Monday, February 18, 2019

Recent Editorials

Here are some recent Editorials I wrote for The Gulf Today. (Posted for my records):
Children bearing brunt of conflicts
A child is an uncut diamond, once wrote Austin O’Malley. 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, what’s happening on the ground reflects a sad reality.
Charity organisation Save the Children International’s observation that at least 100,000 babies die every year because of armed conflict and its impact — from hunger to denial of aid, should rattle the conscience of every human being.
It is distressing that in the 10 worst-hit countries, a conservative estimate of 550,000 infants died as a result of fighting between 2013 and 2017. They succumbed to war and its effects, among them hunger, damage to hospitals and infrastructure, a lack of access to health care and sanitation and the denial of aid.
Children continue to face the threat of being killed or maimed, recruited by armed groups, abducted or falling victim to sexual violence and mere silence cannot be the response of the world community.
As per the charity’s CEO, Helle Thorning-Schmidt, almost one in five children are living in areas impacted by conflict — more than at any time in the past two decades. To add to the distress, the number of children being killed or maimed has more than tripled.
Under international humanitarian law, children and civilians should never be targeted for attacks. But the unfortunate reality speaks otherwise. For example, Israel’s violent practices in Gaza and the West Bank against innocent Palestinian children have been continuing unabated despite repeated warnings by the international community.
The United Nations Refugee Agency estimated recently that around 43 per cent of internally displaced people are children, and around three million Syrian children are refugees, and over 40 per cent of Syrian refugees do not have access to education.
This situation is just not acceptable. None of us grow up to be man or woman without passing through that beautiful, carefree phase called childhood.
A Peace Research Institute Oslo study commissioned by Save the Children group had also found that 420 million children were living in conflict-affected areas in 2017.
It issued a list of recommendations to help protect children, from steps such as committing to a minimum age of 18 for military recruitment to the avoidance of using explosive weapons in populated areas. One hopes such ideas are taken seriously and acted upon.
Mounting ‘e-waste’
a mammoth challenge
The environment and health are at increasing risk from the growing weight of electronic waste (e-waste), and it is disappointing that the world community is not giving the crucial subject due attention.
It’s estimated that each year, close to 50 million tonnes of electronic and electrical waste are produced globally, and only 20 per cent is formally recycled.
A joint report by seven UN entities, entitled, “A New Circular Vision for Electronics – Time for a Global Reboot,” has rightly called for a new vision for e-waste based on the “circular economy” concept, whereby a regenerative system can minimise waste and energy leakage.
A deliberative process must be instilled to change the system – one that collaborates with major brands, small and medium-sized enterprises, academia, trade unions and civil society.
Where there's a will, there's a way. Considerable work is already under way to harness a circular economy. For example, the Nigerian Government, the Global Environment Facility and UN Environment earlier announced a $2 million investment to formalise an e-waste recycling industry in Nigeria. The investment will leverage over $13 million in additional financing from the private sector.
As far as the UAE is concerned, it is fortunate that the country is fully aware of the challenge e-waste poses and takes serious and effective measures to deal with the situation.
As Dr Thani Bin Ahmed Al Zeyoudi, Minister of Climate Change and Environment, outlined recently, “Given the relatively high per capita income in the country, our people have demonstrated a high consumption rate. But we are also the most active in creating proper e-waste disposal procedures.”
An Integrated Waste Management system has been established, aiming to meet the UAE’s ambitious target of diverting 75 per cent of all municipal solid waste away from landfills by 2021 as outlined in the National Agenda of the UAE Vision 2021.
In May 2018, a federal law was issued on integrated waste management that governs the management of all types of hazardous and non-hazardous waste.
That’s not all. In partnership with the private sector, the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment has been supporting the establishment of one of the largest e-waste treatment facilities in the region soon with a processing capacity of 39,000 tonnes per year.
Globally, what’s called for is better e-waste strategies and green standards as well as closer collaboration between governments, employers and unions to make the circular economy work for both people and planet, as Guy Ryder, Director-General, International Labour Organisation, well suggests.
Protect users from
cyberspace risks
Technology is a double-edged sword. The immense benefit it offers comes with a flip side that poses potential dangers to users in varied forms. This makes it imperative for tight safety measures to be put in place.
Even as various government and private entities joined hands to mark the International Safer Internet Day 2019 on Tuesday, it would be prudent to take a serious note of a United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) report which indicated that online violence, cyber-bullying and digital harassment affected over 70 per cent of young people globally, and rightly called for concerted action to tackle and prevent this form of violence.
A recent one-million-strong Unicef poll of 15- to 24-year-old’s from more than 160 countries prompted the call, along with a series of student-led #ENDviolence Youth Talks held globally, which examined what parents, teachers and policymakers could do to keep them safe.
Interestingly, in the end, kindness stood out as one of the most powerful means to prevent bullying and cyberbullying.
According to the UN International Telecommunications Union (ITU), 94 per cent of 15- to 24-year old’s in developed countries are online, and more than 65 per cent of their developing country counterparts – well ahead of the pace of Internet usage among the general population. Half of the world’s total population, regardless of age, is online, which brings increased risks.
Unicef is absolutely right in stating that cyber-bullying can cause profound harm as it can quickly reach a wide audience, and can remain accessible online indefinitely, virtually “following” its victims online for life. Bullying and cyber-bullying also feed into each other, forming a continuum of damaging behaviour.
As per data from the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, the proportion of children and adolescents affected by cyber-bullying ranges from five per cent to 21 per cent, with girls at higher risk than boys.
The need to establish an effective mechanism to develop sustainable means of communication, while maintaining a safe Internet environment should never be underestimated.
The safety of children when they are online is one of the primary concerns of modern times. Parents should guide their children and prevent them from falling prey to fake news or messages posted on social media platforms.
Malicious cyber activity should be fought efficiently and unitedly. Greater coordination among countries is essential to enact a system for fair and safe use of cyber space.
Constant vigil is essential from all sides to protect honest social media users.
Efforts needed to make
food chain safer
Each year, food contaminated with bacteria, viruses, parasites, toxins or chemicals cause more than 600 million people to fall ill and 420,000 to die worldwide, as per UN organisations, and the only best way forward is to forge greater international cooperation to make the food chain safer.
The need to root out dangerous food should never be underestimated as it hampers progress towards sustainable development everywhere. This fact was amply highlighted at the first International Food Safety Conference, in Addis Ababa – organised by the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization, World Health Organization, World Trade Organization and the African Union.
Contaminated food is to blame for more than 200 diseases, ranging from diarrhoea to cancers -- and the economic impact is huge but often overlooked. Children under five suffer most, comprising 40 per cent of those who fall ill.
Illness linked to unsafe food overloads healthcare systems and damages economies, trade and tourism. The impact of unsafe food costs low- and middle-income economies around $95 billion in lost productivity each year.
To move to a healthy diet, a recent report by the EAT-Lancet Commission well suggested that the world double its consumption of fruits, vegetables, legumes and nuts while reducing at least by half, red meat and food with added sugar.
Facts can be bitter. Many may not know that one-third of the world’s croplands are used to grow feed for cows, rather than fruits, nuts, vegetables and whole grains which are needed for a healthy human diet. More than half of the world’s population suffers from some form of malnutrition.
The reality is that the world is witnessing changing food systems. Technological advances, digitalization, novel foods and processing methods provide a wealth of opportunities to simultaneously enhance food safety, and improve nutrition, livelihoods and trade. At the same time, climate change and the globalisation of food production, coupled with a growing global population and increasing urbanization, pose new challenges to food safety.
Food systems are becoming even more complex and interlinked, blurring lines of regulatory responsibility, as experts point out. Solutions to these potential problems require intersectoral and concerted international action.
Food safety must be a paramount goal at every stage of the food chain, from production to harvest, processing, storage, distribution, preparation and consumption.
The international community needs to strengthen political commitments and engage in key actions on food safety as the subject affects each and every individual on the planet.