Awareness is What We Lack! [Archives:1999/50/Viewpoint]

December 13 1999

Until now, we are receiving a lot of responses from worldwide organizations about the seminar organized by Yemen Times last week. The idea of a newspaper holding such a seminar which was attended by the President of the Republic is indeed something not achievable every day. As Yemen Times, we see this is a major step in giving human rights its actual value. In the seminar, we discussed several issues regarding the treatment of women, political rights, freedom of the press and other important issues. We have come to the conclusion that Yemen still has a long way to go in order to be a country with a minimal record of human rights violations, for if we did not have such violations, we would not have organized such a seminar in the first place. It is a courageous act to admit that there are such violations, and we need to have them sorted out and minimized. 
The first thing we should do is spread awareness of human rights. How can a policeman not treat an accused person harshly if he himself thinks that it is his right to do whatever he wants with the defendant. How can the defendant accept this harsh treatment if he does not realize that it is his right to be treated respectfully as a human being no matter how guilty he is. 
The same thing applies for population growth. As was once stated by the Yemen Times, Yemen has the fastest growing population in the whole world. Yemen’s population has a 3.7% annual growth rate and is expected to double in size every 19 years. Fertility levels are amongst the highest in the world, with 7-8 births per women, even though child mortality and deaths while giving birth are extremely high. This has been devastating the economy for several years now. If we look carefully at this issue, we will realize that the lack of appropriate education and awareness among the public is the main reason behind this extreme growth. The president himself has many times expressed his concern over this population growth. However, there must also be appropriate methods of spreading awareness about the importance of family planning for a prosperous future for each and every family. 
Qat is yet another issue that reflects the need to spread awareness. Several medical reports state that qat plants are not poisoned by chemical pesticides that could sometimes lead to serious diseases to the ones who chew them. One of these diseases is said to be hepatitis B. A UN human development report of 1998 put Yemen in the 152nd place in a list of 202 countries around the world regarding poor health conditions. Around 15% of the Yemeni population are afflicted by hepatitis B. 
There have been positive signs regarding spreading awareness about immunization campaigns. I want to congratulate the ministry of health for its efforts on this issue. However, there are still many issues to add to immunization, including some of vital importance, such as family planning, and limiting the habit of chewing qat. 
The problem is that things are not getting better at all. While the country faces a lot of difficulties in almost every sector of life, the awareness level is not significantly increasing. 
It is about time for the government to concentrate on spreading awareness among the public on the dangers of qat, population growth, human rights and other issues. 
We have several ways to spread awareness. One is to use the electronic media (TV and radio), others include holding seminars that should be covered intensively by the media. Unfortunately, the TV channels are not focusing enough on these issues, but rather broadcasting other less significant programs that do not have a positive objective in mind. In a country of 70% illiteracy, and 80% rural population, the role of TV should be more effective in spreading awareness of the mentioned issues. I believe that it is in the hand of the government to do so, after all, if there is a will there is always a way. Walid Abdulaziz Al-Saqqaf    Chief Editor