Things to Note, May 19th

‘Alarming’ military build-up underway in Libya, as COVID-19 heightens insecurity

Stephanie Williams, who is also Acting Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Libya, said on Tuesday that while the rest of the world adjusts to life with the novel coronavirus, Libyans have dealt with almost constant bombardment and frequent water and electricity outages during the holy month Ramadan.

At the same time, an “alarming” military build-up is underway as foreign backers send increasingly sophisticated and lethal weapons to the warring sides – the UN-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) and the so-called opposition Libyan National Army (LNA) led by General Khalifa Haftar. The General’s forces began laying siege to southern parts of the capital Tripoli, more than a year ago.

The vast majority of the 58 civilians killed and 190 injured since 1 April are attributed to forces affiliated with General Haftar, she said, adding that those guilty of crimes under international law must be brought to justice.

“From what we are witnessing in terms of the massive influx of weaponry, equipment and mercenaries to the two sides, the only conclusion that we can draw is that this war will intensify, broaden and deepen – with devastating consequences for the Libyan people”, she told the Council.

Brazil submits application to join government procurement pact

“Brazil’s application for accession is historic and recognizes the Agreement’s importance and relevance,” said Carlos Vanderloo of Canada, the chair of the WTO’s Government Procurement Committee. It is particularly notable “because Brazil is the first Latin American economy seeking to join the GPA”.

Brazil was granted observer status by GPA parties in October 2017. At that time, Brazil said its request reflected a desire from the Brazilian people to modernize the economy and improve the management of public resources. Brazil also noted at that point that it had negotiated government procurement chapters in regional and bilateral free trade agreements that were based largely on the provisions of the GPA.

The GPA is a plurilateral WTO agreement, meaning that not all WTO members are parties to the Agreement. It is open to all WTO members but is binding only for those members that have joined it. Each applicant’s terms of participation are negotiated with GPA parties. These terms are set out in its respective schedule, which defines the party’s commitments with respect to:

  • the procuring entities whose procurement processes will be open to foreign bidders
  • the goods, services and construction services open to foreign competition
  • the threshold values above which procurement activities will be open to foreign competition
  • exceptions to the coverage.

Currently, 48 WTO members (including the 27 member states of the European Union and the United Kingdom) are bound by the Agreement.  Australia became the most recent member acceding to the Agreement in 2019.

The GPA aims to open up government procurement markets to foreign competition in a reciprocal manner and to the extent agreed between GPA parties. It also aims to make government procurement more transparent and to promote good governance. Reciprocal market opening assists GPA parties in purchasing goods and services that offer the best value for their money. The Agreement provides legal guarantees of non-discrimination for the goods, services, and suppliers of GPA parties in covered procurement activities, which are worth an estimated USD 1.7 trillion annually.

Community Responses to COVID-19: From the Horn of Africa to the Soloman Islands

To offset the risk of violence and social unrest from the pandemic, the CAUSE is scaling up short-term employment and training activities for vulnerable groups, especially women, youth, the urban poor and many workers in the informal sector who may have lost their main source of income – often small roadside stalls or markets. In the capital, Honiara, the CAUSE is also supporting efforts to increase prevention and awareness efforts through the sanitation of public areas, construction of public hand washing stations, and training workers and communities on key symptoms and prevention measures.

This project is also supporting COVID-19 prevention efforts by helping to reinstate critical roads and access for frontline workers. It is also delivering additional strategic investments to help stimulate the local economy and protect the livelihoods and incomes of some of the most vulnerable. The project is expected to provide benefits to approximately 84,000 people. It currently covers the capital city, Honiara, and five additional urban centers in Guadalcanal, Malaita, and the Western Province. Together, the three largest provinces in the Solomon Islands represent more than 60 percent of the country’s entire population.

These are relatively early days in the World Bank’s efforts to help Governments respond to COVID-19. The operations are drawing lessons from previous pandemics, including the 2014-16 Ebola outbreak, which highlight the importance of community level efforts programs in crisis relief and recovery to complement medical efforts. 

Could dogs help detect COVID-19 in humans?

Dogs have a remarkable sense of smell and scientists are studying whether our canine friends could help identify people infected with the novel coronavirus.

Medical Detection Dogs, a British charity, has already succeeded in training dogs to detect the odor of malaria, cancer, and Parkinson’s disease. Now it is training dogs to spot the odor of COVID-19.

The hope is that these dogs can reliably identify the presence of coronavirus. If successful, these sniffer dogs could be deployed at airports across the globe.

The researchers say they are confident that every disease carries a distinct scent, recognizable to a dog’s keen sense of smell. Claire Guest, the CEO and founder of Medical Detection Dogs, said six dogs — two yellow Labradors, one white Labradoodle and three cocker spaniels — will be the first trainees. The four-legged snoopers, called “the super six,” are led by Asher, a 5-year-old cocker spaniel and an experienced professional in his field.

Guest said it will take four to six weeks to train the first team of dogs, but once they are ready, one dog will be able to screen up to 250 people per hour for coronavirus.

The canine identification would then be confirmed by a precise coronavirus lab test. Eventually teams of trained dogs will be able to screen “up to 1,000 people per hour with a speedy, non-invasive diagnosis that will help fight the pandemic,” Guest said. But scientists first need to confirm that dogs can indeed sniff out COVID-19 infection. The U.K. government has devoted $605,000 in resources to the canine research program.

Covid-19: Indonesia presses Saudi for decision on haj

Indonesia on Tuesday called for Saudi Arabia to decide if it will allow the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Makkah, the haj, after the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic plunged the ritual into doubt.

Last year, around 2.5 million faithful travelled to Saudi Arabia from across the world to take part in the haj, which all Muslims must perform at least once in their lives if able.

The year-round umrah pilgrimage was suspended in March, while Saudi Arabia asked Muslims to temporarily defer preparations during the Covid-19 outbreak.

But Saudi authorities have yet to announce whether they will proceed with this year’s haj, which takes place at the end of July.

Dampening the Impact of Global Financial Shocks on Emerging Market Economies

The COVID-19 pandemic is impacting emerging markets through an unprecedented combination of domestic and external shocks. Among the latter, the pandemic has led to a sharp increase in global risk aversion and an abrupt retrenchment in foreign capital flows. Based on historical experience, these types of global financial shocks can significantly affect macroeconomic conditions in emerging markets, even if the exchange rate is flexible.

Our research in chapter 3 of the latest World Economic Outlook shows that emerging markets can enhance resilience to global financial shocks using macroprudential regulation.

Macroprudential regulation involves a broad range of measures aimed at buttressing financial stability. These may include capital requirements to strengthen bank balance sheets; limits on loan-to-value ratios to curb risk taking; and restrictions on foreign currency mismatches. In the chapter, we ask whether tighter macroprudential regulation, while strengthening financial stability, can also dampen the impact of global financial shocks on economic activity in emerging markets.

Our analysis suggests that it can. If the level of macroprudential regulation is low, an increase in global risk aversion (proxied by the Chicago Board Option Exchange Volatility Index (VIX)) or an outflow of foreign capital considerably reduces economic growth in emerging markets. For example, a 60 percent spike in the VIX—about half of what we experienced in the first quarter of 2020 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic—or a capital outflow equal to 2 percent of GDP in a quarter can push a typical emerging market into a recession. These negative effects become less pronounced in countries with tighter levels of macroprudential regulation. In fact, if the level of regulation is sufficiently stringent, global financial shocks do not seem to have a significant impact on GDP growth in emerging markets.

Economic distress and social discontent will rise due to pandemic: World Economic Forum

Economic distress and social discontent will rise over the next 18 months unless there are efforts to manage the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic, World Economic Forum (WEF) has said.

These are the findings of COVID-19 outlook report published on Tuesday by the World Economic Forum in partnership with Marsh & McLennan and Zurich Insurance Group.

The report taps into the views of nearly 350 senior risk-professionals who were asked to look at the next 18 months and rank their biggest concerns in terms of likelihood and impact for the world and for business.

The immediate economic fallout from COVID-19 dominates companies’ risks perceptions. These range from a prolonged recession to the weakening fiscal position of major economies, tighter restrictions on the cross-border movement of goods and people, and the collapse of a major emerging market.

In examining the interconnections between risks, the report also calls on leaders to act now against an avalanche of future systemic shocks such as the climate crisis, geopolitical turbulence, rising inequality, strains on people’s mental health, gaps in technology governance and health systems under continued pressure.

Huge haul of meth, methyl fentanyl and heroin seized in Myanmar, in Asia’s largest ever drug bust

Police in Myanmar have made what they claim is Asia’s largest-ever drug bust, seizing 200 million meth tablets and 1,100 lbs. of crystal meth.

Authorities also seized 660 lb. of heroin and 3,750 liters of methyl fentanyl in raids that take place between February and April in Kutkai, Shan state.

Shan state is known as part of the “Golden Triangle”, a remote, largely lawless jungle area spreading across Myanmar, Laos, China and Thailand which was once a major source of the world’s opium and heroin and is now a major producer of methamphetamine.

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said they haul was “one of the largest and most successful counter-narcotics operations in the history of the country and region.”

PM reviews preparations against Cyclone ‘Amphan’

Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi chaired a high-level meeting on 18 May to review the response measures against cyclone ‘Amphan’ developing in the Bay of Bengal and as per Metrological department likely to landfall in between North Odisha to West Bengal on 20 May. 

  • PM took full stock of the situation and reviewed the response preparedness as well as the evacuation plan presented by the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF).
  • During the presentation of the response plan, DG NDRF informed that 25 NDRF teams have been deployed on the ground while 12 others are ready in reserve. 24 other NDRF teams are also on standby in different parts of the country.
  • The meeting was also attended by Union Ministers Shri Amit Shah, Principal Advisor to the PM, Cabinet Secretary, besides other senior officers of Government of India.

Published by jim

Curator of things...

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