Monday, April 30, 2018

Recent Editorials

Here are some recent editorials I wrote for The Gulf Today. (Posted for my records):
Afghan attacks
a monstrous act
Monday turned out to be another tear-jerking day for Afghanistan.
Savage bombings carried out by cold-blooded terrorists claimed the lives of several innocent people, including children and brave journalists doing their job.
There is absolutely no justification for such monstrous attacks and the perpetrators should be swiftly brought to justice.
The suicide attack that killed a group of Afghan journalists as they gathered to cover a bomb explosion in Kabul was evidently a deliberate act targeting the media, as the bomber had presented a press card to police before joining the group standing near a blast site.
A BBC reporter, Agence France-Presse chief photographer for Afghanistan were among the victims, on the deadliest day for journalists in the country since the fall of Taliban in 2001. Also killed was Maharam Durani, a young female producer who had joined Radio Azadi, a local station, just a week earlier.
Globally, it was the worst attack on journalists in a single incident since 31 reporters and photographers were killed in a massacre in the Philippines in 2009.
As per the Afghanistan Journalists Safety Committee, at least 80 journalists and media workers have been killed working in the country since 2001. But there had never been a day when so many were killed in the same attack.
Such horrific attacks have been taking place in succession. Just last week, a suicide bomber attacked a voter registration centre in Kabul, killing 60 people and wounding at least 130 others. There were 22 women and eight children among the fatalities.
A month before, a suicide bomber targeted a shrine in Kabul in an attack that killed 31 people.
The heartless terrorists did not spare even children. In Kandahar, where NATO-led forces operate out of a big air base, 11 children were killed and 16 wounded when a suicide bomber drove his explosive-laden van into a convoy.
The international community needs to wake up to the reality in Afghanistan where bloodshed has become a norm and civilians are not able to live in peace for years. The suffering faced by Afghan families should be brought to an end.
The killing of such a large number of journalists in the exercise of their profession is a direct assault on freedom of expression.
The Afghan government should do more to protect civilians and journalists.
Those who organised and enabled such cruel attacks should not be allowed to get away and must be held to account.
Positive signals in
Korean peace push
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has indicated that his country would not only shut its nuclear test site in May but also invite experts and journalists from the United States and South Korea when that happens. This is hugely positive news from Pyongyang and undoubtedly a step in the right direction.
Following Friday’s historic summit between the leaders of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the Republic of Korea, the world is increasingly hopeful that the two countries would swiftly implement all agreed actions, including ridding the Peninsula of nuclear weapons.
Nuclear weapons are the most dangerous enemies of humanity. The scale of devastation they could cause is inconceivable. A single nuclear bomb detonated over a large city could kill millions of innocent people.
An armistice brought the fighting on the Korean peninsula to an end in 1953, but 65 years later, a final peace agreement has still not been reached.
Kim informed South Korean President Moon Jae-in during the summit that the North would have no need to keep nuclear weapons if Washington commits to formally ending the 1950-53 Korean War and signs a non-aggression pact with Pyongyang.
That leaves the ball in Washington’s court.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, on his part, insists that the US has an "obligation" to pursue a diplomatic solution with North Korea, and there is a "real opportunity" for progress.
It’s not that there are no hiccups. While Pyongyang says it will close its nuclear test site, Kim and Moon did not outline concrete measures to be taken to achieve that goal of denuclearisation.
If Kim offers commitment on this extremely sensitive subject and also keeps his words, the United States should not hesitate to take matching positive actions.
It’s so far so good insofar as the peace process is concerned and the world community increasingly hopes that all sides keep their promises through right action.
Let bygones be bygones.
Advancing harmony and peace on the Korean Peninsula is not only good for the region, but the entire world.
As Sheikh Abdullah Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, UAE Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, pointed out, the groundbreaking summit between the two Koreas represents a turning point on the path towards ending tension on the Korean Peninsula and establishing peace and security there.
It is absolutely necessary to keep the momentum of such efficient steps. The international community should also spare no effort in providing all needed support.
Do not ignore plight
of displaced people
More than 40 million people are displaced by conflict and another 25 million annually by disaster within the borders of their own countries, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM).
The numbers not only startle but also indicate the need for collective and effective global action to tackle the root causes of internal displacements.
To compound the worry, children, on average, make up over half those numbers.
Internally displaced people (IDP) is a label given to those who remain in their homeland, as opposed to refugees, who flee across borders.
“In 1998, internal displacement was recognised as one of the world’s greatest tragedies and 20 years later, it still is,” as William Lacy Swing, head of IOM, points out.
Unfortunately, the number of internally displaced people has nearly doubled in two decades due to ongoing new displacements, a lack of solutions for those being left behind in protracted crises and a chronic shortfall of almost 50 per cent of funding needed to meet basic humanitarian needs.
Thus, the daily tragedy of internal displacement continues for millions of people around the globe.
The Syrian conflict has led to more than 6.1 million internally displaced people, with more than 13 million people inside the country requiring humanitarian assistance, including nearly six million children.
In Idlib Province alone, some 1.5 million people are said to be displaced in various locations, making it “the biggest refugee camp in many ways.”
The agony of the world’s most persecuted community, the Rohingya in Myanmar, cannot be ignored. Over 400,000 Rohingya Muslims still living in Rakhine State continue to face a life of hardship and marginalisation due to movement restrictions.
These restrictions severely compromise their rights and obstruct their access to health, livelihoods, education and other essential services.
About 2.2 million people became internally displaced in the Democratic Republic of Congo last year alone, nearly doubling the total number of internally displaced people to 4.5 million.
Internal displacement is a serious issue, but the phenomenon has largely been neglected.
It should not reach a situation where insecurity and hopelessness set in the minds of displaced persons. It is the duty of the rest of humanity to wake up and extend a helping hand.
The victims face a desperate humanitarian situation. The international community should initiate action to alleviate the suffering of millions of men, women and children who get trapped in conflict zones around the world.
World should question
Israel on brutal killings
With over 43 Palestinians killed and more than 5,500 injured during protests in Gaza over the past month, it is increasingly obvious that Israel has been using brutal and excessive force against non-violent protesters.
The international community cannot afford to remain a silent spectator to such monstrous killings by the occupation forces.
Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, has rightly called on Israel to ensure that its security forces do not resort to use of excessive force amid the ongoing demonstrations.
The staggering number of injuries caused by live ammunition only confirms the sense that excessive force has been used against demonstrators — not once, not twice, but repeatedly.
Unfortunately, such repeated warnings by the UN and other peace-loving organisations and individuals have gone unheeded, as the approach of the Israeli security forces does not seem to have changed.
Amnesty International is also absolutely correct in calling for an arms embargo of Israel over the use of live fire. For four weeks the world has watched in horror as Israeli snipers and other soldiers, in full-protective gear and behind the fence, have attacked Palestinian protesters with live ammunition and tear gas, as the human rights organisation has stated.
Israel has so far unabashedly rejected calls for an independent inquiry into the deaths along Gaza's border, which is a clear indication of its guilty conscience.
Israel's open-fire rules are unambiguously unlawful as they allow soldiers to use lethal force even in situations where their lives are not in danger.
Another cause for concern is that over the last four weeks, four children were shot dead by Israeli forces, three of them by a bullet to the head or neck. A further 233 were injured by live ammunition, with some sustaining injuries that will result in lifelong disabilities, including through the amputation of limbs.
The use of excessive force against any demonstrator is reprehensible, but children enjoy additional protection under international law, as Zeid points out.
It is extremely difficult to see how children can present a threat of imminent death or serious injury to heavily protected Israeli security force personnel.
If the images of a child being shot as he runs away from Israeli security forces do not shake the conscience of humanity, what else will!
The importance of reaching a fair solution to the Palestinian cause that ensures a decent and dignified life for the Palestinian people should never be underestimated.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Recent Editorials

Here are some recent editorials I wrote for The Gulf Today. (Posted for my records):
Banking on solar power
brings ray of hope

Amid all the din of negativity concerning environment, a ray of hope has emerged all the way from the sun and it is indeed pleasant news.

According to the Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment 2018 report, released this week by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), solar energy dominated global investment in new power generation like never before in 2017.

Solar power attracted far more investment than any other technology, at $160.8 billion, up 18 per cent.

A driving power behind last year’s surge in solar was China, where an unprecedented boom saw some 53 gigawatts added — more than half the global total — and $86.5 billion invested, up 58 per cent.

The extraordinary surge in solar investment shows how the global energy map is changing and what the economic benefits are of such a shift, as UNEP chief Erik Solheim points out.

Investments in renewables bring more people into the economy, deliver more jobs, better quality jobs and better paid jobs. Clean energy means less pollution, which means healthier, happier development.

Last year was the eighth in a row in which global investment in renewables exceeded $200 billion – and since 2004, the world has invested $2.9 trillion in these green energy sources.

The UAE too has been expediting the pace of clean and renewable energy projects in order to secure a happy future.

Incidentally, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, UAE Vice President, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, broke ground on the 700MW fourth phase of the Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park, the biggest Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) project in the world last month.

The project advances the UAE’s global leadership in the use of clean and renewable energy.

Sheikh Mohammed made it clear that the UAE is developing a new model for sustainability and innovation and is keen to find creative solutions based on international best practices and benchmarks.

The CSP project, based on the Independent Power Producer model, will generate 700MW of clean energy at a single site.

The project, which features the world’s tallest solar tower measuring 260 metres and the world’s largest thermal energy storage capacity, will provide clean energy to over 270,000 residences in Dubai, reducing 1.4 million tonnes of carbon emissions a year.

This project has achieved the world’s lowest Levelised Cost of Electricity of USD 7.3 cents per kilowatt hour (kW/h).

This is certainly a grand global achievement for the UAE.

Nothing can justify

a chemical attack

Barbaric is a mild word to describe the alleged use of chemical weapons against civilians in the Syrian city of Douma during an attack that killed dozens of people, including women and children.

Renewed violence in Douma is a matter of serious concern as sustained airstrikes and shelling have killed civilians, destroyed infrastructure and damaged health facilities.

Pope Francis has rightly pointed out “there is not a good war and a bad one, and nothing, nothing can justify the use of such devices of extermination against defenceless people and populations.”

Just a week ago, Thomas Markram, Director and Deputy to the High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, told the UN Security Council, that the persistent allegations of the use of chemical weapons in Syria underscore the need to identify solutions and reach agreement on an appropriate accountability mechanism.

The Joint Investigative Mechanism of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and UN was created in 2015 by the Council, but its mandate expired in November 2017.

While allegations of the use of chemical weapons have not stopped, consideration of a mechanism for accountability has apparently slowed, if not come to a standstill, as Markram pointed out.

In November last year, the Security Council failed to adopt a resolution to renew the mandate of an international panel investigating the use of chemical weapons in Syria, due to the use of the veto by permanent member, Russia.

An angry US President Donald Trump has already stated that there will be a "big price to pay" after what he called a "mindless chemical attack" in Syria.

"Many dead, including women and children, in mindless chemical attack in Syria. Area of atrocity is in lockdown and encircled by Syrian Army, making it completely inaccessible to outside world," the president tweeted.

With allegations and counter-allegations flying around, it is the helpless Syrian population that is paying the price.

Syria has been bleeding for long and the fighting has entered the eighth year. As per UN data, the conflict has produced more than 5.6 million Syrian refugees and 6.1 million internally displaced people, with more than 13 million people inside the country requiring humanitarian assistance, including nearly six million children.

The use of chemical weapons, under any circumstances, is totally unjustifiable. The international community cannot afford to remain silent. The perpetrators should not be allowed to get away with this kind of monstrous act.

UAE a humanitarian

role model for world

The naming of the UAE as the world's largest donor of development assistance in proportion to its gross national income (GNI) for the fifth consecutive year by the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development is a matter of pride and honour for the entire nation.

The path of benevolence has effectively been laid down by the founding father of the nation, late Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan. To this day, his generous legacy has been kept alive, crossing all borders and barriers to touch the hearts of people in almost every country.

The UAE has exceeded the United Nations’ target of 0.7 per cent official development assistance in proportion to its GNI ratio by donating Dhs19.32 billion, a growth of 18.1 per cent over 2016, representing 1.31 per cent of its GNI for official development assistance in 2017.

It should be noted that up to 54 per cent of the value of the aid is non-refundable grants that are aimed at supporting the developmental plans of the beneficiaries, which totalled 147 countries, 40 of which are among the least developed in different world continents.

As Sheikh Abdullah Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, points out, the UAE support has helped secure the lives of millions of people around the world, establishing international peace and security, creating better opportunities and a brighter future for people in developing countries.

Right since its establishment, the UAE has been contributing tremendously to international sustainable development efforts and humanitarian response to global crises and disasters.

The nation’s commitment to philanthropy and humanitarian assistance is total and inspirational. In December 2016, President His Highness Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan declared 2017 as the “Year of Giving,” in which three key pillars were highlighted throughout the year: Corporate Social Responsibility, CSR, Volunteering, and Serving the Nation.

The Year of Giving saw the development of various comprehensive frameworks via various initiatives, strategies and programmes that cemented the values of giving and philanthropy amongst the UAE’s citizens and residents.

Sheikh Zayed once stated: “We believe that the benefit of the fortune granted to us by God should spread to cover our brothers and friends.” It is pleasing to note that the announcement on UAE being the world’s largest humanitarian donor coincides with the celebration of the centennial of Sheikh Zayed and marking of 2018 as the Year of Zayed.

If the words kindness and Emirati are considered synonymous, now one well knows the reason.

Accelerate efforts to

cut global emissions

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres’ warning that “climate change is still moving much faster than we are” calls for serious attention of the world community.

Climate change is a matter that affects each and every living organism on earth. Without rapid cuts in carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions, we will be heading for dangerous temperature increases by the end of this century, well above the target set by the Paris climate change agreement.

Rapidly increasing atmospheric levels of CO2 and other greenhouse gases have the potential to initiate unprecedented changes in climate systems that could lead to severe ecological and economic disruptions.

The Paris Agreement on climate change, adopted by world leaders in December 2015, aims to keep global temperature rise to well below 2 degrees Celsius and pursues efforts to limit the temperature increase even further, to 1.5 degrees.

The year 2017 had been filled with climate chaos and 2018 has already brought more of the same.

Recent information from the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO), the World Bank and the International Energy Agency shows the relentless pace of climate change.

For instance, as the UN chief points out, energy-related carbon dioxide emissions rose 1.4 per cent, to a historic high of 32.5 gigatonnes.

Weather-related disasters caused some $320 billion in economic damage, making 2017 the costliest year ever for such losses.

In social as well as economic terms, the 2017 Atlantic hurricane season was devastating, washing away decades of development in an instant.

In South Asia, major monsoon floods affected 41 million people.

In Africa, severe drought drove nearly 900,000 people from their homes.

As if these were not enough, wildfires caused destruction across the world.

Arctic sea ice cover in winter is at its lowest level, and the oceans are warmer and more acidic than at any time in recorded history.

According to WMO officials, last year was one of the three warmest on record, and the warmest not influenced by an El Niño event. From November 2016 to December 2017, 892,000 drought-related displacements were recorded. Both the Artic and Antarctica are warming up fast.

Guterres is absolutely right in stating that this tsunami of data should create a storm of concern.

The international community has no choice but gear up and meet the level of the climate challenge.

It will be irresponsible for the present generation to leave an inhospitable planet for the future generations to inherit.