It is heart-wrenching to mention war and children together, but tragically kids are one of the most vulnerable and innocent victims of war. No justification can ever do justice to the suffering inflicted on our young.
But if we want to save humanity from warmongers everywhere, it is probably the plight of children which can bring home the horror of it all. If this can’t, then what on earth will?
At least 47 children have died in the first two months of 2022 in the Yemen war.
Philippe Duamelle, the UNICEF representative to Yemen, reports, “Violence has continued to escalate this year, and as always children are the first and most to suffer.” He said, “Just over the first two months of this year, 47 children were reportedly killed or maimed in several locations across Yemen.”
Duamelle further reports that around 10,200 children were killed in the Yemen war in the past seven years. Where is the world’s outcry over this? Where’s the front page news on them?
A Saudi-led coalition, backed by US & UAE, is fighting Houthi rebels in Yemen. Warring parties on both sides must ensure that children are not harmed in this tragic war which has created one of the worst humanitarian crises.
Katharina Ritz, the International Committee of the Red Cross’ says regarding the conflict in Yemen:
“I think our duty is to respond equally to the needs and do our best,” Ms. Ritz told the Associated Press.
“I think it’s not about is it Ukraine or not? Now it’s Ukraine and Yemen and Syria and Iraq and Congo and so on. We have to add Ukraine on all the crises, but we shouldn’t shift.”
According to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project more than 150,000 people have been killed in the Yemen War. That includes both fighters and civilians.
Pakistan’s war on terror and subsequent backlash saw one of the worst killings of children in the form of an attack on Army Public School Peshawar. One hundred twenty-three kids were killed by terrorists mercilessly. Where was the front page news on them?
Phan Thi Kim Phuc, also known informally as the Napalm girl, gave the world a message, alas, we fail to understand:
“Forgiveness made me free from hatred. I still have many scars on my body and severe pain most days, but my heart is cleansed. Napalm is very powerful, but faith, forgiveness, and love are much more powerful. We would not have war at all if everyone could learn how to live with true love, hope, and forgiveness. If that little girl in the picture can do it, ask yourself: Can you?”
Be it the Killing of Muhammad al-Durrah in Palestine or the bombing of a maternity hospital in Ukraine; nothing can justify harm to kids.
The plight of innocent kids should be a wake-up call for humanity that no war is good, that we should do everything possible to try and avoid World War 3, that we should rid the world of nuclear weapons.
Anne Frank, another innocent child victim of war, left us a message which can save humanity from Armageddon, but only if the world was to listen. Perhaps it’s too good for the warlords of our world.
“I don’t believe that the big men, the politicians and the capitalists alone, are guilty of the war. Oh no, the little man is just as guilty, otherwise the peoples of the world would have risen in revolt long ago! There’s in people simply an urge to destroy, an urge to kill, to murder and rage, and until all mankind, without exception, undergoes a great change, great wars will be waged, everything that has been built up, cultivated, and grown will be destroyed and disfigured, after which mankind will have to begin all over again.”
Why Africa is always disadvantaged at the World Cup
The African continent is bristling with talent and its potential for the sport is huge. Morocco’s spectacular run – within touching distance of the final itself – is a message to the world that Africa will most likely have a World Cup winning team in the not too distant future.
Is FIFA fair toward African nations in the World Cup Finals?
Morocco made history after qualifying for the semi-finals in the FIFA World Cup (hosted in Qatar), being the first African or Arab nation to have ever done so. Previously African nations have only managed to get to the quarterfinals – Cameroon in 1990, Senegal in 2002 and Ghana in 2010. But the odds had always been stacked against the African continent. Their win came after defeating some of the top teams in previous rounds.
Football became an integral part of Africa after the sport had been introduced to the continent by European colonizers during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Colonisers initially used sport as a way to impose “moral codes” upon the colonised, and to inculcate a sense of obedience in them. However African nations including Egypt, Sudan and Algeria utilised the game as a means to mobilise independent movements against colonisation. Consequently, football developed into a nationally acclaimed and loved sport resulting in many African countries taking their love for football forward, and qualifying for the FIFA World Cup finals.
In May 2016, the world football governing body and FIFA’s president Gianni Infantino introduced the FIFA Forward Development Programme’ which aims to develop football and related infrastructure in poorer countries by providing funds to improve their footballing capacity.
The initiative provides support to each of FIFA’s 211 Member Associations. Each of the Member Associations receive up to $1.25m every year of which is used “$500,000 for operational costs and $750,000 for tailored projects which includes construction of facilities and other projects as planned by members and approved by FIFA”.
However, countries that show high potential are chosen based on certain eligibility criteria allowing them to be a part of the development programme. Whilst other countries mostly across Europe make use of the provided support “only 32% of funding is being utilised by Africa because 19 nations [have] failed to meet the basic requirements from FIFA to access the funds.”
Many African nations that fail to meet FIFA’s eligibility criteria have done so as a result of a lack of infrastructure at domestic level, and due to invalid documentation. This FIFA initiative not only financially supports and boosts confidence in Member Associations, but also provides facilities such as “better level playing [fields]” which has helped countries improve in their game and overall performance.
Ghanaian coach, Otto Addo, spoke about possible factors that hinder African teams from progressing further in the World Cup. He bemoaned the comparative lack of slots available to the African continent for the tournament. “There was never a point where everybody had an equal chance at the start…It’s very, very difficult if you have five slots to get far. If you have 12 or 14 slots…the probability that a team will get further is much much higher”, he said. Mr Addo believes that more of Africa’s 54 teams should be able to qualify and be tested at the prestigious football tournament.
Corruption has been prevalent among officials preventing African nations from displaying their full potential to FIFA. Commenting on this, Emmanuel Maradas, former FIFA official and ex-editor of African Soccer explained: “When you have money, you have mismanagement, corruption, a lack of seriousness, and a lack of planning”. Whilst other nations make sound financial decisions keeping upcoming tournaments in mind, the administrative bodies in African nations fail to do so effectively. Maradas continued, “If you go to the African federations and ask what sort of plan they have for the next World Cup they will say wait and see…the downfall of African football is the administration”.
But the money allocated for the purpose of improving standards of the sport has a high risk of ending up as bribes and going into the pockets of corrupt football federations and agents. U.S. Atty. General Loretta Lynch found that: “FIFA executives and others corrupted the process by using bribes to influence the hosting decision”. This included allegations of secret wire transfers between Swiss and American bank accounts and South African officials giving “a briefcase stuffed with U.S. currency in stacks of $10,000” to a representative of former FIFA Vice President, Jack Warner.
Hence, Mokoena, who was the captain of South Africa at the 2010 World Cup had criticised Africa for failing to raise the standard for football and believed there is plenty for them to work on. “We need to fix our football before we can ask for more spots at the World Cup”.
Many players from Africa have preferred to play for European clubs citing better infrastructures and opportunities as a reason. This has been detrimental to the development of football in the African continent as a lot of talent has been lost to European countries. However, racial discrimination is one of the reasons that many go back to play for or in their home nation and that includes players of African descent but who were born in Europe. This has been possible due to the 2004 FIFA eligibility rule change which allows players to represent different teams at the youth international levels and senior international levels respectively.
Ivory Coast footballer Yaya Toure, who played for Barcelona in the UEFA Champions League Final in 2019 has also spoken up about the injustice towards African teams in the 2014 Brazil World Cup. Toure said: “When we play at the World Cup, any African will back any African team. Because we want to hear the different approach to African football. We want to hear that Africans can do well and Africans do well”.
What this year’s World Cup in Qatar surely demonstrated is that even though France defeated Morocco in the semi-final, the African continent is bristling with talent and its potential for the sport is huge, as at least 12 of the French squad’s 23 players were of African descent. And Morocco’s spectacular run – within touching distance of the final itself – is a message to the world that Africa will most likely have a World Cup winning team in the not too distant future.
Opinion: Enforcement is no answer to Iran’s anti-hijab protests
As the memory of Mahsa Amini’s death fades, and the world’s eyes no longer draw on Iran, its complicity in the growing rift between it and the world of the West cannot be evaded.
The United Nations launched a fact-finding investigation into human rights abuses committed in Iran. It closes a gap where previously no international courts nor national jurisdictions addressed these crimes. But fears abound that Iran may not cooperate with this historic precedent.
When outrage sparked at the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, an Iranian woman who was arrested by the so-called morality police for violating the country’s strict hijab laws in September. Amidst the protests that were sparked, one more cry was also notable: How can we take the West’s condemnation seriously, when it is also guilty of human rights abuses?
As the Iranian government sought to crackdown on protests that erupted in response to the young woman’s death, directing legal action on those voices of dissent, the West was not slow to speak out against Iran’s rampant authoritarianism. The UK issued sanctions on Iran’s morality police to send out a message: “We will hold you to account for your repression of women and girls,” said then Foreign Secretary, James Cleverly. His statement echoed those of many others; that no one should dictate how Iranian women and girls should dress.
But some Muslims were left wondering where these voices were when Switzerland implemented its burqa bans. Or when France gripped ever tighter on its repression of Muslim women’s hijabs. Or even when Hindutva extremists burned mosques in India.
But as the memory of Amini’s death fades, and the world’s eyes no longer draw on Iran, its complicity in the growing rift between it and the world of the West cannot be evaded.
France was the first country to impose hijab bans in 2011 and the act, “Law of 2010-1192: Act prohibiting concealment of the face in public space” was introduced to prevent women from mainly wearing the niqab (a covering for the entire body and face except for the eyes). Following France, Switzerland, Netherlands, Belgium, Austria, China, and Bulgaria also introduced such laws.
There are many reasons that so many European and other countries claim to have banned hijabs or niqabs. The most well-known one is for security reasons considering a veil will prevent police from identifying the person, arguing that such people can commit crimes without being identified.
But that is not the only reasoning behind the laws, as when France was banning niqabs the government campaign used the term “the Republic is lived with an uncovered face.” Similarly, the right-wing Switzerland party that proposed the hijab ban organizes “resistance against the claims to power of political Islam in Switzerland.”
So where does this Islamophobia come from? Why is the forced hijab seen as worse than hijab bans? Well, the responsibility for this, along with Islamophobia lies on so-called Islamic countries as well.
Along with Iran, Afghanistan under the rule of Taliban imposes strict dress code laws on women and men. Women are forced to cover their faces and every part of their bodies. Women cannot travel without a male companion. The country is also accused of gender-based discrimination and partaking in child-marriage, forced marriage, and sexual exploitation of women.
All these laws are implemented under the name of Islam.
Saudi Arabia is another such Islamic country that usurped women’s rights after the Iranian Revolution in 1979. Finally in 2015, it granted women the right to vote and run as candidate in election, in 2018 women were finally allowed to drive, and in 2019 the male guardianship laws were eased. However, even after these basic rights were slowly granted to women, the problems have not been eradicated as women are forced to wear full clothing as well as face veils even now.
There are many other Islamic countries that impose such harsh laws and force the hijab or niqab, so in the West’s eyes this garment has become a sign of discrimination. Wanting to be saviours of women’s rights, they ban the hijab altogether, not knowing, or ignoring the fact, that it can be worn willingly as well.
But is this the battle that the majority of Muslims should be fighting in the first place? When so much power is given to the West that their opinion becomes a reason for debate, the people are distracted from the real issues.
Another problem is the belief that the West is omnipotent, it can solve all problems, even if it does not have that power anymore. A Prospect article that was written back in 2010 explained how the reason that the West was considered to be powerful was not that “its people are biologically superior, its culture better, or its leaders wiser, but simply because of geography.”
The 2020 Munich Security Conference discussed the power that the West once held and if it still holds it. Most people attending the conference agreed that the West was not all-powerful anymore. Michael Barnett, a professor of international affairs and political science at George Washington University said; “The West’s influence was partially dependent on its material wealth and its moral purpose, both of which are in decline, and so the West has ceased to be the soft power that it once was.”
Instead of fighting a battle about opinions, the world should focus on helping the victims. Whenever women’s bodies are controlled, there is an outrage for a while and then all is forgotten. Despite the online outrage as well as the thousands pouring out into the streets of Iran, very little comes to change as authorities are quick to silence and punish dissent
One example is Iran’s protest in 2018 against the morality police. Despite a report being released that showed that 49% of the population was against forced hijab, the bans were never removed. As a result, Mahsa Amini had to die at the hands of the so-called morality police in 2022.
These protests have been repeated many times, the first one being in 1979 when the hijab imposition was first passed by religious fundamentalists. Again, we saw protests in 2014, when there were a series of acid attacks against women who were deemed to be wearing inappropriate clothes. Each time, the attention that these protests garnered was used as a political tool and nothing was done for the women in Iran.
Dilshad Ali, Content Editor at Haute Hijab explained this point by stating; “If there are ever any political tensions or issues afoot in any country that hones in on Muslims, targeting the hijab is low-hanging fruit because it’s such a visible way to know one is Muslim. “
Adding, “People take the hijab and use it to misrepresent a thousand different political things, when really, at its heart, it’s not anything scary or oppressive, but rather something private between a woman and Allah and her visible declaration that “I am Muslim.”
The hijab is something that a Muslim woman should wear to feel safe, and respected, and as a sign of being Muslim. But, when the same garment is forcefully used and acts as a way to control women, it becomes something to detest. According to Iranian poet and journalist Asieh Amini due to forced veils, the hijab became a symbol of oppression, as women “can’t stand this domination and want their rights.”
The forced hijab in Iran is non-discriminatory when it comes to the religion of the women being forced to veil themselves. Regardless of religion or cultural differences, every woman is the victim of the morality police. These laws trace back to when the Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini said women should observe Islamic dress codes in 1979 after the Islamic revolution but due to protests, he backtracked only for the hijab becoming part of the law in 1983. In fact, before the revolution, Muslim women used to wear hijab as their own choice.
By merely pointing the finger at the West, once again the outrage will end without any real changes taking place in countries that are to blame, and the women that are killed in India, Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan, and all other countries will remain without justice. All because the world is busy playing the blame game and forgetting why these protests started in the first place.
Make religious education in Northern Ireland more diverse, says UNESCO
A study by UNESCO Education Centre concluded that schools in Northern Ireland should scrap Christian influenced religious education and daily acts of collective worship and replace religiously segregated schools with those that are more religiously diverse.
AnalystNews spoke to Dr Matthew Milliken, the study’s author, to find out how he thinks a more religiously open and diverse education system could bring much needed change to students at Northern Ireland’s mainstream schools.
Dr Milliken says that the purpose of this study was “to present a vision on empirical and academic evidence of what an education system in Northern Ireland could look like.” A vision that recognises various failings of the system which includes completely disregarding the idea of teaching students the different types of beliefs that society currently has, and the impact this has had on children who may be part of a faith which differs from the traditional Northern Irish beliefs of Catholicism or Protestantism. The signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, which brought an end to thirty years of the Troubles, introduced a new devolved government where unionists and nationalists would share power. But the arrangement did little for the country’s education system.
Unionists who believe Northern Ireland should remain part of the UK are usually Protestants and nationalists who believe that Northern Ireland should become part of a United Ireland are mainly Catholic. As the power to govern is shared between the two sides, schools have become completely segregated and students have been left with only two choices: attend Catholic or state Protestant schools. More than twenty-four years after the agreement, a surprising 93% of students in Northern Ireland still attend segregated schools.
“They still go to schools that are dominated by a Catholic ethos, present a particular image of Irish culture and Irish identity or they attend schools that are influenced, if not controlled, by Protestant denominations and propagate a particularly British view of society,” explains Dr Milliken. Students in Northern Ireland are kept religiously segregated from as young as three to eighteen.
But it’s not only the students. Teachers, too, attend separate training colleges. Dr Milliken elaborates, “They then go into university or for the sake of teachers, into separate training colleges. There’s a separate training college for Catholic schools and there’s a separate training college for state schools. And those teachers can go through their entire career, from age 3 through all of their school, through all of their further education, to going straight back into the classroom without ever having sat alongside anybody of the other faith.”
It hasn’t gone uncontested. The need for greater religious awareness has been a growing matter, and it predates the Good Friday Agreement. “There is a small integrated education system that accounts for about 7% of the schools here. It started about 40 years ago against great opposition. It was strongly resisted by the churches in particular,” states Dr Milliken.
And resistance has persisted. In July this year, a high court judge ruled that exclusively Christian religious education was unlawful. It came following a legal challenge by a father and daughter whose lawyers argued that the syllabus taught at the seven-year-old’s controlled primary school, violated her educational rights as laid out in the European Convention on Human Rights.
Catholic schools in Northern Ireland prioritise a view of history from an Irish perspective, whilst their state-controlled Protestant counterparts learn the British version of history. This means that in a Catholic school, children learn the Irish language, focus on issues to do with Ireland, and understand British issues through an Irish lens. However, in a Protestant state-controlled school, children are more likely to learn a British version and understanding of history, which means learning history the same way it is taught in mainland British schools.
The influence this has on wider society may be profound. Everything is taught differently – from academic subjects to sports. So for example, a Protestant school normally has as part of its physical education curriculum rugby, cricket, and hockey, but in a Catholic school, sports closely allied with Irish national identity such as Gaelic football and hurling are played.
The issue “goes beyond religion” Dr Milliken says. “To simplify to religion doesn’t really help because at the core, both sides are Christian. However, the roots of that Christian-centric education system go right through the education system here.” Boards of education have representatives from the three Protestant denominations and the Catholic Church which are responsible for educational administration. And there are separate boards for the controlled state-side and the Catholic side.
To entrench matters further, places on the board of governors are protected. Dr Milliken told Analyst News: “A Catholic school is likely only to have Catholics sitting on the board of governors. A controlled-state school is likely only to have Protestants on that board, and Protestants only from three particular denominations. There are no protected places on any of them that management are governors or people from any other faith.” All schools are required to teach a religious syllabus that is laid down exclusively by those four Churches. Schools are “controlled, inspired, dominated by Christian thinking. And pupils do not have the opportunity to study what they refer to as World Religions: Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Sikhism, until they reach post-primary level,” he says.
Even so, the way that Christianity is taught is intense; a Catholic primary school must have teachers who have undertaken an additional qualification that is solely approved by the Catholic Bishops, who then sanction whether they can teach the Catholic faith in line with the teachings of the Church. The Certificate in Religious Education is one of the many interlinked matters that have been identified as limiting opportunities for teachers in Northern Ireland to accessing employment outside of those schools associated with their own educational background and community identity. “That certificate is a large barrier to Protestant teachers getting a job in a Catholic school,” according to Dr Milliken but “there is time for change now.”
From a human rights perspective, faith schooling is considered a key part of schools’ ethos. Children are entitled to skip religious education lessons if they follow different faiths but they usually end up sitting in the corridor on their own. And this is problematic as Dr Milliken explains. “They are being excluded. It’s one thing if they want to identify themselves and their difference in the class. But when they’re being excluded and identified as different by the system of education. That’s not a healthy way to be.”
The result is isolation and a feeling of victimhood. If a fair and open-minded religious curriculum was taught rather than “a lesson that propagated a particular worldview,” these children would feel much more comfortable explaining, sharing, and talking about their views and faith.
Dr Milliken told Analyst News that exploring religion would ultimately help them understand other people’s faith and their cultures: “I think there is a need to help young people, to find out right from wrong, to explore their values and belief systems. I think there’s an absolute need to help young people form their own ethical view of the world.”
It doesn’t help that certain topics are not broached. Dr Milliken says: “They don’t explore the issues of controversy that still affect this part of the world. They don’t look at issues of faith, issues of identity, issues of culture, issues of nationality, issues of politics, issues of history, that are shared. Those are the issues that teachers need to come to terms with.”
He states in his study that controversial issues should be taught in classrooms such as ‘shared education’ which “is an effort to fund joint activity between divided schools.” Supported by state funding, he envisages Catholic and Protestant primary schools working in collaboration and discussing issues that surpass “safe territory.”
Change could come through an engagement with those controversial issues, opening up debate and listening to alternative views without prejudice or the possibility of indoctrination. Whilst acknowledging the many differences between the two educational approaches, Dr Milliken is hopeful that his study may draw on their similarities instead and “bring people forward to challenge and question the state of school.” And although “it’s not a quick fix”, he feels the research offers a steppingstone to further questions about the school system in Northern Ireland. Dr Milliken is adamant that “we can have a more inclusive system of education that becomes a more shared system of education. One that isn’t backward looking, and one that better prepares our children for a shared future.”
Pakistan’s policies exacerbated its flood disaster
Michael Kugelman from the Wilson Centre think tank on how Pakistan’s flood disaster could have been avoided.
“Corruption, corruption, corruption.”
That was the refrain chorused by the many millions of people left homeless and in disarray following severe flash flooding in Pakistan’s northwestern region in 2010. But 12 years later, not much has changed. Once again, as torrential monsoon rains hit northern Pakistan, displacing more than 33 million people, killing 1,500 others, and destroying homes and livelihoods, decades of government negligence in the region can hardly be disguised by the simple narrative of a climate change-induced disaster.
To probe how far government corruption engendered and exacerbated the aftermath of catastrophic floods in Pakistan’s Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces, Analyst News spoke to Michael Kugelman, Deputy Director of the Asia Program and Senior Associate for South Asia at the Wilson Centre.
“Had ecological governance been practised more effectively in previous decades, Pakistan could have avoided some of the most damaging effects.”
Michael, who has just returned from Pakistan, witnessed the dire effects of the flood that submerged one-third of the country under water and calls the lack of “ecological governance”, which he explains as “policies that ensure the violent aspects of climate change can be managed”, one of the most critical contributing factors behind the devastating floods.
He adds: “Had ecological governance been practised more effectively in previous decades, Pakistan could have avoided some of the most damaging effects.”
But Pakistan’s northern tourism haven, Swat, is particularly prone to the effects of extreme weather conditions because of developmental failures: “We’ve seen in recent years, a lack of regulation of construction along rivers. You have had these encroachments as they describe it in South Asia. You’ve had all types of buildings put up alongside rivers, which means that when you have any types of floods, it means that, immediately, you’re going to have a lot of building damage and that entails possible losses of lives.” Whilst “no policy could have stopped these floods from happening because no policy could have prevented the rains from coming as early as they did”, had they “been better in the past, perhaps the damage wouldn’t have been quite as catastrophic as it was”.
New hotels and residential facilities have helped in the region’s development, but political expediency and prejudice towards the people that reside there, has rendered it vulnerable.
In 2002, the government introduced the North-Western River Protection Ordinance, prohibiting further development within 200 metres of riverbanks, and requiring the owners or managers of existing buildings to implement measures such as septic tanks and soaking pits. Then, in 2014, it implemented the Khyber Pakhtunhwa River Act, cementing the ban with the threat of legal action at special court trials to be set up for those who defied it. Yet no such courts ever were created, and reports suggest most of the constructions occurred under the Pakistan Tehreek e Insaaf (PTI) government, which itself enacted the penalty.
Michael explains that if Pakistan had paid heed to climate change warnings, “there would’ve been better efforts to maintain water infrastructure, dams, canals”.
“In Pakistan in recent years, these once mighty water infrastructures have fallen in hard times. They’ve become dilapidated because they haven’t received the maintenance that they need. So, canals sprung leaks, and dams, including Tarbela Dam, which is one of the biggest earth-filled dams in the world, lost a lot of storage capacity just because of erosion and other problems that weren’t addressed.”
“Unfortunately, the lessons that need to be learned will not be learned just like they weren’t learned so many other times in the past.”
Although he agreed that the impact of the floods was too intense to be controlled with well-maintained reservoirs, “better water infrastructure maintenance and a more robust repair regime would have been helpful”.
But on whether change could happen, he says: “Unfortunately, the lessons that need to be learned will not be learned just like they weren’t learned so many other times in the past.”
Timber mafias and power elites have for decades exploited the country. Commenting on this exploitation of power, Michael describes how people have taken advantage of their power and contributed to the human corruption aspect of the disasters.
“Nefarious actions that have been taken out of pure self-interest, which has ended up worsening the damage of floods.” For example, “wealthy landowners in the province of Sindh… have taken actions that have redirected flood waters away from their natural path so that they could avoid damaging the agriculture and the farms and the property of these landowners.”
“Nefarious actions that have been taken out of pure self-interest, which has ended up worsening the damage of floods.”
Deforestation was a contributor to the floods in 2010 that claimed the lives of around two thousand people and one of the contributing factors to the floods was deforestation. Commenting on how Pakistan has brought this under control since, Michael says whilst “the rate of deforestation has actually decreased over the last few years, there is so much of it over the last few decades that it put Pakistan in the position where it was deprived of what would’ve been a very powerful bull walk against flood waters”.
The National Disaster Management Authority Pakistan issued its first warning for devastating monsoon rain in the middle of June, just a day before the rainfall. This did not give enough time for the relevant authorities to take precautionary measures.
“The track record of Pakistani governments when it comes to emergency responses after national disasters leave a lot to be desired. And it’s actually quite notorious that state capacities responding to natural disasters are very weak. And as a result, we’ve seen the same patterns play out in these floods that we’ve seen so many other times, the 2010 floods, the 2005 earthquake, and other big natural disasters before that,” he says.
Whilst corruption and incompetence added to the devastation, similar attitudes in the relief efforts stand in the way of rehabilitating and aiding the stranded and displaced.
Government officials, including the Prime Minister and the foreign minister of Pakistan, are engaging the international community in their calls for relief aid. Just this month, the UK pledged a further £10 million in humanitarian aid, in addition to the £16.5 million it had already donated. The US has given £50.1 million in humanitarian relief since 12th August.
But concerns around its proper coordination are growing.
“The question is how effective that will be, and if the government is able to get the type of assistance that it needs can we expect that the money will be transmitted to the people that need to get that assistance?” Michael asks.
History bears testament that atomising federal funds to the powerful in control has impeded disaster prevention and efforts for relief. Revelations emerged of a dam scandal that began when PTI
Donors, Michael says, are looking for a reliable party to hand the money over to: “So that’s a bigger, broader challenge of being confident that all of this money that’s actually pledged will be delivered and, when it’s delivered, will get to the people that need it the most.”
But the international community cannot do much in the way of affecting this:
“The UN’s appeals for assistance haven’t really been met” because “the bigger story here is donor fatigue, which is one reason why you haven’t seen as much money going to Pakistan as would be desired,” he tells us.
“There is not a lot of clarity as to what happened to the money that actually was delivered”.
He acknowledges there are people in Pakistan who can mobilise an effort to gather disaster relief donations at a time of disaster. The former prime minister Imran Khan has in the past, “mobilized funds” but there have been “some concerns from informed observers that a lot more was pledged than delivered. And there is not a lot of clarity as to what happened to the money that actually was delivered”.
Growing political, social, and cultural polarization that has contributed to power exploitation and increased corruption is another reason why Michael believes no timely long-term planning to tackle environmental concerns in the region will take place. There are currently different opposing parties ruling in all four provinces of Pakistan, and there would be issues in managing the flood relief across the provinces.
“I think in an ideal world, you would have the central government coordinating with provincial governments on assistance and recovery efforts. And we just don’t have that. I guess it could have been worse if this happened a few months ago because Sindh is the worst affected province and it is controlled by the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), which of course is one of the members of the ruling coalition. So, I think coordination could be an issue for reasons other than politics, but I think that KPK is a problem in the sense that the province is controlled by the PTI, and of course, the PTI is at blogger heads with the federal government,” Michael says.
Pakistan is far from reaching this ideal world when political figures keep their vested interests at the forefront. According to Michael, it is unlikely that the recent floods will act as a lesson for the government.
“I don’t necessarily think you’re going to have a new paradigm that sort of prioritises public welfare and that uses the floods as a lesson for some type of major paradigm shift that entails putting everything else on hold, including politics and other things. And instead, focus on how to work to make the country more climate resilient and take efforts to ensure that the vulnerable are actually protected more and receive the support they get. Unfortunately, I don’t see that happening,” he says.
“One of the mantras of Pakistan is that it has a really resilient society.”
But despite political corruption, the exploitation of resources and power by the elite, and growing polarization, Michael is still hopeful that Pakistan will find a way to bounce back.
“One of the mantras of Pakistan is that it has a really resilient society. The people step in to address big challenges because the government is often missing in action and I think that certainly was the case here. I think many victims have concluded that in many cases they’ll need to fend for themselves but they will also look for help from their fellow Pakistanis, private citizens, those with charities, NGOs and so on.”
“It’s going to amplify for the Pakistani people the need to focus on their own grassroots level efforts to pre-emptively prepare themselves for future possible emergencies but also to recognise that they really are going to be on their own,” he adds.
But he says it would be difficult for them to do it alone. “If you are going to talk about climate-proofing villages by allowing people to have access to sturdier building materials that aren’t susceptible to collapse or destruction when hit by floods, they are going to need money for that, they are going to need technical support, and so on. And oftentimes they need the government to get involved.
“You need the international community to an extent as well.”
Can the Labour Party really save Britain?
Is the Labour Party really the answer to 12 years of austerity culminating in the economic fallout of Brexit and the pandemic?
As newly-elected UK Prime Minister Liz Truss oversees the plummeting of support for the Conservatives since her and her ex-Chancellor’s dire “mini-budget” only 3 weeks ago, the Leader of the Opposition and the Labour Party, Sir Keir Starmer is calling for a general election. The people, he says, are now “looking to Labour for the answers”.
Taking advantage of Truss’ embarrassing U-turns, the disastrous falling pound and the cost-of-living crisis, Labour are lucky to be up at a huge 51% in the polls, with the Tories trailing at 23%. But is the Labour Party really the answer to 12 years of austerity culminating in the economic fallout of Brexit and the pandemic? Could it be the antidote to the unethical behaviour which saw the end of Boris Johnson’s premiership?
There are worrying signs that it might not be. Soon after being elected, Sir Keir backtracked on some of the ten pledges on which he ran his leadership bid. Renationalisation of the railway and utilities was ditched as was the plan to raise corporation tax. Many left-wing members in the party were dismayed that Starmer openly admitted “winning” the election was the most important thing for him, even at the expense of his promises. And earlier this year, Starmer stated he was side-lining the 2019 Labour socialist manifesto and “starting from scratch” even though he had described it as a “foundational document”. If Starmer is prepared to win at all costs, what does that say about his own convictions and level of integrity?
Starmer and the party machine have demonstrated a callousness which doesn’t fit with traditional Labour values by watering down socialist policies and the treatment of his own party members. From removing the whip from his predecessor Jeremy Corbyn – meaning he can no longer sit as a Labour MP – to the dreadful handling of the trigger ballot of domestic-abuse survivor, Apsana Begum, Labour has been accused of purging left-leaning ideas and candidates. Critics have noted that other hardworking, long-standing members like Sam Tarry and MP of the Year Ian Byrne, have had trigger ballots imposed on them, been deselected or not allowed to stand for selection. The common denominator seems to be previous support for Corbyn and socialism.
Plagued by accusations of antisemitism during Corbyn’s leadership, the Labour Party did admittedly vow to clean up its act. However, the mostly disregarded Forde report highlighted a “hierarchy of racism” and the use of antisemitism as a “factional weapon” to undermine Corbyn. Whilst the mainstream media has been quick and dogged in its amplifying of antisemitism charges, it has failed – probably wilfully – to accurately report on the Forde Inquiry’s findings. Furthermore, the shocking and derogatory treatment of veteran MP Diane Abbot by officials has been met with a deafening silence by Starmer and his shadow cabinet. Abbot and other black and Asian members demanded an apology for the racism experienced in the Labour Party in an open letter. The party’s response, that “Starmer is now in control,” was concise but it was hardly reassuring.
And yet antisemitism still seems to be an issue. With the expulsion of a disproportionate number of Jewish activists on the left of the party in the last 3 years, Labour is actively ensuring there is no dissent. But a recent documentary series bringing evidence to light of the appalling harassment of local Jewish and Muslim members, has been largely ignored by the Labour front bench and media. Maybe because it was commissioned by Al Jazeera?
On balance, Labour have an upper hand. Being in opposition for so long, it can now pretty much present itself as a fresh alternative to the present chaotic government. People are tired of economic and political crisis after crisis, a characteristic of Johnson’s and now Truss’ leadership. But with Starmer’s raison d’etre seeming to be about winning at all costs – including apparently jettisoning basic Labour values – is he in danger of losing core Labour voters? More to the point, is the wider electorate prepared to overlook Starmer’s fickleness and double standards for something that looks like a safe pair of hands?
Can the UK be trusted to support women’s rights in Saudi Arabia?
The UK has been found to be providing aid with ambiguous motives. The term “women’s rights” was cast aside when describing the purpose of the Gulf Strategy Fund (GSF), suggesting that the UK has either opted for silence on the matter or is supporting the discrimination of women.
The UK is a nation that traditionally champions women’s rights, but sometimes money and politics seem to get in the way. This time, the UK has been found to be providing aid with ambiguous motives. The term “women’s rights” was cast aside when describing the purpose of the Gulf Strategy Fund (GSF), suggesting that the UK has either opted for silence on the matter or is supporting the discrimination of women.
The GSF addresses various concerns in the gulf region including security, cyber, innovation and leadership and seeks to alleviate problems in the area by encouraging developments in tech and education. The role of women in these endeavours has been obscured, except for events on a small scale like the International Women’s Day Celebrations, Leadership Expos and Exhibitions for artists. The GSF has refused to be transparent regarding organisations to which funding is directly provided and the outcomes achieved through it. It is highly likely that the funding has been allocated to government organisations which are responsible for human rights abuses and oppression in their strict measures against dissent in Saudi Arabia.
Recently, two female Saudi activists were sentenced to prison over their undaunted tweets and social media presence. Broadly perceived as a tool inciting rebellion in Saudi society, Twitter users have often been subjected to severe consequences as a stern warning to the population. Nourah bint Saeed Al-Qahtani was sentenced to 45 years in prison for tweeting in favour of women’s rights, a risky attempt to break through the social structure of the country. And Salma al-Shehab, another activist was given a 34-year sentence for her bold statements, including a demand to release other journalists and activists. The nature of trials for these activists, which normally take place away from the limelight, remains a concern for many human rights institutions Over the years however, the Saudi Kingdom has revised its constitution and allowed women to adopt greater roles in society. This includes the ability to drive, relaxed dress code and more roles in the workforce. Whether or not these changes have made a significant difference to the lives of women in Saudi is debatable.
But Britain’s participation in the GSF is problematic precisely because of the Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office’s suspicious lack of transparency around why women’s rights is no longer a featured purpose of the fund. In its endeavour to what appears to be not wanting to rock the boat with Saudi Arabia, is the UK compromising and selling out its own long-held principles? How can the UK be expected to be taken seriously when it calls out other regimes on their human rights abuses? It seems that maybe Britain can look the other way when the price is right.
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