News, June 24th

Apocalyptic!  The Arctic is on fire at record 38 degrees Celsius; Siberian heat wave alarms scientists

The Arctic is feverish and on fire at least parts of it are. And that is got scientists worried about what it means for the rest of the world.

The thermometer hit a likely record of 38 degrees Celsius (100.4 degrees Fahrenheit) in the Russian Arctic town of Verkhoyansk on Saturday, a temperature that would be a fever for a person, but this is Siberia, known for being frozen.

The World Meteorological Organization said Tuesday that it is looking to verify the temperature reading, which would be unprecedented for the region north of the Arctic Circle.

The Arctic is figuratively and literally is on fire. It’s warming much faster than we thought it would in response to rising levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and this warming is leading to a rapid meltdown and increase in wildfires, University of Michigan environmental school dean Jonathan Overpeck, a climate scientist, said in an email.

The record warming in Siberia is a warning sign of major proportions, Overpeck wrote.

Much of Siberia had high temperatures this year that were beyond unseasonably warm. From January through May, the average temperature in north-central Siberia has been about 8 degrees Celsius (14 degrees Fahrenheit) above average, according to the climate science non-profit Berkeley Earth.

That is much, much warmer than it has ever been over that region in that period of time, Berkeley Earth climate scientist Zeke Hausfather said.

Siberia is in the Guinness Book of World Records for its extreme temperatures. It is a place where the thermometer has swung 106 degrees Celsius (190 degrees Fahrenheit), from a low of minus 68 degrees Celsius (minus 90 Fahrenheit) to now 38 degrees Celsius (100.4 Fahrenheit).

For residents of the Sakha Republic in the Russian Arctic, a heat wave is not necessarily a bad thing. Vasilisa Ivanova spent every day this week with her family swimming and sunbathing.

We spend the entire day on the shore of the Lena River, said Ivanova, who lives in the village of Zhigansk, 270 miles (430 kilometers) from where the heat record was set. We have been coming every day since Monday. But for scientists, alarm bells should be ringing, Overpeck wrote.

Such prolonged Siberian warmth has not been seen for thousands of years and it is another sign that the Arctic amplifies global warming even more than we thought, Overpeck said.

Russia’s Arctic regions are among the fastest warming areas in the world.

The temperature on Earth over the past few decades has been growing, on average, by 0.18 degrees Celsius (nearly one-third of a degree Fahrenheit) every 10 years.

But in Russia it increases by 0.47 degrees Celsius (0.85 degrees Fahrenheit) and in the Russian Arctic, by 0.69 degrees Celsius (1.24 degrees Fahrenheit) every decade, said Andrei Kiselyov, the lead scientist at the Moscow-based Voeikov Main Geophysical Observatory.

In that respect, we are ahead of the whole planet, Kiselyov said.

The increasing temperatures in Siberia have been linked to prolonged wildfires that grow more severe every year and the thawing of the permafrost a huge problem because buildings and pipelines are built on them. Thawing permafrost also releases more heat-trapping gas and dries out the soil, which increases wildfires, said Vladimir Romanovsky, who studies permafrost at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

“The permafrost thaws, ice melts, the soil subsides and then it can trigger a feedback loop that worsens permafrost thawing and cold winters can’t stop it, Romanovsky said.

A catastrophic oil spill from a collapsed storage tank last month near the Arctic city of Norilsk was partly blamed on melting permafrost. In 2011, part of a residential building in Yakutsk, the biggest city in the Sakha Republic, collapsed due to thawing and subsidence of the ground.

Last August, more than 4 million hectares of forests in Siberia were on fire, according to Greenpeace. This year the fires have already started raging much earlier than the usual start in July, said Vladimir Chuprov, director of the project department at Greenpeace Russia.

Persistently warm weather, especially if coupled with wildfires, causes permafrost to thaw faster, which in turn exacerbates global warming by releasing large amounts of methane, a potent greenhouse gas that’s 28 times stronger than carbon dioxide, said Katey Walter Anthony, a University of Alaska Fairbanks expert on methane release from frozen Arctic soil.

Methane escaping from permafrost thaw sites enters the atmosphere and circulates around the globe, she said.

It has global ramifications. And what happens in the Arctic can even warp the weather in the United States and Europe.

According to meteorologists at the Russian weather agency Rosgidrome t, a combination of factors such as a high-pressure system with a clear sky and the sun being very high, extremely long daylight hours and short warm nights have contributed to the Siberian temperature spike.

Scientists agree that the spike is indicative of a much bigger global warming trend.

The key point is that the climate is changing, and global temperatures are warming, said Freja Vamborg, senior scientist at the Copernicus Climate Change Service in the U.K. We will be breaking more and more records as we go.

What is clear is that the warming Arctic adds fuel to the warming of the whole planet, said Waleed Abdalati, a former NASA chief scientist who is now at the University of Colorado.

China joins Russia’s V-Day Parade to Honor WWII Victory

Russia on Wednesday staged its Victory Day military parade in Moscow’s Red Square to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the former Soviet Union’s victory in World War II. China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA), together with troops from 12 other countries, joined the parade at the invitation of the Russian side.

Scheduled on May 9, this year’s parade was delayed and rescheduled to June 24 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The new parade date, according to officials, was chosen to coincide with the anniversary of the first post-war parade on Red Square, which saw Soviet troops throw down Nazi standards in front of the Lenin mausoleum on June 24, 1945.

13,000 troops from 13 countries, as well as vintage equipment and the latest military hardware, take part in the parade to show Russia’s fighting capabilities.

The parade features more than 200 units of military equipment as well as 75 planes and helicopters. Over 20 pieces of new equipment, including Tosochka flame-throwers, T-90M tanks and Buk-M3 surface-to-air missile systems, are shown for the first time.

Russian President Vladimir Putin declared a minute of silence for those who lost lives in WWII before his speech in Red Square during the V-Day parade on Wednesday.

In his speech, Putin honored the victory, stressing that the country will protect and defend the fair truth of the 1941-1945 Great Patriotic War, an integral part of the World War II lasting from 1939 to 1945.

The Russian president also noted global security, pledging that Russia is open for dialogue and cooperation on the most burning issues, including the creation of a common reliable system of security, which the complex and rapidly changing world needs.

While Russia has announced that the peak of the epidemic has passed and since eased the lockdown, the situation is still severe.

The country confirmed 7,425 new coronavirus infections Tuesday, bringing the official number of cases to 599,075. The death toll stands at 8,359.

Coronavirus surges in Latin America as deaths surpass 100,000

Latin America’s death toll from the coronavirus pandemic surpassed 100,000 on Tuesday (June 23), according to a Reuters tally, with few signs of the outbreak easing in a region marked by crowded cities and high poverty levels.

Latin America has seen an alarming spike in cases and deaths even as the tide of infection recedes in Europe and parts of Asia. The number of infections, at 2.2 million, has doubled in less than a month.

Brazil – Latin America’s largest and most populous nation – this week became only the second country to reach the 50,000 deaths milestone, after the United States. Mexico on Tuesday registered a fresh one-day record for confirmed infections.

The true scale of the coronavirus damage to Latin America is likely to be much deeper, experts say, as countries across the region have failed to implement rigorous testing programs. Many officials concede the death toll is likely far higher.

Hugo Lopez-Gatell, Mexico’s deputy health minister and the country’s coronavirus tsar, on Tuesday signaled that his nation is in for a long battle against coronavirus.

“We must learn to live with the SARS-CoV-2 virus and permanently incorporate hygiene and prevention practices into the new reality,” said Lopez-Gatell, urging the Mexican society to adapt its response to the threat.

On top of creaking healthcare systems in many countries across the region, Latin America’s battle against the virus has been hamstrung by widespread poverty and many workers living a hand-to-mouth existence in the informal sector that has hindered quarantine efforts.

Brazil registered an additional 1,374 deaths on Tuesday from the virus and 39,436 new cases, pushing the death toll from the novel coronavirus to 52,000 people in Latin America’s biggest economy. More than 1.1 million have been infected.

Mexico, the worst hit-nation in the region after Brazil in terms of overall figures, on Tuesday registered 6,288 new infections and 793 additional deaths. That brought the totals for the country to 191,410 cases and 23,377 deaths.

The virus also appears to be on the rise in Central America, where Guatemala on Tuesday recorded more than 700 new infections for the first time. An additional 35 deaths were registered in Guatemala, taking it deaths total to 582.

Countries across world reimpose restrictions due to coronavirus spikes as US remains adamant about avoiding 2nd lockdown

Countries facing a resurgence of coronavirus cases after reopening have reverted back to lockdowns, with many focusing on isolating specific regions with spiking rates of infections.

But the willingness to retighten restrictions amid growing public health concerns stands in stark contrast to the U.S.’ approach to a fresh wave of new cases.

Despite skyrocketing numbers of new cases in states like Texas, Arizona and Florida, state officials are reluctant to shutter stores, businesses, and enforce stay-at-home mandates.

Texas officials announced over 5,000 new infections on Tuesday — a single-day record for the state — while a children’s hospital began admitting adult patients to accommodate a surge of cases near Houston.

Gov. Greg Abbott warned residents to take the necessary precautions, such as wearing a mask and practicing social distancing, before venturing outside.

In Arizona, hospitals reported 84 percent of intensive care unit beds and 83 percent of inpatient beds were in use as of Monday, according to the data from the state’s Department of Health Services, and a record high of 3,591 new cases were reported on Tuesday.

Still, President Trump barreled ahead with a campaign rally in Phoenix, where many supporters cheered him on, mask less.

Trump has publicly said he has instructed officials to “slow down” testing in an effort to reduce the number of newly recorded coronavirus cases. Administration officials later said he made those comments “in jest” though Trump told reporters afterward he was not joking.

Health officials told Congress on Tuesday that they will continue to test rigorously for the virus to isolate its spread and that no one has told them to do otherwise.

After weeks of trending downwards, new coronavirus cases in the U.S. have surged to their highest level in two months and are now back to where they were at the peak of the outbreak, the Associated Press reported.

On Wednesday, there were 34,700 new cases of the virus across the country, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Meanwhile, officials around the world are relying on increased testing to paint a more accurate picture of coronavirus resurgence in regions where the virus is rearing its head after businesses were allowed to reopen.

In Germany, more than 1,550 people tested positive for COVID-19 at the Toennies slaughterhouse in Rheda-Wiedenbrueck, forcing two counties to reimpose closures of movie theaters, gyms, and other businesses, while schools and daycare centers remain closed and public social interactions are limited to two people from the same family.

Fearing that large gatherings could usurp any progress made to quell the virus in Australia, officials in the state of Victoria shut down two primary schools where dozens of new cases were reported and limited the number of people allowed to congregate to no more than 10, according to The Washington Post.

Saudi Arabia, which had previously begun phased reopening throughout the kingdom, was forced to clamp down again after new cases swelled. It has had the highest number of coronavirus cases in the Middle East. On Tuesday, officials took decisive action to pare down the usual flock of over 2 million worshippers to Mecca for the Islamic holy pilgrimage Hajj, to a mere 1,000 devotees already inside the country, much to the dismay of Muslims worldwide.

In South Korea, which largely avoided huge swaths of deaths during the initial months of the pandemic and never went into lockdown completely, officials have threatened to reimpose stricter restrictions after Mayor Park Won-soon said residents flouting social distancing precautions were largely responsible for a spike in new cases.

Full steam ahead for RV Ministries

RV Ministries was approved for a conditional use permit June 15 after being unanimously denied by the Rapid City Planning Commission on May 22. The permit is for a feeding and outreach center at 112 East North St.

Homeless populations crossing the East North St. at non-designated crosswalks and crossing the railroad immediately behind the property were the concerns cited for the original denial of the permit.

RV Ministries has only acquired the new building recently but has been serving the homeless population for 6 years. They began serving from an old camper that was parked at the skate park on New York St. After a move to the gym at the Club for Boys, RV Ministries began looking for their own location to lease, buy, or borrow.

“We discovered that the community is not very open to having a large gathering of chronic homeless in the area,” said former RV Ministries President Cathie Harris. “Similar to the opposition of the Care Campus and One Heart faced.”     When RV Ministries’ appeal was brought to the Rapid City Council, the Rapid City Planning Commission maintained their original stance of denial.

“Staff could not agree more with the intent that RV Ministries is proposing, hats off to them,” said Vicki Fischer of the Planning Commission in the Rapid City Council meeting during discussion of the appeal. But Fischer cited a 16,000 average daily traffic for East North St. at 35 miles per hour with curbside sidewalks for foot traffic.

“It’s just a fundamentally unsafe location,” said recently resigned Police Chief Karl Jegeris. “If you separate emotion from logic, it is a very dangerous location for these services to be provided.”

In response to the denial by the Rapid City Planning Commission due to safety concerns at the new location, RV Ministries has proposed cross walk guards and has placed slow signs for passing cars. They have also offered to build a chain link fence along the property that is adjacent to the railroad to deter patrons from crossing the railroad.

With the addition of increased safety measures, RV Ministries stressed the importance of their services and the relationships that they have built with 6 years’ experience and 18 people brought out of homelessness with zero budget.

“We are so much more than just a hot meal,” said Harris. “We have worked 312 Sundays and served over 63,000 meals. We are friends and family to all on the street.”

The new location nicknamed “The Building”, will offer life skills programs, hot meals in the evenings throughout the week, and the Ministry’s original Sunday morning biscuits and gravy.

“Our guests will be required to check in and help with the maintenance of the building and property, and many have already taken on that task,” said Harris. “It won’t be just a hang out.”

Harris continued by stating that there are between 5-10 people waiting each week to help set up for Sunday’s breakfast at 5 a.m. when she arrives.

For now, RV Ministries will continue to offer Sunday morning biscuits and gravy from 7-10 a.m. until the building can be renovated. After renovation, it is hopeful that the services to the homeless population will expand past hot meals

The City Council’s vote for reversing the denial came to 5-4 in favor of reversal. Laura Armstrong, Darla Drew, Bill Evans, Lance Lehmann, and Greg Strommen voted in favor of RV Ministries. Becky Drury, Chad Lewis, Ritchie Nordstrom, and John Roberts voted to uphold the denial.

Reasons for approval from various council members included the current capacity stress put on locations like The Hope Center, and the overall sentiment that RV Ministries presents.

In an email provided by RV Ministries after the vote, Lance Lehmann chronicled his reasoning for voting to reverse the denial. He said “It is my belief that continuing to cater to our homeless population allows for enabling behavior, but nobody with two eyes and a brain can deny that the problem is rampant and in our faces, and a big ship cannot be turned around overnight. Please continue to teach and transition this population into stable lives and productive livelihoods.” And he concluded by saying “Thank you for your work, It is my naïve hope you will work yourselves out of jobs.”

Jibran Ilyas Has Been Appointed As The New Lead For PTI Twitter

We are pleased to announce Jibran Ilyas as the new Twitter Lead for PTI. He has served the party as Website Lead, Facebook Lead and Co-lead for PTI iPhone Application in the past.

Jibran Ilyas serves as a Director of Incident Response for a leading Cyber Security Firm and is an Adjunct Professor at Northwestern University (USA) for a Digital Forensics course. At his day job, Jibran serves as an investigative lead for high profile data breaches. As a thought leader, Jibran has presented on the topics of computer forensics and cybercrime at several global security conferences including DEFCON, Black Hat USA, RSA Conference, Thotcon, Microsoft Digital Crimes Conference and SOURCE Barcelona. He was recently honored as Crain’s Chicago Business 40 under 40 for his contributions to the cyber security industry.

Jibran has been part of PTI Social Media Team since 2011 and has served as Central Facebook lead, iPhone App Co-Lead and Website lead. In 2011, Jibran was appointed Facebook admin for PTI Chicago page and from there he was promoted to PTI USA Facebook Admin in 2012. Also, in year 2012, Jibran started working on PTI’s Official iPhone Application with Co-leads Haris Siddiqui and Aly Boghani. The application was released on January 20, 2013 and became the first ever mobile application for a political party in Pakistan.

In year 2013, Jibran quit his job in Chicago and traveled to Lahore to become part of Election Campaign 2013 and worked in National Campaign office in Lahore from March 2013 to May 2013. He traveled on almost all Campaign Jalsas with a team of passionate volunteers and provided coverage on all Official Social Media channels. Post campaign (On June 10, 2013), he was promoted to PTI’s Central Facebook page lead where he led central Facebook pages including PTI’s official page and Chairman Imran Khan’s official page.

As the Facebook lead, Jibran introduced several new features on Facebook pages such as detailed testimonials from supporters and short User Feedback graphics to build a narrative and to promote the true feelings of the Pakistani people, in the context of the historical times we live in. Jibran managed a Global team of volunteers for PTI regional and overseas Facebook pages and led the PTI’s narrative on Facebook for the historical Dharna for 126 Days. Under Jibran’s tenure of about one and a half years, PTI’s Central Facebook page grew from 852,000 Likes to 2.46 Million Likes, while Imran Khan’s Official Facebook page grew from 964,000 Likes to 3.29 Million Likes (all without any paid promotions). The secret of the success was the heartfelt captions him and his team created on all posts and maintaining a high standard for the content according to PTI’s Social Media Code of Conduct.

In 2018, Jibran served as one of the leads for PTI website revamp, which was officially launched at Minar e Pakistan PTI Jalsa in April. The site played a pivotal role in General Elections 2018 by propagating PTI’s message, selling PTI merchandise and facilitating online donations. It continues to provide single source of truth for all PTI developments.

Jibran has a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science from DePaul University and a master’s degree in Information Technology Management from Northwestern University.

Lebanon currency in free-fall amid political impasses

Lebanon’s currency continued its downward spiral Wednesday, reaching a new low before the dollar and raising such alarm that it prompted a powerful politician to call for a state of “financial emergency.”

The Lebanese pound was reportedly selling at 6,200 to the dollar, losing more than 75% of its value. The pound had been pegged at 1,500 to the dollar since 1997.

Despite government efforts to manage the currency crash — including injecting dollars into the market and setting a higher rate for specific transactions — chaos prevailed, and the parallel currency market continued to thrive.

Highly indebted Lebanon is in the throes of financial and economic crises, made worse by restrictions imposed to combat the coronavirus in March. Political rivalries have also complicated negotiations with the International Monetary Fund, which the Lebanese government has asked last month for $10 billion in financial assistance.

On Wednesday, veteran parliament speaker Nabih Berri said the crash of the Lebanese pound is a signal for the government, the central bank, and private banks to declare a “financial state of emergency” to review measures to protect the local currency. He did not elaborate but called the crash “dubious and coordinated.”

“It is unacceptable to leave the Lebanese hostages to the black market for the foreign currency, food, medicine and fuel,” Berri said. “Lebanese politicians would be mistaken if they think that the IMF or any donor country can give us any one penny of assistance if we don’t implement reforms.”

Berri said Lebanon has become a “bottomless basket” that no one wants to help.

Dozens of protesters rallied in the southern city of Tyre, chanting against banks. “They are selling their nation for the sake of the dollar,” the protesters chanted, addressing private banks.

Anti-government nationwide protests gripped Lebanon before the coronavirus pandemic restrictions. Lebanese grew impatient with the political class in control since the end of the 15-year civil war in 1990, which they accused of corruption, including some warlords who remained in prominent political roles. The protests died down with the restrictions, but the currency crisis sparked new, limited and more violent rallies.

Meanwhile, the Lebanese political class has been bickering over hosting a national dialogue that was called for by the presidency following violent protests that threatened to ignite sectarian violence. Rivals of the government of Prime Minister Hassan Diab said they will boycott the meeting, scheduled Thursday. Diab’s government is backed by the powerful Hezbollah group and its allies.

Reflecting the dire straits Lebanon is facing, traditional donors to the state, including Gulf and European countries, have asked for major reforms before dispensing any assistance.

Speaking in Washington on Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo repeated the same line, adding that real reforms are necessary before support is extended to the government. He added that it must be a government that is not “beholden to Hezbollah.”

Hezbollah is on the U.S. sanctions list and Washington considers it one of Iran’s most powerful allies in the region.

“When that comes, when the government demonstrates, whoever that is, demonstrates their willingness and capacity to do that I think that not only United States, but the whole world will come in to assist the Lebanese government get its economy back on its feet,” Pompeo said.

Reopening from the Great Lockdown:  Uneven and Uncertain Recovery

The COVID-19 pandemic pushed economies into a Great Lockdown, which helped contain the virus and save lives, but also triggered the worst recession since the Great Depression. Over 75 percent of countries are now reopening at the same time as the pandemic is intensifying in many emerging market and developing economies. Several countries have started to recover. However, in the absence of a medical solution, the strength of the recovery is highly uncertain and the impact on sectors and countries uneven.

We are now projecting a deeper recession in 2020 and a slower recovery in 2021.

Compared to our April World Economic Outlook forecast, we are now projecting a deeper recession in 2020 and a slower recovery in 2021. Global output is projected to decline by -4.9 percent in 2020, 1.9 percentage points below our April forecast, followed by a partial recovery, with growth at 5.4 percent in 2021. 

These projections imply a cumulative loss to the global economy over two years (2020–21) of over $12 trillion from this crisis.

The downgrade from April reflects worse than anticipated outcomes in the first half of this year, an expectation of more persistent social distancing into the second half of this year, and damage to supply potential.

A high degree of uncertainty surrounds this forecast, with both upside and downside risks to the outlook. On the upside, better news on vaccines and treatments, and additional policy support can lead to a quicker resumption of economic activity. On the downside, further waves of infections can reverse increased mobility and spending, and rapidly tighten financial conditions, triggering debt distress. Geopolitical and trade tensions could damage fragile global relationships at a time when trade is projected to collapse by around 12 percent.

This crisis like no other will have a recovery like no other.

First, the unprecedented global sweep of this crisis hampers recovery prospects for export-dependent economies and jeopardizes the prospects for income convergence between developing and advanced economies. We are projecting a synchronized deep downturn in 2020 for both advanced economies (-8 percent) and emerging market and developing economies (-3 percent; -5 percent if excluding China), and over 95 percent of countries are projected to have negative per capita income growth in 2020. The cumulative hit to GDP growth over 2020–21 for emerging market and developing economies, excluding China, is expected to exceed that in advanced economies.

Second, as countries reopen, the pick-up in activity is uneven. On the one hand, pent-up demand is leading to a surge in spending in some sectors like retail, while, on the other hand, contact-intensive services sectors like hospitality, travel, and tourism remain depressed. Countries heavily reliant on such sectors will likely be deeply impacted for a prolonged period.

Third, the labor market has been severely hit and at record speed, and particularly so for lower-income and semi-skilled workers who do not have the option of teleworking. With activity in labor-intensive sectors like tourism and hospitality expected to remain subdued, a full recovery in the labor market may take a while, worsening income inequality and increasing poverty.

On the positive side, the recovery is benefitting from exceptional policy support, particularly in advanced economies, and to a lesser extent in emerging market and developing economies that are more constrained by fiscal space. Global fiscal support now stands at over $10 trillion and monetary policy has eased dramatically through interest rate cuts, liquidity injections, and asset purchases. In many countries, these measures have succeeded in supporting livelihoods and prevented large-scale bankruptcies, thus helping to reduce lasting scars and aiding a recovery.

This exceptional support, particularly by major central banks, has also driven a strong recovery in financial conditions despite grim real outcomes. Equity prices have rebounded, credit spreads have narrowed, portfolio flows to emerging market and developing economies have stabilized, and currencies that sharply depreciated have strengthened. By preventing a financial crisis, policy support has helped avert worse real outcomes. At the same time, the disconnect between real and financial markets raises concerns of excessive risk taking and is a significant vulnerability.

Given the tremendous uncertainty, policymakers should remain vigilant and policies will need to adapt as the situation evolves. Substantial joint support from fiscal and monetary policy must continue for now, especially in countries where inflation is projected to remain subdued. At the same time, countries should ensure proper fiscal accounting and transparency, and that monetary policy independence is not compromised.

A priority is to manage health risks even as countries reopen. This requires continuing to build health capacity, widespread testing, tracing, isolation, and practicing safe distancing (and wearing masks). These measures help contain the spread of the virus, reassure the public that new outbreaks can be dealt with in an orderly fashion, and minimize economic disruptions. The international community must further expand financial assistance and expertise to countries with limited health care capacity. More needs to be done to ensure adequate and affordable production and distribution of vaccines and treatments when they become available.

In countries where activities are being severely constrained by the health crisis, people directly impacted should receive income support through unemployment insurance, wage subsidies, and cash transfers, and impacted firms should be supported via tax deferrals, loans, credit guarantees, and grants. To reach more effectively the unemployed in countries with large informal sectors, digital payments will need to be scaled up and complemented with in-kind support for food, medicine, and other household staples channeled through local governments and community organizations.

In countries that have begun reopening and the recovery is underway, policy support will need to gradually shift toward encouraging people to return to work, and to facilitating a reallocation of workers to sectors with growing demand and away from shrinking sectors. This could take the form of spending on worker training and hiring subsidies targeted at workers that face greater risk of long-term unemployment. Supporting a recovery will also involve actions to repair balance sheets and address debt overhangs. This will require strong insolvency frameworks and mechanisms for restructuring and disposing of distressed debt.

Policy support should also gradually shift from being targeted to being more broad-based. Where fiscal space permits, countries should undertake green public investment to accelerate the recovery and support longer-term climate goals. To protect the most vulnerable, expanded social safety net spending will be needed for some time.

The international community must ensure that developing economies can finance critical spending through provision of concessional financing, debt relief and grants; and that emerging market and developing economies have access to international liquidity, via ensuring financial market stability, central bank swap lines, and deployment of a global financial safety net.

This crisis will also generate medium-term challenges. Public debt is projected to reach this year the highest level in recorded history in relation to GDP, in both advanced and emerging market and developing economies. Countries will need sound fiscal frameworks for medium-term consolidation, through cutting back on wasteful spending, widening the tax base, minimizing tax avoidance, and greater progressivity in taxation in some countries.

At the same time, this crisis also presents an opportunity to accelerate the shift to a more productive, sustainable, and equitable growth through investment in new green and digital technologies and wider social safety nets.

Global cooperation is ever so important to deal with a truly global crisis. All efforts should be made to resolve trade and technology tensions, while improving the multilateral rules-based trading system. The IMF will continue to do all it can to ensure adequate international liquidity, provide emergency financing, support the G20 debt service suspension initiative, and provide advice and support to countries during this unprecedented crisis.

Report:  Zambia Has Good Foundation to Use Digital Tools for Economic Transformation

The Zambia Digital Economy Diagnostic, a new report developed by the World Bank, finds that Zambia is making significant strides towards the use of digital tools to achieve the social and economic transformation goals set forth in its Vision 2030.

The report commends Zambia’s rapid expansion of mobile network access and the progress made in digitizing government services through SMART Zambia.

“These services, if fully optimized, can bring about increased efficiency in government services directed towards citizens and the business community,” said Ellen Olafsen, the lead author of the report. “The foundation is also now in place to fully leverage digital payments in the public and private sector. This is critical today when contactless transactions and rapid transmission of funds to the vulnerable are vital to Zambia’s COVID-19 resilience.”

The report assesses Zambia’s strengths and weaknesses with respect to five pillars that together form the foundation upon which the benefits of digital transformation can be realized. These pillars are Digital Infrastructure, Digital Skills, Digital Entrepreneurship, Digital Platforms, and Digital Financial Services. The report was developed in collaboration with the Zambia Cabinet Office, seven-line ministries and hundreds of representatives of the Zambian public and private sector.

“Digitization can help us get resources to the vulnerable quickly and transparently,” said Dr. Martine Mtonga, Deputy Secretary to the Cabinet for E-Government Division in the Office of the President. “It can also help us reduce the cost of doing business through digitally optimized systems that reduce the time spent to bring goods across the borders and make compliance easy and transparent.”

The launch of the report comes at a time when the advent of COVID-19 has quickly accelerated the use of–and need for–digital tools. More than 20 African countries have launched digitization initiatives in response to COVID-19. Digitalization offers an opportunity for contactless business continuity for small and large business alike; rapid and systematic data collection to support crisis response and recovery planning, and efficient, informed, and transparent resource allocation to those who need it most. Data and digital systems can also be effectively utilized to improve agriculture, health and education outcomes in secondary towns and rural areas.

Innovation will be required to drive progress, and the report therefore calls on continued public-private partnership and the creation of a more agile and predictable environment for digital innovators through regular dialogue.

“Digitization combined with reforms can boost productivity in the public and private sector through data-driven decision-making and increased transparency and efficiency,” said Sahr Kpundeh, World Bank Country Manager for Zambia. “The digital economy report is a vital guide to accelerating digital transformation in Zambia, while also ensuring that the safeguards for data security and consumer protection are in place.”

Digitization is however not without risks therefore; the report also recommends that Zambia strengthens cyber security and consumer protection measures. Zambia is one of the first 17 African countries to implement the Digital Economy for Africa (DE4A) Initiative, in which the World Bank has committed to investing $25 billion in Africa’s digital transformation.

UN chief urges Israel to abandon annexation plans

The UN Secretary-General has called on Israel to scrap plans to annex parts of the occupied West Bank, a move that could occur as early as next week.

“We are at a watershed moment”, António Guterres told a virtual meeting of the Security Council on Wednesday.

“If implemented, annexation would constitute a most serious violation of international law, grievously harm the prospect of a two-State solution and undercut the possibilities of a renewal of negotiations. I call on the Israeli Government to abandon its annexation plans.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made annexation a major pledge during campaigning, ahead of the latest round of national elections held in March.

The proposal would see sovereignty extended to roughly 30 per cent of the West Bank, covering most of the Jordan Valley and hundreds of illegal Israeli settlements.

In response, Palestinian leaders have cut ties with Israel and the United States, which backed the plan.

The UN envoy for the Middle East, Nikolay Mladenov, warned the Council that three decades of international peace efforts could be at stake.

“Recognizing that both peoples have a right to live in their ancestral home, 27 years ago Israeli and Palestinian leaders agreed to embark on a noble but difficult road, to resolve the conflict through negotiations, without taking unilateral action, and in order to reach a final status agreement on a just peace”, he recalled, speaking from Jerusalem.

“Today we are further than ever from this goal.”

Mr. Mladenov reported that the Palestinian Authority has now stopped accepting taxes Israel collects on its behalf.

The resulting 80 per cent drop in monthly revenue has added to economic fragility caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, amid reduced donor support to UNRWA, the UN agency that assists Palestinians.

He added that Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, who have been living under the control of extremist group Hamas, following a rift more than a decade ago, are especially vulnerable.

“The UN and other international organizations are increasingly being asked to perform coordination responsibilities. While we are prepared to provide support on an emergency basis, the UN cannot replace the Palestinian Authority. It is critical that humanitarian and other assistance not be delayed or stopped”, he said.

In supporting the Secretary-General’s appeal to Israel, Mr. Mladenov feared annexation could trigger instability across the occupied Palestinian territory and even beyond.

He urged the international community to work to get the parties to step back and continue the dialogue towards peace.

“In the coming weeks, decisions may be reached that will do irreparable damage to Palestinian and Israeli societies, to the security and economic wellbeing of both peoples”, he said.

“This bleak vision, however, is not yet a fait accompli. The window is closing, but there is still time to avert chaos. It will require a concerted effort by all stakeholders and the will to take political risks to achieve peace.”

Published by jim

Curator of things...

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