Sunday, March 25, 2018

Recent Editorials

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

Guns are not symbols

of non-violence

When guns fall into the wrong hands, innocent people pay with their lives. Repeated incidents in the United States have shown that they indeed landed in wrong hands on many occasions. Rampant gun violence kills roughly 30,000 people per year in the US. Status quo on gun control regulations, hence, is not acceptable.

At least, that’s the loud and clear message from hundreds of thousands of teenagers and supporters, rallying across the US for tougher laws to fight gun violence.

The fact that the "March for Our Lives" events have drawn massive crowds, marking the largest youth-led protests since the Vietnam War era, sends a message with absolutely no ambiguity: Something needs to be done about gun control.

The shooting in Florida last month was the 18th in a US school this year. 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’s not just the scared children from campuses who are speaking out. Celebrities too are lending their voice in increasing numbers. For Pop star Paul McCartney, who was among those marching next to New York's Central Park, it’s a personal stake in the debate. "One of my best friends was shot not far from here," he told CNN, referring to Beatles bandmate John Lennon, who was gunned down near the park in 1980.

The young US organisers have also won kudos and cash from dozens of celebrities, with singers Demi Lovato and Ariana Grande, as well as "Hamilton" creator Lin-Manuel Miranda. Actor George Clooney and his human rights attorney wife, Amal, donated $500,000.

Making a rousing appearance at a protest in Washington, the nine-year-old granddaughter of Martin Luther King Jr. sent a crisp and powerful message: "I have a dream that enough is enough. And that this should be a gun-free world — period."

Since the Parkland attack, the state of Florida and the US Congress have made only modest tweaks to gun laws and President Donald Trump's proposal to arm teachers has already met with widespread resistance.

The fact remains that thousands of school pupils have experienced a shooting on campus in the US. Kids don't feel safe at schools. If this situation does not trigger a change of attitude towards the dangers of unbridled gun violence, what else will?

UAE presses right keys

in digital adoption

Digitisation has taken the global economies by storm. Smart technology is fast reshaping the future of the world. The “man and machine” debate is intensifying by the day. Lethargy cannot be an option anymore when it comes to digital transformation.

Thankfully, the UAE has not only recognised the tremendous power of technology, but also pressed the “smart” key well ahead of others.

The impressive results are already showing.

As per a report by Al Masah Capital Limited titled, "Digital Banking - ME Trends," the UAE is leading the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region with an impressive 16.4 per cent in digital penetration.

The MENA region offers promising opportunities for the banks and other financial institutions, with UAE and Saudi Arabia emerging as two of the most active markets in the development of a digital ecosystem.

The MENA region enjoys a large millennial population, which is expected to further drive the future of digital banking industry.

All sectors are well geared up to embrace digital transformation. For example, the world’s first automated, artificial-intelligence-powered renewable energy digital utility is set to be established in Dubai.

The utility is proposed by the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA) for the Dubai 10X Initiative, an ambitious venture overseen by the Dubai Future Foundation. Dewa is pioneering a new model of utility services leveraging innovation in renewable energy, energy storage, artificial intelligence, and digital services.

On the healthcare front, the Dubai Health Authority has geared up to showcase some of the latest innovations. This includes Dubai Genome, which aims to map the genomes of the entire population (including residents) and use artificial intelligence to analyse genetic data to change the face of medical care through personalised medicine and prior detection of individuals at risk.

The Roads and Transport Authority in Dubai processed 547,461 online transactions relating to vehicle licensing services in 2017. The transactions have been handled via smart channels and are part of RTA’s strategic plans for transformation of all services under the Smart City initiative.

In another interesting development, the National Emergency, Crisis and Disasters Management Authority recently launched the first stage of the "National Early Warning System," by adopting a unified electronic system and activating a feature to send warning messages through telecommunications networks, to reach the general public through their mobile phones.

In a fast-changing world, digital adoption is a must and it is heartening that the UAE is far ahead of others on this front.

Conserving water

everyone’s duty

No water, no life.

That sums up what water means to all lives on earth. 

It is true that three-quarters of planet earth is covered with water, but only 2.5 per cent is fresh water, and of this, less than 1 per cent is available to sustain all terrestrial life and ecosystems.

Conservation and optimum utilisation of water are, hence, key words that every human being should bear in mind.

According to UN Secretary-General António Guterres. more than two billion people worldwide lack access to safe water and over 4.5 billion to adequate sanitation services.

By 2050 at least one in four people may live in a country where the lack of fresh water will be chronic or recurrent.

Growing demands for water, coupled with poor water management, have increased water stress in many parts of the world.

As with most development challenges, women and girls suffer disproportionately. For example, women and girls in low-income countries spend some 40 billion hours a year collecting water.

The UN World water Development Report released this week states that the global demand for water has been increasing at a rate of about 1 per cent per year as a function of population growth, economic development and changing consumption patterns, among other factors — and it will continue to grow significantly over the next two decades.

UN officials have well pointed out how a resolute will can bring about positive change.

In 1986, the province of Rajasthan in India experienced one of the worst droughts in its history. Over the following years, a non-governmental organisation worked alongside local communities to regenerate soils and forests in the region by setting up water harvesting structures. This led to a 30 per cent increase in forest cover, groundwater levels rose by several metres and cropland productivity improved.

Faced with an ever-increasing demand for water, China recently initiated a project, entitled “Sponge City,” to improve water availability in urban settlements with the aim of recycling 70 per cent of rainwater.

Ukraine has been experimenting artificial wetlands to filter some pharmaceutical products from wastewater based on evidence that wetlands alone can remove 20 to 60 per cent of metals in water and trap 80 to 90 per cent of sediment from runoff.

Individuals as well as governments should work together towards protecting this vital resource.

Greater global cooperation, investment and innovation are the ways forward to tackle the water challenge.

Slash emissions,

protect planet

Climate change and extreme weather patterns are serious issues that are said to push 26 million people into poverty every year.

Events unraveling throughout the world present huge challenges on the climate front and blind denial of such occurrences just does not help.

This time around, Europe has descended into a deep freeze while the Arctic experiences record high temperatures, leaving scientists to ponder the role global warming may play in turning winter weather upside down.

Sea ice cover in Antarctica has dropped to its second-lowest on record and it is not yet clear what is driving the reduction after several years of record-highs.

According to Bureau of Meteorology Antarctic scientist Phil Reid, since August 2016, the sea ice coverage has been tracking well below the long-term average.

A decade ago, a thick layer of ice covered the Collins Glacier on Antarctica's King George Island. Now, the rocky landscape is visible to the naked eye well highlighting how the region is a victim of climate change.

The World Meteorological Organisation has cited consolidated data from five leading international weather agencies to confirm that 2015, 2016 and 2017 have been the three warmest years on record.

Last year was the second or third warmest on record behind 2016, and the hottest without an extra dose of heat caused by an El Niño event in the Pacific Ocean.

There is unanimity amongst almost all countries that joint effective action needs to be initiated to tackle global warming. It is consoling that the climate deal under Paris Agreement has now been ratified by 175 nations.

The crucial agreement has set a goal of keeping the rise in average global temperatures to well below 2°C above pre-industrial times, and ideally to 1.5 degrees. The world has already warmed by about 1 degree.

Unfortunately, Washington holds a view on the subject contradictory to what is perceived by the rest of the world.

It would definitely be better and safer for the planet if US President Donald Trump changes his mind on withdrawing the United States from the Paris Agreement to tackle climate change and stays in the 2015 global deal.

Time is running out and countries need to take serious action by expediting measures to slash heat-trapping emissions to meet the Paris targets.

Complacency could lead to serious repercussions, the signs of which are already in the air.