 per cent of global emissions required for the accord to come into effect within one month.
The conference comes just four days after the entry into force of the Paris Agreement.
Before the meeting wraps up on Nov.18, the parties should lay out a viable plan for providing at least $100 billion a year to developing countries to support climate action.
While the Paris Agreement did give clear pathways in respect to decisive action, many details regarding how to move forward as one global community in that common direction still remain unresolved.
The changing climate can directly impact billions of people as the risks of extreme weather events grow.
Fourteen of the 15 hottest years recorded have all been in the 21st century.
Global sea-surface temperatures reached record levels in 2014, even in the absence of a “fully developed El NiƱo” weather pattern.
In a study released ahead of the Morocco conference, researchers from 13 global organisations found the average compliance of donor governments with UN climate finance transparency requirements had declined from 58 per cent per country report filed in 2014 to 52 per cent in 2016.
The world's poorest countries are battling increasingly extreme weather. But, as experts point out, the aid on offer globally to help them cope is still a pittance.
This is a matter of concern that needs to be addressed.
Rich countries should dig deeper to help poor respond to the climate crisis.
The world certainly has no choice but to shift to a low-emission, climate-resilient path.
The Marrakesh Conference should pave the way to move on a more sustainable course and a safer future.
It is clearly time to delete empty words and shift to decisive action.

Sharjah’s spellbinding
world of words

Books open the doors of true wisdom and the visionary leaders of Sharjah know this best.
The Emirate revels in opening a new chapter in the love for the written word every year through its hugely-popular Sharjah International Book Fair (SIBF).
It is amazing to note that more than 650,000 visitors have already attended the first four days of this year’s SIBF, which is a record in its 35-year history.
This is a clear indication that the current edition of the fair is set to break the record for overall number of visitors at a single edition, surpassing last year’s SIBF which welcomed one million visitors by its close.
With 1,681 publishing houses taking active part and 1,417 activities taking place, the venue has not only been bustling with activity, but is also generating healthy reading habits among people, mainly the younger generation.
As Ahmed Bin Rakkad Al Ameri, Chairman of the Sharjah Book Authority, has pointed out, the “Year of Reading 2016” initiative and numerous other literary-themed campaigns and activities organised by government bodies have encouraged more and more residents and tourists to throng SIBF.
The popularity of SIBF can also be the gauged by the fact that Sharjah was recently named as Sao Paulo International Book Fair’s Guest of Honour for 2018, in the presence of His Highness Dr Sheikh Sultan Bin Mohammad Al Qasimi, Member of the Supreme Council and Ruler of Sharjah.
Incidentally, Sao Paulo International Book Fair is one of largest and highly popular events in Latin America.
The Sao Paulo honour underlines Sharjah’s status as a cultural leader in the Arab world.
One of the most interesting observations at a SIBF panel session was that eBooks have failed to replace paper books despite persisting demand from a section of the society.
Though a large part of the local population is under 25 years and love electronic gadgets, experts say that one cannot expect more than 20-30 per cent of them going for eBooks. This is indeed positive news for true knowledge-seekers.
The panel also pointed out the lack of a proper distribution system as a major roadblock and this needs to be addressed.
Making quality books accessible to youngsters at affordable prices has been SIBF’s grand source of attraction.
Sheikh Sultan’s own words reflect the vision: “We believe that books must be available to all and from this concept we turn book fairs into an oasis of knowledge and enlightenment.” 

Ensure protection of
civilians in Mosul

News that Daesh militants in Iraq have abducted thousands of men, women and children from areas around Mosul and using them as "human shields" is deeply distressing.
There are also reports that several innocent people have been killed for refusing to comply with Daesh orders or previously belonging to Iraqi security forces.
Forced out by gunpoint, many such hapless people are being moved to strategic places where Daesh fighters are located.
Though Iraqi forces are advancing from several directions, they are still well outside the city itself and need to take extreme care to protect innocent civilians.
Families are at extreme risk of being caught in crossfire or targeted by snipers.
Tens of thousands of Iraqi girls, boys and women may also be under siege or held as human shields.
Iraq is already facing one of the world’s biggest internal displacement situations.
Since January 2014, some 3.38 million people have fled their homes – among them, families that have been displaced multiple times.
Last week, the UN rights office reported dozens of execution-style killings in villages near Mosul, including the shooting of a physically disabled girl who failed to keep up on a forced march.
Shockingly, environmental pollution is also adding complexity and danger to the humanitarian crisis sparked by the offensive in Mosul.
UN officials have indicated that fumes from burning stockpiles of sulphur dioxide, and oil wells that have been set ablaze, have led to further suffering for civilians in northern Iraq.
Some civilians have been experiencing near-suffocation and respiratory illnesses due to what UN officials say is Daesh’s “scorched earth policy.”
Armed groups set 19 oil wells on fire near Al Qayyarah, a town just southeast of Mosul. As a result, citizens and armed forces were exposed to toxic fumes.
The burning crude oil released a wide range of pollutants, including soot and gases that caused skin irritation and shortness of breath.
A sound counter-strategy to meet such Daesh atrocities should be in place at all times.
According to the International Organisation for Migration, as of Thursday, 15,804 people had been displaced since the operation began on Oct.17.
Going by this trend, a massive displacement cannot be ruled out and hence it is imperative that the international community gears up to face the potential challenge of a huge humanitarian crisis.
It is important for all parties to the conflict to uphold their obligations under international humanitarian law and to ensure the protection of civilians.