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DAWN - Editorial; June 13, 2007

June 13, 2007

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Apartheid in action

IN SPITE of press censorship that Israel practises despite being a democracy, the truth about the oppressive nature of its policies in the occupied territories is getting known to the wider world. A picture on Dawn’s Tuesday front page shows a Palestinian girl sitting on the rubble of her home which she found destroyed by Israel when she returned from school. More ruthless than apartheid, Israel’s policies in the occupied areas aim at destroying the economic sources of the Palestinian people’s existence, believing that this would make them flee elsewhere — an aim in which the Israelis have not succeeded so far. But the facts gathered by international human rights agencies and by some of Israel’s own rights crusaders have brought to the world’s notice the horrendous nature of the crimes the Israeli regime has been committing in the occupied territories and on the Arabs living in Israel itself. When the British mandate ended and fighting broke out in 1948, some 800,000 Palestinians fled their homes and farms, which the European settlers later confiscated. Even in cases where Palestinians did not flee to other Arab countries but returned to their villages in Israel after the fighting ended, the confiscation law was applied with equal ruthlessness. These Palestinians were classified as “present absentees” and all their moveable and immoveable property was confiscated. That property was worth billions of dollars, and Israel used that money to finance the migration of Jews from other countries to Palestine. A more criminal form of Israeli policies has been the destruction of Palestinian farms and orchards, the diversion of Palestinian water to Jewish settlements, and the felling of hundreds of thousands of olive, citrus and fig trees in both the occupied territories and on lands belonging to Palestinians in Israel. The destruction of Palestinian orchards is a basic element of Israeli policies, and land belonging to Palestinians is confiscated on various pretexts — military and security needs or the purported use of the land for attacks on Israelis. Often land is confiscated “temporarily”, but the “temporary confiscation” is used to destroy orchards, farms and fields and divert water to Jewish settlements. Highways and roads are so designed that they run through Palestinian farms. Similarly, Jewish settlements are planned and constantly expanded so that they keep nibbling at Palestinian villages in the West Bank (and until recently in Gaza) and Israel itself.

The most ruthless form of Israeli depredation relates to the demolition of Palestinian homes. They are blown up on any of the pretexts mentioned above, besides the familiar charge that a given house harboured “terrorists”. Many houses built on lands that belonged to the Palestinians for more than a millennium are blown up because they are labelled “unauthorised”. The alignment of the separation wall Israel has built is such that it has cut off Palestinians of occupied Jerusalem from their lands and helped Israel usurp more Arab land. It is a tribute to the Palestinian people that they have resolved not to flee their land no matter what crimes the Israelis commit. Palestine belongs to the Palestinians. History and time are on the side of the Palestinians. Israel is the last outpost of European colonialism and the last regime whose philosophy and existence go against the fundamental norms of civilised conduct.

The bane of child labour

AS we learned on World Day Against Child Labour yesterday, the plight of children forced to work is depressing. According to the International Labour Organisation, there are a staggering 218 million child labourers in the world, of which eight to 10 million are estimated to be in Pakistan. Despite laws that prevent children from working or provide for education for them should they be employed, they are seldom implemented. This is the pervasive bane in the country where things could be infinitely better if the existing laws were enforced. That calls for a steely will on the part of the government. In the case of child labour, it is singularly missing. International pressure, however, can make a difference. This is what the NGO Society for the Protection of Rights of Children believes. According to one of its members, governments respond when there is international and donor pressure on the question of child labour. But pressure or no pressure, the government must see its own responsibility in the matter and do everything in its power — in terms of legal and social action — to eradicate the scourge of child labour. Here local NGOs can play a vital role by increasing awareness of the issue and work with legislators to put pressure on the government to implement the existing laws. This is particularly necessary as it concerns children from poor families, a vulnerable group exploited, abused and whose lives are put at serious risk when they are made to work in dangerous conditions, as in auto repair shops, etc.

There are many immediate steps the government can take to secure child workers. One is to initiate some sort of a survey to ascertain where child labourers are working. Then the government needs to make people accountable for employing children. It needs to offer some monetary initiative to parents whereby they can send children to work and get them educated at the same time, for education is the only way to secure a better future for them. But the core issue of poverty needs to be tackled and opportunities provided so that parents are not forced to send their children to work.

Inefficacy of polio drops

THE inefficacy of polio drops being administered to children in some cases has been a matter of concern for some time now. The fact that two youngsters recently diagnosed with polio in the NWFP and Fata had been given the vaccine previously should not come as a surprise. The health authorities should be investigating the situation by holding consultations with leading national and international experts on childhood diseases to ascertain the reasons behind the apparent inefficacy of the vaccine. The most obvious one is that the right temperature for storing the vaccine is not being maintained by the health teams which often have to cover vast distances in order to reach a particular village. Besides, the vaccine may not be very effective in children who are suffering from other ailments at the time of receiving the drops or who have a weak constitution. Regular testing of vaccine samples is also essential to remove any fears that the content of the drops may be harmful to children’s health.

Pakistan has already missed the WHO deadline for eradicating polio. Further slackness on the part of the health authorities could mean the resurgence of a disease that is easily communicable. No doubt, there are many hurdles in the way of ensuring that each child in the country is administered the mandatory number of drops, especially when conservative attitudes and wrong notions lead to hesitation on the part of parents to have their offspring inoculated. But the drive to make the country polio-free must not be given up, and all encumbrances — whether parental reluctance, long distances or the uncertain quality of vaccines — must be overcome. This can happen only if the government identifies all the weak points in the polio campaign, in consultation with the relevant departments, and prepares a comprehensive strategy for eliminating these.

End of the world as we know it?

By Mahir Ali


ONCE upon a time the folk who went around bearing placards that announced “The End is Nigh” were dismissed as nutters whose predictions of imminent doom were based, perhaps, on too literal a reading of particular scriptures. Their warning is now being echoed by respectable scientists all over the world.

There is a growing consensus among them that the Earth is heating up at a faster rate than was hitherto suspected, and that the underlying cause is a rapid increase in carbon dioxide emissions as a direct result of human activity. Unless this trend can rapidly be reversed, all sorts of dire consequences lie ahead for our planet and its inhabitants.

These consequences are expected to manifest themselves not in the indefinite future, but within the next few decades. The worst case scenarios envisage a large-scale annihilation of life forms by the end of the century. If the self-destructive species known as Homo sapiens survives, its manner of existence will bear little resemblance to the way we live today.

Even the relatively less drastic predictions involve a rise in the sea level that will swallow up thousands of islands and rearrange the coastal contours of all continents, plus increased floods, droughts and other forms of extreme climatic events, involving repercussions such as vast crop failures and mass migrations.

One would have thought that acceptance of even a fraction of the forecasts would entail urgent action on a global scale. Yet, 10 years after the Kyoto Protocol, the extremely modest targets it set for the control of emissions remain unmet. The world’s single largest polluter, the United States of America, opted out of the protocol. It has lately been suggesting that it wishes to be part of a post-Kyoto arrangement — which might not be put in place until 2012, when the protocol expires.During the past year, however, there has been considerable movement towards accepting the basic premise of climate change. Many a sceptic has apparently seen the light. This purportedly includes George W. Bush, whose administration has hitherto given the impression of being a wholly-owned subsidiary of the American oil industry.

Until earlier this year, US officials were being accused of intimidating and censoring climate scientists at government agencies, while the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think-tank funded by ExxonMobil, reportedly offered economists and scientists payments of $10,000 each to produce articles critical of a crucial report by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Then, late last month, Bush floated the balloon of climate change negotiations parallel to the UN process. Governments and environmental groups alike rejected it as untenable or dismissed it as a delaying tactic. There was one exception: Tony Blair, the outgoing British prime minister, hailed it as an “important step forward”.

In an interview with The Guardian ahead of last week’s Group of Eight (G8) summit in Heiligendamm, Blair confidently asserted his ability to convince Bush on the subject. He apparently tried, and put a brave face on it afterwards, describing the reference to climate change in the G8 declaration variously as “a huge step forward” and as a “major, major step forward”.

Given the document’s tenor, it’s hard to concur with that optimistic conclusion. It speaks of a non-specific commitment to “taking strong and early action”. It goes on: “In setting a global goal for emissions reductions in the process we have agreed today involving all major emitters, we will consider seriously the decisions made by the European Union, Canada and Japan which will include at least a halving of global emissions by 2050.”

There you have it: the promise of serious consideration. The promise of words, not action. It is almost certain that the US will not go out of its way to reduce emissions for as long as Bush is in the White House, and it’s not very likely that his successor will be particularly enthusiastic about combating global warming – unless, by some quirk of politics, the job goes to Al Gore.

Bush made it clear at the G8 summit that his country would not be a party to any agreement unless China and India signed up to it as well. His anxiety bears no relation to the well-being of the two Asian giants, which between them are home to one-third of the world’s population. It is based on the fear that if the US agrees to abide by emission controls while China, in particular, does not, that would increase the latter’s competitive advantage.

On the face of it this seems like a legitimate concern, not least because China is expected in due course to overtake the US as the largest polluter on earth. However, it would not be surprising to find China resistant to the idea of equivalent restrictions on the grounds that the US, Japan and Western Europe weren’t encumbered by any such regulations at a comparable stage in their development.

For a long time, the theories of climate change were dismissed as an anti-developmental left-wing conspiracy, and one of the main reasons countries such as the US and Australia gave for their refusal to ratify Kyoto was that the curbs it imposed would interfere with the productivity and profitability of their industries.

Their apparent shift does not necessarily mean that the supremacy of the profit motive has suddenly been superseded by overwhelming concern for the state of the planet. Adversity, after all, has never prevented the captains of enterprise from trying to make a killing.

Given that the production of energy by burning fossil fuels is widely acknowledged to be the chief culprit in heightening greenhouse gas concentrations, one of the obvious solutions is to focus on cleaner technologies. For recent converts to the cause, this generally means nuclear power — a technology with an established reputation for efficiency as well as profitability. The problem of nuclear waste disposal and the risk of accidental meltdowns is inevitably underplayed.

Alternatives such as solar power and wind farms will, by and large, tend not to be sufficiently explored, because they require huge investments and offer, at best, delayed returns.

Developing genuinely clean technologies such as these would, under any circumstances, make a huge difference to the future of the planet. It isn’t hard to understand why most private companies would be reluctant to go down this road, as there is no guarantee of a pot of gold along the way. But what about governments, particularly those that have few qualms about routinely spending hundreds of billions of dollars on weapons of mass destruction?

If the serious exploration of solar and wind energy and related technologies had been launched 60 years ago, it is possible that dangerous levels of global warming might have been avoided — along with all oil wars. The danger now is that just as the neoliberal elite has co-opted the arguments about global-warming, it will also appropriate the prerogative of managing the solutions. If its record is anything to go by, this is likely to mean that it will act primarily to protect its own interests, thereby widening the gulf between rich and underprivileged nations.

If the predicted effects of climate change begin to manifest themselves with increasing frequency and ferocity in the years ahead, the developed world’s immediate interests will take precedence, while the poorer countries, whose contribution to the build-up of greenhouse gases has been minuscule, will bear the brunt of nature’s wrath — even though the planet’s fate in ecological terms is effectively indivisible.

The summit at Heiligendamm served as a reminder, for instance, that the commitments made to Africa by the G8 at Gleneagles two years earlier remain largely unfulfilled. Only someone as naive as Bob Geldof could have been surprised by the yawning gap between communiqués and deeds.

Overt scepticism about the human role in global warming, meanwhile, hasn’t altogether withered away. A diminishing band of right-wing commentators, relying on a handful of scientists (at least some of whom depend on the oil industry for their livelihood), continue to harp on the conspiracy angle. Their doubts are shared by an even tinier concentration of critics on the left, who suspect much of the fury has been whipped up by researchers with a vested interest in alarmism, as it keeps the grants flowing, and is now being sustained by corporations that have realised the growing penchant for green solutions can be milked for profits.

Not all of the criticism is misplaced: the schemes for buying and selling “carbon credits”, for instance, are clearly a cop-out, and in at least some cases the warming brigade’s mantra is reminiscent of religious devotion, making agnosticism seem like an attractive alternative.

Most of us are, of course, ill-equipped to judge the science behind climate change on its merits. There may be no harm in hoping against hope that the sceptics are right and that climate change is part of a natural cycle that will run its course without causing too much disruption. But that faint hope cannot justify complacency, given that the consequences of inaction could be catastrophic.

Besides, a cleaner, greener world can only be beneficial to present and future generations, even if it should turn out that global warming isn’t chiefly an anthropogenic phenomenon. However, last week’s G8 summit has only served to reinforce doubts about the likelihood of preventive action on a planetary scale.

The end may not be nigh — but if it is, it would be monumental (and quite possibly suicidal) folly to do nothing, or to entrust the planet’s fate to the malicious deity known as market forces.

mahir.worldview@gmail.com



© DAWN Group of Newspapers, 2007