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.