Here are some recent editorials I wrote for The Gulf Today. (Posted for my records):
World cannot afford
to lose war on hunger
The war against hunger is truly mankind’s war of liberation, once stated John F. Kennedy. Unfortunately, the global war on hunger is losing steam and the unpalatable truth is that the number of undernourished people actually increased from 777 million to 821 million over the last two years.
The implication is also that global hunger reached an alarming ten-year high in 2017, as indicated by the UN’s annual multi-agency flagship report on the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World.
The trend confirms a worrying reversal of positive movement seen earlier in the new millennium.
A glance at the figures could rattle anyone’s conscience. Globally, one in nine do not have enough food to eat. In sub-Saharan Africa, more than one in four may have suffered from chronic hunger in 2017. Asia has the largest number of undernourished people — 515 million.
Nearly 151 million children under five suffered from stunting due to malnutrition, a condition that hampers physical and mental development. More than 50 million children under five are too thin for their height and more than 38 million are overweight.
Achieving zero hunger by 2030 is one of the UN's Sustainable Development Goals adopted by member states in 2015. The setting of such a goal is indeed noble, but lack of timely, coordinated and effective action may mar the objective.
Children are paying a heavy price. Save the Children charity’s warning that 600,000 children in war zones could die from extreme hunger by the end of this year as funding shortfalls kick in and warring parties block supplies from getting to the people who need them should be taken very seriously.
UN experts have identified three primary drivers across the world as reasons for the increase in hunger: the intensification of conflict, an economic downturn and the effects of climate change.
Climate variability and extremes are already undermining food production in some regions and if action to mitigate disaster risk reduction and preparedness is not taken the situation will only get worse as temperatures are expected to rise and become more extreme.
While the root causes of hunger have been diagnosed, world leaders need to join hands and address the issue by implementing peace and climate resilience initiatives.
It should never be forgotten that hunger is the world’s most solvable challenge. What is called for is collective will and action. Not a single person on earth should go to bed hungry because of deprivation.
Time for truce
on trade war
The global markets are increasingly feeling the heat of the trade war ignited by US President Donald Trump and the escalating frictions could throttle global growth and strike at the heart of the trading system.
Trump, who is challenging China, Mexico, Canada and the European Union on trade issues, has also expressed displeasure about the large US trade deficit with Japan.
Fears over a rapid intensification of the trade brawl hit emerging markets and sent stocks to a fresh 2018 low on Monday, hurting major currencies with India’s rupee tumbling to record lows and Russia's rouble at its weakest in two years.
India is already witnessing street protests over the issue of falling rupee and rising prices. With a general election less than nine months away, demonstrations against record high petrol and diesel prices shut down businesses, government offices and schools in many parts of India on Monday, while in some places protesters blocked trains and roads and vandalised vehicles.
Russia's rouble weakened beyond 70 versus the dollar for the first time since March 2016 before recovering its losses, buckling under pressure from uncertainty about US sanctions and concern ahead of a central bank meeting on Friday.
Last week, Trump blamed the European Union and raised the spectre of slapping tariffs on Europe's auto industry. Auto tariffs would be seen as a blow by Germany and would add to existing levies on steel and aluminium that Trump imposed on Europe in June. The EU imposed a raft of counter-duties in return.
Trump went to the extent of saying earlier that the European Union was "possibly almost as bad as China" when it comes to trade.
Trump’s latest warning that he may slap tariffs on virtually all Chinese imports to the United States and Beijing’s retort that it would certainly retaliate has literally pushed the fight on to the next stage.
Washington is considering extending penalties to an additional $267 billion of Chinese products. That would be on top of $50 billion of goods already hit by 25 per cent duties and another $200 billion on which Washington is poised to raise tariffs.
China matched Washington's first round of tariff hikes on $50 billion of its goods, but owing to lopsided trade balance Beijing is running out of imports for retaliation.
What is called for is an immediate truce on trade war. Meaningful and sincere negotiations would prove more sensible in sorting out such issues rather than throttling markets with uncertainty.
Endless anguish of
The continuing wave of violence and ever-rising number of civilian casualties in Kabul and across Afghanistan is a matter that cannot be ignored anymore.
An entire generation of children in the country has only witnessed violence in their lives, at a time when they should have been studying in school and playing in the gardens.
According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, nearly 4.2 million people in Afghanistan are in acute need of humanitarian assistance, including 1.9 million internally displaced by conflict, and more than 60,000 refugees who have returned home need help to restart their lives.
Afghan people are forced to suffer for no mistake of their own. Compounding the problem, the country is facing a massive drought that is affecting 70 per cent of its territory, and putting 1.3 million women, children and men at risk.
In the past two days alone, Taliban fighters have killed nearly 60 members of the security forces in a spate of attacks in the northern areas and threatened a provincial capital for the second time in as many months.
An unprecedented ceasefire in June followed by talks between US officials and Taliban representatives in July raised hopes that peace negotiations could bring an end to the 17-year conflict. But the continuing deadly violence has diluted all optimism.
The intensified fighting also raises questions about the peaceful conduct of Afghanistan's long-delayed parliamentary elections scheduled on October 20.
The already overstretched security forces will be tasked with protecting thousands of polling stations around the country even when they are struggling to beat back insurgents.
Civilians have suffered beyond imagination. The conflict killed 763 civilians and injured 1,495 in the first three months of this year alone, as per United Nations statistics. The 2,258 civilian casualties, documented from Jan.1 to March 31 by UNAMA, are at the similar levels recorded in the first three months of 2017 and 2016.
The endless cycle of violence has undermined peace and stability in the country for too long and should end immediately. While the ordinary and vulnerable people continue to live in insecurity and fear, those responsible for heinous crimes have been managing to escape punishment.
A categorical rejection of all forms of violence is the only way forward. Militants should realise that nothing could be achieved through such senseless violence. Those involved in killing of innocent people should be made accountable and forced to face the law.
Another unfair US move
Washington’s bias in favour of Israel is becoming increasingly obvious with each passing day and this raises serious questions whether it can act as a legitimate moderator in the Middle East peace process.
President Donald Trump’s latest order to stop $25 million in assistance earmarked for the care of Palestinians in East Jerusalem hospitals can only be seen as yet another mean and unjustified act by the United States, in an attempt to arm-twist Palestinians into negotiations.
Such a move will directly threaten the lives of thousands of Palestinians and the livelihoods of thousands of hospital employees.
What shocks the world community is that the latest action follows the recent move by Trump to halt funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which has been a lifeline for millions of Palestinian refugees since it was set up nearly 70 years ago.
The freezing of funds to the UNRWA, recognising occupied Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, relocating US embassy from Tel Aviv to occupied Jerusalem, refusing to restrain the occupation forces from illegally expanding settlements are all acts that expose Washington’s prejudice against Palestinians.
Last month, the Trump administration said it would redirect $200 million in Palestinian economic support funds for programmes in the West Bank and Gaza.
It is hugely distressing that Trump has preferred to mix politics with humanitarian issues. The US covers 40 per cent of costs in six east Jerusalem hospitals that provide care for Palestinians from the Israeli-occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
Bassem Abu Libdeh, director of Makassed hospital, has already cautioned that US decision to cut funding to hospitals serving the Palestinians will have a "severe effect."
The US aid cut has come at a time when the hospital is going through a suffocating crisis as a result of the lack of flow of financial aid.
Any individual or country proposing to act as a mediator should rise above all bias. Through its recent deeds, Washington has raised more suspicion about its intentions by trying to please Israel while ignoring legitimate Palestinian appeals.
Israel’s sole goal is to prolong the occupation and entrench the grave suffering of the Palestinian people. America should not allow itself to be seen as a partner in such a demeaning endeavour.
Trump has made it clear that he is working to force the Palestinians to negotiate. Force should be applied against the aggressors and not the victims, Mr Trump.
Physical inactivity a
global health problem
Technology brings with it huge advantages, but the flip side is its harmful impact on the health of individuals across the globe. Sedentary jobs are making more and more people less active and the health consequences could be dire.
Now a World Health Organisation (WHO) study has warned that insufficient physical activity is a leading risk factor for non-communicable disease, negatively impacting mental health and overall quality of life and the message should be addressed in all earnestness.
Inactivity is actually putting the physical and mental health of as many as 1.4 billion adults at risk, as per WHO.
The study, published in The Lancet Global Health journal, has coherently highlighted the well-established benefits of being physically active, including a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, hypertension and diabetes, as well as breast and colon cancer. Additionally, physical activity has positive effects on mental health, can delay the onset of dementia, and help people maintain a healthy weight.
The study has made it clear that by the end of 2016, in 55 of 168 countries, more than one-third of the population was insufficiently physically active and this should be seen as a major cause for concern.
The greatest levels of insufficient activity comparing women and men appeared in South Asia (43 versus 24 per cent), Central Asia, Middle East and north Africa (40 vs. 26 per cent), and high-income Western countries (42 vs. 31 per cent).
Fitness and health awareness programmes could go a long way in motivating people to stay fit and events like the Dubai Fitness Challenge (DFC) deserve special praise.
Incidentally, the Dubai Fitness Challenge, the flagship fitness initiative launched last year by Sheikh Hamdan Bin Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and Chairman of the Dubai Executive Council, will return with a wider public programme in 2018.
The inaugural DFC 2017 saw the public and private sectors come together as a response to a city-wide movement, to encourage 786,000 citizens and residents of all ages and fitness levels to commit to 30 consecutive minutes of daily physical activity for 30 days, as well as organise other events across Dubai and the rest of the UAE throughout the month-long festival.
Countries need to scale up policy actions to promote physical activity. As experts point out, investing in policies to promote walking, cycling, sport and active recreation can contribute directly to achieving many of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.