News, June 5th

“Historic commitments” at Global Vaccine Summit as 8.8 bln USD pledged

The Global Vaccine Summit hosted by Britain virtually on Thursday drew pledges of 8.8 billion U.S. dollars, far more than its target of 7.4 billion dollars, showing “historic commitments” made by world leaders to provide equal access to vaccines for all.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson opened the Global Vaccine Summit virtually, urging countries and organizations to pledge funding for vaccinations to save millions of lives in the poorest countries and protect the world from future outbreaks of infectious diseases.

Addressing attendees from over 50 countries and organizations, Johnson said in his opening speech that the summit is a moment “when the world comes together to unite humanity in the fight against the disease.”

“I urge you to join us to fortify this lifesaving alliance and inaugurate a new era of global health cooperation, which I believe is now the most essential shared endeavor of our lifetimes,” he added.

With a target of 7.4 billion dollars for Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, the summit raised 8.8 billion dollars from 32 donor governments and 12 foundations, corporations and organizations, said Gavi, noting that world leaders has made “historic commitments.”

Britain pledged 1.65 billion pounds (about 2.07 billion dollars) to Gavi over the next five years, according to Johnson.

While Britain remains Gavi’s largest donor, other top donors include the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and European countries such as Norway and Germany. Eight countries made their first ever pledge to Gavi, including Bhutan, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Finland, Greece, New Zealand, Portugal and Uganda, according to Gavi.

Courage under Fire:  Policy Responses in Emerging Market and Developing Economies to the COVID-19 Pandemic

As the pandemic and prolonged lockdown hampered global supply chains, many countries took steps to ensure food security and continued access to medical supplies, mostly on a temporary basis. For example, several countries introduced price controls and issued regulations against price gouging for basic food items and medical supplies. Some eased import controls. Unfortunately, in several cases restrictions were introduced on the exports of food and pharmaceuticals.

In response to the COVID-19 shock, the global financial safety net has been activated and strengthened. The U.S. Federal Reserve has established new swap lines with central banks in several major advanced and emerging economies.

The G-20-led debt moratorium initiative, and financial assistance from the IMF and other institutions are helping EMDEs cope with the challenges. The IMF has quickly provided emergency assistance to more than 60 countries. Further, as demand for liquidity increased, the IMF recently established a new Short-term Liquidity Line as part of its COVID-19 response to augment its lending toolkit. In addition, massive liquidity provision by major advanced economy central banks, while directed primarily at domestic financial conditions, has also alleviated pressures on emerging market and developing economies.

At the same time, EMDEs are also extending assistance to each other and other countries in need. In particular, Regional Development Banks are providing support for private sector enterprises, trade finance and continued access to medical supplies. Examples of bilateral assistance include Albania, which dispatched a team of doctors to Italy, and Vietnam, which donated medical supplies to neighboring countries as well as advanced economies.

EMDEs have been heavily affected by the COVID-19 shock and market reaction that it triggered. The analysis of the IMF Policy tracker shows an extraordinary policy response, bolstered by innovation and international cooperation. In this unprecedented and fast-moving situation, countries can benefit from learning from their peers, and the Fund is committed to collecting and sharing best practices and incorporating this data into its own analysis to continue to assist our membership.

Governments should use Covid-19 recovery efforts as an opportunity to phase out support for fossil fuels, say OECD and IEA

As governments design stimulus measures for economies hit by the Covid-19 crisis, they should seize the opportunity of historically low oil prices to redirect some of the half a trillion dollars spent annually supporting fossil fuels into sustainable investments including low-carbon energy, according to the OECD and the International Energy Agency (IEA).

Government support for the production and consumption of fossil fuels totalled USD 478 billion in 2019, according to analysis of 77 economies by the OECD and the IEA. While that marks an overall decline from 2018 as lower oil prices meant governments spent less subsidising energy costs for end-users, the data also show a 38% rise in direct and indirect support for the production of fossil fuels across 44 advanced and emerging economies.

“I am saddened to see some backsliding on efforts to phase out fossil fuel support. This rise in production subsidies seems set to continue in 2020 with some countries targeting state aid to fossil fuel and related industries,” said OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría. “Subsidising fossil fuels is an inefficient use of public money and serves to worsen greenhouse emissions and air pollution. While our foremost concern today must be to support economies and societies through the Covid-19 crisis, we should seize this opportunity to reform subsidies and use public funds in a way that best benefits people and the planet.”

The combined OECD-IEA estimate of fossil fuel support in 2019 shows an 18% decline from USD 582 billion in 2018 that is due mostly to the mechanical effect of the drop in global oil prices on consumption subsidies. On the production side, while several countries reduced support for coal production and state aid to coal-fired power plants, others increased support to oil and natural gas industries, mostly through investments in infrastructure, budgetary support to absorb corporate debt or preferential tax treatment for spending on production.

The OECD’s analysis of budgetary transfers, tax breaks and spending programmes linked to the production and use of coal, oil, gas and other petroleum products in 44 OECD and G20 countries showed total fossil fuel support rose by 10% to USD 178 billion in 2019, ending a five-year downward trend. (See the OECD Inventory of Support Measures for Fossil Fuels and a data visualisation with support by fuel, economic sector and indicator.) 

IEA analysis of government interventions that keep end-user prices artificially low in 42 economies finds that consumption subsidies dropped by USD 120 billion in 2019, largely due to lower market prices. The further plunge in oil prices this year offers a clear chance to wean economies off this support. (See IEA key findings on energy consumption subsidies.)

“Fossil fuel subsidies are a roadblock to achieving a sustainable recovery from the Covid-19 crisis,” said Dr Fatih Birol, Executive Director of the IEA. “Today’s low fossil fuel prices offer countries a golden opportunity to phase out consumption subsidies. As governments look to boost jobs and plan for a better and more resilient future, it is essential to avoid market distortions that favour polluting and inefficient technologies.”

IAEA Provides Standards to Help Laboratories Measure Changes in the Environment

A wide range of organic substances obtained from products such as rice, fish and oyster powder, grass and spruce needles, moss, cellulose, ancient and modern wood, soil and marine sediment, seawater, distilled water, powdered rock materials such as obsidian, carbonates, and pure chemicals and gases are processed at the IAEA Environment Laboratories under strictly controlled conditions. They serve as reference materials for scientific needs to help laboratories investigate and protect the environment.

“Regular participation in IAEA proficiency tests and access to reference materials for measurements of radionuclides in the environment is very important to us,” said Hamid Marah, Scientific Director of CNESTEN, the Moroccan National Center for Nuclear energy, Sciences and Techniques. “This access helps our research centre to demonstrate its analytical excellency and supports all our activities to ensure the well-being of the public.”

Over 90 different reference materials characterized for radionuclides, stable isotopes, trace elements and organic contaminants have been made available to the scientific community. Altogether more than 2000 individual units of these materials are distributed to over 600 laboratories per year. In addition, 700 laboratories benefit annually from quality assurance services by receiving several thousand similar dedicated samples through IAEA proficiency tests free of charge, largely handled through this website.

“The IAEA is the world’s largest supplier of matrix reference materials for radionuclides. Some of these reference products, for example those characterized for stable isotope ratios, are at the highest metrological level as international measurements standards,” said Groening.

The upgraded website will provide enhanced access to this library of reference materials so that laboratories worldwide can purchase specialized reference materials from the IAEA through a more user-friendly system and can also register for accompanying proficiency tests. Annually, more than 1000 laboratories in over 70 countries are making use of the registered services that are available through this dedicated website.

Int’l teleconference discuss measures to prevent domestic violence amid COVID-19

NDO – ASEAN member states discussed measures to protect women and children against domestic violence amidst COVID-19 at an international teleconference on June 5.

The special event was organised by the ASEAN Commission on the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Women and Children (ACWC) in collaboration with the ASEAN Secretariat and ASEAN member countries.

Delegates at the conference said that the COVID-19 epidemic has not only affected the health of the community but also had negative impacts on children and women. One downside of social distancing measures and the closure of schools, businesses and services due to the pandemic is that they had a negative impact on both the physical and mental health of this group. As the COVID-19 peaks, more than 1 billion children and teenagers worldwide are affected by school closures, while domestic violence is increasing in many parts of the world.

A study on the consequences of violence in Southeast Asia and the Asia Pacific region showed that the total economic damage of violence against children, especially related to the health and consequences of dangerous behaviour totals up to US$209 billion (2012) or nearly 2% of the region’s GDP.

In Vietnam, since the first COVID-19 case was detected in January 2020 to June 4, 2020, there have been 328 infected cases nationwide, with no deaths reported. Although the number of infected cases is small, the impact of the epidemic on socio-economic life has been huge and has cannot be estimated accurately, especially in relation to vulnerable groups including women and children.

To prevent domestic violence, Ha Thi Minh Duc, Deputy Director of the Department of International Cooperation under the Vietnamese Ministry of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs (MOLISA), said that her ministry has cooperated with international organisations to develop regulations on child safety and protection at isolation facilities, disseminate communication material on child safety and domestic violence prevention at home and build documents and technical programmes on parenting skills.

The MOLISA will coordinate with the Ministry of Information and Communications and related agencies to organise courses to train children on the safe use of the internet and educational apps, Duc informed, adding that Vietnam will also cooperate with other ASEAN nations to complete legal frameworks to better protect children in cyberspace and prevent violence against women.

To prevent domestic violence against women and children after the COVID-19 epidemic has subsided, participants also recommended that ASEAN members increase informational campaigns to improve public awareness about the prevention of and response to gender-based violence, boost the quality of facilities caring for domestic violence victims, provide training on child protection for social workers, and consider the founding of a fund to support women in the region affected by such violence.

Navy vet Michael White back in US after release from Iran detention

Fox News was at the scene in Zurich on Thursday when White arrived from Tehran for transfer. The State Department’s Iran envoy Brian Hook completed the transfer and walked White off the plane, into American custody and back into freedom.

Speaking to Fox News exclusively after landing, White expressed his appreciation to the president, whom he spoke to by phone after landing.

“I want to extend my personal thanks to President Trump for his efforts both diplomatically and otherwise,” he said. “He is making America great again and I look forward to what is going to happen here in the future.”

Asked about his health, White said he was “improving” but was sick with COVID-19 while in prison.

“I am recovering pretty decently, getting back into shape,” he said. “I was really in poor shape then. But I am getting a lot better as a result of Swiss Embassy and all of the efforts of the Trump administration.”

White, from Imperial Beach, Calif., had been held in Vakilabad Prison in Mashhad, Iran.

White has said he was visiting his girlfriend in Iran in July 2018 when authorities there arrested him. In March 2019, he was sentenced to 10 years in prison on charges he insulted Iran’s supreme leader and posted private photos on social media.

In March, White, who has battled cancer and other illnesses, was initially released on a medical furlough, but he was still ordered to stay in Iran at the time.

Officials say they’re still working to free other American citizens in Iran like Siamak Namazi, a businessman; his father Baquer Namazi; and Morad Tahbaz, an American environmentalist; as well as secure the remains of former FBI agent Robert Levinson. His family announced in late March that they received intelligence that Levinson had died in Iranian custody.

Tropical Depression Cristobal expected to head to US coast

MEXICO CITY — Tropical Depression Cristobal continued to soak Mexico’s Gulf coast and Central America Friday ahead of a northward turn expected to carry it to U.S. shores by Monday.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center said the storm had maximum sustained winds of 35 mph (55 kph) Friday morning and was moving north at 12 mph (19 kph). It was expected to cross the Yucatan Peninsula Friday, regain tropical storm strength and eventually track to the U.S. Gulf Coast.

A tropical storm watch was issued for the northern Gulf of Mexico coast from Intracoastal City Louisiana to the Alabama-Florida border.

Cristobal made landfall in Mexico as a tropical storm Wednesday before weakening. It had formed this week in the Bay of Campeche from the remnants of Tropical Storm Amanda, which had formed last weekend in the eastern Pacific and hit Central America.

The two storms have combined to soak the region with as much as 35 inches (89 centimeters) of rain in some areas over the past week. At least 30 deaths have been attributed to the two storms and the flooding and landslides they unleashed.

The Hurricane Center’s projected track shows the storm reaching the U.S. Gulf Coast by early Monday, and it said Cristobal could bring heavy rains from East Texas to Florida this weekend and into early next week.

The storm was 40 miles (65 kilometers) east of Campeche Friday morning.

In Bacalar, in the south of Quintana Roo state, 230 families were isolated by the rains and had to be airlifted out, David Leon, Mexico’s national civil defense coordinator, said Friday. Leon added there had been light damage in 75 municipalities in seven states.

In Louisiana, Gov. John Bel Edwards on Thursday declared a state of emergency to prepare for the storm’s possible arrival there. “Now is the time to make your plans, which should include the traditional emergency items along with masks and hand sanitizer as we continue to battle the coronavirus pandemic,” Edward said in a statement.

World Bank Helps Tajikistan Inform Public on COVID-19 Risks

DUSHANBE, May 29, 2020 – To effectively contain the COVID-19 outbreak in Tajikistan, people must be aware of both the risks and the measures they can take to protect themselves. Communicating these details is challenging, especially for remote areas with limited connectivity and infrastructure. But the rapid roll-out of mobile phone networks in recent years has made it easier than ever to connect to Tajikistan’s large and geographically dispersed population. Mobile phone coverage rates are now above 90 percent even in very rural areas.

To leverage these networks during the pandemic, the World Bank recently launched an SMS-based platform for broad communication called “Mobile Engage.” Information about the risks of coronavirus and ways to minimize these risks is delivered to more than 3.5 million users through local mobile phone companies. The SMS function is complemented by an automated phone line to which citizens can call for free to receive more detailed information on frequently asked questions. Now that it is in place, the system will be available for future public service communication needs. The Mobile Engage project is financed by the Korea Trust Fund for Economic and Peace-Building Transitions. Megafon Tajikistan has generously supported the project by providing free SMS services.

Another tool, the Listening to Tajikistan (L2T) phone-based survey, has also been adapted to respond to the COVID-19 outbreak. The survey is collected monthly and focuses on key dimensions of wellbeing – including on remittances, jobs, food security, and services.  New modules added to monitor the impacts of the pandemic will keep the Government informed on public awareness of critical public health issues, the effectiveness of mitigation policies, and the overall economic wellbeing of households. More than 1,300 households from all regions of Tajikistan participate in the survey through phone interviews. The results of the survey serve as an input to the social and economic policies by the Government.

Published by jim

Curator of things...

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