Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Recent editorials

Here are some recent editorials I wrote for The Gulf Today (Posted for my records):
US veto another blow
to peace process
The vetoing of a draft United Nations resolution rejecting President Donald Trump's unilateral decision to recognise occupied Jerusalem as Israel's capital is yet another historic blunder by Washington.
The United States stands completely isolated on the subject.
The support for the resolution even from US allies like France, Italy and Japan lucidly indicate American isolation.
Trump's decision has deviated from decades of US policy and international consensus that occupied Jerusalem's status must be sorted out through dialogue.
The text, tabled by Egypt, merely reiterated the United Nations' position on occupied Jerusalem and would have affirmed that any decisions and actions which purport to have altered the character, status or demographic composition of the Holy City of Jerusalem have no legal effect, are null and void and must be rescinded in compliance with relevant resolutions of the Security Council.
The text would also have called on all States to refrain from the establishment of diplomatic missions in occupied Jerusalem.
A negative vote – or veto – from one of the Council's five permanent members – China, France, Russia, United Kingdom and the United States – blocks passage of a resolution.
The draft was rejected despite support from the other four permanent members and from the 10 non-permanent members.
Nickolay Mladenov, UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace process, has rightly stated that the security situation in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory has become more tense in the wake of Trump's decision.
The region has been witnessing increasing clashes between Palestinians and Israeli security forces.
French Ambassador Francois Delattre even went to the extent of praising the Egyptian draft as a "good text" and correctly argued that without an agreement on occupied Jerusalem, there would be no peace accord between Israel and the Palestinians.
On the ground, Israel's illegal settlement activities in occupied Palestinian territory have been continuing, with significantly more units advanced and approved this year.
For instance, as per UN officials, in East Jerusalem, the increase has been from 1,600 units in 2016 to some 3,100 in 2017.
Thanks to American belligerence, the Palestinian leadership has been forced to cancel meetings with Vice-President Mike Pence and look for the establishment of a new mechanism to achieve peace.
Trump’s moves have only increased the uncertainties about the future of the Middle East peace process.
The status of occupied Jerusalem must be decided only through negotiations and certainly not by the unilateral decisions of a third country.
Not good to take light
pollution lightly
World's nights are increasingly getting brighter thanks to the growing popularity of LED lights, but that should not be considered heartening news.
The global increase in light pollution brings with it dire consequences for human and animal health. Nighttime lights disrupt our body clocks and are said to even raise the risks of cancer, diabetes and depression.
As per the findings made by GFZ German Research Center for Geosciences (GRCG) using data from a NASA satellite, and published in the journal of                         Science Advances, from 2012 to 2016, the surface area of the planet that is artificially lit at night time grew by more than 2 per cent each year.
Scientists say that people’s sleep could be impaired as a result, which would be detrimental to our health and wellbeing.
The ecosystem is also at risk, with the changes impacting the migration and reproduction patterns of birds, fish, amphibians, insects and bats.
The rate of growth observed in developing countries was much faster than in already brightly lit rich countries. Asia, Africa and South America, for the most part, saw a surge in artificial night lighting.
Physicist Christopher Kyba of the GFZ GRCG, who led the research, rightly insists that the issue isn't just the LED lights themselves, which are more efficient because they need far less electricity to provide the same amount of light. Rather, it's that people keep installing more and more lights.
Kyba and his colleagues have come out with some valuable suggestions. They recommend avoiding glaring lamps whenever possible — choosing amber over so-called white LEDs — and using more efficient ways to illuminate places like parking lots or city streets.
For example, dim, closely spaced lights tend to provide better visibility than bright lights that are more spread out.
Ecologist Franz Hölker of Germany's Leibniz-Institute for Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries has also cautioned that in addition to threatening 30 per cent of vertebrates that are nocturnal and over 60 per cent of invertebrates that are nocturnal, artificial light also affects plants and microorganisms.
Besides other challenges, light pollution competes with starlight in the night sky for urban residents and intensely interferes with astronomical observatories.
The world needs to wake up to the truth that unchecked use of artificial lights at night has its own serious consequences.
Brighter lives with dimmer nights are anytime better than the other way around.
Protect civilians from
violence in Somalia
A report released by the United Nations has highlighted that the armed conflict in Somalia continues to exact a heavy toll on civilians, damaging infrastructure and livelihoods, displacing millions of people and impeding access to humanitarian relief for communities in need. The matter is too serious to be ignored.
The report – “Protection of Civilians: Building the Foundation for Peace, Security and Human Rights in Somalia” – covers the period from January 1, 2016 to October 14, 2017.
Civilians are paying the price for failure to resolve Somalia's conflicts through political means.
During the reporting period, the UN Assistance Mission in Somalia documented a total of 2,078 civilian deaths and 2,507 injuries, with 60 per cent of the casualties attributed to Al Shabaab militants, 13 per cent to clan militias, 11 per cent to State actors, including the army and the police, four per cent to the African Union Mission to Somalia, and 12 per cent to unidentified or undetermined attackers.
“Parties to the conflict are simply not doing enough to shield civilians from the violence. This is shameful,” says UN Secretary-General's Special Representative for Somalia, Michael Keating, and he is absolutely right.
Civilians were the victims of unlawful attacks – by being directly targeted and through the use of indiscriminate bomb and suicide attacks – by non-State groups.
Such attacks, which are prohibited under international human rights and humanitarian laws, are in most cases likely to constitute war crimes. It is imperative that the perpetrators are identified and held accountable.
The worst incident on a single day was the twin bomb blasts in Mogadishu on Oct.14, attributed to Al Shabaab by Somali government officials and in which at least 512 people are officially recorded to have died as of Dec.1.
The UAE has always stood by brotherly countries at their time of need and Somalia is no exception.
The “For You, Somalia” campaign launched under the umbrella of the Year of Giving saw a UAE ship carry 1,700 tonnes of food supplies, provided by the Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan Foundation to alleviate dire living conditions and assist those affected by drought, sent to the port of Berbera in Somalia.
The Emirates Medicine Bank contributed to providing medical aid to 5,000 underprivileged children and elderly people by increasing medicinal stocks in the Zayed Giving Initiative clinics and mobile hospitals in Somalia.
Innocent Somali civilians need to be protected. The world community should step up help and support Somalia in its reconciliation efforts.
Plight of children
in South Sudan
A new report entitled “Childhood Under Attack” by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) has highlighted the plight of children in the world's youngest country, South Sudan, and it makes distressing reading.
As the conflict in the country enters its fifth year, more than half the children of South Sudan are in the throes of tragedy – victims of malnutrition, disease, forced recruitment, violence and the loss of schooling.
Leila Pakkala, Unicef's Regional Director in Eastern and Southern Africa, correctly points out that no child should ever experience such horrors and deprivations.  Yet, children in South Sudan are facing them on a daily basis.
The situation in the country is worrisome. Half of the 12 million population need aid to cope with the effects of war, hunger and economic decline.
The conflict, which erupted two years after the country won independence from Sudan, was sparked by a feud between President Salva Kiir and his former deputy Riek Machar. Fighting has raged mostly along ethnic lines.
This week, South Sudan and the United Nations appealed for $1.7 billion aid to help avert starvation amid the civil war, but aid groups point out that bureaucracy, violence and soaring fees are preventing them from reaching those in need.
Already about 4 million South Sudanese have been forced to flee their homes. Nearly 1.9 million are internally displaced and about 2.1 million have fled to neighboring countries.
Distressingly, up to 85 per cent of internally displaced are women and children.
As the Unicef report reveals, years of insecurity and upheaval have had a staggering impact on children, threatening an entire generation.
The numbers tell a grim story.
Almost three million children are severely food insecure; more than one million acutely malnourished; 2.4 million forced from their homes; two million out of school, and if the current situation persists, only one in 13 children are likely to finish primary school.
Moreover, an estimated 900,000 children suffer from psychological distress; more than 19,000 have been recruited in into armed forces and armed groups; and more than 2,300 have been killed or injured since the conflict first erupted in December 2013 – with hundreds of rape and sexual assault incidents against children having been reported.
As UN officials insist, South Sudan's children require a peaceful, caring environment. The country’s children and women face the risk of grave violations and abuse and need to be protected.


Sunday, November 19, 2017

Recent editorials

Here are some recent editorials I wrote for The Gulf Today (Posted for my records):
Children are supposed
to study, not work
At a time when they are supposed to be busy studying in schools, an estimated 152 million children around the world are busy working to earn for their families and this is a blot on humanity that needs to be eradicated.
According to an International Labour Organisation (ILO) report, more than half of all children – some 73 million – work in jobs that directly endanger their health, safety and moral development.
A majority of the children cited between the ages of five and 17 work in agriculture, including farming, fishing, forestry and livestock.
The report, “Ending child labour by 2025: A review of policies and programmes” has indicated poverty as the main cause of child labour in agriculture, together with limited access to quality education, inadequate agricultural technology and access to adult labour, high hazards and risks, and traditional attitudes towards children’s participation in agricultural activities.
There is also a perceptible link between child labour and armed conflicts.
The incidence of child labour in countries affected by armed conflict is 77 per cent higher than the global average, while the incidence of hazardous work is 50 per cent higher, according to the report, which noted the use of Syrian refugee children in the work force throughout the world.
Another worrisome trend is that violence against children is pervasive in homes, schools and communities.
According to a Unicef report titled, “A Familiar Face: Violence in the lives of children and adolescents,” about 300 million, or three-quarters, of the world’s two- to four-year-old children experience either psychological aggression or physical punishment, or both, by their caregivers at home.
The reprehensible violence comes in varied forms: Babies slapped in the face; girls and boys forced into sexual acts; adolescents murdered in their communities.
As per UN officials, data from six countries reveals friends, classmates and partners were among the most frequently cited perpetrators of sexual violence against adolescent boys.
Globally, every seven minutes, an adolescent is killed by an act of violence. In the United States, adolescent boys from African American or black non-Hispanic populations are almost 19 times more likely to be murdered than non-Hispanic white adolescent boys.
Children are inheritors of the future. They deserve a better and peaceful planet. Every society has a major responsibility to protect children.
As experts point out, the best options to eradicate the bane of child labour are; boosting legal protection and inspections of work places, strengthening social protection and investing in free, quality education. 
Sharjah books space
in readers’ hearts
The roaring success of the 36th edition the Sharjah International Book Fair (SIBF), which attracted a record-breaking 2.38 million visitors over its 11-day run, is an unambiguous indication that technology cannot easily erase the power of print.
The figure compares to 2.31 million visitors that attended last year.
To cultivate the love for literature among people by enriching their experience of the written word has been the mission of the event and it has been leaving a deep imprint in the hearts of visitors.
Over the years, the SIBF has transformed into a literary carnival. For those on intellectual pursuit anywhere in the world, Sharjah has now embossed itself as a must-visit destination.
The world’s third largest book fair brought the literary world together by featuring more than 2,600 events and ensuring the participation of 400 authors, intellectuals and literary luminaries from as many as 64 countries.
The Dhs206 million book sales figure represented an increase of 17% over 2016 and was achieved in part due to the high volume of sales of children’s and foreign books and the retail performances of new exhibitors.
Incidentally, both footfall and book sales figures for SIBF 2017 turned out to be the highest in the fair’s 35-year history.
The book fair this time witnessed another interesting and surprise feature. Chaired by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, the UAE Cabinet held a special session at the SIBF to address a selection of political and economic topics.
It is the first time that a Cabinet held a meeting at a book fair to approve the nations federal budget.
What makes the fair rewarding for the visitors is the participation by a number of renowned authors, poets, intellectuals, artists, and journalists worldwide, beside the Arab World. This time too an impressive galaxy of prominent Arab cultural and literary luminaries enriched the fair with their presence.
The hashtag ‘#SIBF2017’ recorded more than 1.3 billion impressions in English and Arabic, signaling the global stature that SIBF enjoys.
As Chairman of Sharjah Book Authority Ahmed Al Ameri pointed out, the overwhelming success achieved by SIBF proves that it is not just a book fair, but a great cultural project that brings together different nationalities on the grounds of human dialogue and discourse.
Knowledge and reading are undoubtedly the noblest way for people to communicate with each other.
Endless plight of
stateless millions
Discrimination, exclusion and persecution are stark realities for many of the world’s stateless minorities and the never-ending suffering endured by the persecuted Rohingya Muslims is just one glaring example of that.
Distressingly, an estimated 10 million people worldwide are stateless, including three million officially, a status that deprives them of an identity, rights, and often jobs, as indicated by a special report, “This Is Our Home: Stateless minorities and their search for citizenship,” released by the United Nations.
As the report clearly notes, more than 75 per cent of the world’s known stateless populations belong to minority groups.
Muslim Rohingyas in Buddhist-majority Myanmar form the world's biggest stateless minority, with some 600,000 having fled violence and repression since late August and taken refuge in Bangladesh.
Other stateless groups — many of whom have lived for generations in their homelands — include many Syrian Kurds, the Karana of Madagascar, Roma in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, and the Pemba of Kenya.
It’s not that all’s lost.
Some 30,000 stateless people in Thailand have acquired nationality since 2012 and the Makonde, a community of 4,000, became Kenya’s 43rd officially recognised tribe last year. But that’s hardly enough. More action needs to be initiated on these lines.
According to Melanie Khanna, head of UNHCR's statelessness section, the world is seeing reductions in Thailand, in central Asia, in Russia, in Western Africa. But the numbers are not nearly as substantial as they would need to be for us to end statelessness by 2024.
The worst affected are children. Stateless young people are denied the opportunity to receive school qualifications, go to university and find a decent job. Their lack of nationality often sentences them and their families and communities to remain impoverished and marginalised for generations.
One young woman in Asia earlier told UNHCR researchers that she had been unable to take up job offers as a teacher because she was stateless and could only find work in a local shop.
Statelessness can exacerbate the exclusion that minorities already face, further limiting their access to education, health care, legal employment, freedom of movement, development opportunities and the right to vote.
Their protracted marginalisation could build resentment, increase fear and even lead to displacement.
The international community should ensure equal nationality rights for all. States must act now and they must act decisively to end statelessness, as UN officials point out.
Dire need to step up
climate action
Scientists have warned that time is running out on our ability to keep global warming below two degrees Celsius, let alone 1.5 C, and the world better wake up to this serious challenge.
A don’t-care attitude will affect each and every individual on the planet.
Corinne Le Quere, Director of the Tyndall Centre for climate Change Research at the University of East Anglia and lead author of a major study detailing the findings, has stated that carbon dioxide emissions that drive global warming, flat since 2014, are set to rise two per cent this year, dashing hopes they had peaked.
Global CO2 emissions from human activities are estimated at 41 billion tonnes for 2017.
Earth is overheating due to the burning of oil, gas and especially coal to power the global economy. Deforestation also plays a critical role.
This year's increase was mostly spurred by a 3.5 per cent jump in Chinese carbon pollution. Declines in the United States (0.4 per cent) and Europe (0.2 per cent) were smaller than previous years, while India, the No.3 carbon polluting nation, went up 2 per cent.
Amy Luers, climate policy advisor to former US president Barack Obama and executive director of Future Earth, is absolutely right in asserting that the news about emissions rising after a three-year hiatus is a giant leap backward for humankind.
Even heritage sites are not spared.
According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, which released a report at UN climate talks in Bonn, climate change imperils one in four natural World Heritage sites, including coral reefs, glaciers, and wetlands — nearly double the number from just three years ago.
The number of sites at risk has actually grown to 62 from 35 in 2014, when one in seven were listed.
Worryingly, among the ecosystems most threatened by global warming are coral reefs, which bleach as oceans heat up, and glaciers, which melt.
Both the Artic and Antarctica are warming twice as fast as the rest of the world.
The implication is that efforts at reducing emissions of heat-trapping gases have so far been vastly insufficient. The global economy is not shifting quickly enough from fossil fuels to low or zero-carbon energy.
There is a dire need to accelerate climate action as well as raise ambition to do more.
Gen Next deserves a greener planet. Depriving them of cleaner oxygen would only reflect greed, apathy and selfishness on the part of the present generation.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Recent editorials

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

Global unemployment

a gargantuan challenge

More than 200 million people are out of work around the world, an increase of 3.4 million since last year, says the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and this is a matter of serious concern.

In the new addition of its flagship report, “World Employment and Social Outlook 2017: Sustainable Enterprises and Jobs,” the ILO has warned that small and medium sized enterprises has stagnated, the impact of which is worst in developing economies, where more than one in two workers are employed in small and medium-sized firms.

Private sector enterprises accounted for the bulk of global employment in 2016, employing 2.8 billion individuals, representing 87 per cent of total employment.

The sector, which also covers medium-sized firms, accounts for up to 70 per cent of all jobs in some Arab States, and well over 50 per cent in parts of sub-Saharan Africa.

However, what is alarming is the fact that these companies are struggling to grow.

Data from more than 130 countries shows that small and medium business had faster job growth than larger firms before the global financial slump in 2008.

Disturbingly, from 2009, job creation in the small and medium sector was simply absent, according to the ILO report.

This is an unambiguous signal that governmental intervention is necessary to reverse the trend.

By 2030, there will be about 1.3 billion 15 to 24 year olds on the planet, some 100 million more than in 2015.

In a separate report, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), has rightly suggested that young people growing up in rural Africa need jobs where they live, so they are not forced to join the growing ranks of poor seeking work in cities or to make dangerous journeys to reach Europe.

Industrial and service sectors in African and South Asian cities have not grown enough to meet the demand, and won't absorb the millions of new job seekers wanting to escape grinding poverty and hunger in their rural homes.

Interestingly, in June, several African governments pledged to restore degraded land, invest in agriculture and create "green jobs" for young people in a drive to reduce unemployment, fight radicalisation, and stem the tide of migration to Europe.

While such a pledge sure rings in some optimism, there is still a long way to go. What is called for is categorical action on the ground.

After all, jobs are a matter that affects each and every individual and families.

Another cowardly

attack in Somalia

The terrorist bombing that took place in Mogadishu on Saturday killing and wounding scores of innocent people is another cowardly and disgusting act which implies that the international community needs to redouble efforts to eradicate terrorism.

What the Al Shabaab extremist group, which claimed responsibility for the attack, does not understand is that it is bound to fail and will be held accountable for its dastardly actions. The entire world is united and determined more than ever now to root out the scourge of terrorism.

The latest attack has come just two weeks after Somalia suffered its deadliest-ever terrorist attack in which at least 358 people were killed in a huge truck bombing in Mogadishu.

After the ruthless Oct.14 terror bombing, Somalis sent a strong message of unity by marching in the thousands through Mogadishu in defiance of Al Shabaab.

This has visibly rattled the terrorist group, which is trying to instill fear in the minds of ordinary Somalis through more cowardly attacks.

But such barbaric tactics will just not work.

If at all anything, such brutal killing of innocent people would only unite Somali people and the entire world more strongly and prompt sterner actions to eliminate the evil of terrorism forever from earth.

While Shabaab militants instantly claimed responsibility for the latest attack, they did not have the guts to do so for the Oct.14 bombing as the toll was too high.

Shabaab terrorists, who earlier controlled almost all of southern Somalia, are already facing fire.

The US military has stepped up military efforts against Al Shabaab this year carrying out as much as 20 drone strikes as the global war on extremism moves deeper into the African continent.

The UAE has always remained a true friend of Somalia and has been extending assistance to the brotherly nation at the time of need.

As per the directives of President His Highness Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, several Somalis who were wounded in the earlier terrorist explosion in Mogadishu have been transported abroad to receive treatment.

A medical aircraft equipped with the latest medical tools transported the Somalis, who are suffering from serious injuries, to Kenya while accompanied by Emirati doctors.

Somalia's President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed has sent out a strong message to extremists that “such atrocities will neither deter nor discourage our will to fight the terrorists.” All peace-loving nations stand in total solidarity with Somalia in its fight against extremism.

Plight of Rohingya

far from over

The Rohingya exodus has turned out to be the fastest growing refugee emergency in the world and the troubles for one of the most persecuted communities are far from over.

As of last Sunday, some 603,000 refugees are estimated to have arrived in Bangladesh and thousands more reportedly remain stranded in Myanmar without the means to cross the border, as per UN officials.

The 1.1 million Rohingya have faced decades of merciless discrimination in Buddhist-majority Myanmar and denied citizenship since 1982, which has effectively rendered them stateless.

A report by the UN human rights office even accused Myanmar of seeking to permanently expel the Rohingya by planting land mines at the border with Bangladesh where the refugees are sheltering.

In this background, it is heartening to note that hundreds of members of the UAE volunteer doctors of the Emirates Programme for Community and Specialised Volunteering participated in the humanitarian missions of the Zayed Giving Caravans, mobile clinics and hospitals, aimed at reducing the suffering of Rohingya refugees.

The volunteers participated to provide the best treatment, diagnostic and preventive services, as well as to build national capacities, to serve children and elderly patients, in line with the directives of the UAE wise leadership to observe 2017 as the “Year of Giving.”

As highlighted by Dr Shamsa Al Awar, Executive Director of Humanity Doctors, the UAE is a leading country in the field of medical humanitarian action through its medical volunteer teams, mobile clinics and hospitals, which managed to help millions of people and provided free treatment to more than seven million people in several countries, including Sudan, Morocco, Syria, Jordan, Kenya, Haiti, Pakistan, Somalia, Tanzania and Bosnia.

Just on Monday, the UAE participated in the UN "Pledging Conference on the Rohingya Refugee Crisis" in Geneva, and pledged $7 million to ease the suffering of Rohingya minority in Myanmar.

The most pressing need for thousands of refugees and refugee children is food, safe water, sanitation and vaccinations. Psychosocial support, education and counselling are also urgently needed.

The situation is especially desperate for Rohingya refugee children, who now number more than 320,000 in Bangladesh. The crisis is certainly stealing their childhoods.

The only way forward is for the Myanmar authorities to immediately cease military operations and allow refugees now living in makeshift camps in Bangladesh to return. Myanmar should also allow UN rights investigators access to Rakhine to report on allegations of atrocities.

It’s time we tackled

global pollution

Environmental pollution has turned out to be one of the biggest causes globally of all premature deaths and this is a matter of grave concern.

The fact that an estimated nine million people died worldwide in 2015 due to diseases caused by pollution should ring alarm bells and wake up the world to reality.

The deaths are more than those caused by AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined and even more disastrous than all violence, as per a major study released in the “Lancet” medical journal.

The financial cost from pollution-related death, sickness and welfare is equally massive, costing some $4.6 trillion in annual losses.

Epidemiologist Philip Landrigan, dean of global health at the Icahn School of Medicine and the lead author of the report, is absolutely right when he says pollution has never received the desired attention of world leaders, civil society and health professionals.

Areas like Sub-Saharan Africa have yet to even set up air pollution monitoring systems. Soil pollution has received scant attention. There are still plenty of potential toxins still being ignored, with less than half of the 5,000 new chemicals widely dispersed throughout the environment since 1950 having been tested for safety or toxicity.

Asia and Africa need to wake up fast as they are the regions putting the most people at risk.

The news is not good for India either, as it tops the list of individual countries. One out of every four premature deaths in India in 2015, or some 2.5 million, was attributed to pollution.

China, too, has major reasons to worry and needs to initiate remedial action. Its environment was the second deadliest, with more than 1.8 million premature deaths, or one in five, blamed on pollution-related illness, as per the study.

Several other countries such Bangladesh, Pakistan, North Korea, South Sudan and Haiti also see nearly a fifth of their premature deaths caused by pollution.

Distressingly, it is most often the world's poorest who suffer, as the study points out. The vast majority of pollution-related deaths — 92 per cent — occur in low- or middle-income countries. Environmental regulations in those countries tend to be weaker and industries lean on outdated technologies.

While pollution has considerably negative impacts on human health and ecosystems, what should not be forgotten, as UN experts point out, is that it is controllable and avoidable through political leadership, high-level champions and commitments, as well with local level action.

Where there's a will, there's a way.

UAE doing its best

to tackle food waste

As global hunger mounts for the first time in decades, a commitment to zero tolerance for food waste from both consumers and food industry is the need of the hour. It is heartening that the UAE remains in the forefront in the war against food waste.

While countries marked the World Food Day 2017 on Monday, the UAE has kept up the momentum by opening the second food bank site in Dubai.

It may be recalled that Vice President, Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, dedicated his Accession Day, January 4, to the launching of the first UAE Food Bank, a non-profit charitable organisation committed to distributing food to those in need while eliminating food waste.

An alarming amount of food purchased by people in the UAE is surplus to their needs. The issue of eliminating food waste globally while simultaneously alleviating hunger is critical, especially when considering that there are 200,000 children born every day in food-deprived households, and many more residing in rural and underprivileged areas.

The noble aim of the UAE Food Bank is to distribute food to those in need while eliminating food waste by collaborating with local authorities as well as local and international charities to create a comprehensive ecosystem to efficiently store, package and distribute excess fresh food from hotels, restaurants and supermarkets.

The Dubai Municipality has been proactive in promoting the cause and has organised several events to create awareness.

The programmes include a social media campaign with the hashtag, #ZeroFoodWaste, food donation drive and competitions focused on the Zero Food Waste theme. The general public is encouraged to use the hashtag #ZeroFoodWaste on social media to promote the theme.

A “Fill up the Fridges” has also been launched through volunteers to ensure that all fridges are full with foods that can be donated to someone else without being wasted.

The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2017 report states that there is more than enough food produced in the world to feed everyone, yet 815 million people go hungry.

The UAE has been doing its best to tackle food waste. The rest of the world needs to wake up to meet the challenge.

As Sheikh Mohammed himself well explained: “Feeding others is the essence of compassion, a pillar of our Emirati values and core to Sheikh Zayed’s legacy.”

Monday, October 2, 2017

Recent Editorials

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

Nightmare in Las Vegas

It’s not just Las Vegas but the entire world is in shock and grief following the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history.

Why and how a 64-year-old cold-blooded beast could develop such hatred as to shower bullets on hundreds on innocent people merrily taking part in an outdoor music festival is beyond one’s comprehension.

So many innocent and precious lives have been lost and several others have landed in hospitals with life-threatening injuries for no mistake of theirs.

All that the victims wanted was to spend a peaceful night at the concert, but the killer turned it into a nightmare.

America has witnessed such incidents before, but this is the worst.

Previously, the deadliest mass shooting had been an attack at an Orlando, Florida, nightclub that killed 49.

Before that, the deadliest shooting in the country was the 2007 attack at Virginia Tech, in which a student killed 32 people before killing himself.

In February last year, Cedric Ford, 38, killed three people and wounded 14 others at a lawnmower factory where he worked in the central Kansas community of Hesston. The local police chief killed him during a shootout with 200 to 300 workers still in the building.

The ghastly killings have raised one crucial question: Should gun control be tightened?

The issue of gun control is highly sensitive in the United States and President Donald Trump's views on the issue have, fortunately, changed noticeably over his years in public life.

After the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, where a disturbed 20-year-old mowed down 20 children and six adults, Trump appeared to favour stricter rules.

Back then, president Barack Obama, who often called Sandy Hook the worst moment of his presidency and recalls even his Secret Service detail in tears, called for the deadlock to be broken and for Congress to act.

Trump had tweeted at that time: "President Obama spoke for me and every American in his remarks in #Newtown Connecticut."

When it comes to guns, Nevada has one of the weakest controls in the US.

According to the National Rifle Association's website, Nevada state law does not require residents to obtain a purchasing permit, register or licence for a rifle, shotgun or handgun.

The Las Vegas mass murder has triggered the need for a no-holds barred debate on the vexed question of gun control. Washington needs to take a more sensible stand on the subject.

A victory with a

bruise for Merkel

The fourth election win by Angela Merkel, Europe's most powerful woman and torchbearer of liberal values, may be a cause for celebration, but her victory has come along with bruises, reshaping the political landscape in Germany.

Tricky coalition talks ahead and entry into parliament of the hardline Alternative for Germany party (AfD) may well prove to be a double-whammy for the outspoken chancellor.

With the Social Democrats insisting they will go into opposition and all parties shunning the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD), parliamentary arithmetic favours a "Jamaica" coalition of her conservatives (black), the pro-business Free Democrats (yellow), and the Greens — so named because their party colours reflect the Jamaican flag.

Merkel's party remains the biggest parliamentary bloc, but patching together a coalition deal with three wildly differing parties of the right, left and centre, is unlikely to be an easy task.

Merkel scored around 33 per cent of the vote with her conservative Christian Union bloc. It was their worst score since 1949. Its nearest rivals, the Social Democrats, came in a distant second, with a post-war record low of 21 per cent.

But in a bombshell for the German establishment, the extreme right AfD captured around 13 per cent, catapulting it to become the country's third biggest political force.

The entry of around 90 hard-right MPs to the glass-domed Bundestag chamber breaks a taboo in post-World War II Germany.

How the AfD managed to poach one million votes is a question that will remain to haunt Merkel's conservatives for quite some time.

Merkel has acknowledged that the AfD's strongholds in depressed corners of the ex-communist east may have felt "left behind.” But displaying a spirit of astute leadership, she says that not all were diehard supporters of the AfD and that at least some could be won back "with good policies that solve problems."

True to Merkel’s inference, tensions between radicals and moderates within AfD surfaced soon after the poll verdict.

Frauke Petry, the most recognisable face in the AfD, declared she could not stand with an "anarchistic party" that lacked a credible plan to govern and would prefer to sit in parliament as an independent.

The prospect of a "Jamaica coalition" is unprecedented at the national level and it could take months of coalition wrangling before a government emerges.

A potentially unstable coalition can be justifiable reason for jitters among investors.

In such a scenario, if there is one certainty, it is that Germany is heading into months of uncertainty.

Saudi decision on women

drivers a historic move

Saudi Arabia deserves all praise for the historic decision to allow women to drive cars, thereby ending the kingdom’s status as the only country where that is prohibited.

The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Salman Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud’s issuing of a royal order to grant driving licences to men and women alike under the provisions of the Traffic Law and its Executive Regulations is the latest in a string of social and economic reforms underway in the country.

The King has aptly referred to the negative consequences of not allowing women to drive vehicles and the positive aspects of allowing it, taking into consideration the application of the necessary legal controls and adherence to them.

He has also rightly pointed to the view of the majority of members of senior scholars on women's driving, who see no impediment to allowing it, provided the necessary "guarantees of legitimacy and order" are in place.

The decision is sure to bring in major benefits for the country. It will save families huge amounts of money as many Saudi families presently employ at least one driver to transport female members.

Retailers, insurers and car hire companies will be among the potential winners, as the decision will boost industries from car sales to insurance.

Importantly, the step will also encourage more women to enter the workforce and raise productivity in the economy.

Not surprisingly, there was jubilation on the social media. News of the decision, in fact, became the top trending topic on Twitter, with many posts tagged #SaudiWomenCanDrive.

“Today was a historic day for women in Saudi Arabia as a decree was announced to lift the ban on women drivers. #SaudiArabia,” daughter of US President Donald Trump, Ivanka Trump, who has 4.62 million followers, posted on Twitter.

UN-Secretary General Antonio Guterres too took to Twitter to describe the decision an “important step in the right direction.”

On Saturday, women were allowed for the first time into a sports stadium to mark national day, another momentous move that came as part of Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman’s Saudi Vision 2030. The vision aims at a strong, thriving and stable Saudi Arabia that provides opportunity for all.

Women in Saudi Arabia now thus have a major reason to smile, while a high-level ministerial committee will study the necessary arrangements for enforcing King Salman’s order, which is to be implemented as of June 2018.

Way to go, Saudi Arabia.

Dialogue best way to

solve Catalonia issue

The clash between police and protesters over a banned independence referendum in Catalonia that left several people injured is a distressing development that could have been avoided if political heads in Madrid and Barcelona had used the mighty strengths of a true democracy — diplomacy and dialogue.

Pro-separatist lawmakers in Catalonia have been pushing for an independence referendum since September 2015 when they won a narrow majority of 72 seats in the region's parliament.

The referendum, declared illegal by Spain’s central government, has thrown the country into its worst constitutional crisis in decades and deepened a centuries-old rift.

The violence makes no sense especially because the ballot will have no legal status since Spain’s Constitutional Court and Madrid have blocked it for being at odds with the 1978 constitution.

Also, it is not that all Catalans are backing the secession call. As per polls, only a minority of around 40 per cent of Catalans support independence, although a majority want to hold a referendum on the issue.

Catalonia, incidentally, is one of the powerhouses of the Spanish economy, buoyed by industry, research and tourism but burdened with a heavy debt.

Contributing 19 per cent of Spain’s GDP in 2016, Catalonia rivals Madrid for the distinction of being the richest region in the country. It is fourth in terms of GDP per capita with 28,600 euros after Madrid.

Like in Madrid, unemployment is also lower than in the rest of the country: 13.2 per cent in the second quarter of 2017 compared to 17.2 per cent nationally.

Catalonia is a top exporting region and has invested in research, particularly in bioscience — genetics, neurosciences, cell biology — and the sector now represents seven per cent of its GDP.

However, what weighs it down is debt. Catalonia's debt represents 35.4 per cent of its GDP, which made it the third most indebted region in Spain in the second quarter of 2017, after Valencia and Castilla La Mancha.

At the end of June, its debt stood at 76.7 billion euros.

The Spanish government could have done better to highlight the benefits of remaining united instead of just tamely repeating that the referendum was unconstitutional.

The crisis has snowballed into a threat to Spain’s democracy. Violence can never be the way forward. What is called for is earnest and effective political dialogue. Madrid can go for strategic conciliation with Catalonia offering a deal with better powers.

Another smart

initiative by Dubai

For a city to be happy, it has to be smart. And Dubai knows this best.

Vice President, Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum’s approval of “A Day without Service Centres” initiative is yet another first-of-a-kind and brilliant initiative that would encourage customers to turn to smart channels to obtain government services and complete transactions.

The Dubai Department of Finance (DoF) deserves kudos for launching the initiative and co-ordinating with all government entities in Dubai to close service centres across the emirate for a day, on October 26, 2017.

Abdulrahman Saleh Al Saleh, Director-General of DoF, has well outlined that customer service centres will dedicate their efforts on Oct.26 to spread awareness among customers of the importance of transformation to smart channels to complete transactions, whether via smart apps or the web.

Basically, on Oct.26, service counters at government centres in Dubai will stop receiving customers for the transactions that can be completed via alternative smart channels. However, transactions that require presence in person at the service centres will continue as usual.

One should not forget that Dubai was the first city to launch a “happiness indicator” initiative to measure people’s happiness and satisfaction over the services provided by government departments on a daily basis.

A smart city, as experts highlight, offers a multi-layered eco-system, which provides residents with a smart living experience encompassing aspects such as economy, transport, power, and municipal services.

Dubai’s move will be a trend-setter as completing government transactions via smart channels helps save time, effort and money by eliminating the need to use private or public means of transport and visit crowded roads and service centres.

This, in turn, helps in preserving environmental resources, rationalising fuel consumption, and reducing carbon emissions.

With climate change posing a huge challenge, such initiatives are the need of the hour. Dubai is actually presenting a bold, new path for the rest of the world to embrace.

Dubai residents and visitors should actively take part and promote such programmes by using smart channels more often to complete government transactions, so it becomes part of the day-to-day cultural evolution.

The digital transformation of all aspects of life in Dubai sends an amazing and positive feeling.

Sheikh Mohammed once mentioned: “It’s our job to provide the required facilities and eliminate routine and bureaucracy.”

Dubai’s stupendous world-class facilities vividly prove that such words are followed by deeds.