News, July 6th

‘Stay the course together to emerge stronger’ from COVID-19 crisis: UN chief’s message to major sustainability forum

As a major United Nations forum prepares to assess progress towards a fairer future for people and the planet, UN Secretary-General António Guterres has warned that each of the Goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, is being impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The High-Level Political Forum (HLPF), which formally begins on Tuesday, is an annual stock-take of the world’s progress towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This year, senior government figures are meeting virtually, via video-conferencing software, to discuss and debate ways to tackle some of the world’s biggest challenges; from poverty, to climate change, peace and security, and gender equality.

Countries will have the opportunity to present their updated plans for making the 17 Goals a reality (known as Voluntary National Reviews), and several UN, and other intergovernmental bodies will also provide input to the discussions.

The extent to which the COVID-19 pandemic has affected so many aspects of society, and the economy, is reflected in the 2020 program: the theme of “building back better” after the pandemic is the background to many of the sessions over the major 10-day conference, covering such areas as poverty reduction, financing for developing countries, protecting the planet, and access to sustainable energy.

The Secretary-General’s latest report on progress towards the SDGs, which will form the basis of discussions, notes that 2020 marks the beginning of a “decade of action and delivery for sustainable development”, during which the pace and scale at which the goals are achieved will be ramped up.

The report notes that the global crisis resulting from the spread of COVID-19, has had a major effect on these targets, with health systems overwhelmed, businesses shut down, and 1.6 billion students kept out of school; the poor and vulnerable have borne the brunt of the pandemic, and tens of millions are expected to experience extreme hunger and poverty.

The discussions held during the forum will also be informed by a second report from the Secretary-General, which focuses on how to deliver the SDGs, in light of the pandemic. In it, the UN chief outlines two overarching themes: reducing inequality, by making economies more sustainable and just; and committing to “rapid and sustained” carbon dioxide reductions.

The first theme is described as a key strategy to reduce global poverty. Progress towards reduction has slowed in recent years, and it is projected that in 2020 alone, the pandemic could lead to up to 49 million people falling into poverty.

Improving income distribution, says the report, can make a major impact, not only in keeping people above the poverty line, but also in contributing to faster economic growth, as the poorest in society gain greater spending power.

Reducing emissions of carbon dioxide, and other greenhouse gases, is essential if the international community’s goal of keeping an overall global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels is to be met. Policies and strategies currently in place, warns the report, do not go far enough, and there is a real risk of significantly overshooting the target.

The Secretary-General declares, in the report, that ambitious and immediate climate action is the only viable pathway that limits climate change, whilst protecting people, livelihoods and natural ecosystems. Such action would also see a tangible net economic benefit, saving the global economy tens of trillions of dollars.

The UN chief’s progress report highlights the importance of international cooperation and solidarity in recovering from the crisis, a “large-scale, coordinated and comprehensive multilateral response”, amounting to at least 10 per cent of global gross domestic product (GDP). Mr. Guterres raises the prospect of a post-pandemic global economy that “builds back better”, with measures in place that reduce the risk of future crises and bring the world closer to achieving the 2030 Agenda.

Africa starts opening airspace even as COVID-19 cases climb

As COVID-19 cases surged in many parts of the world, the island nation of the Seychelles was looking good: 70-plus straight days without a single infection. Then the planes arrived.

Two chartered Air Seychelles flights carrying more than 200 passengers also brought the coronavirus. A few tested positive. Then, between June 24 and 30, the country’s confirmed cases shot from 11 to 81.

Now the Indian Ocean nation has delayed reopening for commercial flights for its lucrative tourism industry until Aug. 1 if all goes well.

African nations face a difficult choice as infections are rapidly rising: Welcome the international flights that originally brought COVID-19 to the ill-prepared continent, or further hurt their economies and restrict a lifeline for badly needed humanitarian aid.

“This is a very important moment,” the World Health Organization’s Africa chief, Matshidiso Moeti, told reporters on Thursday, a day after Egypt reopened its airports for the first time in more than three months.

Other countries are preparing to follow. That’s even as Africa had more than 463,000 confirmed virus cases as of Sunday and South Africa, its most developed economy, already struggles to care for COVID-19 patients.

But Africa’s economies are sick, too, its officials say. The continent faces its first recession in a quarter-century and has lost nearly $55 billion in the travel and tourism sectors in the past three months, the African Union says. Airlines alone have lost about $8 billion and some might not survive.

Most of Africa’s 54 countries closed their airspace to ward off the pandemic. That bought time to prepare, but it also hurt efforts to deliver life-saving medical supplies such as vaccines against other diseases. Shipments of personal protective gear and coronavirus testing materials, both in short supply, have been delayed.

“Many governments have decided travel needs to resume,” the WHO’s Africa chief said.

Africa has seen far fewer flights than other regions during the pandemic. Sometimes the entire West and Central African region saw just a single daily departure, according to International Civil Aviation Organization data.

While Asia, Europe and North America averaged several hundred departures a day from international airports, the African continent averaged a couple or few score daily.

Last week, the number of global flights jumped significantly. In the three-day period between June 30 and July 2, the daily number of departures increased from 3,960 to 6,508 as countries loosened restrictions, the data show.

African nations want to join the crowd. Senegal’s president has said international flights will begin on July 15. The 15-member Economic Community of West African States is expected to reopen its airspace on July 21. Nigeria has said domestic flights resume on July 8 while Kenya and Rwanda plan to restart flights by Aug. 1.

Kenya Airways wants to resume international flights. South Africa and Somalia are open for domestic ones, and Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Tanzania, and Zambia now have commercial flights. Tanzania opened its skies weeks ago, hoping for a tourism boost despite widespread concern it’s hiding the extent of infections. It hasn’t updated case numbers since April.

“It’s good to be back!” Africa’s largest carrier, Ethiopian Airlines, declared late last month. After scrambling to revamp its services for cargo and repatriation flights in the past few months, it now wants to play a leading a role in “the new normal.”

That means face masks are mandatory on board. But the WHO’s Africa chief hopes to see all airlines do more.

“Physical distancing should be encouraged by leaving seats vacant,” Moeti said. And she suggested that “when we see a flare-up that is unacceptable” in virus cases, the loosening of travel restrictions could be reversed.

The WHO recommends that countries look at whether the need to fight widespread virus transmission outweighs the economic benefits of opening borders. “It is also crucial to determine whether the health system can cope with a spike in imported cases,” it says.

Regional leaders of the International Air Transport Association and Airports Council International are ready to go. In an open letter to African ministers last month, they welcomed global guidelines developed by the ICAO for the return to travel after the aviation industry’s “biggest challenge of its history.”

They also urged African countries to “identify every opportunity where travel restrictions could be lifted … as soon as the epidemiological situation allows for it.”

As the continent slowly takes flight, some European nations and others are limiting entry to people from countries they feel are doing a good job of containing the virus. African nations can seize the moment and do more tourism at home, Amani Abou-Zeid, AU commissioner for infrastructure and energy, told reporters last week.

“This is an opportunity to encourage Africans to see Africa,” she said.

Not always. The 70 recently infected people in the Seychelles, all crew members from West African countries meant to work on tuna fishing vessels, were isolated on boats in a special quarantine zone in the harbor in the capital.

China steps up precautions after bubonic plague case

Authorities in China’s northern Inner Mongolia region have stepped up precautions after a herdsman was confirmed at the weekend to have the bubonic plague.

The man was in stable condition at a hospital in Bayannur, the city health commission said in a statement.

The commission has forbidden the hunting and eating animals that could carry plague — particularly marmots — until the end of the year and urged people to report any dead or diseased rodents.

The Yersinia pestis bacteria can be transmitted to humans from infected rats via fleas.

Though the highly contagious plague is rare in China and can be treated, at least five people have died from it since 2014, according to China’s National Health Commission.

Another suspected case involving a 15-year-old was reported on Monday in neighboring Mongolia, China’s state news agency Xinhua said.

The boy had a fever after eating a marmot hunted by a dog, Xinhua said.

Two other cases were confirmed in Mongolia’s Khovd province last week involving brothers who had eaten marmot meat, the agency said added.

Some 146 people who came into contact with the pair have been quarantined.

China-Africa friendship strengthened in joint fight against COVID-19

Forty-six Chinese medical teams sent to assist Africa have worked with local people to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, practicing the concept of building a China-Africa community of common health.

Not long ago, Azida Zahara had a tumor removed from her body by Chinese medics stationed in the city of Taza in northern Morocco.

Due to the difficulty of the surgery and the limited medical resources in the city, many local hospitals refused to admit Zahara until the Chinese medical team came to her aid.

After the medics from China made a detailed and meticulous treatment plan for her, Zahara’s successful surgery gradually improved her situation.

Since China dispatched its first medical team to Algeria in 1963, it has sent a total of 22,000 medical workers to 48 African countries in 993 batches, offering medical services for 220 million people there. Currently, China has 100 medical stations in 45 African countries providing free services for local communities.

Since the onset of the pandemic in Africa, Chinese medical teams aiding Africa have conducted nearly 400 training sessions for local medical workers. They also issued guidance and handbooks, renovated intensive care units at local hospitals and donated materials and money to help the local communities cope with the pandemic.

Pikine National Hospital in a suburb of Dakar, Senegal, follows strict procedures to prevent the pandemic that have proven effective in China. Xu Wensheng, head of the medical team sent to assist Senegal, said his team had put forward 35 pieces of proposals for the Senegalese side.

Chinese medical teams have established nine branches in Morocco, mostly of which are stationed in small and medium-sized cities, as well as remote areas in the country.

According to Liu Huachi, head of the Chinese medical team assisting Morocco, taking the suggestions of Chinese medics, many local hospitals have opened fever clinics to test for COVID-19. The hospitals have also strengthened protection of medical workers and built a registration system so that patients are traceable.

Aziz, 55, dean of a school in Taza, is an old friend of the Chinese medics assisting Morocco. Every Thursday over the past 12 years, Aziz teaches Chinese doctors French and Arabic for free.

“The Chinese doctors cured my eye disease and helped me become confident about my life,” he said, expressing hope to come to China to visit doctors who have helped him.

Nearly 40 feared dead as torrential rains hit southwest Japan

Nearly 40 people were feared dead as torrential rains continued to hit Japan’s southwestern island of Kyushu, with riverbanks at risk of bursting on Monday (July 6) morning and new evacuation orders put in place.

Flooding and mudslides that began at the weekend have killed 21 people so far. A further 18 people were showing no vital signs and presumed dead pending official confirmation, and 13 people were missing, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said at a news conference.

“I offer my deepest condolences for those who have passed from the torrential rains,” Suga said, adding that some 40,000 members of the Self-Defense Force were involved in rescue missions.

He added that evacuation centers were also working on preventing the spread of the novel coronavirus by distributing disinfectant and asking evacuees to maintain their distance from each other.

As of Saturday (July 4), some 200,000 have been ordered to evacuate their homes, according to Kyodo news agency.

The floods are Japan’s worst natural disaster since Typhoon Hagibis in October last year that left about 90 people dead.

Presidential Message on National Air Traffic Control Day, 2020

Across nearly 30 million square miles of American-controlled airspace, passengers fly safely and efficiently thanks to the diligent work of the men and women of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).  On National Air Traffic Control Day, we recognize these dedicated professionals for the ingenuity and skill they use to safeguard America’s reputation for aviation excellence.

As our country continues to combat the unprecedented challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic, the FAA and its workforce have worked tirelessly to keep the skies open and safe.  Nearly 900 flights helped more than 80,000 United States citizens traveling in 133 countries return home, and more than 800 FEMA flights delivered roughly one billion gloves, gowns, and other essential supplies to medical workers.  Our Nation’s vigilant air traffic controllers are at the heart of these operations and have worked around the clock, as they always do, to keep flights operating safely, reliably, and on time.

In the months to come, the aviation industry will be integral in helping our Nation recover from the effects of the coronavirus and restoring our country’s robust economy.  To assist in these efforts, my Administration has provided approximately $10 billion through the CARES Act to support airports during these difficult times.  These funds will be used to help our airports—the foundation of our Nation’s air transportation system—remain operational and safely up to date.

On this National Air Traffic Control Day, we express our sincerest gratitude to the air traffic controllers and technicians who keep America’s air travel system open, safe, and efficient.  Their dutiful and diligent efforts help bolster our country’s economy, strengthen their local communities, and connect millions of Americans to their jobs, friends, and families each and every day.

Protest exposes Albuquerque’s covered up police killings

Dominic Smith, Orlando Abeyta, Valente Acosta-Bustillos. These are names you have probably never heard of.

They were all brutally killed by Albuquerque police officers. The cases were covered up and then brushed away. None of the officers were ever fired, charged, or prosecuted. In each case, local media dropped the story immediately after covering police press conferences where the killers exculpated themselves.

But the nationwide revolt against racism and police brutality has created an opening. All over the country new calls for justice are being raised around older cases of police killings.

Most prominently, in recent days, is the case of young Elijah McClain in Colorado, a case closed by the Adams County district attorney last year, now being reinvestigated by the state’s attorney general thanks to weeks of unrelenting, sustained street protests.

Not far away in Albuquerque, New Mexico, the Party for Socialism and Liberation is working in coordination with the families of Dominic Smith, Orlando Abeyta and Valente Acosta-Bustillos to renew calls for justice.

Dominic Smith was a victim of the opioid epidemic. A corporate drug prescription for a broken ankle cascaded into an addiction. In 2010, when an unarmed Smith encountered Albuquerque police while under the influence, they shot him in the heart twice for not responding to commands.

Orlando Abeyta, a 28-year-old Native American man, grew up in To’Hajiilee. On Jan. 6, 2020 two undercover members of the Albuquerque Police Department gang unit gunned Orlando down in broad daylight at a bus stop. He was holding a BB gun and talking with friends when officers ambushed him. Police swerved up and jumped out with assault rifles. Four seconds later, without having moved a muscle, Abeyta was shot 10 times.

Not long after that, on March 30, APD killed 52-year-old Valente Acosta-Bustillos, an undocumented construction worker, during a “welfare” check. Valenta was doing yard work when two officers walked onto his property, shot, and killed him, later stating that his gardening shovel made them “fear for their lives.” Acosta-Bustillos had been diagnosed previously with a mental health disorder. The cops that killed Valente had personally referred him several times for short-term emergency mental health treatment. They killed him anyway.

On June 25, the family of Valente Acosta-Bustillos courageously led a march of hundreds from APD headquarters to the residential home where Valente was gunned down by the police. Protesters, including the cousin of Dominic Smith, helped Valente’s family rebuild a memorial that had been taken down by the landlord, whose only concern was how the memory of Valente and his senseless killing might lower the amount they could charge the next renter.

New Mexico, in which Albuquerque is the largest city, routinely ranks first or second in the country for fatal police shootings. The shootings have a racist character: most of the targets are Native American and Latino. Even with a crisis this severe, the movement has been dormant in recent years.

A 2014 anti-police brutality uprising successfully led to the implementation of a federally monitored reform process. The mass movement receded while the reforms were allegedly being put in place. Six years later, however, it is now possible to see that the “reforms” have not reduced the number of police killings, nor have they brought justice to the victims’ families, past or present.

It gets worse. Since taking office in 2017, Democratic Mayor Tim Keller has been a staunch advocate of growing, not defunding, APD’s budget, something he has doubled down on in recent weeks saying, “We have to understand the Albuquerque context.” Thanks to this liberal law-and-order infusion of resources, APD’s budget shot up 20 percent in the last two years and now sits at a staggering $208 million (32 percent of the city’s general fund budget).

Meanwhile, Albuquerque’s budget allocations for affordable housing, homeless support services/emergency shelter, mental health services, and substance abuse services are 1.3 percent, 4.4 percent, 1.8 percent, and 1.5 percent of the APD operating budget, respectively.

All of this has rekindled many peoples’ anger, and for the first time since 2014, it is once again bubbling to the surface.

The children of Valente Acosta-Bustillos, determined to defend the memory of their father, are now part of the march forward. Surrounded by family, they spoke about their father as a peaceful and hardworking man who cared deeply for others. Members of the South Broadway community lined the street as the marchers passed, voicing their total support for firing, and prosecuting the APD officers responsible for Valente’s death: officers Joseph Bush and Edgar Sandoval.

All progressive and revolutionary people, working together with the families, should continue this fight!

Saudi Arabia announce Haj restrictions

Saudi Arabia on Monday announced a series of measures to help prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus during the annual Haj pilgrimage scheduled to take place later this month.

The Kingdom will limit the number of domestic attendees to around 1,000 and touching the Kaaba, Islam’s most sacred monument, will be banned, reports the BBC.

Social distancing will also be imposed.

In normal times the pilgrimage is one of the most significant moments in the Muslim religious calendar.

Some two million people were expected to travel to Mecca and Medina this July and August for the annual gathering.

But only Saudi residents will be allowed to attend this year.

Monday’s development came as Saudi Arabia reported a total of 209,509 COVID-19 cases, while the death toll stands at 1,916.

Last month, Saudi Arabia had announced that due to the coronavirus pandemic, only a “very limited number” of people will be allowed to take part in this year’s Haj pilgrimage.

So, while this year’s Haj will include non-Saudis, those individuals must already reside inside the borders of the Kingdom to be eligible.

This is not the first time Saudi Arabia has restricted participation in the pilgrimage.

Between 2014 and 2016, Muslim faithful from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and several other African countries were excluded from the Haj due to Ebola.

The Haj represents an important source of income, typically generating between $5.3 billion and $6.9 billion for the local economy, according to Mecca’s chamber of commerce.

In 2019, nearly 2.5 million Muslims performed the Haj, including more than 600,000 Saudis, according to official figures.

The annual pilgrimage is one of the five pillars of Islam, which every Muslim must perform at least once if his or her physical and economic state allow.

US, China ramp up South China Sea tension with new military drills

USS Nimitz and USS Ronald Reagan are now in the South China Sea for military drills, a U.S. Navy official confirms to Fox News.

“The purpose is to show an unambiguous signal to our partners and allies that we are committed to regional security and stability,” Rear Adm. George Wikoff told the Wall Street Journal, which was the first media to report the exercises likely to irk Beijing.

The drills, to support a free and open Indo-Pacific and promote an international rules-based order, also included “round-the-clock flights testing the striking ability of carrier-based aircraft,” he added.

The South China Sea is where China is pitted against smaller neighbors in multiple territorial disputes over islands, coral reefs, and lagoons. The waters are a major shipping route for global commerce and are rich in fish and possible oil and gas reserves.

China’s People’s Liberation Army had been staging exercises off the Paracel Islands in the disputed South China Sea since July 1, angering the Philippines, and Chinese maritime officials have prohibited all vessels from navigating within the area of the maneuvers.

In another message to China, a B-52 bomber from Louisiana flew a 28-hour mission to train with jets from the aircraft carriers Reagan and Nimitz in the South China Sea, according to the Air Force.

Elsewhere in the fleet, the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower has been at sea now for over 169 straight days since leaving Norfolk in January. Other warships in the Ike strike group have also been underway for at least five months.

World Bank and Government of India sign $750 million Agreement for Emergency Response Program for Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises

The World Bank and the Government of India today signed the $750 million agreement for the MSME Emergency Response Program to support increased flow of finance into the hands of micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs), severely impacted by the COVID-19 crisis.

The World Bank’s MSME Emergency Response program will address the immediate liquidity and credit needs of some 1.5 million viable MSMEs to help them withstand the impact of the current shock and protect millions of jobs. This is the first step among a broader set of reforms that are needed to propel the MSME sector over time.

The agreement was signed by Sameer Kumar Khare, Additional Secretary, Department of Economic Affairs, Ministry of Finance on behalf of the Government of India and Junaid Ahmad, Country Director, India on behalf of the World Bank.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has severely impacted the MSME sector leading to loss of livelihoods and jobs.  The Government of India is  focused on ensuring that the abundant financial sector liquidity available flow to NBFCs, and that banks which have turned extremely risk averse, continue taking exposures in the economy by lending to NBFCs,” said Sameer Kumar Khare, Additional Secretary, Department of Economic Affairs, Ministry of Finance. “This project will support the Government in providing targeted guarantees to incentivize NBFCs and banks to continue lending to viable MSMEs to help sustain them through the crisis,” he added.

The World Bank Group, including its private sector arm – the International Finance Corporation (IFC), will support the government’s initiatives to protect the MSME sector by:

India’s financial system benefited from early and decisive measures taken by the RBI and the Government of India (GOI) to infuse liquidity into the market. Give current uncertainties, lenders remain concerned about borrowers’ ability to repay – resulting in limited flow of credit even to the viable enterprises in the sector. This program will support government’s efforts to channel that liquidity to the MSME sector by de-risking lending from banks and Non-Banking Financial Companies (NBFCs) to MSMEs through a range of instruments, including credit guarantees.

Improving the funding capacity of key market-oriented channels of credit, such as the NBFCs and Small Finance Bank (SFBs), will help them respond to the urgent and varied needs of the MSMEs. This will include supporting government’s refinance facility for NBFCs. In parallel, the IFC is also providing direct support to SFBs through loans and equity.

Today, only about 8 percent of MSMEs are served by formal credit channels. The program will incentivize and mainstream the use of fintech and digital financial services in MSME lending and payments. Digital platforms will play an important role by enabling lenders, suppliers, and buyers to reach firms faster and at a lower cost, especially small enterprises who currently may not have access to the formal channels.

“The MSME sector is central to India’s growth and job creation and will be key to the pace of India’s economic recovery, post COVID-19. The immediate need is to ensure that the liquidity infused into the system by the government is accessed by MSMEs. Equally important is to strengthen the overall financing ecosystem for MSMEs,” said Junaid Ahmad, World Bank Country Director in India. “This operation seeks to achieve both these objectives by furthering the role of NBFCs and SCBs as effective financial intermediaries and leveraging fintech to broaden the reach of finance into the MSME sector.”

The World Bank has to date committed $2.75 billion to support India’s emergency COVID-19 response, including the new MSME project. The first $1 billion emergency support was announced in April this year for immediate support to India’s health sector. Another $1 billion project was approved in May to increase cash transfers and food benefits to the poor and vulnerable, including a more consolidated delivery platform – accessible to both rural and urban populations across state boundaries.

The $750 million loan from the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD), has a maturity of 19 years including a 5-year grace period.

Published by jim

Curator of things...

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