Msia pushes reading nation aspiration under National Reading Decade programme

December 14th, 2018
Education Minister Dr Maszlee Malik reads a story book after launching the National Reading Decade (DMK) programme in Putrajaya. – —NSTP/AHMAD IRHAM MOHD NOOR

PUTRAJAYA: The Education Ministry has a long to-do list to promote reading culture in Malaysia under the 10-year National Reading Decade (DMK) 2021-2030 programme.

Its minister Dr Maszlee Malik said the DMK programme, scheduled to be launched early next year, aimed to turn Malaysia into a Reading Nation by 2030.

“Nonetheless, work will start from now until 2020, with focus on the DMK campaign,” he said at the pre-launch of the DMK programme today.

Strategies to implement DMK, he listed, would include establishing strategic networks and mobilising programmes to encourage reading at various places including schools, public interest spots, shopping centres, public transport and hospitals.

“Just imagine, if we can have reading corners at all these places, even at the petrol stations, R&R stops, the mamak shops and fast food chains, where people can access and donate books,” said Maszlee, adding that perhaps consideration should be given to the underprivileged groups, who were qualified to receive tithes and other aid, for their children to be given books.

The minister also said reading ambassadors would be appointed under the #MALAYSIAMEMBACA slogan, which would be popularised nationwide, adding the need to translate more great works to Bahasa Melayu and vice-versa as well as provide special incentives including tax exemption for programmes to encourage reading and contribution given for the development of libraries and the book industry.

He said steps would be taken to have better access to e-books via ubiquitous library, free e-book zone, digital magazines as well as libraries for audio book and braille.

On Malaysians’ reading habit, Maszlee said people read 15 books a year based on an interim report on Malaysian reading habit in 2014 compared to two books a year in 2007.

He also said Malaysians’ literacy rate stood at 94.94 per cent based on the Unesco Institute for Statistics’ Adult and Youth Literacy National Regional and Global Trends 1985-2015.

A study by the Central Connecticut State University entitled “The World’s Most Literate Nation” had ranked Malaysia at the 53rd spot, far behind neighbouring countries including Singapore which had secured 36th place, he said.

“The study has declared the Nordic nations (Finland, Norway, Iceland, Denmark and Sweden) as the most literate nations in the world,” Mazslee said, stressing on the importance of reading by saying that a great nation is a reading nation.

By Azura Abas.

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Let knowledge of Islam be the foundation of living

December 13th, 2018
(File pix) Muslim engineers and scientists repurposed the astrolabe to determine prayer times and the ‘qiblah’, the direction that Muslims should pray to.

THE repurposing of the astrolabe in the eighth and ninth centuries to determine Muslim prayer times (waqt) and direction (qiblah) is an example of Islamic ingenuity (hiyal) in solving problems encountered when performing religious obligations.

It shows that through their worldview, Muslim engineers and scientists had developed solutions to problems related to elements that concerned the community.

The works of Muslim engineers and scientists who repurposed the astrolabe, such as Banu Musa in the ninth century, were fitting examples of how the worldview of Islam and the appreciation of science as a study of signs of God (ayatu’llah) promoted the advancement of science and technology, which benefited not only Muslims, but also the world.

Although the origin of the astrolabe was Greek, it has gained the emblematic status of technological advancement in the Muslim world that just by invoking its name conjures up the picture of Islam and its adherents.

Prophet Muhammad’s exhortations, such as to maintain cleanliness and to place premiums on water as the primary cleaning agent, have always been at the centre of their design consideration. For example, Banu Musa and the 13th-century successor, Al-Jazari, who focused on facilitating the transportation and dispensation of water, took them seriously when devising their ingenious mechanical devices.

Muslim scientific and technological activities should let us realise that the civilisational aspect of Islam is able to perfect what it inherited, and endow what it made with beauty. Such is the case with the astrolabe—its image popularly adorns the cover of books discussing Muslim advancements of science during what orientalists refer to as the “Golden Age” of Islam.

Indeed, science and technology are useful to mankind. However, it is also important to realise that it is the human being who is giving the value of utility based on his experience, as well as his education, in the knowledge of virtues and morality.

In his book Tinjauan Ringkas Peri Ilmu dan Pandangan Alam (A Brief Examination of Knowledge and Worldview), Muslim thinker Professor Syed Muhammad Naquib al-Attas alluded science and technology to the metaphor of the knife — their oldest, simplest and closest application as a tool that is indispensable in today’s modern-day living — that can be used for either good or evil.

Therefore, it is of utmost importance for society to produce from within it good men who will ensure that science and technology are used for good.

With its ever-changing values and redefinitions, science and technology cannot, and should not, be made the supplier of our moral compass; rather, right and complete knowledge of our religion must be made the foundation of living because it is the one that evaluates life.

So it is clear that it is the human being who needs to be educated with good values supplied by religion as a source of worldview, but there is a need to extend the question on much more complex technology, given that our lives today have grown more in complexity that necessitates the proliferation of more laws to rectify social, economic and political disharmony.

Today, our ability to resolve crises has not surpassed our tendency to cause them, despite scientific and technological advances. For this reason, we need to re-examine our concepts and notions of technology. Our worldview, ethics and epistemology are determinants in the conception, implementation and deployment of science and technology. For Muslim scientists and engineers, these are supplied by their understanding of Islam.

For Muslims, watchfulness and vigilance must be exercised against purposeless materialism resulting from a false sense of the greater abundance of physical means at the expense of time, as well as excessive enjoyment of the present that impedes worship and contemplative life.

By Muhammad Husni Mohd Amin

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Water is life, use it wisely, don’t waste it

December 13th, 2018

MALAYSIA is a country rich in water resources. In 2016, it recorded 907 million cubic meters (m3 ) of annual rainfall. The average annual rainfall is quite high, between 2,000mm and 4,000mm a year. The abundant quantity of water resources allows us to sell water to neighbouring Singapore.

On providing water to consumers, 95 per cent of the population have access to water. The country’s water tariffs are also among the lowest in the world.

There is also no limit on the use of water. With the wealth of water resources, it seems impossible that we would face water shortages. But, unfortunately, we do.

Since the 1970s the country has faced several water crises — in 1977 and 1978 in Peninsular Malaysia’s northwest; 1982 and 1991 in Kedah and Perlis (the Pedu and Muda Dam), 1998 in Kedah, Penang and Kuala Lumpur (as an impact of the El Nino) and in 2002 drought which affected Perlis and caused a water shortage.

The water crises have led to water rationing and affected the life and wellbeing of many users. In 2014, when there was an unusually dry season, the water rationing lasted for months. In 2016, 85,000 people in Johor faced water rations due to low water levels in water treatment plants.

Malaysia also faces the problem of high non-revenue water (NRW). This is one of the main causes of water shortage. In 2016, the NRW ratio was at 35.2 per cent. Perlis recorded the highest at 60.7 per cent, while the other states that recorded more than 40 per cent were Sabah (52 per cent), Kelantan (49.4 per cent), Pahang (47.9 per cent) and Kedah (46.7 per cent).

The rates were extremely high compared to Japan (three per cent) or Singapore (five per cent). Mostly, the loss of water occur as a result of pipe leakage and water theft. Household and commercial water users can and should play an active role by reporting the problem to the authorities. Problems such pipe leakage or burst pipe could be resolved sooner if we reported the cases. But, are consumers aware of their roles? Do they make a report immediately, or are they just apathetic?

Consumers have a direct impact on water problems. For example, excessive water contributes to wastage.

Based on the Malaysia Water Industry Guide (2015), the average water consumption per person (water consumption per capita) is 211 litres per day in 2014.

Water consumption varies by state — the highest water consumption of 293 litres per capita per day is Penang and the lowest is Sabah (114 litres per capita per day). This is above the World Health Organisation recommended rate of 165 litres per capita per day.

Water consumption among Malaysians is indeed high. Why is this? Are we not aware of our abundant water resources that we do not appreciate what we have? Is the problem related to the low price of water? Yes, the price of water in Malaysia is among the lowest in the world.

Perhaps, that is why Malaysians take it for granted because they do not feel the pinch.

Our water resources are also threatened by pollution, which affect the quality and quantity of the water. If this condition is left unattended, the state of water resources cannot be maintained or sustained.

We have to protect our water resources and water-related ecosystems such as the forests, mountains, wetlands and rivers.

Water-related problems must be addressed soon, and for the long term to ensure the water’s availability and sustainability. Failing that, we would not be able to meet the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 2030 target, which is to ensure access to clean water and sanitation for all.

Water conservation is our duty.

In Islam, water is a valuable resource and “abusing” it is against the principles of environmental conservation. The principles can be translated into the understanding that Allah created everything in this world which includes water.

Water is vital to all forms of life; the destruction of water resources would mean the destruction of other forms of life as well. To protect the life of other creatures, water must be conserved.

By Azrina Sobian.

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No thanks for all the education

December 13th, 2018
(File pix) The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Pix by NSTP/Rosela Ismail

MOVING from the school bench to the workstation may have been a smooth transition for Malaysian baby boomers. Not so for our young Malaysians aged between 15 and 29, according to Khazanah Research Institute’s (KRI) School-To-Work Transition Survey 2017/2018 (SWTS) released yesterday.

KRI’s survey talks of “a number of difficulties young Malaysian men and women encounter in their transition from school to work.” To put it bluntly, many of our young lads and ladies just cannot make the transition. This shouldn’t surprise us. The Malaysian Employers Federation’s laments of yore prepared us for this. So did the capacious comments of academics and NGOs. In fact, KRI’s Inception Note to SWTS quotes employers as saying that Malaysian universities are not producing “employable” graduates with the skills, industrial training and soft skills, such as the ability to think critically and creatively, to communicate effectively and work independently. Others too have shared similar stories. A 2014 study conducted by the World Bank in collaboration with the Institute for Labour Market Information and Analysis, Ministry of Human Resources, too came to similar conclusion, ending with a call to revamp Malaysia’s education and training system. The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s Economic Assessment of Malaysia 2016 added to the chorus of voices calling for the re-purposing of our education system.

There was plenty of evidence on the ground, too. Quoting the Higher Education Ministry’s Graduate Tracer Study of 2016, KRI said that 23 per cent of Malaysian graduates were out of a job six months after graduating. Of the 57 per cent employed, 15 per cent were in part-time jobs. Even PhD graduates faced a similar fate: 16 per cent of them were unemployed in 2016. The decline apparently has an earlier history. In 2014, there were 450,000 Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia certificate holders, but only 250,000 of them continued with some form of tertiary education. It is not just the universities that are ailing; schools, too, are hit with the blight.

We cannot, of course, blame all our ailments on our education system. But that is a very good place to look for a cure. And we must begin at the beginning. What really is the purpose of education? Some argue that an education system’s aim should be to produce intellectuals. Martin Luther King Jr. thought not.

We agree. “The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. But education which stops with efficiency may prove the greatest menace to society. The most dangerous criminal may be the man gifted with reason but no morals. We must remember that intelligence is not enough.

By NST .

On a mission to reduce inequalities

December 13th, 2018
Teaching children about hygiene in Myanmar
THERE are those who anguish and harbour the ambition to reduce the inequalities in society — income, education, health, and nutrition, for example — but not many has the grit to do something about it.

Loh Rachel, 21, a final-year psychology bachelor’s degree student at HELP university, is one of the few determined to make a difference.

Having had the privilege of attending REAL International School for her highschool education and HELP International School for A-levels, Loh has often sought ways to give back to those who have had lesser opportunities in education and in life.

“It was also a way to develop myself, finding ways to push myself out of my comfort zone,” she said.

One of the key moments that kicked off her cause was when she joined the Asean Youth Volunteer Programme, organised by Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, which was held in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, in 2015.

Selected from 2,000 youths Asean-wide to join a group of 50, Loh participated in a four-week intensive climate change and environmental education leadership programme that focused on project management and environmental sustainability in Krakor Village, Cambodia.

“The programme focused on Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR), and key areas were hygiene and sanitation. Among the activities we had was to teach the particular village community in Cambodia to use hygiene products. It was my first time meeting children who didn’t even know what soap was.

It gave me the realisation that not everybody has the same opportunities or exposure.”

This led on to her involvement in various organisations. These included The International Council of Malaysian Scholars and Associates (ICMS) where she was the executive director of external outreach and publicity, spearheading marketing campaigns for over 10 student-led initiatives aimed at professional development and preparing them for the working world.

Loh is also involved in the United Nations Association of Malaysia (UNAM) Youth looking into the UN Sustainable Development Goal which is addressing inequality through health.

While focusing on volunteerism, Loh also has an interest to develop her business skills. Last year, she was named Maybank Go Ahead Challenge 2017 global champion out of 40,000 participants in the international business case competition.

From her passion in volunteerism and business, she formed an international social enterprise Rise Inc with her friends whom she met through the International Council of Malaysian Scholar and Associates.

Loh is the chief operating officer at Rice Inc which aims to tackle food insecurity and farmers poverty. They are currently running a pilot project in Myanmar which looks into ensuring farmers are not shortchanged and are able to use the existing technology provided by Rice Inc to eradicate poverty where they can.

“What Rice Inc does is to create a supply chain solution, where farmers are provided access to the rice dryers at an affordable cost and enabling them to sell rice at a higher price.

“We are partnering with International Rice Research Institute who have been conducting a lot of work in Myanmar. They are able to identify certain villagers that need this solution.

“We are currently deploying this solution which is in operations during the harvest season.

We are working on a five-year plan to expand to more villagers in Myanmar. We are also looking at farmer communities in countries like the Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam to expand,” Loh said.

With all the achievements under her belt, Loh was selected as one of the two participants representing Malaysia in the Telenor Youth Forum (TYF) 2018 in Oslo, Norway.

Loh joined other accomplished young leaders from seven of Telenor’s markets across the world for the sixth installment of TYF, a six month-long global programme designed and hosted by Telenor Group and the Nobel Peace Centre. This year’s delegation is challenged to address inequalities in health through the use of digital technology.

“I am really passionate about reducing inequalities, and for me, to gain exposure to international ideas at the forum, to work with them and connect with industry experts to tackle these social issues are some of the things I am most excited about.”

Along with co-founder of social enterprise Arus Education, Felicia Yoon, 28, Loh edged out of 90 other participants and recently headed for Oslo on Dec 8-11 to work with their assigned teams. Yoon and Loh are among the 16 youths, aged 20 to 28 selected from a pool of 5,000 applicants from Bangladesh, Denmark, Malaysia, Myanmar, Norway, Pakistan, Sweden and Thailand to represent their countries at TYF.

Loh already has plans beyond her graduation early next year. The full scholarship student is aiming for a first class honours degree.

“I am exploring opportunities through Rice Inc and what the Telenor experience would bring.Iwould like to work in the corporate environment first to gain experience but ultimately I would like to positively contribute to the community in various ways,” she said.


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Theatre Performance at SIDMA College Sabah – by the students and for the students

December 12th, 2018

SIDMA College UNITAR Sabah is strongly committed in instilling the campus with the objective of developing education and training along the whole life; the expression of the will of promoting the highest level of knowledge possible through a wide access to education, or an integrated education, both inside and outside the classroom, thus empowering students to develop a fuller array of competencies, skills and knowledge, and of unleashing their creative potential.

The College encourages students to pursue opportunities for learning and professional growth, based on the college‘s own institutional and external sources. Such an environment is essential in maintaining and building a competent work force that will meet the ever changing demands of our time, while working towards being one of the leading private institutions of higher learning in Sabah as well as to being the “Champion of Change”.

On 11th December 2018, the final year students who took Language and Theatre class (ESLB 4044/ ESLB3194) organized two Theatre Performance (The Arcane Hunter and Brunswick in Penelope Land) at SIDMA College City Campus, Penampang for all students, lecturers and guest. The performance was to showcase students’ creative thinking skills from their collaborative experience as well as their theoretical examination of theatre practice, before developing their own conceptual understanding and the application of skills related to the theatre discipline in performance, scenography and theatre production.

The first performance, The Arcane Hunter, touches on mystery, crime and fantasy where the main actor goes on a demon hunt to kill Azrael. While the second performance is about fantasy and musical where Brunswick, a writer, goes on a journey of discovery to finish his book and stumble upon a magical dreaming tree. Throughout the course, the students were exposed to interactive activities that introduced them to different learning styles of individuals, especially with references to the students. Moreover, participants were also able to share their thoughts and experiences in teaching students based on the different learning styles, with alignment of the 21st century teaching aspects; communicative, creative, critical thinking skills and collaborative skills.

It is hoped that from the course, students will have the opportunities to acquire new knowledge and enhance their creative growth. Many of the students when met, expressed their pleasures in joining such developing programs.

SIDMA College UNITAR Sabah, since its establishment in Kota Kinabalu Sabah in 2002 has prosper jubilantly over the years, and rapidly emerged as the first and largest UNITAR regional centre in Malaysia; as well as offering its home grown academic programmes.

List of Academic Programmes offered at SIDMA College UNITAR Sabah for its 2018 / 2019 intake is as follows:

  • Foundation Course:
    • Foundation in Management.
  • Diploma Courses:
    • Diploma in Early Childhood Education
    • Diploma in Occupational Safety and Health
    • Diploma in Management.
  • Bachelor’s Degree Courses:
    • Bachelor of Education (Hons)
    • Bachelor of Education (Early Childhood Education) Hons.
    • Bachelor of Business Administration (Hons)
    • Bachelor of Management (Hons).
  • Masters Courses:
    • Masters of Business Administration (MBA)
    • Masters of Education (Education Leadership and Management)
    • Masters of Education (Early Childhood Education.
    • Masters of Education (TESl)

For more information on any of the above courses offered at SIDMA College UNITAR Sabah, please browse SIDMA College Sabah Website, or liked  SIDMA College Facebook Accountt. Interested candidates are cordially invited to visit SIDMA College UNITAR Sabah located at Jalan Bundusan, 88300 Kota Kinabalu; or call SIDMA Hotline at 088-732 000 or 088-732 020.

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Impact of mental illness stigma

December 11th, 2018
(Stock image for illustration purposes) Stigma devalues a person and affects his self-image.

GOOD mental health is something we all need. It is a feeling of wellbeing, happiness, the ability to cope with life’s many challenges, to accept others and, most of all, to have a positive attitude towards oneself.

Scientific and medical research demonstrates that mental health is a foundation for good health as physical and mental health are inseparable. Despite its increasing significance, the reality is that governments, public health practitioners and citizens alike devote little attention and consequently fewer resources to mental health.

Meanwhile, the suffering caused by mental illness and mental disorders is quite staggering. Patients with mental illness suffer a great deal and are unable to function normally. On top of that, they face discrimination and rejection from the community, and this has a detrimental effect on their recovery.

According to the World Health Organisation, one in four individuals develops a common mental disorder, such as depression or anxiety, every year. Two in every 100 people in our community develop schizophrenia or manic depression (bipolar disorder) in their lifetime. Two to three per cent of all families have a family member who is affected by intellectual disability. Five of the 10 leading causes of disability are mental disorders — depression, substance abuse, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder.

The symptoms of a mental disorder may greatly reduce one’s ability to work, study or participate in community life. The disorder could also lead to other health problems, and in some cases, even suicide. To make matters worse, if one suffers from a mental disorder, he may be shunned by the community.

Why do we do so little? According to WHO, on average, the 37 countries and areas in the Western Pacific region devote less than one per cent of their health budgets to the treatment and prevention of mental disorders. Region-wide, one in five individuals who seeks the help of a healthcare professional suffers from a mental disorder. Of this number, only a fraction are properly diagnosed, and of those who are, few ever get treatment or receive appropriate care.

The number of people at risk of developing mental health problems is increasing daily. People in developing and developed countries of the Western Pacific region are becoming increasingly vulnerable to mental illness.

It is believed that depression will be one of the largest health problems worldwide by 2020. Surveys show that mental disorders occur in one in five individuals, or 20 per cent of the world population, each year.

There is growing evidence to show that the burden of disease in societies is gradually but surely moving towards mental diseases. While heart disease, cancer and HIV-AIDS take their toll yearly in the form of death, mental disorders, such as depression, are rapidly becoming a major source of stress not only to the individual and his family, but also to his community.

In Malaysia, most mental health promotions are focused on the individual. We have overlooked other essential factors, such as the environment in which we live in. Is our environment conducive to the development of healthy bodies and minds?

Poorly planned urbanisation and uncontrolled deforestation could contribute to poor mental health of the people. Unstable economic status, increased unemployment, poverty and severe stress have proven disruptive to mental health as well.

When dealing with mental disorders, it is essential to address the stigma attached to it. Stigma devalues a person and affects his self-image. Some of the harmful effects of stigma include refusal to accept illness, delaying or refusing treatment, isolation, fear and shame.

Creating greater awareness of mental health, empowering the mentally sick and their family members to stand up against the stigma and discrimination through education and engaging the public to understand the issues related to mental disorders are some strategies that can be undertaken to de-stigmatise mental illness.


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School holidays a great time to nurture minds

December 11th, 2018
(File pic) Some children feel that school holidays are the perfect time for them to do whatever they want. (NSTP/SALHANI IBRAHIM)

THE holiday season is on and schoolchildren jump for joy as they look forward to spending time on their hobbies and holiday plans. This may be a happy time of the year, but it is also a risky one as children may s quander time and money while engaging in unhealthy activities, especially when they are left unsupervised.

Some children feel that school holidays are the perfect time for them to do whatever they want.

It is a great challenge for parents to ensure that their children do not engage in inappropriate and immoral activities. Parents need to correct their children’s mindset that something interesting is not always right, while something good is not always boring.

When it comes to making a move to ameliorate a situation, it is now or never, as there will come a time when it will be too difficult for rebellious and disobedient children to ditch bad habits like smoking, vaping, loitering or watching pornography.

Parents need to set strict, yet smart, house rules that include dos and don’ts. When children are trained to wake up and go to bed early, make their bed, and keep their bedroom clean, they grow up into organised, disciplined and responsible adults.

This will make it easier for them to manage time, finance and stress .

Unhealthy activities like staying up all night playing video games, watching television, and sharing and checking updates on social media should be limited as this digital immersion and obsession encourages a sedentary lifestyle, affects social interaction skills and is bad for their body and brain.

The overuse of gadgets will neither help them forget problems nor relieve their stress.

Reading, cycling, fishing or having a picnic by the lake are therapeutic ways to spend time that will never go out of style. Books will expand knowledge and imagination while nature will clear minds and calm hearts.

By Muhamad Solahudin Raml.

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More needs to be done for a peaceful and just world

December 10th, 2018
Children from an Mro community look at boats delivering rice bags from a local NGO near Buthidaung, Rakhine, Myanmar. The violence taking place there is a human rights violation. Reuters

SEVENTY years ago, on Dec 10, 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was adopted by the United Nations (UN). The UDHR, which for many is the most influential document of the last century, begins with a powerful statement, declaring that “the inherent dignity” and “equal and inalienable rights” of all people are the “foundation of freedom, justice and peace”.

What a vision, emerging immediately after the dark years of World War 2. How revolutionary to proclaim that “dignity is inherent” and that “rights are equal and inalienable for all” in an era, when half the world was still under colonial regime.

When the UDHR was adopted, the UN was just three years old. The UN Charter obliged all member nations to promote “universal respect for human rights”, but this was not further defined. During World War II, the world witnessed a multitude of apocalyptic events that led to the deaths of tens of millions of people, leaving a permanent scar and an indelible mark on mankind.

While there were many reasons contributing to the war, extreme nationalism stemming from the indoctrination of racial superiority was a key factor that triggered it. Cognisant of this root cause, the UN established a drafting committee comprising experts from different parts of the world, including from Asia and the Middle East, who developed the UDHR based on the common values and principles of all major cultures and religions of the world. From this, emerged the Declaration that was founded on the core principle that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.

The UDHR, which is considered the “mother” of all human rights documents, consists of 30 Articles, covering both civil and political rights, as well as economic, social and cultural rights. They address an array of basic human needs, including life and liberty, private and family life, thought and expression, education and health, and work. The Articles form the very foundation of what is known today as international human rights law, comprising the various UN treaties, conventions and jurisprudence.

In the 70 years since the General Assembly passed the UDHR, it is fair to say that the world has changed dramatically. A comprehensive wave of decolonisation swept the globe in the following three decades; scores of human rights treaties elaborated on the articles of the UDHR, specifying how states are accountable to promote and protect human rights; treaties were translated into national constitutions, legislation and adjudication; development around the globe advanced life quality, education and life expectancy.

Despite such progress, one cannot overlook the alarming situations of societal tensions and conflict that are taking place across the globe. In some areas, we see racism and xenophobia gaining ground, especially against minorities and vulnerable groups with disregard for human dignity. Human rights serve as the common value framework that bridges the differences between peoples — peoples of various ethnicities, cultures, religions and beliefs, gender, political views, nationalities and other status. The recognition of human dignity and equal rights are the foundation for justice, and the respect for human rights promotes social cohesion and is therefore a precursor to peace and stability. Hence the human rights agenda is a powerful framework for a country rich in diversity like Malaysia. Because human dignity is established and promoted in all religions and faiths, the promotion and protection of human rights will be a unifying force in Malaysia’s multi-religious and multi-ethnic setting.

Human rights include a set of minimum standards applicable to all human beings, which seek to ensure that even the most vulnerable and disadvantaged of peoples can benefit from the fruits of development and enjoy a life of meaning and self-worth. As such, human rights are a precondition for “leaving no one behind”, which is pivotal to the achievement of the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that all 193 UN member states unanimously adopted in 2015. A human rights-based approach ensures a people-centred and inclusive development agenda that can effectively address pockets of deprivation and reach those who live on the fringes of development such as low-income earners, indigenous peoples, persons with disabilities, refugees, migrant workers and the undocumented

In addition, human rights act as a safeguard against excessive use of force and abuse of power by the state. They are also imperative to democracy, espoused by the right to freedom of opinion and of expression, the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association as well as the right to vote.

In this regard, the United Nations Country Team (UNCT) commends Malaysia for successfully expanding the democratic space, political and civil liberties in the country, following its historic 14th General Election and stands ready to support its transformative reform agenda.

On the 70th anniversary of the UDHR, it is only befitting to remind ourselves how far we have come since the cataclysmic world wars that brought untold sorrow to mankind, and to reflect how much more needs to be done to further consolidate and bolster a peaceful and just society.

We must all understand and appreciate that human rights are universal to all of us and promoting greater respect for human rights will create an enabling environment for people to make choices in life for their own good and well-being. In essence, human rights are basic to human existence; human dignity will only be intact when human rights are respected, protected and fulfilled.

By Stefan Priesner.

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Looking beyond oil

December 10th, 2018
Wind turbines and solar panels are a feature of the landscape in Zhangjiakou, Hebei province, China. Southeast Asia is cited as a potential renewable energy hotspot. Reuters

ALTHOUGH expected for some time, the recent establishment by Petronas of a “New Energy” team to look at renewables for possible future sources of energy is a far-sighted and welcome development.

Petronas has expressed interest over the last year to diversify into renewables amid low oil prices. In March, its chief executive officer Tan Sri Wan Zulkiflee Wan Ariffin said Petronas would explore new business areas including new energy, citing opportunities in solar power in particular.

Petronas joins a number of large global oil and gas firms looking into renewables, including ExxonMobil, Royal Dutch Shell, BP and Total — all of which are raising investment in cleaner energy.

Why the interest in renewable energy (RE)?

It’s reliable, plentiful and will continue to decrease in cost as technology and infrastructure improve. In addition to solar and wind, the RE portfolio includes geothermal, hydropower and tidal energy, and biofuels from algae. And, of course, these energy sources produce few emissions of carbon dioxide which cause the greenhouse effect and global warming.

With respect to electricity generation, the latest United Nations figures show that the world last year installed a record 98 gigawatts of new solar capacity, far more than the net additions of any other technology — renewable, fossil fuel or nuclear.

Solar power last year attracted far more investment, at RM699 billion, up 18 per cent, than any other technology. According to the annual Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment 2018 report, produced by UN Environment, the Frankfurt School-UNEP Collaborating Centre, and Bloomberg New Energy Finance, investments in solar power made up 57 per cent of the 2017 total for all renewables (excluding large hydro) of RM1.15 trillion, “and it towered above new investment in coal and gas generation capacity”, estimated at RM428 billion.

A driving power behind last year’s surge in solar was China, where an unprecedented boom saw some 53 gigawatts added — more than half the global total — and RM359 billion invested, up 58 per cent.

Driving the trend are falling costs for solar electricity, and to some extent wind power. Global investment in renewables has exceeded RM830 billion for eight consecutive years. Since 2004, the world has invested RM12.2 trillion in these green energy sources.

That said, renewables generated just 12.1 per cent of world electricity in 2017. That’s up from 5.2 per cent a decade earlier, but still a small fraction of total world energy needs.

The writing is on the wall, nonetheless. With growing evidence of the impacts and rising cost of climate change, pressure is building to reduce CO2 emissions. On Dec 2, negotiators from around the world opened the United Nations’ annual climate change conference, now three years after a landmark deal in Paris set a goal to keep global warming well below 2° Celsius.

Displacing and replacing fossil fuels won’t be easy and the world’s big oil companies, with their global infrastructure networks, are among the most important allies in this effort.

And as one commentator recently observed, the big energy firms have the most to lose if they fall behind the technology curve. They need to lead the march towards clean energy sources.

ExxonMobil is spending RM4.2 billion per year on basic research in low-carbon technologies, with a major focus on genetically engineered algae being farmed with an aim to produce an initial 10,000 barrels per day of renewable crude, which can then be upscaled to larger levels. Among other efforts, ExxonMobil is also partnering with America’s largest biodiesel producer, Renewable Energy Group, to create microbes that could turn waste biomass into biodiesel fuel.

BP, meanwhile, produces about 200 million gallons of low-carbon ethanol each year in Brazil. Its three facilities there also burn leftover agricultural wastes to power themselves and add 850 gigawatt-hours of electricity to the grid.

Meanwhile, BP and DuPont have formed a joint venture to use genetically engineered microbes to manufacture butanol, an alcohol that can be blended into gasoline, much like ethanol is added in the US. The annual US market opportunity for butanol is estimated at more than 20 billion gallons.

Royal Dutch Shell is focused on solar power and energy efficiency. It also recently acquired a firm specialising in power management solutions.

It is the giant French company Total that leads all the world’s energy firms in green energy investments. Its goal is to generate 20 per cent of its business from low-carbon products within 20 years. Its venture capital fund has invested RM667 million in about 20 projects and it owns over half of a global solar company starting to turn sustainable profits.

The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) recently cited Southeast Asia as a potential RE hotspot. Unfortunately, the agency said, the region lacks policy frameworks that would encourage investment. That needs to change.

By Zakri Abdul Hamid.

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