G20 presidency gives India a golden opportunity to show the world it is ready to lead

Special G20 presidency gives India a golden opportunity to show the world it is ready to lead
India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo take part in the handover ceremony at the G20 Leaders’ Summit, in Nusa Dua, Bali, Indonesia, Nov. 16, 2022. (Reuters)
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Updated 25 January 2023

G20 presidency gives India a golden opportunity to show the world it is ready to lead

G20 presidency gives India a golden opportunity to show the world it is ready to lead
  • Healthcare, especially after the global health crisis, is one of India’s key priorities during its G20 presidency
  • India’s health experts have time and again predicted that the country will be the pharmacy of the world by 2030

India has assumed the presidency of the G20 for 2023 and will host the group’s annual summit this year at a crucial juncture in history.

As the world continues to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, the event will test the country in terms of its health provisions and preparations in particular. It also coincides with this diamond jubilee year marking 75 years of Indian independence.

Healthcare, especially after the global health crisis, is one of India’s key priorities during its G20 presidency. Addressing a recent meeting of health workers, Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya stressed that an inclusive, responsive and adaptive framework is needed to effectively manage health emergencies. Under the supervision of the country’s G20 Sherpa Amitabh Kant, therefore, a number of stakeholders, including policymakers, healthcare specialists and key organizations, will work to build a framework to achieve this, which can be adapted by the G20 for its needs.

India’s large population and availability of large numbers of skilled healthcare specialists, and affordable health infrastructure, gives it much-needed leverage with which to develop and implement healthcare innovations, guidelines and frameworks as it leads the G20 during its year-long presidency, which it inherited from Indonesia and will pass on to Brazil at the end of the year.

India therefore has a full year to showcase its might in different sectors, with healthcare, the environment, sustainability, and digital innovations high on the list.

Last year, India drew praise from international sources, including Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist Bill Gates, for its mammoth COVID-19 vaccination drive. In July, Prime Minister Narendra Modi proudly tweeted that the number of vaccinations and booster shots in the country had surpassed 2 billion, despite challenges arising from fake news and propaganda that falsely questioned the benefits of vaccination among the general public.

The country tops global markets not only in vaccine manufacturing and distribution but also in the variety of homegrown and internationally produced vaccines on offer to the Indian people, including Covishield, Covaxin, BioNTech/Pfizer and Sputnik V, among others.

India’s health experts have time and again predicted that the country will be the pharmacy of the world by 2030, and India’s G20 presidency puts the pharma industry in the top tier of the nation’s healthcare priorities. This implies that India’s robust pharmaceutical sector, which already caters to a large chunk of the world’s needs, will further develop its cooperation with different stakeholders in the global pharma industry to ensure medicines are not only safe and effective but affordable.

In a recent statement published by leading newspapers in India, Modi said that India’s G20 presidency will be unique and unparalleled, in the sense that it will call for a fundamental shift in mindset. He stressed that “the greatest challenges we face — climate change, terrorism and pandemics — can be solved not by fighting each other but by acting together.”

This requires a synergy first between the member nations of the G20, and then through hierarchical chains of command, from policymakers all the way through to front-line workers.

In 2020, when Saudi Arabia held the G20 presidency, it established a Digital Health Task Force to focus on digital efforts to tackle the emerging COVID-19 pandemic, in collaboration with 17 countries and using expertise provided by international organizations such as the World Health Organization, the UN Children’s Fund, and the Global Digital Health Partnership, among others. The idea was to develop an effective framework for digital health interventions.

During its G20 presidency, India will focus on spearheading the shift from a “data-driven” approach to a “data-first” approach, thus helping countries to better plan and prepare for health emergencies such as COVID-19. As Modi said, “data for development” will be India’s focus during its first-ever G20 presidency.

With the growing availability of affordable, lightning-fast internet connectivity, artificial intelligence-assisted robotic devices that offer the country’s top health institutions the possibility of remotely carrying out surgeries, and high levels of digital activity among a majority of young people, regardless of social demographic, India is pushing ahead in the era of digital healthcare.

Technology has served as a great enabler for healthcare, especially during the pandemic, when online or remote consultations for many people became the primary mode of communication with a doctor. The practice has catalyzed and is being used by the government to provide “last-mile connectivity” to healthcare infrastructure, albeit digitally.

If India can build upon this framework while continuing to focus on the digital economy, innovation and digital transformations, it will provide an exemplary healthcare success story for the world to follow, bolstered by research and findings based on data collected from more than a billion people, and serve as a didactic model for other G20 member nations and the wider world.

With nearly 200 meetings scheduled in more than 50 cities across 32 work streams in the run-up to the 2023 G20 Summit, which will be hosted by New Delhi toward the end of the year, India plans to leave no stone unturned in its quest to live up to the motto of its presidency — “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” which translates as “One Earth, One Family, One Future” — and show that it it is ready to lead.

The G20 presidency is an opportunity for India to show this to the world.

  • Syed Khaled Shahbaaz is a journalist based in Hyderabad.

Traveling artist paints a different picture of Mauritania’s poor

Traveling artist paints a different picture of Mauritania’s poor
Updated 29 sec ago

Traveling artist paints a different picture of Mauritania’s poor

Traveling artist paints a different picture of Mauritania’s poor

NOUAKCHOTT: For the past decade, artist Seb Toussaint has traveled to some of the poorest parts of the world to paint brightly colored frescoes on the walls of downtrodden neighborhoods.

Dressed in shorts and a T-shirt, the 35-year-old French British artist, who always paints an inspiring word at the heart of his work, is tackling a piece called “Future” in a dusty slum on the outskirts of Mauritania’s capital Nouakchott.

“The goal is to paint the words of those who don’t have a voice,” he says. He and two travel companions have daubed the sides of a sheet metal shack with a mural of geometric and undulating shapes in white, blue and baby pink.

As they work, children play in the dirt paths, rolling a tire or kicking a ball between makeshift homes, as curious women in colorful veils mill around.

Zaatar is a hodgepodge extension of the capital, where fishermen, construction workers, carpenters and casual workers have made their homes. The soil is too salt-laden to be cultivated, and there is little greenery aside from two ailing acacia trees.

Since 2013, Toussaint has painted walls of cement, wood, and corrugated iron with words in different languages and alphabets as part of his project, which he calls “Share the Word.”

There was “Humanity” in the Palestinian Territories, “Change” in Nepal, and “Freedom” in Iraq.

He earns a living painting murals in Europe and saves up to finance about two trips a year to spend a month in a slum or refugee camp, where he offers his services to residents. The homeowner will decide what word he wants highlighted in the mural.

Toussaint started his career painting “tifos” — vibrant choreographed displays held up by fans at football matches. 

He decided to dedicate himself to bringing “color to an environment where there is very little,” after being exposed to the harsh realities some people face when traveling the world on his bicycle a decade ago.

When he arrived in Zaatar in early January, “we played football with the kids. I explained in broken Arabic that the goal was to paint houses. One person said: I would like you to paint my house.”

“We have never had anyone turn us down,” he said. However, there is often an initial reluctance.

“We had our suspicions about their presence, but we quickly realized these guys had good intentions,” said fisherman Amar Mohamed Mahmoud, 52.

“They do a good job that brightens up the neighborhood.”

Mahmoud got a rare animal painting, “The Camel,” in shades of blue and fawn, in honor of the animal which plays an important role in Mauritanian society.

He has painted eight murals in the neighborhood, among them “Mum,” “Youth,” and “Friends,” whose colors dazzle in the sun-scorched neighborhood.

He estimates he has painted 222-word murals around the world, with a general fondness for the themes “Peace” and “Love.”

Some of his works last for years, while others are fleeting. Several murals disappeared when a migrant camp in Calais in northern France was dismantled.

The murals also become a backdrop for local music artists to shoot videos, he says. Once, in Nepal, one of his painted walls was used as a backdrop for a fashion shoot.


Russia’s Lavrov vows aid for West Africa’s extremist fight

Russia’s Lavrov vows aid for West Africa’s extremist fight
Updated 07 February 2023

Russia’s Lavrov vows aid for West Africa’s extremist fight

Russia’s Lavrov vows aid for West Africa’s extremist fight
  • Lavrov made the remarks at a press conference during a visit to Bamako that the Russian envoy described as a ‘historic’ first
  • Lavrov promised Mali further military support and declared Russia’s wider backing for Africa in the face of what he described as the West’s ‘neo-colonial approach’

BAMAKO: Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Tuesday promised the Kremlin’s help for states in West Africa’s Sahel and the Gulf of Guinea which are facing a ruthless extremist insurgency.
“The fight against terrorism is of course an issue for the other countries in the region,” Lavrov said during a visit to Mali, which Russia is already helping militarily.
“We are going to provide our assistance to them to overcome these difficulties. This concerns Guinea, Burkina Faso and Chad and the Sahel region generally and even the coastal states on the Gulf of Guinea,” he said.
Lavrov made the remarks at a press conference during a visit to Bamako that the Russian envoy described as a “historic” first.
Since seizing power in 2020, Mali’s ruling junta has brought in Russian planes, helicopters and paramilitaries to strengthen its fight against extremist militants.
The closer ties with the Kremlin have coincided with the departure of France, the country’s former colony and traditional ally, which says the Russian operatives are Wagner mercenaries.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the UN have implicated Wagner and the Malian army in an alleged massacre at Moura in central Mali last March in which several hundred people were rounded up and killed.
The landlocked state is the epicenter of an extremist insurgency that began in northern Mali in 2012 and spread to neighboring Niger and Burkina Faso in 2015.
Thousands of civilians have died across the three countries, and millions have fled their homes.
Discontent within the military in Mali and Burkina has spurred two coups in both countries.
Sporadic cross-border attacks have also taken place in Togo, Benin and Ivory Coast in recent years, spurring fears that the extremists are seeking to push southwards to the Gulf of Guinea.
France wound down its long-running military presence in Mali in the face of mounting hostility with the junta and pulled out its last troops in 2022.
Similar tensions have recently broken out between France and Burkina Faso. The French military contingent there, a unit of special forces numbering around 400 men, is to be withdrawn this month.
Lavrov promised Mali further military support and declared Russia’s wider backing for Africa in the face of what he described as the West’s “neo-colonial approach.”
“We are going to provide our support for resolving problems on the African continent,” he said.
“We always start from the basis that African problems must be resolved by African solutions.”


German court rejects climate lawsuit against automaker BMW

German court rejects climate lawsuit against automaker BMW
Updated 07 February 2023

German court rejects climate lawsuit against automaker BMW

German court rejects climate lawsuit against automaker BMW
  • The group Environmental Action Germany argued that manufacturers such as BMW pose a threat to people's right to property, health and life if they continue making vehicles that produce greenhouse gas emissions

BERLIN: A German court on Tuesday rejected a lawsuit by environmental campaigners seeking to force automaker BMW to stop selling vehicles with combustion engine by 2030.
The group Environmental Action Germany, also known by its German acronym DUH, argued that manufacturers such as BMW pose a threat to people’s right to property, health and life if they continue making vehicles that produce greenhouse gas emissions.
The Munich regional court ruled Tuesday that while the plaintiffs’ arguments couldn’t be dismissed from the outset, “at present there is no threat of illegal encroachment” of their rights.
Judges noted that German and European lawmakers, spurred partly by a 2021 ruling by Germany’s top court, have taken numerous measures to achieve the goals of the 2015 Paris climate accord. As such there was no absence of laws that would warrant civil action against BMW “at last not at this time,” they said.
The Munich-based automaker welcomed the ruling, saying efforts to cut emissions should be determined by democratically elected parliaments, not in the courts.
DUH said it was satisfied the court had recognized the permissibility of their lawsuit in principle. It plans to appeal the ruling.
The group said vehicles sold by BMW in 2021 were responsible for more emissions of planet-heating carbon dioxide than countries such as Finland or Portugal produce in a year.
A similar lawsuit against Mercedes-Benz was rejected by a German court last year and the appeal is pending.
A third lawsuit, against energy company Wintershall Dea, is scheduled to be heard in August.


Calls mount on Philippine government to review labor agreements with Kuwait 

Calls mount on Philippine government to review labor agreements with Kuwait 
Updated 07 February 2023

Calls mount on Philippine government to review labor agreements with Kuwait 

Calls mount on Philippine government to review labor agreements with Kuwait 
  • In 2018 and 2020, the Philippines banned worker deployment to Kuwait after murder cases
  • Over 268,000 Filipino workers, mostly women employed as domestic helpers, live in Kuwait 

MANILA: Philippine lawmakers are calling on the government to review labor agreements with Kuwait after increasing reports of abuse, including a brutal murder, of Filipino migrant workers. 

The murder of 35-year-old maid Jullebee Ranara, whose charred body was found abandoned in a desert in late January, had sent shockwaves across the Philippines. She was one of over 268,000 Filipino workers living in Kuwait, a group of mostly women employed as domestic helpers. 

After Ranara’s murder, Philippine authorities tightened rules for recruitment agencies in Kuwait. In another case that emerged in the media recently, a Filipina worker in Kuwait was reportedly paralyzed after trying to escape her abusive employer. 

“There is growing clamor for a review of all labor agreements entered by the Philippines with countries of destination to determine specific guidelines and mechanisms needed for the protection of their human rights,” lawmaker Marissa Magsino said in a resolution introduced in the House of Representatives on Monday. 

The agreements, Magsino said, must not only ensure the welfare of overseas Filipino workers and guarantee their access to legal support but also “provide for serious consequences” in cases of abuse. 

She told Arab News on Tuesday that such bilateral labor agreements are very important, “especially with Kuwait,” where about 100 overseas Filipino workers were now at a shelter, waiting for repatriation. 

“They are those who were maltreated, abused, and then they ran away (from their employer),” the lawmaker, who is also a member of the House’s Overseas Workers Affairs committee, said. 

“The only reason why they are in the shelter is that it’s the last recourse for them to seek refuge, to be able to run away from their abusive employers.” 

Ranara’s murder was not the first such incident in Kuwait, where the 2018 killing of a Filipina domestic helper, Joanna Daniela Demafelis, whose body was found in a freezer at an abandoned apartment, led to the Philippines imposing a worker deployment ban to the Gulf country. 

The ban was partially lifted that same year after the two countries signed a protection agreement for workers. 

But it was again introduced in January 2020, after the 2019 killings of Filipina maid Constancia Lago Dayag and Jeanelyn Villavende, who was tortured by her employer to death. 

The ban was lifted when Kuwaiti authorities charged Villavende’s employer with murder and sentenced her to hanging. 

According to Sen. Rafael Tulfo, another ban might be needed following the latest incidents. He has also called for a “tighter screening process on foreign employers to avoid abuse and maltreatment of (Overseas Filipino Workers),” his office said in a statement on Monday. 

“The senator,” the statement said, “maintained that his proposed deployment ban to Kuwait can be used as a leverage when the Philippine government sits down with Kuwait for bilateral talks.” 


India’s new Hajj policy promotes women’s pilgrimage, abolishes VIP quota

Muslim Indian pilgrims wait at Jeddah airport prior to the start of the annual Hajj pilgrimage in Makkah. (File/AFP)
Muslim Indian pilgrims wait at Jeddah airport prior to the start of the annual Hajj pilgrimage in Makkah. (File/AFP)
Updated 07 February 2023

India’s new Hajj policy promotes women’s pilgrimage, abolishes VIP quota

Muslim Indian pilgrims wait at Jeddah airport prior to the start of the annual Hajj pilgrimage in Makkah. (File/AFP)
  • 500 spots in India’s annual Hajj quota previously reserved for VIPs
  • New policy allows women pilgrims to embark on Hajj individually

NEW DELHI: Indian authorities have abolished the VIP quota for pilgrims and allowed single women to apply as well, in a step they said on Tuesday was aimed at making the country’s pilgrimage policy more inclusive.

With more than 200 million Indians professing Islam, the Hindu-majority South Asian nation has the world’s largest Muslim-minority population. Every year, more than 150,000 Indian Muslims embark on Hajj, a spiritual journey and one of the five pillars of Islam.

While some of them need to wait years for their turn, there were 500 reserve spots set aside annually for top government officials — a practice that was stopped on Monday under the new Hajj policy released by the Ministry of Minority Affairs.

The new policy also increased the number of pilgrimage embarkation points from 10 to 25, and waived application fees.

A.P. Abdullakutty, chairman of the Haj Committee of India, a statutory body of the Indian government that organizes Islamic pilgrimages to Saudi Arabia, said: “In front of Allah everyone is the same therefore there is no need to have special quotas.”

The policy also allows women to apply individually.

“So far the policy was that women above 45 can travel in groups of four without a male companion, but this time a single woman can also apply,” Abdullakutty added.

A total of 175,000 pilgrims from India will embark on Hajj this year, with the journey of 80 percent of them being handled by the committee, and the remaining 20 percent by private operators.

S. Muawari Begum, vice chairperson of the Hajj committee, told Arab News the new policy was “people friendly and more inclusive toward women.”

India’s civil society saw the move also as a step for India in becoming more accepting of women’s independence.

“To be independent is a different thing and the society accepting the independence of a woman is a different thing,” Jamila Nishat, a women’s rights activist based in the southern Indian city of Hyderabad, said.

“This is a good step. This is a step to accept the independence of women.”