University of Reading Research Blog

COVID-19 exposes the UK: Rights for All means Rights for Some

As stated by Professor Rosa Freedman, human rights belong to all people by virtue of them being human this is the first core principle of the UDHR. Yet more than 7 decades after the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the notion of having access to rights just because you are born is not a guarantee. In 2020, rights are politicised, criticised and not fully implemented into institutions, some of which I will discuss.

Accessibility of rights is left to the state to implement them (i.e. the government). This means that the government has to ensure our rights are protected. However, over the years this theory has not been easy to fulfil as we have found certain rights such as Article 3 ‘Right to Life’ or Article 15 ‘Freedom from Torture’ may be easier to fulfil as they require, the state to not harm humanity directly. But a right, such as everyone should have the ‘Right to Housing’ or the ‘Right to Education’ is harder for the government to achieve as these are economic social rights which require the government to intervene and create laws/ policies in order to achieve this right.

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Human rights around the world – here’s what we need to do.

Today is Human Rights Day; a day designated by the United Nations to draw attention to the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. That Declaration set out 30 fundamental rights belonging to all persons by virtue of being born human. But 72 years later grave abuses continue around the world.

The modern concept of human rights created in 1948 sought to remedy the power imbalance between the strong state and the weak individual. In the aftermath of the grave horrors of Nazi Germany, the UN sought to ensure that never again could a government order the mass discrimination let alone mass extermination that the Nazis perpetrated against Germany’s own citizens.

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Why COVID-19 has left the UK especially vulnerable to flooding this winter

Winter is here and, as a researcher who monitors flooding, I find it more daunting than ever. The UK faces a formidable trend of warmer and wetter winters, which already increase the risk of floods. On top of that, COVID-19 will make these cold, dark, winter days feel even more isolating.

You may be thinking “how are COVID-19 and flooding related?” Unfortunately, the link is really not that tenuous. The long periods of lockdown this year have affected flood preparation and management on both an individual and national scale. These government-mandated lockdowns have meant normal day-to-day activities have been temporarily put on hold, and that includes not just pub lunches and gym sessions but also the integral maintenance of flood interventions.

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How do we protect our soils?

To mark World Soils Day (5 December) Professor Chris Collins looks at the state of the World’s soils and what the future might hold. In its latest report on the status of global soils the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation stated that their future was bleak without action to halt degradation.

Soils provide habitat for a quarter of all the animal species on Earth, the cycle the nutrients that provide our food, prevent flooding and store carbon to mitigate climate change.

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Christmas coming early: there’s never been a right time to put up the decorations

In the words of Perry Como’s classic, “it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas”. The pandemic has got many yearning for a little festive joy earlier than usual and, for some, it started looking like Christmas in early November. Trees, lights, tinsel and baubles were already appearing in streets and houses, and Christmas shopping was well underway.

But such early holiday spirit is not always well received by those who argue that Christmas is for, well, Christmas. It wouldn’t be Christmas though without such disagreements – they’ve been going on since early Christians started celebrating the birth of Christ.

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Ethiopia’s troubled history provides clues to why an all-out civil war is possible

Ethiopia’s government, under Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, is carrying out a military offensive in Tigray, Ethiopia’s most northern state. A six month state of emergency has been declared in the region. Dozens of casualties have been reported amid fears that nine million people are at risk of being displaced.

The offensive follows accusations by Ahmed’s government that forces loyal to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, the ruling party in Tigray, attacked a military base. There have since been reports of a number of air strikes on the Tigray capital, Mekelle.

There have been mounting political tensions in the country. The Tigray People’s Liberation Front dominated the country’s military and government before Ahmed took office in 2018. His subsequent formation of a new Prosperity Party saw members of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front removed from critical positions.

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Undergraduate Research Opportunities Programme Showcase 2020

The Undergraduate Research Opportunities Programme (UROP) offers undergraduate students the chance to gain hands-on research experience on projects covering all disciplines across University. These projects take the form of a paid six-week placement during the summer vacation. Of necessity this year many of these projects had to be delivered in different ways. None the less, 79 students submitted their research projects for the showcase which demonstrates the breadth of research being undertaken as well as our support for undergraduate students.

A small judging panel of former UROP supervisors viewed all 79 screencasts and selected four theme winners. Each will receive a small prize and be supported to attend UK undergraduate research conference in 2021. The two overall winners, Sol Sanders-Farmer and Lucy Harwood, will be supported to present at the UK Posters in Parliament, which usually takes place in spring.

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The fourth agricultural revolution is coming – but who will really benefit?

Depending on who you listen to, artificial intelligence may either free us from monotonous labour and unleash huge productivity gains, or create a dystopia of mass unemployment and automated oppression. In the case of farming, some researchers, business people and politicians think the effects of AI and other advanced technologies are so great they are spurring a “fourth agricultural revolution”.

Given the potentially transformative effects of upcoming technology on farming – positive and negative – it’s vital that we pause and reflect before the revolution takes hold. It must work for everyone, whether it be farmers (regardless of their size or enterprise), landowners, farm workers, rural communities or the wider public. Yet, in a recently published study led by the researcher Hannah Barrett, we found that policymakers and the media and policymakers are framing the fourth agricultural revolution as overwhelmingly positive, without giving much focus to the potential negative consequences.

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The foreign policy legacy that Donald Trump leaves Joe Biden

Donald Trump promised the American people that he would “Make America Great Again” by pursuing an America First foreign policy as president. The pledge, made on his inaguration day, stemmed from his belief that the international liberal order created by the US at the end of the second world war no longer served its purpose. America’s expensive commitments abroad had left the country exhausted and overstretched.

While Washington’s elites acted as the policeman of the world, as he saw it European allies were given a free pass on American largesse. Unfair trade agreements and globalisation had caused much damage to the US economy and, as a consequence, Americans struggled with wage stagnation and a rising cost of living. He was not far from the truth: American foreign policy has been in dire straits for quite a few decades.

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Monsoon flooding in Bangladesh: how forecasting can help protect lives and livelihoods

The impacts of the 2020 monsoon floods in Bangladesh were devastating with more than 5 million people affected, 41 deaths and tens of thousands of people from low-lying areas being evacuated to flood shelters along with their cattle. Agriculture is one of the sectors most severely affected by floods and 0.15 million hectares of crop land were damaged by two successive floods waves between June and September. Here Md Sazzad Hossain describes how the GloFAS team are working with the Bangladesh Flood Forecasting and Warning Centre and humanitarian partners to improve flood early warning in Bangladesh.

Houses were inundated so people moved to safer places on the embankment temporarily (Jamalpur). Photo: Flood volunteer, Abdul Manna

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