Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Recent Editorials

Here are some recent editorials I wrote for The Gulf Today (Posted for my records):
Guns not meant
for everyone
Several precious lives have been lost in the deadly school shooting in Florida and the key question that remains to be answered is how the heavily-armed killer managed to hoodwink security and mingle with students before pulling the trigger.
The fact that the shooting was the 18th in a US school this year, as per gun control group Everytown for Gun Safety, implies that status quo cannot remain an option on the security front.
The massacre was the deadliest ever at an American high school, surpassing the 1999 rampage at Columbine High School in Colorado, where two teenagers killed 12 students and a teacher and then themselves.
It was also the second deadliest at a US public school, after the 2012 massacre of 20 first-graders and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut.
Since Sandy Hook, US schools upgraded the security arrangements and installed electronically-controlled doors.
As per media reports, a law enforcement officer is assigned to every school in the district. Schools have a single point of entry.
Distressingly, despite such precautionary measures, the heartless killer managed to strike.
The Valentine's Day bloodshed also raises questions about ways to tackle unbridled gun violence that has become a regular occurrence at US schools and college campuses.
By indicating that the suspect may have been "mentally disturbed," President Donald Trump is trying to deviate from questions about gun control. He had cited mental health as a cause for mass shootings earlier too.
In a tweet, Trump noted, "So many signs that the Florida shooter was mentally disturbed, even expelled from school for bad and erratic behavior. Neighbours and classmates knew he was a big problem. Must always report such instances to authorities, again and again!"
But the debate on gun control cannot and should not be wished away. Pope Francis, for example, has frequently lashed out at gun manufacturers, calling them "merchants of death." During his 2015 speech to the US Congress, he called for an end to the arms trade, which he said was fueled by a quest for "money that is drenched in blood, often innocent blood."
Reality television star Kim Kardashian is among a host of celebrities calling for tighter gun controls. “We owe it to our children and our teachers to keep them safe while at school. Prayers won't do this: action will. Congress, please do your job and protect Americans from senseless gun violence,” she tweeted.
Such arguments do make sense and deserve serious consideration.
Protect civilians in
Syria’s East Ghouta
Nothing can justify the merciless killing of innocent civilians anywhere. Unfortunately, that’s precisely what is happening in Syria's Eastern Ghouta.
Air strikes hit the area for a third straight day on Tuesday, bringing the civilian death toll to nearly 200 and the situation is undoubtedly spiralling out of control.
To add to the agony, 57 children were among those killed, as per the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Hundreds of civilians have lost their lives or been injured in airstrikes and shelling since November.
There have been daily reports about civilians being killed and others being severely wounded, in addition to markets, hospitals and schools being damaged or destroyed. There have also been several allegations of chlorine attacks.
Media images of the situation on the ground are too disturbing to watch as most children being rushed for medical aid are seen covered in mud and blood. Doctors have been battling to save precious lives under precarious conditions.
Videos have surfaced showing paramedics pulling out the injured from under the rubble while others are seen frantically digging through the debris in the dark, in search for survivors.
The mindless bloodshed has even prompted the UN children's agency, Unicef, to issue a largely blank statement to express its anger.
"We no longer have the words to describe children's suffering and our outrage," the agency said in a brief postscript beneath the empty space on the page. "Do those inflicting the suffering still have words to justify their barbaric acts?"
The International Committee of the Red Cross too issued a statement saying that "this cannot go on."
As UN officials point out, the recent escalation of violence compounds an already precarious humanitarian situation for the 393,000 residents of East Ghouta, many of them internally displaced, and which account for 94 per cent of all Syrians living under besiegement.
The lack of access to besieged areas has led to severe food shortages and a sharp rise in food prices. Malnutrition rates have reached unprecedented levels and the number of people requiring medical evacuations continues to surge.
The months-long isolation has already left the local population totally exhausted.
Aid agencies should be given unrestricted access to close to 3 million people in besieged and hard-to-reach locations across Syria, including East Ghouta.
All parties involved in the conflict should strictly adhere to their obligations under international humanitarian law to protect civilians from any harm.
Children bearing
brunt of conflicts
Children hold a special place in any society. They are to be protected. All children have the right to live free from violence, which harms their physical and mental growth.
Unfortunately, more children than ever before—at least 357 million globally—are now living in areas affected by conflict, and are at risk of death and violence, as per the global charity, Save The Children.
A report by the group, entitled “The War on Children: Time to End Violations Against Children in Armed Conflict” shows this number has increased by as much as 75 per cent since the early 1990s, with one in six children globally now living in impacted areas.
Alarmingly, nearly half of these children are in areas affected by high-intensity conflict where they could be vulnerable to the UN’s six grave violations—killing and maiming, recruitment and use of children, sexual violence, abduction, attacks on schools and hospitals, and denial of humanitarian assistance.
Among the major reasons for the worsening situation are the increasing urbanisation of war, the growing use of explosive weapons in populated areas, as well as the protracted and more complex nature of modern conflict that has put children and civilians on the front lines.
Syria, Afghanistan and Somalia have turned out to be the worst countries for young people.
Since 2010, the number of UN-verified cases of children being killed and maimed has gone up by almost 300 per cent. But the true figure is likely to be far higher given the difficulties of verifying accounts in conflict zones.
What adds to the shock is that children are being targeted with more brutal tactics, such as the deployment of youth as suicide bombers and the widespread use of weapons such as barrel bombs.
Problems come in varied forms for children. For example, this year 4.7 million children are at risk of dropping out of school across South Sudan, Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya — displaced from homes and schools because of the dual drivers of hunger: drought and conflict.
That’s 12,000 children a day leaving school before gaining their qualifications — the consequences of which could be grave.
What should never be forgotten is that every child deserves a future.
The global community should act unitedly to prevent all forms of violence and exploitation against all children.
Excuses just won’t work. Any lapse on the part of the present generation to offer children the best protection and care would prove to be a blot on entire humanity.
UAE shows effective way
in pursuit of happiness
The UAE is known as a land of opportunities, enterprise and wisdom, where the happiness of the people tops the list of priorities for the leadership.
The launch of "The Global Happiness Coalition," comprising ministers of six countries including UAE, Portugal, Costa Rica, Mexico, Kazakhstan and Slovenia, by Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum is a splendid step that reflects the UAE’s noble aim to spread cheer across the globe.
The UAE envisions the importance of happiness as the ultimate goal for any government.
The world definitely needs new form of coalitions that works for the wellbeing and happiness of people.
As Sheikh Mohammed outlined, "The Global Happiness Coalition reflects message where the UAE aspirations meet with ambitions of different nations around the world, towards creating a better future for everyone. It is time to join efforts as governments to come up with new approaches and mechanisms to achieve people’s happiness and improve their quality of life."
Promoting happiness and positivity in the community is also at the heart of all the Dubai government’s plans and strategies, as Dr Aisha Bint Butti Bin Bishr, Director-General of the Smart Dubai Office, points out.
This perfectly aligns with the vision of Sheikh Mohammed, which seeks to build a fully-fledged smart city that prioritises people’s happiness and offers the world a unique success story.
Besides, it’s not all mere aspiration sans effort. Dubai is actually leading from the front. The second Global Dialogue for Happiness in Dubai reviewed on Saturday the 170 best international experiences in happiness and wellbeing in the presence of international organisations and institutions, and more than 500 government officials, leading scientists, experts, and entrepreneurs from around the world.
The dialogue included 24 specialised sessions focusing on six main themes: global experiences, policies, technology, education, human values, the latest trends in happiness science, inspiring stories from the world and stories of hope.
Dubai Now, which offers smart services via a single, fast, seamless and paperless platform, where users can complete their transactions through their smartphones without having to visit service centres is one magnificent example of how the Emirate strives to promote happiness among the community.
Sheikh Mohammed once well stated, "Countries can only be built with happy and satisfied people. Happiness of individuals is only the start for a stable, productive and safe society.”

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Recent Editorials

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

Sea of woes

for migrants

More migrants have drowned off the coast of Libya after a smuggler's boat capsized and this raises serious questions about whether the world is doing enough to help people whose only desire is to reach safer shores.

Several factors like climate change, instability and growing inequalities are forcing millions of people to look out for greener pastures and many of them resort to risky methods to reach safer places. Is it their fault?

It is tragic that such hapless people are forced to pay with their life when they actually seek better lives.

Sadly, migrants have been ignoring warnings about the extreme dangers facing them while trying to reach Europe via the so-called central Mediterranean route, which connects Libya to Italy.

Drownings in the Mediterranean began surging in 2013 as Europe's worst migration crisis since World War II began picking up speed, with hundreds of thousands of people fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and elsewhere.

Over the past five years, more than 16,000 people have died trying to make the perilous crossing to Europe, according to International Organisation for Migration (IOM) numbers.

Excluding Friday's tragedy, 246 migrants and refugees have already died trying to cross the Mediterranean since the beginning of the year, compared to 254 casualties during the first month of 2017.

As per IOM spokesperson Olivia Headon, the latest tragedy happened off the coast of Zuwara in the early hours on Friday. Survivors told aid workers that most of the migrants on board were Pakistanis, who form a growing group heading to Italy from North Africa.

Libya is the main gateway for migrants trying to cross to Europe by sea, though numbers have dropped sharply since July as Libyan factions and authorities — under pressure from Italy and the European Union — have begun to block departures.

Migrants often face extreme hardship and abuse in Libya, including forced labour, according to Human Rights Watch and other rights groups. Such instances need to be taken seriously and addressed by the international community.

The Global Compact for Migration that is expected to be adopted by the end of this year, once negotiations by UN Member States conclude, may go a long way in alleviating the problems faced by genuine migrants.

Director-General of the International Organisation of Migration, William Lacy Swing, recently made an ardent appeal to make migration safe in a world on the move. Hope that well-meaning appeal does not fall on deaf ears.

Global unemployment

a huge challenge

While the global economy has kept up modest growth, the total number of unemployed people will likely remain high in 2018 – at above 192 million – and it will be harder to find a decent job, the United Nations labour agency has warned. The world cannot afford to take this issue lightly.

According to International Labour Organisation (ILO) Director-General Guy Ryder, decent work deficits remain widespread: the global economy is still not creating enough jobs.

A key problem is the abundance of "vulnerable employment," a category that includes informal work arrangements with little or no social and contractual protections.

Incidentally, the problem is most acute in the developing world, where three out of every four workers have a "vulnerable" employment status.

The charity group Oxfam earlier reported that 82 per cent of the wealth created in 2017 was controlled by the world's richest one per cent.

The wealth of the world’s poorest 3.6 billion people is the equivalent to the combined net worth of six American businessmen, one from Spain and another from Mexico.

Oxfam pointed to a link between the vast gap between rich and poor and growing discontent with mainstream politics around the world.

More than 200 million people were estimated out of work around the world last year.

The question that is commonly asked all around is: Are the robots taking our jobs?

Adding to the worry is the caution by experts at the Davos summit that intelligent robots and all-knowing online networks threaten to drag humanity into a "totalitarian" nightmare of mind control and mass unemployment.

The World Economic Forum estimates that new technology could affect 1.4 million jobs in the United States alone by 2026.

A study of 46 countries and 800 occupations by the McKinsey Global Institute earlier guesstimated that up to 800 million global workers would lose their jobs by 2030 and be replaced by robotic automation.

The impact is already perceptible.

Just to cite a couple of instances, car makers are fast developing driverless vehicles. Online retail giant Amazon this week opened a 1,800 square-foot cashier-less convenience store with cameras and artificial intelligence scanning the items remotely.

It is imperative that countries intensify job-generation efforts across the globe. As ILO officials point out, additional efforts need to be put in place to improve the quality of work for jobholders and to ensure that the gains of growth are shared equitably.

Palestinian anger over

US moves justified

A true peace mediator does not take sides. But in the case of the Middle East peace process, Washington has unabashedly taken a pro-Israeli stance.

Not content with angering the entire world by recognising occupied Jerusalem as Israel's capital, US President Donald Trump has gone a step further by issuing a threat to hold back aid unless Palestinians resume negotiations with Israel.

This simply is not acceptable.

It is good that leaders of 21 humanitarian aid groups have written to the Trump administration objecting in the strongest terms to the decision to withhold $65 million in US contributions to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA).

The humanitarian consequences of such a decision on life-sustaining assistance to children, women and men in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and the West Bank and Gaza Strip are unimaginable.

Adding to the concern, the State Department has stated that the United States would not provide a separate $45 million in food aid for Palestinians that it pledged last month as part of the West Bank/Gaza Emergency Appeal led by UNRWA.

As Eric Schwartz, president of Refugees International, points out, it is wrong to punish political leaders by denying life-sustaining aid to civilians.

This is certainly a dangerous and striking departure from US policy on international humanitarian assistance which conflicts starkly with values that US administrations and the American people have embraced.

Basic education for 525,000 boys and girls at over 700 United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) schools; emergency food and cash assistance to 1.7 million Palestine refugees; access to primary health care for 3 million refugees, including pre-natal care; and dignity and human security for 5.3 million refugees, have all been endangered as a result of the limited funding.

Trump said in a Twitter post on Jan.2 that the United States gives the Palestinians hundreds of millions of dollars a year, “but get no appreciation or respect.” Such allegations do not hold water as the Palestinians have always engaged in sincere negotiations.

Instead of piling pressure on Palestinians, Trump should backtrack on major anti-Palestinian decisions like the Jerusalem declaration and aid cut threats. That’s the only way Washington would regain its status as an impartial mediator.

The two-State solution remains the only viable option for a just and sustainable end to the conflict. Neither the United States nor Israel should be allowed to scuttle this through questionable actions.

Endless anguish of

Syrian civilians

There seems to be no end to the suffering of civilians in Syria.

Hostilities in the country continue to drive hundreds of thousands from their homes and the number of displaced in the seemingly unending conflict continues to rise along with the suffering of affected communities, according to the United Nations.

This matter needs to be addressed by the international community more assertively as the civilian distress needs to be mitigated at the earliest. Rapid global humanitarian action to help the victims may be the best way forward.

As per Ursula Mueller, Deputy UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, the situation is most concerning in north-west Syria where recent fighting has claimed many lives and forced over 270,000 civilians to flee for safety.

Camps for the displaced are overstretched, forcing most of those displaced to seek shelter in some 160 makeshift settlements. During these cold and wet winter months, many families have nothing else but improvised tents which they share with others.

The situation in the Afrin area of Aleppo governorate remains complicated and worrisome. Some 16,000 people have been displaced, while local authorities have also reportedly restricted civilian movement, particularly for those wishing to leave the area.

The situation is equally concerning in eastern Ghouta and in areas of Damascus where at least 81 civilians – including 25 women and 30 children – were killed in the first ten days of January.

According to estimates, altogether as many as 13.1 million people are in dire need of protection and humanitarian assistance, including 6.1 million people who are displaced within the country and a further 5.5 million people who have become refugees in neighbouring countries.

Compounding the problems, relief workers delivering life-saving assistance to civilians continue to face considerable challenges, including access to those in need of assistance.

Last month, none of the UN cross-line convoys could reach besieged locations and only two convoys reached hard-to-reach areas. This month, UN and partners are reported to have had no access to any such locations at all.

Most distressing is also the fact that children remain the hardest hit by unprecedented destruction, displacement and death. They have lost lives, homes and their precious childhood.

Families that managed to flee violence in some places are living under extremely difficult conditions and exposed to the harsh winter conditions.

It is imperative that all parties ensure the safety and protection of civilians caught up in the violence.