Monday, March 12, 2018

Recent Editorials

Here are some recent editorials I wrote for The Gulf Today (Posted for my records):
‘Forever Xi’ shakes up
Chinese politics
With one masterstroke, China’s Xi Jinping has shaken up the era of collective leadership and added to himself the tag “President for life.”
Sunday's historic vote by the parliament to abolish presidential term limits has thus placed the destiny of 1.4 billion-plus Chinese effectively in one leader’s hand.
Ironically as well as comically, one of the first positive reactions came all the way from Washington which never tires of preaching the values of democracy.
US President Donald Trump not only greeted with joy the consolidation of power by Xi Jinpingb, but also went to the extent of suggesting the United States might one day “give that a shot.”
With the turbulent one-man rule of Communist China’s founder Mao Zedong still lingering in memory, concerns about the decision are natural.
But, fortunately, the China of today is not the same as the one under Mao.
The country is now increasingly connected with the rest of the world and is a key global player.
Surmising China’s return to the era of isolation and violent political struggle makes little sense, at least as of now.
As per International Monetary Fund official, David Lipton, China is a key partner for over 100 countries, which represents more than 80 per cent of global GDP. The Chinese success story is, hence, deeply intertwined with the fortunes of the world economy.
China alone is providing one-third of the global growth, and is outweighing other countries in areas of digital commerce, robotics and artificial intelligence.
Xi is a tough leader with a soft countenance. When he was appointed party secretary of Shanghai in 2007, he was a "compromise candidate" who the party's elders hoped to "co-opt," according to a US embassy analysis written at the time.
The leader’s no-nonsense approach was soon on display when he launched an anti-corruption campaign that punished one million officials. The campaign also toppled top politicians who posed a threat to him, sending an unmistakable message to any potential adversaries.
What’s behind Xi's decision to become a permanent president? Not much is clear but there are suggestions that he needs more power to crush endemic corruption, a goal that is within reach thanks to another constitutional amendment creating an anti-graft authority with power to punish and purge.
The future path depends on which role Xi dons more significantly — reformer or dictator. The Chinese and the rest of the world would be happy if he embraces the former choice.
Senseless violence in
Sri Lanka should end
Despite a state of emergency, reports from central Sri Lanka indicate that violent Buddhist mobs have been sweeping through towns and villages, burning Muslim homes and businesses and leaving victims barricaded inside mosques.
Colombo cannot afford to remain passive in the face of such mob brutality. Sterner action should be initiated against those indulging in the atrocities.
It’s true that the government has ordered popular social media networks blocked in an attempt to stop the violence from spreading, and thousands of police and soldiers have been spread out across the worst-hit areas.
A curfew has also been ordered across much of the region.
However, the fact that even such stringent measures have not helped is an indication that it is organised violence and hardline groups with dangerous agenda are behind it. The perpetrators should not be allowed to get away.
The situation on the ground is worrisome. Hundreds of Muslim residents of Mullegama, a village in the hills of central Sri Lanka, were forced to barricade themselves inside a mosque after Buddhist mobs attacked their homes. Several Muslim homes have been badly damaged.
Instead of helping the victims, police personnel prevented them from saving their property, while doing nothing to stop the attackers.
The violence in Kandy is just the latest targeting Muslims in the country.
Mobs set fire to Muslim-owned businesses and attacked a mosque in the east of the country last week over an issue involving a chef.
Last November riots in the south of the island left one man dead and homes and vehicles damaged.
In June 2014 riots between Buddhists and Muslims left four dead and many injured. That bout of violence was instigated by a Buddhist extremist group whose leaders are on trial, accused of fostering religious conflict.
Sri Lankans love cricket and should heed cricket legend Sanath Jayasuriya’s peace appeal. “Disgusting and sickening to see the acts of violence in Sri Lanka. I request people of Sri Lanka to be wise and stay together in these tough times,” the sports star has mentioned on Twitter.
The Sri Lankan government should act sternly against groups that are inciting religious hatred. Appropriate measures should swiftly be taken to restore normalcy in affected areas. The rule of law should be upheld by ensuring the safety and security of one and all.
The perpetrators of the mindless violence should be brought to justice at the earliest.
Trump-Kim summit plan
lights up wick of hope
Months of raging tensions between the United States and North Korea, involving personal insults and threats of war from both sides, have suddenly given way to diplomacy.
This is certainly a stunning, but hugely welcome development.
The announcement of a summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korea's Kim Jong Un sounds indeed "like a miracle," as South Korea's President Moon Jae-in put it.
This is especially so because no sitting US president has ever met any of the North Korea's leaders, much less gone to Pyongyang.
From deriding each other as a "little rocket man" or a "mentally deranged US dotard," the two leaders have come a long way to give dialogue a chance.
The nuclearisation in North Korea has been a source of great concern for the entire world. Last year alone, Pyongyang carried out 20 ballistic missile tests.
Pyongyang's race to develop a nuclear weapon capable of hitting the continental United States has proved a problem for successive US administrations.
North Korean leaders have sought face-to-face talks with consecutive US presidents, who have rebuffed the idea as an effort to achieve strategic parity that does not exist.
On multiple occasions, Kim's father Kim Jong Il dangled the prospect of talks and denuclearization as a means of buying time, easing sanctions and dividing South Korea from its allies.
Pyongyang now seems to have achieved its goal, while agreeing to a suspension of nuclear tests.
The summit would be the biggest foreign policy gamble for Trump since his taking office in January 2017.
Trump aides are convinced that immense pressure has worked. They see Kim Jong Un's invitation to Trump to a historic summit as evidence that the latter’s efforts to isolate his counterpart are bearing fruit.
"North Korea's desire to meet to discuss denuclearisation — while suspending all ballistic missile and nuclear testing — is evidence that President Trump's strategy to isolate the Kim regime is working," insists US Vice President Mike Pence.
His argument is that the US made "zero concessions" and "consistently increased the pressure."
Whatever the true reasons, Pyongyang’s change of tone is as dramatic as the way it inflamed passions by repeatedly rejecting United Nations’ appeals and snubbing international opinion.
Almost all world leaders view the latest announcement as a positive development. The push to persuade Pyongyang to end its nuclear weapons programme seems to be working. At least, it seems so as of now. And that surely is heartwarming news.
Bring Boko Haram
atrocities to an end
Reports that more than one hundred schoolgirls have been abducted by Boko Haram insurgents after an attack on an educational institution in north-eastern Nigeria comes as hugely disturbing news.
The dreaded Boko Haram group has been crossing all limits. Repeated abduction of innocent, little girls shows that the militants are sheer cowards with no human feelings.
The hardliner militant group had earlier attained international notoriety after abducting more than 270 schoolgirls from the town of Chibok. The girls were forced from their dormitories onto trucks and driven into the bush. Fifty-seven manage to flee.
That case drew global attention to the insurgency and spawned high profile social media campaign Bring Back Our Girls.
According to the Office of the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict – which works for the protection and well-being of children affected by armed conflict – schools in north-east Nigeria continue to be attacked at an alarming rate.
It is estimated that as many as 1,400 of educational institutions have been destroyed since the beginning of the insurgency in 2009.
As per UN officials, the attacks overwhelmingly focus on the abduction, forcible recruitment and use, killing and maiming as well as sexual abuse of innocent Nigerian girls whose only crime is to be female and to dream of an education.
The Nigerian Union of Teachers went to the extent of issuing a statement demanding a "24-hour military patrol around all schools" in the region to better protect students and teachers.
The union’s stand is understandable, especially because some parents of students who survived the attack say their children are too frightened to return to class.
Nigeria's security forces have now been ordered to defend all schools in "liberated areas" of the country's northeast to avoid further mass abductions from schools by Boko Haram extremists.
The order by Nigeria's interior minister "has become necessary to forestall a re-occurrence of the attack on innocent school children," as per a statement. Only time would tell how effectively the decision is implemented. 
What is adding to the concern is that the extremist group remains alive and active. The group continues to attack civilian and military targets.
The entire world shares the anguish of the families of the girls and the people of Nigeria. The Nigerian authorities should act swiftly and work for the safe return of the girls to their families. Those militants responsible for the act should be brought to justice.

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.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Recent editorials

Here are some recent editorials I wrote for The Gulf Today (Posted for my records):
Warming planet 
is not cozy news
The situation on the climate front is not pleasant. The trend is actually disturbing.
The World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) 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.
Climate has a naturally occurring variability due to phenomena such as El Niño, which has a warming influence, and La Niña, which has a cooling influence.
Average surface temperatures in 2017 were 1.1°Celsius above pre-industrial times, creeping towards 1.5°C, the most ambitious limit for global warming set by almost 200 nations under the 2015 Paris climate agreement.
The agreement has been weakened by a plan by US President Donald Trump, who doubts mainstream scientific findings that warming is driven by man-made greenhouse gases, to pull out.
What Trump forgets is that in the United States alone, weather and climate-related disasters cost a record 306 billion in 2017, especially western wildfires and hurricanes Harvey, Maria and Irma.
Trump’s attempt to promote US fossil fuel industries are unambiguously at odds with the Paris accord's goals of phasing out emissions from coal, oil, and natural gas between 2050 and 2100.
The fresh global data essentially underscores the dramatic warming of the planet and highlights the need for naysayers on climate change to wake up and accept the scale and urgency of the risks that people around the world face from climate change.
Climate change, combined with poverty, eco-systems destruction and inappropriate land use are pushing more and more people to leave home.
Since industrialisation gathered steam in the early 19th century, CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere have increased by nearly half, from 280 parts per million to 407 parts per million.
The best way forward is to initiate effective collective action to slash CO2 and methane emissions, improve energy efficiency and develop technologies to remove CO2 from the air.
The WMO Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Disaster Risk Reduction, Robert Glasser, emphasises that a three-year streak of record hot years, each above 1° Celsius, combined with record-breaking economic losses from disasters in 2017 should tell us all that we are facing an existential threat to the planet which requires a drastic response.
One can only say that he has hit the nail on the head.
No end to plight
of Syrian civilians
Intensification in hostilities across Syria is having a devastating impact on hapless civilians and this is a dangerous trend.
What is worrisome is also that the fighting is severely limiting life-saving humanitarian operations.
According to UN officials, increasing indiscriminate bombing, shelling and fighting in the last few weeks have forced tens of thousands of people to be uprooted.
The deadly violence has severely affected almost all life-saving and economic sectors. Medical and healthcare facilities throughout the country are operating at a fraction of the pre-crisis level.
The reality on the ground is that hundreds of thousands of people have been killed in seven years of bloody conflict, countless more are missing or detained, and five million have fled to other countries.
Adding to the worry is the fact that the little resources that internally displaced persons and affected communities had have been exhausted.
In Idlib, armed clashes between government forces, their allies and opposition armed groups have further intensified, with insecurity also spreading to parts of northeast Hama, western rural Aleppo and southern Idlib – forcing 100,000 people to abandon their homes near the frontline and move towards safer areas.
Conditions especially in Idlib are terrible, with many displaced people forced to stay out in the open during the winter period.
In the besieged enclave of Eastern Ghouta, nearly 400,000 people are said to be living in dire conditions suffering severe food, fuel and drinking water shortages.
As per Unicef officials, the first 14 days of the year alone witnessed more than 30 children killed in escalating violence in East Ghouta, where an estimated 200,000 children have been trapped under siege since 2013.
Distressingly, millions of children across Syria and in neighbouring countries have suffered the consequences of unabated levels of violence in the country.
The fighting does not spare even hospitals. The maternity and paediatric hospital in Ma'arrat An Nu'man was attacked three times taking it out of service.
The seven-year conflict continues to push more and more people into the abyss of hunger and despair.
The only way forward is to prevent further violence and enable humanitarian organisations to assist people in need. Every minute matters, as any delay in reaching those in distress, especially those in besieged and hard-to-reach areas, could prove disastrous.
Protecting civilians and allowing delivery of food to families in need is a basic humanitarian duty to which all parties involved in the conflict should adhere.
End brutality
against children
There can be no keener revelation of a society's soul than the way in which it treats its children, once mentioned Nelson Mandela.
However, the brutality faced by many children in the modern world, especially in the conflict zones, could rattle the heart of any good-hearted individual.
Manuel Fontaine, the Director of Emergency Programmes at Unicef, has highlighted the fact that children are being targeted and exposed to attacks and brutal violence in their homes, schools and playgrounds.
According to Unicef, children have become frontline targets, used as human shields, killed, maimed and recruited to fight in conflicts around the world.
Sexual violence, forced marriage, abduction and enslavement have become standard tactics in conflict areas like Syria, Nigeria, South Sudan and Myanmar.
In addition to the physical trauma children have had to suffer, far too many children have been subjected to the psychosocial trauma in having to witnesses shocking and widespread violence.
Hundreds of thousands have been displaced and many children have died as a result of lack of health care, medicines or access to food and water, because these services were damaged or destroyed in fighting.
At a time when they are supposed to be busy studying in schools, an estimated 152 million children around the world are busy working to earn for their families.
The International Labour Organisation has indicated that more than half of all children – some 73 million – work in jobs that directly endanger their health, safety and moral development.
In Eastern Ukraine, places where children could safely play less than four years ago are now riddled with deadly explosives.
UN officials say that landmines, unexploded ordnance and other explosive remnants of war threaten the lives of over 220,000 children in eastern Ukraine.
A child has become a conflict-related casualty every week, on average, between January and November this year along eastern Ukraine's contact line, where fighting is most severe.
Landmines, explosive remnants of war and unexploded ordnance were stated as the leading cause of these tragedies, accounting for approximately two-thirds of all recorded injuries and deaths during the period. In most cases the casualties occurred when children picked up explosives such as hand grenades and fuses.
Brutality against children, wherever it happens, cannot be allowed to continue. All parties in conflict zones need to abide by their obligations under international law and end violations and attacks against children.
Treat migrants
with dignity
In less than a fortnight into the New Year, close to 200 migrants or refugees have reportedly died or gone missing in the Mediterranean Sea and this is certainly is not a positive beginning for such hapless people.
While January 2017 had witnessed some 254 deaths, this week's reports suggest that the start of 2018 may be even deadlier.
The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) has reported that 81 Mediterranean Sea deaths of migrants or refugees were recorded in the first eight days of the year – five in Western Mediterranean waters off Spain and Morocco, the rest between Italy and Libya.
In the latest, and third deadliest, shipwreck in the Mediterranean, the Libyan Coast Guard rescued three rubber boats with 279 migrants – 19 women, 243 men, 13 boys and four girls – in an operation lasting at least 12 hours.
Small dinghies and poor vessels used by the smugglers are often responsible for the high death rate among the migrants.
The IOM estimates that over 171,300 migrants entered Europe in 2017, compared to a little over 363,500 in 2016.
Sadly, hostility towards migrants is growing around the world. Adding to the endless problems is also the bluntly vulgar language used against them by some of the world leaders.
US President Donald Trump on Thursday questioned why the US would accept more immigrants from Haiti and "shithole countries" in Africa rather than places like Norway in rejecting a bipartisan immigration deal.
Austria’s new far-right interior minister Herbert Kickl had also sparked an outcry this week by saying that his government wants to “concentrate” asylum-seekers, employing a word widely associated with Nazi camps.
What is totally forgotten is that migration is a positive global phenomenon.
As United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres points out, it powers economic growth, reduces inequalities, connects diverse societies and helps us ride the demographic waves of population growth and decline.
Leaders like Trump and Herbert Kickl tend to ignore the fact that globally, migrants make a major contribution to international development – both by their work as well as through remittances back to their home countries.
Last year alone, migrants remitted nearly $600 billion, three times all development aid, as per UN statistics.
The importance of treating migrants with dignity and respect should never ever be underestimated. Migration is not a crime. Fair migration laws will benefit all and that’s precisely what the international community should strive for.
Afghan violence
hits civilians most
Security in Kabul has been ramped up since May 31 when a massive truck bomb killed some 150 people and wounded 400, mostly civilians.
Unfortunately, even such heightened security has not been able to deter multiple deadly attacks, as the latest 12-hour Taliban siege at a luxury hotel in Kabul that claimed several lives has proved.
The violence came at a time when the hotel was scheduled to hold a technology conference organised by Afghanistan's Ministry of Communications and Information Technology. Also at the hotel, guests had gathered for a wedding ceremony.
The situation was so scary that people trapped at the top of the building tied bedsheets together and climbed over balconies to escape the assault.
Kabul has become one of the deadliest places for civilians, with the Taliban and the Daesh group both stepping up attacks.
The attack on the hotel is just one of several bloody assaults.
In a village in the northern province of Balkh, Taliban militants went from house to house in the middle of the night, pulling police from their homes and shooting them dead. At least 18 officers were killed.
In Heart, at least eight civilians were killed when a car hit a Taliban-planted roadside mine.
As per the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, the number of civilians killed in the war in Afghanistan reached a new high during the first six months of 2017. A total of 1,662 civilian deaths were reported between Jan.1 and June 30, marking a two per cent increase since the previous year’s record high.
Afghan forces have struggled to combat terror since the US and NATO formally concluded their combat mission at the end of 2014.
Morale has been further eroded by long-running fears that the militants have insider help — everything from infiltrators in the ranks to corrupt afghan forces selling equipment to the Taliban.
The continued violence resulting in a number of deaths and casualties of civilians indicates that measures against terrorism in the country need to be intensified.
The long-suffering people of Afghanistan deserve peace and prosperity and the world community needs to help them achieve that.
Terrorism in all its forms and manifestations constitutes one of the most serious threats to international peace and security.
All parties involved in the conflict in Afghanistan should uphold their obligations under international humanitarian law. Such heinous attacks that target innocent civilians may amount to a war crime.