News, June 10th

Behind the Scenes of Scrap Yards:  IAEA Launches Online Tools on the Control of Radioactive Material Inadvertently Incorporated into Scrap Metal

The toolkit contains a database of radioactive sources with a catalogue of previously detected radioactive material in the metal recycling industries with photos. It provides hands-on experience for users through case studies of previous incidents involving radioactive material unintentionally present in scrap metal with detailed description of such incidents. It can help users to identify sources and radioactive material when encountered and to foster better communication among different stakeholders including border authorities.

“This toolkit is a subject of great interest to members of the Bureau of International Recycling (BIR) that are collecting, sorting, mechanically processing and pyro or hydro metallurgically processing metal and metal containing waste and scrap,” said Ross Bartley, the Trade & Environmental Director of the Bureau of International Recycling, the industry’s world federation, which represents over 30 000 recyclers in more than 70 countries around the world.

The toolkit showcases relevant resources such as the Control of Transboundary Movement of Radioactive Material Inadvertently Incorporated into Scrap Metal and Semi-finished Products of the Metal Recycling Industries, a publication resulting from past IAEA support in this area. It also contains materials for download such as IAEA safety standards, posters, videos and presentations from meetings on this topic.

Users can also find other useful tools such as a sample self-assessment questionnaire, and information of how to structure a radiation monitoring report, provided electronically or in paper form, or any other documentation associated with a consignment of scrap metal.

The e-learning material, complementary to the toolkit, discusses topics on the metal recycling sector, prevention, monitoring and detection, orphan sources, detection at borders and response, investigation and recovery among others. Upon completing the e-learning course, participants are awarded a certificate.

Central Govt Sanctions Rs. 4000 Crore to Implement ‘Per Drop More Crop’

Department of Agriculture Cooperation & Farmers’ Welfare is implementing ‘Per Drop More Crop’ component of Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojana (PMKSY- PDMC).

The PMKSY- PDMC focuses on enhancing water use efficiency at farm level through Micro Irrigation technologies viz. Drip and Sprinkler irrigation systems.

Drip micro irrigation technique not only helps in water saving but also in reducing fertilizer usage, labor expenses and other input costs.

For the current year, annual allotment of Rs. 4000 crores have already been allocated and conveyed to the State Governments.

Further, Micro Irrigation Fund corpus of Rs. 5000 crores have been created with NABARD.

The objective of the fund is to facilitate the states in mobilizing the resources for expanding coverage of Micro Irrigation by taking up special and innovative projects.

It is also for incentivizing micro irrigation beyond the provisions available under PMKSY-PDMC to encourage farmers to install micro irrigation systems.

Experts predict COVID-19 vaccine may take 12-18 months:  Report

Scientists still predict a safe and effective vaccine against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 could take at least 12-18 months to develop, according to a new report from the New York Times.

In a virtual roundtable, Siddhartha Mukherjee, an Associate Professor of medicine at the Columbia University talked about how quickly the effective vaccine can be developed.

According to the experts, the hopes are that it will be within a year, but that is not in any way guaranteed.

“That projection will be refined as time goes on — and a year assumes that everything goes smoothly from this point forward. That has never been done before. And safety cannot be compromised,” said Dan Barouch from the Centre for Virology and Vaccine Research at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Centre.

During the discussion, George Yancopoulos, founder, president, and chief scientific officer of Regeneron, said that most people do not realize that successfully inventing and developing any new drug or vaccine is quantifiably among the hardest things that human beings try to do.

The goal of a vaccine is to raise an immune response against a virus or a bacterium, the scientists said in the New York Times.

Later, when a vaccinated person is exposed to the actual virus or bacterium, the immune system will then block or rapidly control the pathogen so that the person does not get sick, according to Barouch.

He added that vaccine development for a new pathogen traditionally takes many years or even decades.

The process includes small-scale manufacturing, phase 1, phase 2 and phase 3 clinical trials, and then regulatory approval and large-scale manufacturing.

For SARS-CoV-2, the goal is to compress these timelines considerably without compromising safety, which is absolutely critical for any vaccine that will be given to large number of individuals.

Earlier this month, Claudio Colosio Unimi Professor, Department of Health Sciences University of Milan (Italy) had told IANS that it is not possible to develop a vaccine for COVID-19 soon, as the RNA virus changes very quickly and this makes it difficult to create a good vaccine.

Colosio has been extensively handling the COVID-19 pandemic. When queried about a vaccine still not appearing on the horizon, he said there is no vaccine for HIV infection yet (and people still survive).

However, last month Global pharmaceutical major Pfizer said that it believes that a vaccine to prevent COVID-19 could be ready by the end of October.

The company’s CEO Albert Bourla had said that its company — Pfizer — is conducting clinical trials in the US and Europe for the BNT162 vaccine program to prevent COVID-19 in collaboration with German mRNA company BioNTech.

Global economy faces a tightrope walk to recovery

The Covid-19 pandemic has triggered the most severe recession in nearly a century and is causing enormous damage to people’s health, jobs, and well-being, according to the OECD’s latest Economic Outlook.

As restrictions begin to ease, the path to economic recovery remains highly uncertain and vulnerable to a second wave of infections. Strengthening healthcare systems and supporting people and businesses to help adapt to a post-Covid world will be crucial, it says.

The containment measures brought in by most governments were necessary to slow the spread of the virus and limit the death toll, but they have also closed down business activity in many sectors and caused widespread economic hardship.

Policymakers have used a vast array of exceptional measures to support healthcare systems and people’s incomes, as well as to help businesses and stabilize financial markets.

With little prospect of a vaccine becoming widely available this year, and faced with unprecedented uncertainty,  the OECD has taken the unusual step of presenting two equally likely scenarios – one in which the virus is brought under control, and one in which a second global outbreak hits before the end of 2020.

If a second outbreak occurs triggering a return to lockdowns, world economic output is forecast to plummet 7.6% this year, before climbing back 2.8% in 2021. At its peak, unemployment in the OECD economies would be more than double the rate prior to the outbreaks, with little recovery in jobs next year.

If a second wave of infections is avoided, global economic activity is expected to fall by 6% in 2020 and OECD unemployment to climb to 9.2% from 5.4% in 2019.

The economic impact of strict and relatively lengthy lockdowns in Europe will be particularly harsh. Euro area GDP is expected to plunge by 11½% this year if a second wave breaks out, and by over 9% even if a second hit is avoided, while GDP in the United States will take a hit of 8.5% and 7.3% respectively, and Japan 7.3% and 6%. Emerging economies such as Brazil, Russia and South Africa, meanwhile, face particular challenges of strained health systems, adding to the difficulties caused by a collapse in commodity prices, and their economies plunging by 9.1%, 10%, and 8.2% respectively in case of a double hit scenario, and 7.4%, 8% and 7.5% in case of a single hit. China’s and India’s GDPs will be relatively less affected, with a decrease of 3.7% and 7.3% respectively in case of a double hit and 2.6% and 3.7% in case of a single hit.

In both scenarios, the recovery, after an initial, rapid resumption of activity, will take a long time to bring output back to pre-pandemic levels, and the crisis will leave long-lasting scars – a fall in living standards, high unemployment and weak investment. Job losses in the most affected sectors, such as tourism, hospitality, and entertainment, will particularly hit low-skilled, young, and informal workers.

Hundreds of thousands displaced in deadly China flooding

Flooding in south and central China has caused more than a dozen deaths and forced hundreds of thousands of people from their homes, the government said Wednesday.

About 228,000 people have been forced to seek emergency shelter due to flooding since June 2, the country’s Ministry of Emergency Management said.

Initial damages were estimated at more than $500 million, including the destruction of more than 1,000 homes.

Flooding was particularly bad in the southern region of Guangxi, where six were listed as dead and one missing, and in Hunan province just to the north, where seven were recorded as dead and one missing.

Seasonal flooding generally causes heavy damage each year in the lower regions of China’s major river systems, particularly those of the Yangtze and the Pearl to the south. Authorities have sought to mitigate the hardship through the use of dams, particularly the massive Three Gorges structure on the Yangtze.

China’s worst floods in recent years were in 1998, when more than 2,000 people died and almost 3 million homes were destroyed.

International community calls for solidarity to handle Israel-Palestine conflict

Palestine is trying to establish a broader front at the United Nations (UN) in order to put pressure on Israel to immediately halt its plans to annex land in the West Bank from July 1. The international community, including UN Security Council member countries and the European Union (EU), have called on Israel to set aside its intention to annex occupied territories in Palestine as well as facilitate negotiations to proceed to toward a two-state solution.

Tensions between Israel and Palestine increased after the new Israeli government urgently prepared a plan to expand its sovereignty to Jewish settlements and the Jordan Valley in the West Bank, Palestinian occupied territories. Notably, Israel’s plan to merge more than 30% of the West Bank area has received support from the US government. Prime Minister of Israel B. Netanyahu has had talks with the US regarding the implementation of this plan, on the basis of the US President’s Middle East peace plan, which was rejected by Palestine.

Strongly opposed to the bolstered occupation policy of Israel, the Palestinian envoy to the UN R. Mansour recently announced that Palestine would make more efforts at the UN Security Council to prevent the serious consequences of the Israeli annexation plan. The Palestinian leader decided to hold unrestricted conferences to discuss how to respond once the Israeli annexation plan was implemented.

Palestinian President M. Abbas asserted that the solidarity of the Palestinian people and the country’s territorial integrity were a top priority. The Palestinian government has suspended all commitments and agreements reached with both Israel and the US, including security coordination. Accordingly, security and intelligence cooperation between Palestinian security agencies and the Israeli army, as well as civil relations between the two sides have ended. Palestinian security agencies also stopped sharing information with the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). These tense moves have “warmed up” the situation in the region, pushing the Middle East peace process toward the brink of collapse.

Israeli public opinion is also concerned that the government’s annexation plan will deepen the hatred between Israelis and Arab countries, threatening to push the region into a new spiral of conflict. Thousands of Israelis held protests on the Rabin square in Tel Aviv to oppose the PM’s plan. The demonstrators gathered under a banner “No to annexation, no to occupation, yes to peace and democracy”.

Italy’s hard-hit region nears ‘herd immunity’ as more than half of people tested show coronavirus antibodies

The northern Italy region hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic seems well on the path to so-called “herd immunity” after more than half of its residents tested positive for COVID-19 antibodies.

Citing a sample survey, health authorities said this week that of the nearly 10,000 residents in the city of Bergamo who had blood tests done between April 23 and June 3, about 57 percent had antibodies, indicating they had come into contact with the virus. Medical staff comprised about 30 percent of those cases.

The new study, conducted by Italy’s National Institute of Statistics (ISTAT), suggests that the province may be heading toward “herd immunity.”

Herd immunity is the result of enough individuals becoming resistant to disease from previous exposure or via vaccination, Reuters reported.

Italy has been one of the hardest-hit countries, recording more than 235,000 positive coronavirus cases and more than 34,000 deaths. More than 168,000 people have recovered, while currently 32,872 remained positive as of Tuesday.

Russia detains three over massive Arctic fuel spill

Russian investigators on Wednesday detained three staff at a power plant where thousands of tons of diesel leaked into the soil and waterways of the Arctic region.

The spill of over 21,000 tons of fuel, which environmentalists say is the largest ever in the Arctic, took place after a fuel reservoir collapsed at a power plant operated by a subsidiary of metals giant Norilsk Nickel in the city of Norilsk beyond the Arctic Circle.

President Vladimir Putin declared an emergency situation and Norilsk Nickel head Vladimir Potanin told the president the company would pay for clean-up efforts estimated at $146 million.

The Investigative Committee, which is probing the accident, said it had detained the director of the power station, Pavel Smirnov, along with two engineers on suspicion of breaching environmental protection rules. If charged, they would risk up to five years in prison.

The Investigative Committee said the fuel tank had required major repairs from 2018 but the suspects “continued to use it in breach of safety rules.”

“As a result, the accident occurred,” the investigators’ statement said.

In materials distributed Tuesday, Norilsk Nickel said that the fuel reservoir was built in 1985 and underwent repairs in 2017 and 2018 after which it went through a safety audit.

“The company considers this measure to be unjustifiably harsh,” the press service said in a statement to RIA Novosti news agency, citing vice-president Nikolai Utkin.

He said those detained “are cooperating with law enforcement authorities and now they would be much more useful at the scene of the clean-up operation.”

Regional officials have said that despite efforts to contain the fuel leak using booms on the surface of a river, it has now reached a freshwater lake that is a major source of water for the region.

The pollution could now flow into the Kara Sea in the Arctic Ocean north of Siberia, which Greenpeace Russia expert Vladimir Chuprov told AFP would be a “disaster.”

Norilsk Nickel’s first vice president denied the spill had reached the lake on a conference call on Wednesday, saying the company did not find contamination there.

The metals giant has said the accident could have been caused by global warming thawing the permafrost under the fuel reservoir.

The company has acknowledged it did not specifically monitor the condition of permafrost at its sites.

Its board of directors is due to meet Wednesday to discuss the accident, the company’s press service confirmed to AFP.

World Bank Supports Kosovo to Address National Water Crisis, Highlighted by the COVID-19 Pandemic

The World Bank’s Board of Executive Directors has approved the Kosovo Fostering and Leveraging Opportunities for Water Security Program, which aims to strengthen Kosovo’s capacity for managing water security at the national level, and improve water security in Morava e Binces basin, Kosovo’s driest region. The approved financial support for the project is €25.1 million (US$27.4 million equivalent).

“The World Bank is supporting Kosovo to address the national water crisis and specifically water shortage in the Morava basin area. Beside the important development benefits from an improved supply and strengthened management of water resources in Kosovo, availability of water and sanitation are an essential barrier to preventing virus spread and protecting human health from COVID-19 and similar diseases”, said Marco Mantovanelli, World Bank Country Manager for Kosovo and North Macedonia. “Handwashing in the Morava basin is not to be taken for granted as last year there were over 200 days with interrupted water supply”.

Beyond the immediate benefits, the program aims to fundamentally shift Kosovo’s precarious water security situation. By regional comparison Kosovo is water stressed, has highly polluted resources, and it has among the lowest levels of water storage in the region. The broadening gap between growing water demand and available quantities of good quality water is leading to water shortages and interruptions in water supply and irrigation services. Drought and flood shocks are expected to become more frequent and severe due to climate change. In addition to physical water stress, Kosovo is water insecure due to poor management of available resources.

The approved project will also lay the basis for future strategic storage development and management, improved knowledge of water in the country to deal with droughts, floods and improve services, as well as improve the management of dam safety for downstream communities. It will invest significantly in upgrading water supply services in the area managed by Hidromorava water supply company. It will also finance the technical, social, and environmental studies to allow a detailed appraisal of a potential follow up investment to expand water storage capacity in the ‘Kike-Kremenata’ hydro-system in southeast Kosovo. In addition, the project also has sub-components that support economic recovery through community grants, and job creation during implementation.

All people of Kosovo, and farmers in particular, will benefit from enhanced hydrometeorological services, catchment protection, agro-environmental measures, and the resulting economic opportunities. All communities downstream of Kosovo’s dams will also benefit from increased attention to dam maintenance and safety, reduced flood risks and better emergency preparedness. Drought risks would be reduced by enabling currently idle water storage capacity to be utilized. Through access to improved water services, the project will directly benefit approximately 190,000 people residing in the Morava e Binces basin, in southeastern Kosovo.  

The FLOWS project is financed with a credit from the International Development Association (IDA) of the World Bank Group. IDA credits are provided on concessional terms with zero or very low interest rates and long repayment periods. The financing for this project has a maturity of 25 years and a 5-year grace period. The project will be implemented over 5.5 years by the Government of Kosovo.

WTO report looks at trade developments in poorest countries in wake of COVID-19

A new information note published by the WTO Secretariat looks at how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the participation of least-developed countries (LDCs) in global trade. The note stresses that LDCs have seen a significant decline in export earnings due to decreasing demand in key markets, falling commodity prices and a decline in remittances and are likely to be the hardest hit by the crisis due to their limited resources to stimulate growth.

Most LDCs have experienced a significant decline in export earnings since the outbreak of COVID-19. The report anticipates that the downturn in world trade in 2020 will continue to be particularly severe for LDCs.

LDC exports of textiles and clothing have been badly affected by declining global demand and supply chain disruptions. In addition, LDCs that depend on tourism revenues are being hard hit by the slump in this sector.

There are currently 47 LDCs, 36 of which have become WTO members. The full list of LDCs can be found here.

The note underscores that the pandemic is undermining the development gains of countries such as Angola, Bangladesh and Vanuatu that are expected to graduate from LDC status in the near future. 

The note also collates the measures that LDCs have taken to combat the pandemic, ranging from strengthening health care systems to providing stimulus packages to export-oriented sectors and liquidity support for small and medium-sized enterprises.

In early May, the LDCs group called on other WTO members to refrain from imposing export prohibitions or restrictions on medical goods and food. They urged governments to facilitate trade in these goods, including by implementing the provisions in the WTO’s Trade Facilitation Agreement.

The report notes that the international community is seeking to support LDCs’ participation in world trade by providing debt relief and strengthening social sectors.

Published by jim

Curator of things...

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