Better to lead than to dictate

Written by Anam Gill on . Posted in Anam's blog: Global issues, E-Magazine, General Information, Green Economy, News, News & Updates, Publications, Take Action

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Imran Khan, Chairman Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaaf  addressing the crown in Islamabad.

Photo Source: Google

I grew up in a time when the debates regarding political correctness carried immense importance. The 21st century claims to be a century of development and prosperity. For whom, the selected few? I still don’t know. Again the definitions of these vague terms vary from person to person depending on their interests and agendas.

I am caught in bewilderment as I write now. Watching Imran Khan, Chairman Pakistan Tehrik-e Insaaf is a spectacle that puzzles me and at the same time makes me feel sad about where we are heading. As I said earlier I have to be politically correct but in times like these we can’t look at things in black and white. What is right and what is wrong I can’t tell much as I am not a political scientist who is aware of various forms of governments and what would or should be the “best” system according to which a country should be governed.

The demands made by Mr.Khan that drew attention of many and created unrest according to some are in no way wrong but it is the implementation that puzzles me. Here are the demands of Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaaf headed by Imran Khan but above all he wants the Prime Minister to resign.

  1. We demand the present Election Commissioners resign immediately as they have lost the confidence of the nation. The system of the selection of Chairman and members of the ECP should be changed to ensure the ECP functions as a truly independent body as guaranteed in the Constitution.
  2. We demand an immediate verification of thumbprints in the four constituencies identified by PTI and the process should be concluded within 2 weeks.
  3.  We demand that all perpetrators found guilty of or complicit in rigging in the 2013 elections must be brought to justice – from the identified ROs and Presiding Officers to those identified as having cast multiple votes.
  4. We demand that for future elections all ROs must be legally accountable to the ECP, as stated in the Constitution, for their performance in conduct of elections.
  5. We demand that post-election appeals must be held in the time stipulated – 120 days – by law and those not complying must be held accountable.
  6. All future elections must be held under biometric system & EVMs must be introduced for the voting with a paper trail.
  7.  As a step towards genuine neutral Caretakers, they must not be permitted to hold any public office for 2 years after their serving as Caretakers.
  8.  That the SC decision of giving overseas Pakistanis the right to vote must immediately be implemented.
  9. We invite all parties who want electoral reforms to form a committee with PTI and come up with a comprehensive electoral reform package for Parliament to pass.

My entire life I have seen people marching against dictatorships, considering it a ruthless form of government. I remember how actively I participated in the discussions when we had to oust General Musharraf. Pakistan Peoples Party’ s slogan loudly said “democracy is the best revenge.” And so we entered a democratic system which had to be a government of the people by the people and for the people. That was my understanding of democracy too a while ago.

So the successful transition from one democratic system to another led to Pakistan Muslim League (N) turn after five years of Pakistan Peoples Party in power. It isn’t a government by the people as there was rigging, massive rigging. It isn’t a government of the people as nepotism led to a many important seats being taken by the relatives of PML (N) and yes it is not a government for the people as many don’t get justice let aside basic human rights. There is dissatisfaction between people over rising food prices, unbearable taxation, unemployment and the list goes on. We weren’t happy then and we aren’t happy now.

Imran Khan came on the forefront telling people to adopt civil disobedience as a way to overthrow the current democratically elected government as it is not delivering what it is meant to. Sadly no government ever delivered what it promised during the election campaigns. I am not hoping for a Utopian world but till how long this political game for more going to continue?

He gave many references of Egypt wanting to make Islamabad’s Red Zone area, Tahrir square. He has been giving examples of Egypt every now and then. I just want to ask him that are you aware how the people of Egypt feel at the present moment with President Abdel Fatah al Sisi? Just a different name that didn’t change anything much.  Are you aware of their struggle and what it led to? All these institutions, these empty buildings, empty of a conscience didn’t deliver what many gathered for, hoping to see a better future. As I write a face on Mohammad Mahmoud street’s graffiti looks into my eyes, face of Jalal Meghazi. He was born in 1992 and lost his life fighting to see Hosni Mobarak’s removal. Those passionate eyes tell me that I died for nothing. The slogans, people gathering in big numbers wanting justice, i can draw similarities.

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Jalal Meghazi from Mohammad Mahmood street in Cairo, Egypt 

Photo Source: Anam Gill

The power play with its strings elsewhere can only fool the ones gathering or hoping to see better days. Sometimes I feel that the general population is just used or misused for propagating the political interests of the unseen. It was never about justice. Someone rightly said that justice is what love looks like in public. We never want to lose the people we love as they carry an important place in our hearts.

Besides the slogans we are also brainwashed to believe that you don’t get freedom easily you have to give your life for it. This has always been central for gathering crowds and I don’t out rightly reject that but gathering after leaders who want to lead me into an abyss is not what I want,  these Pied Pipers with various names and agendas. However this doesn’t mean that I don’t acknowledge the efforts of all those freedom fighters who gave their lives struggling for justice and freedom.

Years after witnessing all the struggles in the past should make us more conscientious and aware of the fact that using force should not be an option.  We say we are civilized beings so we must act like one and talk things out. Dialogue is essential but it is also important to note that in dialogue both parties should be ready to listen to each other and try to resolve the matter keeping aside the ego and personal interests.  When governments are operated by foreign elements due to their strategic importance they should not be called sovereign states. We live in a globalized world and living in isolation should not be an option either. We are living in a time when we know what is right and what is wrong especially when it deals with the matters regarding justice and peace, the words highly exploited in today’s world.

Nobody anywhere in the world likes to be kicked into darkness. People everywhere in the world want to live in peace and if the forces that play an important role in creating wars and unrest think they can get away with it, they should know that the empty slogans of justice and peace don’t fool us anymore. Enough of these theories and intellectual content, act like you are pro peace and justice and that would be enough. Noam Chomsky said “The general population doesn’t know what is happening and it doesn’t even know that it doesn’t know.” Yes when we don’t know anything we make ourselves available to people who can make use of us. So let us open our eyes and try to find the truth.

Truth is a relative term I know but we can try at least or the best we can do is to be righteous in our own capacity. Give our little contribution whenever possible propagating justice and peace in our own little circles and that might turn out to be a catalyst for change.

Sierra Leone: Diamonds Are Not Forever

Written by Anam Gill on . Posted in Anam's blog: Global issues, Books & Magazine, E-Magazine, General Information, Green Economy, News, News & Updates, Publications, Take Action

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Photo Source: Amnesty International

The recent Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa declared a global health emergency by World Health Organization made me recall the time I spent in Sierra Leone and Liberia few years back. At that time the two countries were in a rebuilding phase from the long civil war which ended in 2002.

A clear incident flashed before me when the catchy names of these countries were shown in the tickers while watching world news. Seeing the resilience of many people I met on my journey was not only inspirational but also unbelievable. Watching all those war amputees, both young and old, telling me that we are no more at war and we hope to see a better future was extraordinary.

I remember I had to buy a tooth brush and my host, Christy, took me to a shop that not only had Swiss cheese but also Belgian chocolates on sale. I was surprised to see a small shop in Sierra Leone having fancy stuff on sale while the rest of the country was in a dilapidated state. Later Christy took me to the place from where she used to buy things. It was an open space with tables and it was shocking to see all the chicken parts on sale and lentils sold in small (the tiniest I have ever seen) pouches. When asked about the shop where she took me earlier, she told me that it was for the UN peacekeepers in the country as people like us cannot afford to buy things from there.

I am always bothered to see the polar extremes in various places that I have been to and also the polar extremes in my country of birth, Pakistan. Yes polar extremes exist everywhere and yes they have become an accepted reality.  I can visualize how things can be in those countries with the deadly outbreak that resulted in approximately 930 deaths in West Africa.

The other day I was reading that a man in Saudi Arabia who contracted the disease during his business trip died in Jeddah. Moreover major airlines like British Airways and Emirates have halted flights to affected countries. Many expatriates are leaving the countries. Blockades have been established in many places, shutting down the affected communities. Also in the news, a Roman Catholic Priest repatriated with one of the nuns is now in a stable condition in Madrid where the sixth floor of the hospital was evacuated for their treatment.

So what about the ones who are left behind in a place where the virus is gnawing at them?  Lacking medical equipment and training to handle the disease many of the doctors have fled the affected areas. The outbreak must be costing the war scarred economy millions of dollars but above all it is killing people, it is costing their lives.  International aid organizations would be ready to help but with the imposition of ban on travel and trade whether many will be helped is still a question.

Stephen Morrison, the director of Global Health Policy Centre while talking to Newsweek said that the containment of the disease is becoming impossible for the governments to handle. The WHO health officials said that the threat is serious but can be controlled blaming the region’s poor public health infrastructure. What if it is not just West Africa? What if an unknown deadly virus erupts somewhere and cannot be controlled?  Many countries around the world have poor public health infrastructure because sadly health is not governments’ number one priority. In this case the developing world becomes an easy prey with little resources to fight. We can spend billions on defense fighting each other but when it comes to defending ourselves from the unknown ailments which are a result of our mal practices in general  for example cancer, we don’t know what to do.

Sierra Leone is apparently at peace today bearing deep scars. It is ranked 180 of 187 on the latest Human Development Index. With a low literacy rate where 20 percent of children die before their fifth birthday, to date thousands of survivors lack medical or psychological treatment. Almost two third of the population lives on less than one dollar a day. Relatively stable countries, Sierra Leone and Liberia yet again face another shock.

I cannot forget the beautiful beaches and hills of Sierra Leone. A country rich is natural resources is fighting yet another battle. If only the resources and wealth of a country are put to good use many of the ills plaguing the country can be dealt with effectively. Changing the game which has been played for years benefiting just a few is the need of the day.

Here I would like to talk a little about the famous blood diamonds.  According to World Diamond Council which represents the commercial diamond trade, blood or conflict diamonds are traded illegally to fund conflict in war-torn regions, particularly in West and Central Africa. Conflict diamonds are defined by United Nations as “…diamonds that originate from areas controlled by forces or factions opposed to legitimate and internationally recognized governments, and are used to fund military action in opposition to those governments, or in contravention of the decisions of the Security Council.”

diamond mine near Kenema, SL 2001 Getty images

Diamond mine near Kenema, Sierra Leone

Photo Source: Getty Images

It has been told by the experts that the illegal sale of blood diamonds has produced billions of dollars to fund conflicts and civil wars in various African nations including, Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast, Democratic Republic of Congo and Angola. In response to the greed and genocide, Kimberley Process Certification System was created in 2002 to regulate diamond trade and keep blood diamonds from entering the legitimate market. The Kimberley Process was put into practice by United Nations. Proponents of Kimberley Process claim 99 percent of world diamonds are now legitimate however the critics claim that this program does not prevent diamonds from being easily smuggled. It should be noted here that Africa supplies 60 percent of the world’s diamond supply.

Some people all over the world love to wear diamonds, a stone that has been made valuable at the cost of somebody’s life. We don’t know where these diamonds come from. We don’t want to think about it as long as we get a dazzling stone around our necks or fingers.  Today we have been blinded by our need for more. Today development depends on more production and more consumption. If only we realize how this need for more is causing harm to this planet. We are at war with ourselves and should not blame anyone else for the mess which we face all over the world, a mess that has various shapes and sizes. Our focus is entirely on faster, newer and cheaper that we have actually lost ground on things like safer, healthier and fair. We are motivated to find solutions but those solutions aren’t the most need solving. We are playing the game with one goal and that is the need for more.  In this game of more we need to change our goal and that would be towards betterment, better health, better jobs and a better chance to survive on this planet. The laws and rules that define development need to be redefined.

Flashing the stones, glamorizing material goods and manufacturing things which we don’t need at all in this game of more make us forget the worsening health indicators, the growing income inequality and the melting of polar icecaps to name a few. Today water is on sale and maybe in the years to come we will have air for sale too, if we don’t change the game. We have become individuals with insatiable appetites accumulating more and more. 40 percent of Earth’s resources are owned by 1 percent of the population. The combined wealth of three richest individuals in the world exceeds the GDP of the 47 poorest countries. The world contains only 497 multi billionaires while half of its population survives on less than 2 dollars per day. It is time we start thinking of the connected self where we all are inter dependent.

Mass Mutilation Sieera Leone

Mass mutilation Sierra Leone

Photo Source: Google

These glittering diamonds which people like to flaunt are extracted by thousands of men, women and children who are used as slaves in countries like Sierra Leone.  In Sierra Leone a group known as the Revolutionary United Front threatened, killed and mutilated people living and working in diamond villages until they were able to take control of the mines. About 20,000 innocent lives suffered bodily mutilation, 75,000 killed and 2 million fled Sierra Leone according to PBS Online NewsHour. These conflicts combined have displaced millions and resulted in more than 4 million deaths according to National Geographic News.

Now when I think of it, we can survive without diamonds. No?  It can be seen that the lack of political will among member states has made the Kimberley Process ineffective.  According to Amy Barry of Global Witness while talking to CNN, Zimbabwe is a test case for Kimberley Process. She alleged that Robert Mugabe’s regime benefited from the sale of blood diamonds despite it being a member of Kimberley Process. However the conflict trade costing the lives of millions of people is not limited to diamonds. Rebel fighters and army units from eastern Democratic Republic of Congo have hijacked the trade in mineral ores used in mobile phones and computer production according to Global Witness. This has subjected the local population to extortion, rape, massacres and forced labor. Later on the conflict minerals are laundered into global supply chain by export houses before it is being transformed into refined metals by large international smelting firms.

Being part of this rouge trade just for the sake of profits or to be more apt money is nothing but inhumane. We should realize the fact that we are not immortals who will be on this planet forever. It is important to realize that we are all connected and a suffering in any part of the world is the suffering of humankind.  Right now we might get away by thinking that it is the people of Palestine who are at stake or child soldiers in Democratic Republic of Congo or polar bears in the Arctic but it will not be too late when we will be in the same boat. It is important to change the game which gives us a false economic model based on the need for more. We need to think with reason and say no to things which we don’t need instead of blindly accumulating stuff at the cost of others. The economic model which we need to follow should be sustainable keeping in mind better survival on this planet instead of making more or having more.

It is not an easy task for sure but neither is this impossible. By thinking and adopting a collective and selfless approach we can surely come out of the many self created problems. Let’s change the game by adopting less is better and prevent the downfall of humanity.

 

   

Apartheid Did Not Die

Written by Anam Gill on . Posted in Anam's blog: Global issues, Books & Magazine, E-Magazine, General Information, Green Economy, News, News & Updates, Publications, Take Action, Weekly news

A lot has been written and said about the Israel- Palestine conflict since ages. The current air strikes by Israeli forces on Gaza have dominated the headlines recently in media and it did get people’s attention especially after the World Cup fever was over. It is true that we are filtering realities on daily basis in our lives. Some realities go viral and Israel- Palestine conflict is one of them especially after Germany’s astounding victory in the World Cup. Just to mention the conflict started late 1940s in that part of the world is ongoing even as we breathe at this very moment.

In some places there are one sided stories highlighted in the media where the link between the victim and perpetrator has been blurred. In other places the hatred against one ethnic group over another strikingly stands out, from debates like to whom this land belongs to or who has been entitled this land by God. Undoubtedly the heart of the conflict here is a struggle for land, for the precious water, for the fertile soil and the valleys and hills of Palestine. This struggle overshadows the ordinary lives and how these lives have become a maze of control, checkpoints and road blocks. This bizarre struggle is like a cancer that is eating the lives of poor people.

It was sad to see on social media how some people started glorifying what Hitler did in Germany. Moreover when a debate was raised on humanitarian grounds many hushed the debate by saying that it is a religious issue and Muslims or for that matter Jews will take control of the land one day as it inherently belongs to them. These debates boggle my mind. This hatred deliberately induced by the propaganda machines of the powerful has blinded the people to see the real picture.

I remember once I got an opportunity to listen to a Christian Palestinian friend, Mike Haymour, who was from Bethlehem and he spoke about the plight of Palestinian people as any Muslim Palestinian would do. I still remember the anger and passion in his eyes. There was also one incidence in which during a UN meeting in Malta, an Israeli Jewish friend started to talk about her solidarity movement and she was not well received by the Arab world participants who discouraged her by saying that she should not be too bothered about the Palestinians as she herself is a Jew. That broke my heart and I still feel that we need to shake away this thought that glorifies divisions. Because I am a Muslim hence only I can feel for the other Muslims or I am a Christian hence only I can feel for the other Christians. Similarly there are a number of other religious and ethnic groups and if we start thinking like that we deliberately create divisions and mental borders.

We have been victims of these borders and boundaries all our lives. The divides what do they give us? Have these divides ever done any good in our lives? These walls which we have built have only stopped us from getting to know the other; the possibility of peaceful coexistence has been minimized by these mental barriers. We all want the occupation to end be it Muslims, Christians or Jews. Our ignorance should not stop us from distinguishing between the ordinary people and the games being played by the powers for more control.

So today I would like to share with you what my friend Sara Benninga has been doing in East Jerusalem. She inspires me and there are many like her around the world fighting for a cause not bothered about the distinctions and marching for just peace. Sara Benninga is one of the founders and main organizers of Sheikh Jarrah Solidarity Movement. She can be seen every week walking back and forth with a bull horn in her hand and a determined look in her eyes, surrounded by Israelis and Palestinians of all stripes demanding justice for the Palestinians whose lives are constantly squeezed by Israeli settlement policies. Sara Benninga exhorts the marchers leading them in chants in Hebrew and Arabic, keeping everyone moving forward their eyes on the prize that is a shared future for all Israelis and Palestinians. Occasionally they go to other neighborhoods, other towns, other fronts and battles for genuine peace and true coexistence.

I have watched the ebb and flow of emotions surrounding Israel and the Jewish community over the years and today the only best way to support Israel is to encourage her governments and people to find a path to peace, trying to be a force for good in conflict. These are words however that are easy to say and presumably aren’t sometimes well received by even like minds like the example I gave earlier of a UN meeting. If Israeli and the Palestinian people are to ever achieve peace and security it will require action. Action that truly shakes up what’s gone before, action that tells the truth more powerfully that even our words can’t.

Sara Benninga and her fellow activists are continuing the legacy of Israeli activism that was pioneered by certain groups in the history and Rabbis for human rights. They have told the truth. Sheikh Jarrah movement is also telling the truth with their feet. They are telling the truth that Israelis and Palestinians, Jews, Christians or Muslims need not fear or hate each other on the contrary they can march, work and build together towards a future in which everyone finds hope. Sara Benninga and many other activists are facing arrests and trials on the charge of illegal assembly and a libel suit for chanting slogans but they are not afraid by the vulgar threats of the forceful.

This is what Sara has to say:

coteret.comPhoto Source: coteret.com

“If you would have met me a few years ago and asked me what I think about the occupation, the most you would have gotten out of me would have probably been a few vague utterances, expressing a bit of shame and a bit of distress but mostly confusion and unawareness. There can be many reasons for this but one of the main ones is that the occupation had not touched upon me personally, at least not directly. It was so easy growing up in West Jerusalem without knowing of the injustice taking place a few hundred yards away in the Eastern part of the city.

A curtain of ignorance was and still is part of the methods of concealment in which I as a Jewish Israeli woman grew up. Like many of the young people who protest weekly in Sheikh Jarrah I was raised on democratic and egalitarian values. High school civics classes taught us that while Israel does not have a constitution, its declaration of independence is our bill of rights. We learned that the founders of Israel vowed that the Jewish state and I quote ‘ will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants, that it would be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel. That it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex. That it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture. Safeguard the holy places of all religions and will be faithful to the principles of the charter of United Nations.’

I ask you how would you react if your government treated the constitution as empty words? I have chosen to fight. I have chosen to fight against injustice in Sheikh Jarrah, to fight for the Israel that could have been, to fight for the Israel that still can be.

Witnessing the ways in which my country disposes individuals of one ethnic affiliation and privileges those of another, seeing the blatant injustice and discrimination perpetrated by my own government opened my eyes to a reality I did not know and generated in me and many others a determination to create a different future. Difficult as it has been my Sheikh Jarrah experience is not one of despair or resentment. Alongside injustice I found new hope and purpose, the commitment of thousands of fellow Israelis to justice and equality and the renewed ability to bridge over ideological and national divides in favor of a shared vision restored my faith in the possibility of change. Since those days in 2009 these initial impressions have not faded but rather have been reinforced. In every town and village where our movement is active, whether it is Lod, Tayibe and Beit She yan or Silwan we encounter alongside dispossession and discrimination, willingness and enthusiasm and meaningful partnerships. In a small compound in Sheikh Jarrah 30 families face the threat of eviction. A disturbing alliance between Israeli custodian of absentees’ properties, a state agency and the American millionaire Irving Moskwitz allows Jews to reclaim properties they owned prior to 1948. We know that Jewish families who left the compound during the war received abandoned Palestinian properties in West Jerusalem as compensation for their loss. And yet they return today to claim back the land. The Palestinians living in the compound used to own property inside the green line but Israeli law doesn’t allow them to reclaim their houses or request compensation.

 Thus a young generation of Palestinians learns that the law is just a reflection of national and racial prejudices. They learn that the first time refugees can easily become refugees a second time and now it is all done under the auspices of Israeli law. While it is clear that this inequality before the law is morally and politically intolerable, we believe that mere condemnation is not enough. Together with a growing number of young Jewish Israelis I have come to the understanding that these times call for Jewish Palestinian cooperation and it is both our duty and our interest to work together with Palestinians.  We have chosen a path of non violent resistance to the occupation. This is the only way to build a tolerable future for all of us in Israel and Palestine, a future that recognizes the dignity of every human being but we discovered that Israel treats our peaceful Jewish Arab solidarity as a serious threat.   

We are committed to direct engagement, when and where injustice occurs. Solidarity believes in the transformative potential of Jewish Arab cooperation. We know for a fact that the artificial barriers between Arabs and Jews are surmountable. We uphold the moral permissibility of non violent civil disobedience in the proud tradition of the American Civil Rights movement. We believe that privilege corrupts and that systematic discrimination is incompatible with democracy. Our critics portray us as enemies of Jewish state but it is ironic that a country claiming to be a victim of a campaign of delegitimization shamelessly delegitimizes sections of its own citizenry. We reject the false dichotomy between security and democracy. We refuse to settle for anything less than a true end of occupation that is necessary but not a sufficient condition for realizing our goal of substantive equality and genuine democracy in Israel.

There is much work ahead of us and I am sure that together we can make it happen.

Listening to her makes me wonder where does that positivity and hope come from. In the backdrop of dead bodies piled up and bombs being dropped to kill terrorists in fact killing innocent civilians she still manages to keep her optimism intact not ready to give up yet.

As Sara mentioned the American civil disobedience movement carrying with it the moral permissibility of non violent civil disobedience, I also believe that the best strategy to end the bloody occupation is to target Israel with some kind of a global movement that did put an end to apartheid in South Africa.

The noted civil rights leader and a Nobel Peace laureate Desmond Tutu compared Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians to the apartheid regime that discriminated against blacks in South Africa. Tutu criticized the policies of Israelis towards Palestinians as humiliating.  To him the humiliation looks familiar to the black South Africans who were corralled and harassed by the security forces of the apartheid government. Tutu believes that in achieving democracy in South Africa people around the world have helped by using non violent means and similarly the international community needs to come together in trying to end Israel’s decades long occupation.  Tutu says, “It doesn’t matter where we worship or live. We are members of one family, the human family, God’s family.” The words uttered by Desmond Tutu explain the principles of Ubuntu which we need to learn today. A belief we need to adopt to the core that talks about the universal bond of sharing that unites the human kind.

It is not difficult to adopt the belief of humanity and love and compassion for the fellow beings. I remember once being told the story of Binti, the gorilla. The story was about how Binti saved a three years old boy who fell in her enclosure in the zoo. Binti not only held the boy in her arms but also protected him from the male gorilla from causing any harm to the boy.  Binti did go against her instincts and so can we.

 Here is a short introduction to the Israel-Palestine conflict from jewishvoices.org.        

Dutch Citizens Holding the Government Accountable

Written by Anam Gill on . Posted in Anam's blog: Global issues, E-Magazine, General Information, Green Economy, News, News & Updates, Publications, Take Action

With the soaring temperatures and power outages in many places, the developing world in particular is dreading the future. It is not a very positive sight and is a call to take right actions.The Chairman of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Rajendra Pachauri states that the kind of action should be taken on global scale and sooner than later.

 Natural disasters due to climate change won’t keep in mind the global South or North before causing havoc even in the past the developed and the developing world was treated alike by the calamities sent by nature. Climate science and the 195 signatory states to the UN Climate Convention affirm that every emission of anthropogenic greenhouse gases contribute to the change in climate. They also acknowledge that a two degree Celsius rise in Earth’s average temperature should be considered a threat to mankind and world’s ecosystems. Then why are we blinded and not able to see the true picture? Why can’t we have a telescopic view enabling us to understand that we are setting the world on fire and there is a dire need of policy reforms when it comes to curtailing carbon emissions and reducing the factors that contribute to climate change?

 A new United Nations report warned that to control the effects of climate change the world must switch from fossil fuels to cleaner energy sources. Two reports have been released by Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that deal with the certainty and impacts of climate change and how to come to terms with it. The reports released by IPCC and other bodies have time and again stressed that the greenhouse gases must be cut by 40 to 70 percent to avoid the severe and shocking weather conditions in a warmer world. To keep the climate safe a handful of things like renewable energy, reducing deforestation, planting more trees, energy efficiency and moving from fossil fuels to cleaner energy sources could help the world to get back on track. Nathaniel Koehane who leads international efforts to address climate change at Environmental Defense Fund says that the solutions are within reach. He added that there is gap that needs to be bridged, a wide chasm to be filled to make a switch from fossil fuel to cleaner energy. This chasm exists between the international efforts and what needs to be done.

 These various reports coming from the governmental and non-governmental sectors have stressed similar concerns in the past. Each time the reports have made it clear that the longer the delay in controlling emissions the greater the cost to environment and public health. Nathaniel Koehane said that voters must tell their governments that climate change does matter. The governments have also added a separate sheet for sustainable development in its manifestos but the challenge remains the same and that is to translate the paper work into reality that can be seen and experienced by the public to be believed.

foreignpolicyPhoto Source: www.foreignpolicy.com

 This provides a window of opportunity to the world community to act. We can only remain optimistic if we get to see a political will going in the right direction. It is about everybody coming together and acting on it. We all know that the Kyoto Protocol, an international agreement to curb global carbon emissions, has expired in 2012. UN negotiators are working on a new international agreement and it is hoped that it will soon be in place and effective to the cause of climate justice.

The temperatures in the south are rising far above average and in other places falling far below giving a hard time to the climate change skeptics. Adding to that the recent hurricanes in the Philippines and US, energy crisis and water shortage in the developing world it is evident that the weather is becoming increasingly fickle.

What  if we ought to broaden our understanding of greenhouse gas emissions? What if we are aware of how replenishing the earth’s resources will affect our lives? What if we hold governments accountable for doing injustice to the environment and us? What if the people could sue the governments for not taking the right actions? All these fancy questions posed here are patently leading us to one thing and that is a change in situations. Change in the current difficult situations experienced by the people be it food crunch, credit crunch and environmental degradation. Yes we voted for the governments to come into power and yes we have the right to hold the governments accountable for not doing their job properly. In an attempt to get politicians to do something about carbon emission levels associated with climate change, the Urgenda action committee turned to The Hague District Court last November.

When it comes to sustainable development the educated and economically prosperous population of the Netherlands was at one time among the most progressive in European Union. Now the country has the highest carbon emissions per capita in the world. Because of its geography the Netherlands will reap what it sows more quickly unlike other developed countries. 90 percent of the country is built on reclaimed land and its major cities lie at or below sea level.

The European leaders supported the 2007 findings of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change which stated that climate change can be avoided if greenhouse gas emissions are controlled. Apparently the Dutch government had taken a back seat. According to Urgenda, a Dutch action organization for sustainability, not a single candidate brought up the threat of climate change during the recent election campaign. Urgenda filed a lawsuit against the Dutch state seeing the diminutive efforts on climate change issue by the Dutch government especially radical reduction of carbon emissions.

Urgenda stated that during a climate change conference in 1992 the Netherlands along with other 190 countries ratified a treaty to avoid dangerous anthropogenic influences on the climate. According to Urgenda the Netherlands ratified the treaty but did not act according to it making the Dutch climate policies de facto negligent and hence unlawful. The Climate Case was initiated in November 2012 when a letter was sent to the Dutch government by Urgenda asking for action and a call in which Dutch citizens could support the cause and join as co-plaintiff known as crowd pleading. The Dutch government acknowledged in a letter to Urgenda that it is not making adequate efforts and its actions are insufficient when it comes to dealing with the issue of climate change. After a year in November 2013 Urgenda and more than 800 co-plaintiffs filed the cased against the Dutch Government.

Urgenda concludes that the Netherlands is deliberately exposing its citizens to dangerous situations. This is a wrongful and an illegal act of the State in legal language. The Dutch government can be held accountable legally for not taking sufficient action to prevent harm declares the Dutch Supreme Court. The Urgenda Foundation and its co-plaintiffs believe that preventing climate change is not just morally right thing to do but also a legal obligation binding on the state that cannot be ignored. The hearing of the Climate Case is expected to be in April 2015 before the District Court in Hague. For more information regarding the legal summaries and letters the official website of Urgenda can be visited, www.urgenda.nl.

The case is the only one of its kind in the world so far considering the size and nature. It will be interesting to see the decision of the court regarding this unique case. Seeing the progressive climate policies enforced through court would be a step forward making it legally binding on the governments to take necessary steps. It is early to say what the decision of the court will be but it is hoped and believed that it will be effective as the scientific evidence gathered by 2500 scientists in 150 countries by Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is indisputable.

Urgenda Foundation like some other like minded organizations around the globe aims for a sustainable society with a circular economy. The step taken by Urgenda, holding the government accountable for failing to meet the Europeans Commission’s climate goals is a step forward. Other nations can learn from it. Protecting the earth making it safe for the future generations and viewing climate change as one of the biggest challenges of our times is not a selfish objective. However big corporations favoring profits without caring for the planet is a indeed selfish. It is not very difficult to distinguish between selfish and selfless, isn’t it?

The Co-founder of Urgenda, Marjan Minnesma stated that part of the case is about demonstrating the economic incentive. She stated that to protect the inhabitants and infrastructure against the inevitable flooding the government has to invest billions more. Waiting will only endanger the entire population and the country’s economy she added. The Netherlands has more in common with Maldives than with its European neighbors in climate terms. So it is wise to prevent that instead of spending billions more to try to overcome it.

It is interesting to note that Urgenda based its case on a legal standard the “cellar hatch criteria” known in Dutch legal circles. A man who fell down an open cellar sued the Coca-Cola Co and the Coca-Cola delivery man for leaving the hatch open. The Dutch Supreme Court gave a ruling in his favor. In United States and the English common law systems this standard is known as prudent man. It is obligatory for a person, business or government to protect others from harm. Urgenda’s attorney Roger H.J. Cox wanted this applied to climate change. Cox stated that by not acting on the fact presented by Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) the governments endanger their citizens and violate human rights.

Roger Cox wrote in a comment piece for the Guardian said that seeing the inaction by governments justifies the pursuit of legal route. Preventing dangerous climate change has become all but inevitable that puts the western countries at serious risk of human rights violations on a scale nobody can comprehend; it will be nothing less than seeing world war two. This leaves the judiciary with the task to step in and avert the catastrophe. In a democracy issues tend to be more than just being political when they start giving rise to human rights violations and endangerment.

This unique Climate Case is not only a source of inspiration rather it is an example set by Urgenda for other countries to act accordingly.The likely outcome of Urgenda’s case against the Dutch government is to be speculated. The important point is that the governments are held accountable. There needs to be a big transition in public thinking. The public most of the times is diverted from the big issues that hold the governments accountable. It should be about not letting the governments off the hooks and creating an obligation.  As stated by Marjan Minessma it is a lawsuit out of love and desperation.

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 Photo Source: Zpilavdzia

 

 

Kick-starting India

Written by Anam Gill on . Posted in Anam's blog: Global issues, Books & Magazine, E-Magazine, General Information, Green Economy, India, News, News & Updates, Publications, Regions, Take Action, Weekly news

More than 170 million Indian voters chose Narendra Modi as the country’s 15th prime minister in the world’s largest democratic election. Apparently people wanted to get rid of Congress considering the many scams and corruption scandals that worked against the Congress for example Commonwealth Games scam, telecom scam, discreet distribution of coal mines to cronies etc. It was also said that the Aam Aadmi party was very new in the political arena hence had few chances of victory. So it was BJP the Bhartya Janta Party that came on the front with a sweeping victory. The sentiments were mixed definitely. While some celebrated the success others were infuriated. I guess this is what democracy is all about. The only thing that concerned me was regarding a fair democratic election in place not backed by any agenda so to say. A genuine and transparent voting system in place, allowing people to question the propositions made by the participating parties and then deciding whom to vote for.

Reuters mukesh guptaIndia’s Election 2014 : Modi’s supporters rejoicing in the victory

Photo Source: Reuters/Mukesh Gupta

A lot of people were surprised to see the results where Congress was badly mauled. In the Northern Uttar Pradesh state alone BJP won more seats than the Congress won in the entire country. By dividing the electorate on religious lines and by making use of religious polarization along with communalism like in Eastern Uttar Pradesh and adjoining areas in Bihar and describing Azamgarh, a predominantly Muslim town, as den of terrorists it ran an election campaign that proved to be of its advantage.

So the elections are over now and the truth is that BJP is in power hence I would not like to waste my time debating who should have won. People have a right to choose what they think is best for them. As growth in India flagged, the Congress lost support ending their legacy. The leadership of Monmohan Sigh was lackluster. The Congress party needed to be more inclusive and hard working by not treating the party as a hereditary right of the Gandhis.

So should India’s minorities especially Muslims be afraid keeping in mind the 2002 Gujarat communal riots? The Hindu nationalists and BJP should ensure the safety and justice for the minorities considering them citizens of India who are not unequal. The sooner BJP realizes it the better it is for Narendra Modi’s longevity as the leader of India. Also keeping in mind the Gujarat model that focused on growth, this time BJP needs to have an outward thinking focusing on the inequality of access to economic and social opportunities, resources and justice as growth goes hand in hand with the well being of all.

Narendra’s Modi echoing victory offers reasons to hope that his government will promote prosperity and development for all Indians. Legislating with majority should facilitate socio economic reforms that would prove beneficial in the longer run for the country. Modi faces higher expectations than his predecessor given the election campaign.

Termed as ‘Development Man’ during his mammoth election campaign Narendra Modi the chief of India’s ruling party plays a vital role in the fight against climate justice and trying to make the sustainable development goals a reality. Pushing a vision of prosperity with more electrified cities and wealthier citizens, his promise will undoubtedly have profound implications for the planet over the years to come.

AFPWomen going to vote during the democratic elections in India 2014

Photo Source: AFP

For the developing world like India there are three factors that lie at the heart of sustainability. That would be electricity generation, use of land in agriculture and deforestation and protection of water resources especially when it comes to agriculture. These three factors are intertwined making it challenging for the government to enact with other necessary reforms. The first customary address by the President Pranab Mukherjee struck an ambitious tone on sustainable development.

Looking at the BJP manifesto the importance is given on how much energy they are going to be able to produce, the focus in not on how. The manifesto promises to make the most of gas, oil, coal, ocean, wind, nuclear and hydel power, looking at the diverse supply of energy. Keeping in mind Modi’s pro-business attitude some are optimistic that he will be a force for good in contributing to India’s developing renewable market. Krishna Pallassana the executive director of Climate Group India stresses that Modi believes and has also publicly stated many times that he wants to embrace a clean energy model. Krishna Pallassana is expecting a huge boost to this sector with Modi as a prime minister. Modi’s tenure will overlap with the UN’s attempt in 2015 to sign a legally binding global climate deal and hence Modi has to familiarize himself with the international politics of climate change. There are many issues that need to be smoothed out between India and other big emitters such as US and EU and India’s stance at the talks so far has been less than pacifying. Adaptation and taking on mitigation actions should remain a priority for the new government equaling to those of developed countries. The developed countries are the largest per capita contributors to the grave problem of carbon emissions and until they make a dent in their emissions this issue will not be resolved. This opinion is shared by a large segment of Indian and surely Modi’s government will not differ from that no matter how testing it might seem. By raising awareness among the masses on the impact of climate change will save this grave issue from going into the back seat after elections. It is not an easy subject but more emphasis can be put on it to raise awareness among people.

Gail India Limited, India’s largest natural gas distributors, recently announced that it would purchase natural gas from American Henry Hub, this does indicate that the new government is serious about expanding India’s natural gas grid infrastructure and Nehru National Solar Mission. All the policies and agreements must incorporate the well being of the masses who are often neglected and sidelined in favor of making profits. The governments elected by the people with a hope to see a better future are and should be answerable to the public.

Trimming deforestation that has affected communities with regards to land use must be incorporated in drafting a national policy to reverse deforestation. Critics like Greenpeace India say that environmental considerations often take a back seat to economic development priorities. The Modi government has made it clear that this would not be the case this time. The new government has also stressed on prioritizing water. Water one of the most threatened resources is of particular concern to a country that relies on agriculture. The new government focuses on improving infrastructure of irrigation projects to tackle drought and flood.  The dispute over water rights among Indian states in previous years should be kept in mind and dealt with diligence.

If the priorities laid down by the new government remain true to the cause then it is to be commended as an indication of smart policy. The BJP’s election manifesto offers hints of methods to tackle climate change and deal with the issues regarding development. That includes efficient waste management practices, research and development of environmental sector and guidelines for green building. Reform will be challenging for the government to keeping in mind the lumbering bureaucracy. To achieve growth in order to reduce the ranks of India’s extremely poor in a way that preserves the environment and slows down the contribution to global greenhouse emissions will dominate the debates over India’s development plans for the coming years.

For any government an agenda that centers on development is indeed a boon for the planet. The question however is how we define development? Instead of a microscopic vision it should be about a telescopic vision that keeps in mind the well being of human species. In today’s globalized world the moves made by one country affects the other. We all are in it together and therefore an outward approach in needed that link the development agenda to a climate agenda. In the ailing economy where many issues are there to be dealt with, climate justice might not draw immediate attention.  It should however be considered of huge importance when designing policies as it is directly affecting us in many ways we don’t want to consider important.

Seeing the new government already beginning to make the link is a smart move. Trying to tap the opportunities in various areas of development has raised hopes of many. With the new regime in charge, the environmental minister has talked about project approvals beginning by the end of June. Modi seeking to press on a ferocious agenda of national development that looks great on paper by putting sustainability at the centre of thoughts and actions  has left experts wondering how much to expect from this new leader and his regime. Only time will tell whether the new regime is capable of delivering the promises it made. Ensuring growth while keeping an eye on the environment would prove to be an intelligent move. We have seen in the past and still experiencing that stubbornness and blinding oneself to grave issues threatening the human race has proved fatal. Instead of being a frog finding himself in a bowl of comfortably lukewarm water while actually sitting on a slow flame should be considered a red flag by the governments. With the benefit of hindsight it would be smart not to let the temperature in the bowl reach the boiling point because it would be too late to jump out.  It is better to prevent environmental disasters than wait till it’s too late.

Time will tell the efficiency and diligence of the new regime in India. With the hope to see the manifesto of the new government becoming a reality it would be fair on the masses to push for it, constantly reminding the government of the promises they made.

The Invisible Child Soldiers

Written by Anam Gill on . Posted in Anam's blog: Global issues, E-Magazine, General Information, Green Economy, News, News & Updates, Publications, Take Action

Guy Oliver IRINPhoto Source: Guy Oliver/IRIN

Becoming a soldier at the age of seven on the orders of his uncle, a chief in the North Kivu Province in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Dikembe Muamba* stole his first gun at the age of 10. Dikembe Muamba* told IRIN (Integrated Regional Information Networks) that he led 50 people both children and adults as a captain at the age of 14.

Spending few years as his uncle’s bodyguard he was later enlisted into PARECO (Alliance of Resistant Congolese Patriots) which emerged in 2007 from diverse and varied communities of North Kivu province like Hutu, Hunde, Nande, Nyanga and Tembo .

Muamba and many other children, having the right to live a decent living, can tell you how many battles they have fought without hesitation. For Muamba it was 45 but he is not sure how many people he killed, he reluctantly adds that the youngest person he ever killed was a girl who was about 6 years old and she was shooting at him.

Formerly known as Zaire, Democratic Republic of Congo is no stranger to instability and conflict. For decades the political violence has wrecked the country. After the Rwandan Civil war in 1994 the violence intensified.  Extraordinarily complex the conflict that involved huge numbers of rebel groups fighting each other, children are being  snatched by rebel groups from their parents to become soldiers. The estimates given by UN states that 15 to 30% of all newly conscripted combatants are under the age of 18 in the DRC army. It is also estimated that one in ten children or 30,000 child soldiers are found in DRC. Scarring them mentally and physically for life the child soldiers in the Democratic Republic of Congo are forced to commit the most appalling acts of murder. Female child soldiers are frequently used as sexual slaves by the commanders.

When we talk about the military use of children it should be noted that there are around 120,000 child soldiers in Africa according to UNICEF. That comprises half the total of 300,000 around the world including countries like Colombia, Myanmar, Afghanistan and many other places. The dangers for children have been heightened by the recent developments in warfare. During the last decade the estimated figures of child victims killed, physically and psychologically traumatized and left homeless have crossed millions.

Is this the civilized world we dreamt of?  With numerous other injustices spread across the globe the facts and figures related to child soldiers come as an abysmal truth, very hard to face. Maybe it is very easy for me writing about it by quoting these statistics, how difficult it would have been to live the hell which these children have been forced to live. This unimaginable truth makes me cringe and once again I am haunted by the stories of decapitation and mutilation done by young children. Instead of a pen and paper they were introduced to weapons. When they were supposed to learn to love, they were taught to hate. The never ending cycle of violence didn’t solve any problem so far it just made the situation worse with each passing day.

We have many examples in history where child soldiers have been extensively involved in military campaigns and combats. Since 1970s a number of international conventions came into effect trying to limit the participation of children in armed conflicts nevertheless it has been reported that the participation of children in armed conflicts is widespread.  According to UNOCHA (Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) half of the world’s child soldiers are in Africa. Many of these children are forced into conflict due to poverty, sold by their parents, tricked and kidnapped.  In Burundi hundreds of child soldiers served in an armed rebel Hutu group in 2004. Children younger than 16 were also recruited in the Burundese military. In Central African Republic between 2001 and 2003 children served in armed rebel groups. In Chad child soldiers are fighting with Chadian military and rebel forces. In Cote d’Ivoire during 2002 civil war, children were recruited by both sides. Child soldiers were also used by Rwandan government forces and paramilitaries in 2002. Visiting Sierra Leone and Liberia during the rebuilding phase made me visit some camps with war amputees, young people without arms and legs told their stories of rapes, murders and other tortures. Years of their lives have been wasted by the wars. This war talk which makes some label many other like myself as idealists and irrational beings, just because we think that war is not a solution and it fuels misery, should visit these places and listen to the stories of these invisible people.

The Democratic Republic of Congo is rich in natural resources and has the world’s second largest rain forest. This second largest country in Africa with 75 million falls at the bottom of two major indices. Languishing at the bottom of 2012 UNDP Human Development Index and Global Hunger Index, Democratic Republic of Congo is struggling with the issues of HIV and AIDS. With all these serious issues affecting the nation the child soldiers coming in the backdrop makes Democratic Republic of Congo a vulnerable state in need of stability and reforms. Having one of the highest rates of child soldiers all over the world Democratic Republic of Congo has ratified a number of international treaties protecting the rights of children yet the figures indicating child victims to war and abuse tell a different story.

In 2001 Democratic Republic of Congo ratified UN Security Council Resolution 1341 which called for an end to recruitment of children, ensuring their rehabilitation and reintegration. All the ratifications proved nothing but a public relations exercise.  The UN Security Council convenes regularly to discuss reports and pass resolutions under the title of children in armed conflicts. These various resolutions being passed in the late 2000 that request action plans for monitoring, reporting and compliance are not enough. With regards to Article 77.2 of the Additional Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions which was adopted in 1977 it was mentioned that the parties should take “feasible” measures to ensure that children under the age of 15 don’t take part in armed conflicts. Instead of stating the “feasibility” there should be a complete ban on the recruitment of children in armed forces. The various written documents endorsing child protection should not just be a matter of closed room discussions and written documentation. The difficulty is in the implementation of all these laws. With the lawlessness in the affected countries and rising corruption the proper implementation is nowhere in sight.

In an October 2013 report of UN Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO) it was mentioned that in the past five years about 10,000 children have been separated from armed groups. In the same period nearly 1000 more children were conscripted and their use in the armed groups has remained “systemic”.

AFPPhoto Source: AFP

Use of children in armed forces is one of the most repugnant practices around the world and according to UNICEF’s definition of a child soldier the minimum age has now been changed from under 15 to less than 18 years of age. The phenomenon of having children in combat is not new in the history and throughout history we can find many examples where child combatants have wasted their lives in this malice. A notable example in the history can be of Hitler Jugden (Hitler Youth) during World War II.

As a human race, presumably we have evolved from our barbaric stage many years ago and as we embark on the 21st , more civilized century we should sign a pact where we promise to let go our old savage ways. With the technological and other advancements where the human species have discovered so many hidden secrets these same species fail to acknowledge and understand a basic truth about life. That truth is very simple and does not need an equation to decipher and it states that we need to live in peace with each other. We need to instill love and empathy for each other. Let us for once try to put the broken pieces together when we can.

Let us take a step forward honoring Article 12 of Conventions on the Rights of the Child which calls on states to recognize the right of children to participate in the processes that affect them. Their right is currently snatched away from them even in the reintegration programs of the former child soldiers. It is about moving past the dominant view of the child soldiers as passive victims to their meaningful participation. It should be about looking past their identity as victims and asking them about the complexity of their past and envisioning a future that builds on the positive and negative experiences they had in the past. When it comes to reintegration of child soldiers it is important to look beyond the victim-perpetrator binary. These children should be given space to discuss the feelings of guilt and remorse placing it in the context of war, insecurity and poverty. It is about putting a positive and productive approach into practice. The life changing experiences of war are a complex subject to deal with and no doubt need sound programs and initiatives.

The International Criminal Court’s 2012 conviction of militia leader Thomas Lubanga for recruiting child soldiers under the age of 15 years in northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo between 2002 – 2003 sends a strong message. The message is clear that those who will recruit children in armed conflicts will be held accountable. There are many Thomas Lubangas out there who need to be held accountable for their misdeeds.

Since the war ended in 2002 the armed conflict in Democratic Republic of Congo involving national army and various other armed groups have unlawfully recruited boys and girls using them in various hostilities. The intensification of the conflict in late 2011 to early 2012 led to new waves of child recruitment in armed groups.

There is a need to deal with this growing issue where many national and international forces are working in solidity with the mafia warlords. The use of small arms should also be monitored and curtailed which makes it easier for young children to use weapons. The source of the entire problem is the illegal arms trade that gives power to this growing militia everywhere. Through willingness from national and international community and proper check and balance this issue can be dealt and the suffering of thousands of invisible children can be brought to an end.

*A pseudo name used

“No One Chooses to be a Refugee”

Written by Anam Gill on . Posted in Anam's blog: Global issues, Books & Magazine, E-Magazine, General Information, Green Economy, News, News & Updates, Publications, Take Action, Uncategorized

587266-afghanrefugeesafp-1375815158-401-640x480Afghan Refugees

Photo Source : Google

World Refugee Day is marked each year on the 20 June as forced displacements globally reaches dramatic magnitude. The UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon in a special message for the day said that the number of refugees has reached an alarming number with more than 45 million internally displaced people and refugees, making it highest in nearly 20 years.

Every year conflict tears apart the lives of thousands of families who have to leave homes forcibly by the chaos of conflict and war.  How would it feel if today I am asked to leave home along with my family? I cannot even think of a place I can go to. What are the things I would keep and what would be the things I would leave back? These few basic questions make me understand and empathize with all those millions of refugees scattered around the globe still fighting for their right to inclusion.

Established in the late 2000 by the UN General Assembly, World Refugee day aims to highlight the plight and suffering of world’s forcibly displaced. The UN body particularly working in that area is UNHCR that stands for United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees also known as UN Refugee Agency. A lot of people will already know about it considering that the Special Envoy for UNHCR is the famous Angeline Jolie. She was in Jordan for this year’s World Refugee Day to draw attention to the millions of Syrian refugees suffering because of a civil war in the country with no political resolution in sight. Antonio Guterres, UN High Commissioner for Refugees expressed the need for the war in Syria to be stopped, asking those with political responsibilities to come together and take action. Sadly it seems that nobody is willing to take action be it Syria, Afghanistan, Palestine, Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia and the list goes on.

These forcibly uprooted communities by persecution and conflict include 16 million refugees outside their countries and the remaining 26 million others are internally displaced. The global displacement statistics mentioned here were compiled at the end of 2008 by UNHCR and since then these figures are increasing with the insatiability of power hungry people all over the globe.

A noticeable and worrisome situation is the long term displacement leaving refugees in exile for more than five years.  This leaves the communities living in limbo with no future ahead of them. What worsen this already massive displacement problem is the global economic crisis, climate change, growing xenophobia and North and South disparities.

Developing nations host some 80 percent of the world’s internally displaced people and refugees, making them in need for more international support as some countries can least afford the burden. Some major refugee hosting nations in the year 2008 according to UNHCR include Pakistan, Syria, Iran, Germany, Jordan, Chad, Tanzania and Kenya. The countries of origin for the refugees include Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan, Columbia and Democratic Republic of Congo.

Most of the countries included in the list are the developing nations. With various other ills plaguing the developing nations the refugee problem is not looked after properly leaving many in need for help and support. How easy it is to go to war and how difficult it is to face the aftermath. The ones who take decisions are not the ones affected by these conflicts. They have their safe abodes to go to anyway. The ones affected by the decisions of this war prone populace are asking for help as they need to be protected in the long term. It is not about providing them with the basic short term shelter facilities. It is about giving them their basic rights and looking after their needs in the long term. There is a need to look for sustainable solutions to this problem. If I am the one to make decisions, I would definitely think twice before going to war, no matter the difficulty of situation, through dialogue looking for solutions is the best answer in my mind so far. Some may disagree by saying that some parties don’t believe in dialogue and the use of arms and weapons becomes inevitable. There is always a room for bringing the two or more conflicting parties together at the dialogue table provided that everyone agrees on the fact that war leads to destruction and is not a solution. The undercover political agendas should also be kept in mind here when dealing with such crucial issues.

In a report by UNHCR released in Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan, it was disclosed that by the end of 2013 Pakistan continued to host the largest number of refugees in the world. Pakistan has hosted the world’s largest refugee population for nearly three decades mostly from Afghanistan with the help of international community. This developing nation facing power crisis, where a lot of money is allocated on the defense budget does need to focus on other issues like health, housing and education of not only the citizens but also the refugee population. If we see the various reports presenting innumerable data it clearly shows that many in Pakistan roughly 46 percent of the rural population is living below the poverty line. This is a striking figure and does make one question whether Pakistan is capable of hosting millions of refugees or not?

The reasons for conflicts that force people to leave their homes might be many but the end is nearly the same for every refugee. The refugee issue should not just be confined to a single day where rallies and events are being held around the world talking about and promoting the rights of refugees. It should be about working on minimizing the reasons for going to war and forcing people into exile. The report by UNHCR for the year 2013 clearly states that number of refugees, internally displaced people (IDPs) and asylum seekers worldwide in the post World War II era has exceeded 50 million people.

Besides looking after the refugees from Afghanistan, Pakistan is grappling with the issue of internally displaces people (IDPs) from the tribal areas where military operations are being carried out to wipe out the terrorists. Last week a military operation known as Zarb-e-Azb was launched after a dramatic attack on Karachi’s airport and failed dialogue attempts to negotiate a peace deal with the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), a militant organization.

internally-displaced-peoples-idp-pakistan-war-imperialism-terrorism-taliban-us1IDPs from tribal areas in Pakistan

Photo Source: Pulsemedia.org

How militant organizations including TTP were born in Pakistan is not a secret anymore and hence I won’t go into that. What I know for a fact is that this has caused unrest in the country and has defamed the country to a great extend. My only question is, if this is Pakistan’s war then why somebody else is paying the bills?

I remember being asked a lot of questions, coming from Pakistan, after Malala was hit by a bullet. People asked me how the situation was like in my country for girls/women. It was indeed a tragic incident in the history and there are many Malalas out there still crying for help, not known to the world. Well it is the same country that had the woman Prime Minister. The country has also produced many successful women pilots, scientists, politicians, educationists, thinkers, musicians, writers and so on. It is the politics coupled with egotism that incite all the problems leaving us with nothing but despair, tragedy and a loss of hope.

The militants whoever they are led to a lot of people being displaced in the country. When this military operation was launched just a week ago I read many articles talking about eradicating the evil and people showing support to the military. To me it was a show where the killers and the ones being killed were living beings. I somehow think that it was not the solution as killing some will result in giving birth to more who spread hate and animosity. It is an endless cycle. That thought was excruciating. Sometimes I feel the need of a superhero/heroine to fix the world of all the wrong doings. Maybe that superhero/heroine is in each one of us, asleep. Buddha was right when he said that we don’t need more successful people in this world rather we need healers, peace builders and lovers of all kinds.

During this extended insurgency in the tribal areas thousands of innocent people have been killed in bombings and gun attacks. I read that during the military operation started a week ago the Cobra gunship helicopters pounded three militant hideouts, killing 12 suspected terrorist and the number of civilians fleeing that area passed 200,000. For these few mad people many suffered.

The current fighting in the North Waziristan triggered a huge exodus of civilians into nearby cities like Peshawar, Kohat and Bannu and also across the border into Afghanistan. The Disaster Management Authority of Federally Administered Tribal Areas also reported that around 157,000 people arrived in Bannu from North Waziristan, where the military operation is being held. Thousands of women and children were also seen travelling by foot.

I don’t know yet where the number would go by the end of the military operation in the tribal areas. I also don’t know the plight of all those children who opened their eyes to war. Pakistan is just one country and many places around the world face similar circumstances albeit the different reasons of conflict. I understand that the international organizations must be doing their best to provide assistance to the refugees and IDPs spread across the globe. It is not just about dispatching relief items and providing short term shelter. When we try to look at it through the lens of sustainable solutions the refugee issue is more complicated than it looks on the surface. I call out to all the important people including the decision makers to look for political resolutions to stop this. Undoubtedly prevention is better than cure.

The international community that felt obligated to spend hundreds of billions to aid the crippling financial system should also feel the same need to rescue the most vulnerable people on earth, the refugees and IDPs. The amount spent on financial bailouts is way more and only a fraction of that is needed besides finding solutions for these millions forced to flee their homes. It might be difficult but it is not impossible. The suffering of the world’s uprooted people and their exile can be brought to an end with the necessary political will from the international community besides humanitarian support.

Syrian children try to stay warm near an open fire in front of tPhoto Source: Valentina Petrova/AP