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Refugees, Shantytowns in Middle-East, North Africa Endanger Global Public Health: OpEd

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Indiscriminate in targeting its victims, the latest coronavirus (COVID-19) casts a very different light on the need to enforce international law governing wars as well as human and minority rights. It exposes the needs of tens of millions of refugees and displaced persons in destitute camps in Turkey, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Bangladesh and shantytowns across Asia, Africa, and Latin America.

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It also puts issues of basic rights, poverty, homelessness, and equitable income distribution from a different perspective. Refugees, displaced persons, and embattled minorities that have been for the longest time viewed as humanitarian or political problems that needed to be contained and kept beyond one’s borders now constitute a global public health hazard.

The public health hazard is enhanced by punitive, crippling sanctions and blockades designed to impose the will of one country on another with little measurable effect beyond economic degradation, making often weak health systems even more feeble.

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In Iran, one of the world’s hardest-hit countries, and the Gaza Strip, that reported its first infections in recent days, the hazard is enhanced not only by corruption and mismanagement but also punitive and crippling sanctions and blockades designed to impose the will of one country on another with little measurable effect beyond economic degradation and making often weak health systems even more feeble.

It’s a hazard that raises the threat level not only in the current pandemic that has already wreaked havoc on lives, economies, and social life but also in future ones.

“The storm will pass, humankind will survive, most of us will still be alive — but we will inhabit a different world,” predicted historian Yuval Noah Harari.

“Pandemics are a part of biologic history . . . They reshape . . . economics, they reshape . . . sociology” added Mike Leavitt, a former Republican US Secretary of Health and Human Services and Governor of Utah.

Writer and activist Susan Sontag noted some four decades ago that “illness as a metaphor for a political disorder is one of the oldest notions of political philosophy.”

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Pandemics create opportunities to rethink political, economic, and social relations.

By implication, Messrs. Harari and Leavitt and Ms. Sontag suggest that pandemics create opportunities to rethink political, economic, and social relations. That may be what is needed but the odds are against it.

More likely is that a different world will mostly be shaped by elements of reactive measures taken by governments across the globe who failed to initially take the coronavirus seriously on day one—Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan being notable exceptions.

Leaving aside the fundamental issues of striking a balance between privacy and surveillance, those reactive actions and procedures are likely to amount to band-aids rather than lessons learned. They will not lead to a fundamental rethinking of issues that pose a major threat to millions of lives far beyond the boundaries of refugee camps and shantytowns. And they are unlikely to result in the societal cohesion needed to confront the inevitable next crisis.

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The COVID-19 pandemic spotlights the inherent threat posed by the lack of transparency and the politicization of a global health crisis by civilizationalist and illiberal, authoritarian or autocratic leaders.

The coronavirus also spotlights the inherent threat posed by the lack of transparency and the politicization of a global health crisis by civilizationalist and illiberal, authoritarian or autocratic leaders. Such leaders, including US President Donald J. Trump, Chinese President Xi Jinping, Egyptian General-turned-President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and Turkey’s leader, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who prioritize domestic political and geopolitical gain and economic preservation rather than timely public health policy and simple decency and humanity.

Even though senior government officials across the globe have been infected, it’s the hundreds of thousands of victims of the coronavirus and the hundreds of millions whose social and economic lives have been disrupted that pay the price of delayed and inadequate responses.

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“Sanctions are the number one cause of Iran’s limited access to medicine and other basic resources. These pressures are severely compounded during this global health crisis and are felt acutely in the day-to-day lives of Iranian citizens . . . Just as outbound travel has been suspended, the import of aid coming into Iran is limited, if at all, furthering the sense that even when dealing with a concern that affects the whole world, Iranians are largely on their own,” reflected comparative literature PhD candidate Donna Honarpisheh from self-isolation during a family visit to Shiraz.

The fact that a contagious health hazard in one country threatens public health worldwide, makes ensuring the universal existence of robust national healthcare systems a global concern.

The fact that a contagious health hazard in one country potentially threatens public health worldwide, makes ensuring the universal existence of robust national healthcare systems a global rather than a national concern.

Prioritizing politics rather than common sense self-preservation that fails to strike a balance between humanity, global public health, and national security is likely to harden positions rather than create opportunities for conflict resolution.

As a result, Iran’s isolation and Gaza’s blockade by Israel and Egypt for the past 13 years are likely to be reflected in longer-term Iranian and Palestinian political wrath and other hostile attitudes towards the outside world.

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The United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, and Qatar – the only countries to have come to Iran’s aid – were among the few in the international community to recognize that how the world handles the crisis has consequences that go far beyond healthcare.

The United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, and Qatar were among the few in the international community to recognize how the world handles the crisis has consequences that go far beyond healthcare.

That is true even if the UAE and Kuwait acted to ensure that they would not be targets in any future US-Iranian confrontation. Whereas Qatar honoured its relations with Iran since Tehran provides crucial logistical support, enabling Doha to withstand the almost three-year-old UAE-Saudi-led economic and diplomatic boycott of the Gulf state.

Adding to the woes of Iran, like other countries with governments that are untransparent or at best economical with the truth, is the fact that the regime’s trust deficit complicates getting public compliance with extraordinary measures and raises the spectre of protests at a time of quarantines and social distancing.

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Egyptian authorities arrested four prominent women in recent days for protesting in demand of the release of prisoners as a healthcare measure. Hundreds of Egyptians reportedly attempted to storm public laboratories to obtain a coronavirus test.

The locked-down Philippines capital of Manila is awash with rumours of food shortages and fears of rioting and looting.

It’s at best a matter of time before the human carnage hits camps for refugees and displaced persons across the Middle East and in Asia and Africa as well as countries like Venezuela that have failing health systems as a result of mismanagement and corruption. All failures which are compounded by sanctions.

“Millions of conflict-affected people are living in cramped refugee and displacement sites with desperately poor hygiene and sanitation facilities. There will . . . be carnage when the virus reaches parts of Syria, Yemen, and Venezuela where hospitals have been demolished and health systems have collapsed,” said Jan Egeland, Secretary-General of the Norwegian Refugee Council.

Yemen already knows the consequences. It suffered in 2017 a dramatic surge of cholera, a disease that had been virtually eradicated from the planet.

The question is not only what happens when disease and death on a large scale or food shortages and/or famine hits the world’s most vulnerable holed up in inhuman conditions with nothing more to lose.

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The question is whether governments and elites have the foresight and political will to build a new world order that creates the political, economic, and social conditions for the management of future pandemics.

It is also whether governments and elites have the foresight and political will to build a new world order that is not only equitable but also creates the political, economic, and social conditions for the management of future pandemics at a potentially lower social and economic cost for all.

That may be a tall order in a world dominated by civilizationalist and nationalist leaders whose primary concern are not ensuring robust structures capable of fighting indiscriminate global threats but short-term political gain, self-aggrandizement, the settling of political scores, and narrow visions of ethnic or religious supremacy.

It’s an approach that adds to already mounting threats of increased political instability and violence as well as migration in magnitudes that could dwarf the world’s current problem of coping with large-scale dislocation.

Dr. James M. Dorsey is an award-winning journalist and a senior fellow at Nanyang Technological University’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore.

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Expert Reviews

Rafale jets dodge all radars, air defence systems; bombs Turkish facilities in Libya

The Dassault Rafale is a French multirole fighter aircraft designed and built by Dassault Aviation. Rafale is intended to perform air supremacy, aerial reconnaissance, ground support, in-depth strike, anti-ship strike and nuclear deterrence missions.

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Recently, the al-Watiya airbase in Libya was reportedly bombed by Rafale jets, which either belonged to France or Egypt, the two nations within the range of the base that possesses these (Rafale) aircraft, writes the Arab Weekly.  

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The report quoting its sources called the attack by Rafale jets as a response to Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar’s visit to Libya.

The Turkish presence in Libya is highly undesirable to both Egypt and France and the former has even warned to intervene militarily in Libya if the Turkish-backed militias tried to head towards Sirte. France has also called the Turkish moves as “unacceptable,” emphasising that it would not permit this to continue.

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But this recent airstrike on al-Watiya airbase reportedly by 4++ generation Rafale jets displayed that the boundaries in airspace differ from the boundaries on land drawn by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. Indeed, basing fighter jets and drones in al-Watiya pose a direct threat to any military deployed in the region.

Sisi has discussed the possibility of directly intervening in Libya, pointing out that Egypt “will not allow the conflict in Libya to cross the Sirte line.” He also emphasised that “with regard to Egypt’s security, al-Jufra is a red line that we will not allow any force to cross.”

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The Tripoli government accused “a foreign air force” of bombing al-Watiya base, without furnishing any information on the identity of the aircraft or the targets attacked. Even though Turkish and Qatari media rejected any casualties, the Libyan source, however, claimed that many Turkish soldiers were injured or dead in the airstrikes by Rafale jets.

A retired Libyan army officer revealed to Arab Weekly that a squadron of fighter planes launched a series of airstrikes on al-Watiya base, where Turkey had deployed F-16 aircraft, Bayraktar TB2 and Anka-S drones, backed by a MIM-23 Hawk air defence system with its radars.

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He further said that the air raids targeted the al-Nadab quarters at al-Watiya base, which the Turkish forces on the base had used as their headquarters since last May. Also targeted were Sungur air defence systems, fixed and mobile radar installations and Koral signal jamming system, which the Ankara had deployed at al-Watiya base.

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Libyan parliament member Ibrahim al-Darsi later acknowledged and “the airstrikes were launched by forces all too well-known to us,” and added that the targets of these attacks were “a clear message and constituted a strong and painful slap in the face of Turkish President Erdogan and his proxies in Libya, especially the militia government headed by Fayez al-Sarraj.”

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Asia Pacific

India can ‘no longer’ choke China at the Strait Of Malacca as Beijing finds solution

The Strait of Malacca is a strategic waterway between Indonesia and Malaysia through which the majority of Chinese imports pass. The narrow waterway also makes the perfect chokepoint from the perspective of India, and should tension between Beijing and New Delhi rise, the Malacca Strait can be blocked easily by India. 

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Could the advantage that India enjoys over China due to the Strait of Malacca be coming to an end? Does China have a way to tackle the Indian plans of chocking Beijing at the Malacca Straits – the strategic waterway, in case of a war?

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India’s position at the mouth of the Malacca Strait has created panic amongst Chinese officials as they try to find an alternative route, writes the Forbes.

The Strait of Malacca is a strategic waterway between Indonesia and Malaysia through which the majority of Chinese imports pass. The narrow waterway also makes the perfect chokepoint from the perspective of India, and should tension between Beijing and New Delhi rise, the Malacca Strait can be blocked easily by India.

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India’s natural position in the Indian Ocean, with basing capabilities in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands at the mouth of the strait, would allow its navy to cut it off in the event of a crisis or war with China.

Keeping in mind the recent flare-up between India and China, Larry Bond, renowned naval author and creator of the Harpoon war game series, says that if India wanted to block trade with China, all it has to do is its park ships at the mouth of the Malacca Strait.

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The vast majority of China’s oil imports, from the Persian Gulf, Venezuela and Angola, pass by this route. Due to the strategic importance of the waterway, there is fear amongst Chinese officials that India could block the Malacca Strait in case of war.

Experts at EurAsian Times believe that the strategic importance of the Malacca Strait and the advantage it gives to India will likely reduce over time as Beijing find alternative routes.

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The fact India enjoys a strategic advantage over China because of the Malacca Strait has forced Beijing to explore other options and find ways around the waterway.

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One such option is Gwadar Port in Pakistan. As part of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), Beijing has developed the port in Gwadar so that goods unloaded there will be shipped overland to China.

On June 8 the Pakistani government approved a $7.2bn upgrade to a railway which will connect Gwadar to Kashgar, China. The port is not yet operating at capacity, but the direction seems clear.

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While Gwadar is still susceptible to an attack by the Indian Air Force (IAF), it adds political and military risks as it is in a third country’s territory. The Indian Navy could try and block this port but it would require ships to move away from the Malacca Strait.

The other option Beijing is exploring is Northern Sea Route in the Arctic which could create a ‘Polar Silk Road.’ The importance of this is underlined by China’s 2018 Arctic policy. It asserts, “Geographically, China is a “Near-Arctic State”, one of the continental States that are closest to the Arctic Circle.”

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The policy statement goes on to say, “China hopes to work with all parties to build a “Polar Silk Road” through developing the Arctic shipping routes.”

Due to accelerated global warming, ice sheets are receding, thus making it possible for ships to travel via this route. Having sent its first ship through the region in 2013, Beijing is now investing in port infrastructure in the Arctic which connects to Europe.

China is also investing in designing ice breakers, vessels that would ease navigation through the Arctic. With help from Finnish Aker Arctic, China launched its first locally built ice breaker the Xue Long 2 in 2018.

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Apart from exploring new waterways and developing strategic ports, Beijing is developing a land route directly to Europe, as part of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), mainly as a way to export goods.

Thousands of trains are transversing across Asia in recent times, the modern-day version of the ancient Silk Road. Land routes are one way China can reduce the criticality of Chinese sea routes.

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The strategic importance of the Strait of Malacca to China will lessen over a period of time. India will still be in a position to throttle Chinese supply lines there, but it will not have the same impact that it once had.

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Americas

India Bets Big On Nikki Haley To Emerge As Vice Presidential Candidate Under Trump

Nikki Haley has echoed some of the same arguments Donald Trump has made on national topics such as cancel culture, defunding police forces and statue removal, although the tone and frequency between Trump and Haley differ dramatically.  

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India has pinned hopes on Nikki Haley to become the US Vice President (VP) should Donald Trump get re-elected this November. Haley, a first-generation Indian American, is expected to strengthen Indo-American relation and also attract a lot of voters including women and minorities.

According to the reports, there is speculation that Trump might switch out Vice-President Mike Pence for Nikki Haley as his running mate in the hopes of boosting his lagging approval numbers among the broader electorate.

Despite resigning as US Ambassador to the United Nations, Haley has been active in politics. She has been fundraising for Republican congressional candidates as well as in the Senate and gubernatorial arena.

She has set up a non-profit organization to boost her policy priorities and has continued to pen editorials on foreign policy. And Hailey has retained a small, tightly knit orbit of advisers.

The former governor of South Carolina, Haley is one of the people who left the Trump Administration on good terms. She has even promised to campaign for the President for his re-election bid.

Haley has echoed some of the same arguments Donald Trump has made on national topics such as cancel culture, defunding police forces and statue removal, although the tone and frequency between Trump and Haley differ dramatically.

According to experts at EurAsian Times, Haley’s recent moves can be seen as a carefully executed plan to stay involved in key Republican policy circles and the national discourse. Haley has fundraised for almost a dozen Republican Senate candidates, many of them in tough re-election races, and has been a special guest at Republican Governors Association (RGA) events.

While Haley has dismissed reports about her running for VP, her being an influential person of colour could help Trump win constituencies he is currently losing.

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The US Presidential elections are a spectacle observed globally and India would be hoping Trump wins and Haley gets elected as the VP. Haley enjoys nationwide popularity amongst Indian-Americans and her election as VP could lead to stronger ties between Washington and New Delhi.

She has natural links to India with her parents having emigrated to the US in the 1960s from Punjab. Haley has often pointed out that India is an example of a free government and recently even applauded New Delhi’s decision to ban 59 Chinese applications and for standing up to China.

With an Indian-American at the helm of affairs, New Delhi would see it as an opportunity to get closer to Washington. It could lead to India benefitting in the areas of trade, defence and investment and would be a huge blow to neighbours China and Pakistan.

US Presidential elections are scheduled to take place in November and will be contested between Donald Trump and Joe Biden. While Biden’s re-election does not mean that India and the United States will have weak relations, having Trump in the White House and Haley as VP would definitely lead to stronger Indo-American ties.

Armaan Srivastava. Views Personal

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