Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Recent Editorials

Here are some recent editorials I wrote for The Gulf Today. (Posted for my records):
Manchester attack
a monstrous act
The brutal attack that took place outside England’s Manchester Arena killing and wounding several people, especially children, has again bared the ugly face of terrorists who are filled with nothing but venom and despise for human values.
These enemies of humanity do not represent any cause and are merely hate-filled monsters with depraved mindsets.
Children are adored and nurtured by any society. The fact that nearly a dozen children under the age of 16 were among those injured in the suicide bombing exposes the senseless brutality of the terrorist involved in the attack.
Surreptitiously killing innocent people, especially kids enjoying a music concert, is nothing but an act of cowardice. Such actions are rejected by all religions, moral values and humanitarian norms.
The killings have also exposed the vulnerability of public events, which means that event organisers need to be extra vigilant in future.
The use of an explosive device marks an escalation from recent attacks in Britain, which have used unsophisticated weapons such as knives and vehicles, with firearms less of a threat given the country's strict laws on gun ownership.
Witnesses at the arena have described seeing metal nuts and bolts among the debris of bomb. It may have contained shrapnel intended to maximise injuries and deaths. The implication is that the security may not have been as tight as it should have been.
Monday's attack is the deadliest in Britain since four terrorists killed 52 people in suicide bombings on London's transport system in 2005.
Terrorism can never ever wipe out the power of compassion. The loving spirit of Manchester residents remained intact. There were many who went out of their way to help those caught up in the incident.
Social media users began helping the desperate hunt for people missing by circulating names and photos with the MissingInmanchester hashtag.
Some taxi drivers turned off their meters to get people away from the spot and to safety. Many local residents opened up their homes to help those stranded.
The UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation has rightly called for intensified and concerted efforts by the international community to ensure the eradication of the serious scourge of terrorism.
Going by the magnitude of the Manchester attack, it is clear that it was meticulously planned and likely involves more than one individual. It is, hence, imperative that the security agencies dig deep into the matter and swiftly bring to justice those responsible for the heinous crime.

Keep plastics
out of oceans
The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) has cautioned that there will be more plastic than fish in the world’s oceans by 2050 unless people stop using single-use plastic items such as plastic bags and plastic bottles.
That’s not all.
According to some estimates, at the rate people are dumping items such as plastic bottles, bags and cups after a single use, by 2050 oceans will carry more plastic than fish and an estimated 99 per cent of seabirds will have ingested plastic.
The warning should be taken seriously as the subject could have a major negative impact on every human being.
As per UN estimates, in 1950, the world’s population of 2.5 billion produced 1.5 million tonnes of plastic; in 2016, a global population of more than 7 billion people produced over 300 million tonnes of plastic – with severe consequences for marine plants and animals.
Such figures are starling and should be seen as a wake-up call for remedial action.
It may be recalled that in February the UN Environment organisation launched an unprecedented global campaign to eliminate major sources of marine litter: microplastics in cosmetics and the excessive, wasteful usage of single-use plastic by the year 2022.
Launched at the Economist World Ocean Summit in Bali, the #CleanSeas campaign urges governments to pass plastic reduction policies, target industry to minimise plastic packaging and redesign products and calls on consumers to change their throwaway habits before irreversible damage is done to our seas.
As part of the campaign, Indonesia has committed to slash its marine litter by 70 per cent by 2025; Uruguay will tax single-use plastic bags this year and Kenya has agreed to eliminate them entirely.
Though the Clean Seas campaign has achieved some important wins for the oceans, Petter Malvik, UN Environment Programme’s Communications Officer, points out that the job is far from done.
The idea is to achieve a global ban by 2022 on microbeads in personal care and cosmetic products and a drastic reduction in the use of single-use plastic.
In 2013, scientists were surprised to find the seas east of Greenland and north of Scandinavia are a dead-end for plastics. Some seas in that region are said to be heavily polluted with plastic because of an Atlantic ocean current which dumps debris there.
The reckless dumping of plastic in the oceans should stop as it wreaks havoc on marine wildlife, fisheries and tourism and the damage to marine ecosystems is immense.

Give peace a chance
in South Sudan
At a time when bitter conflict and deteriorating humanitarian conditions in South Sudan are driving people away from their homes in record numbers, President Salva Kiir’s decision to declare a unilateral ceasefire comes as a big relief.
UN officials have repeatedly cautioned that the situation in South Sudan continues to worsen, with a combination of conflict, drought and famine leading to further displacement and a rapid exodus of people fleeing one of the world's most severe crises.
In fact, South Sudan has now become the world's fastest growing refugee crisis with more than 1.8 million refugees, including one million children, having sought safety in Uganda, Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Central African Republic.
The tragedy is confounded by the fact that thousands have been dying from hunger and disease while volunteers are unable to reach the vulnerable population.
There have also been attacks on peacekeepers and relief personnel, which have severely constricted the humanitarian operations.
South Sudan has been mired in a civil war since 2013, when Kiir fired his deputy, Riek Machar. The conflict, fanned by ethnic rivalries, has sparked Africa's worst refugee crisis since the 1994 Rwandan genocide and plunged part of the country into famine.
It is true that scepticism reigns on whether Kiir's truce announcement would lead to long-lasting peace. Kiir had declared such ceasefires earlier too. However, considering the present volatile situation in the country, any step towards peace should be welcomed with open arms.
In April 2016, the United States and other Western nations backed a peace accord that saw Machar return to the capital and again share power with Kiir. Unfortunately, the deal fell apart less than three months later and Machar and his supporters fled the capital, pursued by helicopter gunships.
Since then, the conflict has intensified with a mix of ethnic militias fighting in different parts of the oil-producing country.
According to UN officials, the number of people fleeing to Sudan in March surpassed the expected figure for the entire year. Uganda is also seeing higher than expected arrivals and at this rate is likely to soon host over one million South Sudanese refugees.
Increased displacement worsens humanitarian suffering. Violence cannot achieve any goal and only leads to senseless destruction of precious lives and property. All parties involved in the conflict should realise that constructive dialogue is the only way forward.

Migrant kids face
endless trauma
The number of migrant children traveling alone has increased five–fold since 2010, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the trend is especially frightening because the youngsters are taking highly dangerous routes, often at the mercy of traffickers, who abuse and exploit them.
According to the new Unicef report, A Child is a Child: Protecting children on the move from violence, abuse and exploitation, at least 300,000 unaccompanied and separated children were recorded in some 80 countries in the combined years of 2015 and 2016, up from 66,000 in 2010 and 2011.
The report indicates that children account for approximately 28 per cent of trafficking victims globally.
Sub-Saharan Africa and Central America and the Caribbean have the highest share of children among detected trafficking victims at 64 and 62 per cent, respectively. Further, as much as 20 per cent of smugglers have links to human trafficking networks.
Unicef Deputy Executive Director Justin Forsyth has highlighted the grim reality that ruthless smugglers and traffickers are exploiting their vulnerability for personal gain, helping children to cross borders, only to sell them into slavery and forced prostitution.
In Serbia alone, for example, the number of refugee children has grown, with 7,000 refugees and migrants stranded, unable to cross the heavily guarded borders of neighbouring European Union countries Hungary and Croatia.
Incidentally, around 3,200, or 46 per cent, of all refugees and migrants in Serbia are children, while every third child is unaccompanied.
Unicef’s call on governments to adopt a six-point agenda for action deserves to be given top-most attention.
As per the plan:
*Protect child refugees and migrants, particularly unaccompanied children, from exploitation and violence
*End the detention of children seeking refugee status or migrating, by introducing a range of practical alternatives
*Keep families together as the best way to protect children and give children legal status
*Keep all refugee and migrant children learning and give them access to health and other quality services
*Press for action on the underlying causes of large-scale movements of refugees and migrants
*Promote measures to combat xenophobia, discrimination and marginalisation in countries of transit and destination.
It is a moral and legal responsibility on the part of any society to protect children. Going by the trend, it is clear that much more needs to be done by the international community to protect migrant children from the predators.
Leaving the helpless children to fend for themselves would only lead to a future society that is scared and scarred.

Time to heal wounds
of Mosul civilians
Iraqi forces are said to have recaptured nearly 90 per cent of West Mosul from Daesh and indications are that all of Mosul would be liberated from the dreaded militants soon. That, indeed, is comforting news.
What is not comforting, though, is the continuing plight of civilians, who have been enduring untold misery for quite a long time.
Half a million people have been currently displaced as a result of the battle for Mosul, and some 250,000 civilians are estimated to be still trapped inside the city's west.
The number of those fleeing has also been on the rise, with Thursday alone witnessing around 20,000 people fleeing West Mosul, as per the Norwegian Refugee Council. This, by the way, is the biggest single-day displacement since the start of the operation.
It is true that coalition air strikes have aided the advance of Iraqi forces, but it should not be forgotten that they have also caused hundreds of civilian casualties in the city. The implication is that more care needs to be taken on this front so as to protect civilians better.
Vastly outnumbered militants are increasingly using innocent civilians as human shields. With a view to deter civilians from escaping the city, they also injure or kill people who seek to flee. Such monstrous tactics should not be allowed to succeed.
Hunger is another major threat that trapped civilians are facing. UN officials say that people have spoken of conditions that are desperate and worsening. There are no basic services in the city, no food, no water and no fuel.
Some families have informed UN officials that they have been living on one meal a day; often just bread, or flour and water, sometimes supplemented with tomato paste.
The UN refugee agency has noted that its current humanitarian efforts to shelter and assist displaced Iraqi families and refugees who fled to Iraq are seriously challenged by waning funding support. Volunteers’ ability to effectively respond to the immediate and mounting humanitarian needs in Iraq should not be impeded by fund paucity.
Western Mosul has undergone extensive destruction, far greater than in the East. Hundreds of housing sites have been destroyed across the city.
Six months into the Iraqi offensive to oust terrorists from Mosul, the continuing massive displacement is a matter of serious concern. With the number of people fleeing West Mosul showing no sign of slowing down, the international community needs to do more to help the civilians.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Beauty of compassion

There are so many amazing people out there whose compassionate actions are lost in the din of negativity encompassing most of our society.
It was around 9am that I noticed an acquaintance, a vendor selling newspapers on the roadside. He had been on the job late after midnight and looked exhausted.
We started a conversation and he mentioned about how today’s youth are technology-driven, but quality newspapers are cherished by elderly Arabs.
He then stated that his sugar level had shot up to 400 and that he was on medication.
He had pain on one of his legs and could not stand for long hours.
Before I could reply, a taxi screeched to a halt nearby. The cabbie stretched out his hand and told the vendor: “I got a sandwich for you.”
When the latter hesitated, the driver insisted: “Take it. I am seeing you here daily. You are like my brother.”
“Do you know him?” I asked the vendor after he grabbed the grub.
“Not really, but this is common. I come across quite a few good people like him.”
I returned home contemplating about the caring taxi driver, when a friend called up and shared an incident.
He had found Dhs800 on a footpath. Unlike many who would have been thrilled, he felt distressed. He was worried some poor person in a hurry must have lost the money. He returned to the spot three to four times that day, but could not trace anyone he could trust as genuine.
He donated the entire amount to his watchman, who was earning a very meagre salary and had health issues.
I saluted him.