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Putin tests West

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The 10 most important things you need to know on Caspian Sea Region for Wednesday, June 10:

1As Vladimir Putin makes a rare trip to Western Europe, meeting Prime Minister Matteo Renzi in Milan on Wednesday, what does he hope to achieve? “In truth, it’s been apparent since the spring that European leaders were likely to renew sanctions, but this hasn’t prevented Mr Putin from seeking out chinks in Europe’s armour, whether by wooing cash-strapped Greece or developing ties with Europe’s far-right parties, like France’s National Front.UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond warned of this last week.”Of course we are concerned about what is clearly a Kremlin strategy of trying to pick off, shall we say, the brethren who may be less committed or more vulnerable in the run-up to the June decision,” he told an audience at the London think-tank Chatham House. [BBC]

2Kazakhstan is interested in investment in Iran’s Shahid Rajaee Port in order to facilitate transit of its goods to world markets via the Persian Gulf. Head of the country’s national railway company, Kazakhstan Temir Zholy, was visiting the port and the nearby Bandar Abbas on Wednesday for discussions with local officials.“The Kazakh side is interested in investing in Bandar Shahid Rajaee for construction of silos in order to store its wheat crop in the port and facilitate shipments,” head of the Islamic Republic of Iran Railways (IRIR) Abbas Nazari said. Kazakhstan currently uses Iran’s transit railway linking the Caspian Sea to the Persian Gulf to ferry about 11 million metric tons of wheat per year. As Central Asia’s largest grain producer, Kazakhstan is looking for shipment routes by sea which is very cheaper for its growing flow of goods.

3Games and Politics: Hearings on the issue of human rights in Azerbaijan are also expected to be held in the United States, and in Baku they already described it as an international campaign against Azerbaijan. What is the reason for such a distinct change in the international community’s attitude towards the Aliyev regime? It is noteworthy that out of the “European leaders” only the presidents of Russia and Turkey, Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan, will be attending the Games opening in Baku. Some analysts believe it is Putin’s visit that “scared” European leaders, who would rather avoid meeting him. Besides, many international experts consider the Putin-Erdogan-Aliyev triumvirate to be provocative for the West and dangerous in terms of changes in the situation in the western Eurasian region. [ArmeniaNow]

4Why the G-7 Warning of More Sanctions Won’t Worry Russia. “Aside from the structural problem, it is also not clear how far the sanctions can be expanded: Would they be prolonged, or would they target more individuals, or both? In March 2015, the U.S. State Department declared that U.S. sanctions will remain in place until Crimea is returned to Ukraine. That makes U.S. sanctions de facto indefinite. Continental Europe is divided on the issue. As Angela Merkel has said, sanctions should be relied on as only one of the methods of resolving the conflict. The U.K., while adopting a harsh political stance, is open for business with Russia by accepting money that originates from Russia through its tax havens” writes Anastasia Nesvetailova for the Epoch Times.

5Iran, Russia step up trans-Caspian trade. Iran has prepared three ports in the Caspian Sea and added six ships to its fleet for cargo trade with Russia as the two countries are forging stepped-up commercial relationship to counter Western sanctions on both countries. The new shipping route is unprecedented in the chequered history of the two countries’ relations and follows a trade agreement signed in March. It allows Russia to sell Iran’s crude oil abroad and deposit the money in a fund which Tehran would use to buy goods from Moscow. A separate deal allows Iran to import increased quantities of Russian grain in exchange for Iranian foodstuff, including fish from the Caspian Sea, the Sputnik news agency reported.”The most important thing is that by exporting oil, we can gain access to the financial resources we need to buy goods from Russia,” Iran’s consul to the Russian city of Astrakhan Ali Mohammadi said.

6The Government of Kazakhstan signed a $88 million loan agreement today with the World Bank to foster productive innovation in Kazakhstan. The five-year project will be implemented by the Ministry of Education and Science of the Republic of Kazakhstan to promote high-quality and nationally relevant research and commercialization of technologies. The loan agreement was signed by Bakhyt Sultanov, Minister of Finance, on behalf of the Government of the Republic of Kazakhstan, and Ludmilla Butenko, Country Manager for Kazakhstan, on behalf of the World Bank (International Bank for Reconstruction and Development). The project is the first in a series under the Partnership Framework Arrangement signed in May 2014 between the World Bank and the Government of Kazakhstan, according to the World Bank.

7Business first and foremost. Italy has long had an important economic relationship with Russia and political ties were sufficiently close before the Ukraine crisis. Italy is Russia’s third-biggest trading partner after China and Germany with deals between the two countries worth just over 30 billion euros last year. Renzi has said he will not be lecturing the Russian leader, while stressing that Italy stands fully behind international demands that Moscow ensure the respect of a second ceasefire between Kiev and the rebels that was agreed in Minsk in February.

8Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic of Azerbaijan is ready to provide guarantees for Iranian investors, Vasif Talibov, chairman of the Supreme Majlis of Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic said. He made the remarks during the meeting with the governor of Iran’s East Azerbaijan province Esmail Jabbarzadeh in Iran. During the meeting with the province’s governor, Talibov said that Azerbaijani businessmen are interested in making investments in Iran, including in Aras free economic and industrial zone. There are many spheres for expanding the economic and trade relations between the two countries, he said. Talibov said the bilateral relations between Azerbaijan and Iran are at a satisfactory level and the cooperation between the two countries will develop in the future as well.

9Peeling back Iran sanctions onion no easy task. The Obama administration may have to backtrack on its promise that it will suspend only nuclear-related economic sanctions on Iran as part of an emerging nuclear agreement, officials and others involved in the process tell The Associated Press. The problem derives from what was once a strong point of the broad US sanctions effort that many credit with bringing Iran to the negotiating table in the first place. Under the sanctions developed over decades, hundreds of companies and individuals have been penalized not only for their role in the country’s nuclear programme but also for ballistic missile research, terrorism, human rights violations and money laundering. Now the administration is wending its way through that briar patch of interwoven economic sanctions. [GulfNews]

10The Caucasian Cold War.“The main security concern for Azerbaijan comes from Armenia. Conflicts in the 1990s and recent border clashes still are fresh wounds in Azerbaijan. Having a defense relationship with a regional power like Turkey will act as a deterrent for Azerbaijan. This deterrent is particularly in regards to Armenia’s relationship with Russia that involves large amounts of Russian troops being stationed in Armenia. Therefore similarly to the Georgian case, Azerbaijan and Turkey both want to keep the Russians out to ensure security and influence in the Caucasus respectively” writes Taylor Morse for the Modern Diplomacy.

Journalist, specialized in Middle East, Russia & FSU, Terrorism and Security issues. Founder and Editor-in-chief of the Modern Diplomacy magazine.

Africa Today

Niger to Improve Women and Girl’s Access to Nutrition and Health Services

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The Nigerien government will be able to provide its population with better health coverage with financing approved today by the World Bank. This 15-year multiphase program will use innovative and comprehensive nutrition and health interventions to improve health system efficiency, equity, and sustainability, as well as boost girls’ and women’s empowerment.

Niger’s health system faces immense challenges. Despite progress in recent years, the country has a high under-five mortality rate of 77 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2020 and stunting continues to have devastating effects on the long-term development of Niger’s human capital. Lack of qualified health professionals, particularly doctors, nurses, and medical assistants, has an impact on overall public health. In addition, more than 75% of girls are married before the age of 18, and 30% marry before the age of 15.

Improving health and nutrition outcomes, as well as empowering girls and women to accelerate the demographic transition will require a transformational commitment over the long term,” says Joelle Dehasse, World Bank Country Manager for Niger. “The World Bank is strongly committed to build human capital and improve the lives of the poorest in a fragile context. Refugees and host communities, who use health care services in the targeted areas, will also benefit from these improved basic services.”

The first phase of the MPA, the Niger – Improving women’s and girls’ access to improved health and nutrition services (Lafia-Iyali) project aims to increase the utilization of reproductive, maternal, newborn, child and adolescent health and nutrition services and improve key behaviors known to improve health and nutrition outcomes, as well as girls’ and women´s agency in Zinder and Maradi region. Specifically, the project will increase the coverage, utilization and quality of the integrated package of services, as well as the continuity of  services to address under-five child mortality, maternal mortality and sexual and reproductive health. It will support demand for health and nutrition services to promote key behaviors for increased demand. About 6,500,000 people, including refugees, and IDPs will benefit from the project by 2026.

The total financing for the project’s first phase is $125 million. This includes a $25 million grant from the Global Financing Facility (GFF), a global partnership hosted at the World Bank that supports country-led efforts to prioritize investments in the health, nutrition and well-being of women, children and adolescents while building more resilient and inclusive health systems. The project aligns with Niger’s investment case, supported by the GFF, to accelerate health and nutrition outcomes for women, children and adolescents.

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Health & Wellness

Drops in Health Spending Jeopardize Recovery from COVID-19 in Developing Countries

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Despite what will likely be the fastest economic growth in the aftermath of any recession in the last 80 years, 52 countries are expected to reduce per capita government spending below pre-COVID levels over the next five years.  Based on a new World Bank paper released today, this will leave them unable to finance their share of a COVID-19 vaccine roll-out, invest in better preparedness to protect themselves from future crises and make progress toward Universal Health Coverage. 

According to “From Double Shock to Double Recovery: Widening Rifts,” governments will have to make bold choices to avoid falls in government health spending. In a group of 126 countries, per capita government spending is projected to exceed pre-COVID levels by 2026.  In 52 countries, by that time, overall government spending will however remain below 2019 levels.  A return to pre-COVID-19 growth rates in per capita government health spending in the poorest of these countries would require the share of spending assigned to health to almost double, from 10 percent to 20 percent. 

“The economic shock from Covid-19 is threatening the capacity of governments to spend sufficiently on health, threatening COVID-19 recovery and health security for all,” said Mamta Murthi, World Bank Vice President for Human Development. “Cash-strapped countries will have to make tough choices in health investment to safeguard essential health services, stay on a path toward Universal Health Coverage, and build resilience for the future.”

While bringing the current pandemic to an end will require significant investments in vaccines and vaccination programs, countries must also build resilience by investing in preparedness and ensure affordable health services for their populations, especially poor people. Yet, according to the paper, this is becoming a near impossibility for some countries.

“The projected net growth in health spending during 2021 and 2022 will cover only 28 percent of the countries’ cost share of a vaccine roll out in low-income countries, and 43 percent in lower-middle income countries,” said Christoph Kurowski, lead author of the paper. “And the projected growth in government health spending in these countries by 2026 will cover approximately only 60 percent of the necessary annual investment to strengthen and maintain public-health preparedness and response capabilities.”

The Global Financing Facility (GFF), which supports the continuity of essential health services as part of COVID-19 response efforts, has been sounding the alarm of the secondary health crisis for vulnerable populations and the need to secure appropriate levels of financing to provide essential health services and respond to emergencies in the future.

While it won’t be easy to boost development assistance for health at a time when high-income countries are also struggling, they have a vital interest in supporting a global recovery. Progress toward Universal Health Coverage is critical for human capital development and a full return to inclusive growth everywhere. Only together, can countries bridge the health financing rifts to build a healthier, more secure, more prosperous future for all.

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Development

Iraq and the World Bank to Boost Iraqi Women’s Economic Empowerment

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photo: © UNICEF/Wathiq Khuzaie

A new plan to remove constraints and create more economic opportunities for women was launched today by the government of Iraq, with support from the World Bank Group.

The Women’s Economic Empowerment Plan for 2021-2022 outlines the government’s priorities in line with its reform program. The plan follows extensive consultations with key stakeholders and is supported by the Iraqi Ministry of Planning, the Women’s Empowerment Directorate in the General Secretariat of the Council of Ministers, and the High Council for Women’s Affairs in Kurdistan Region of Iraq.

The World Bank Group provided technical support and advice to the government to develop the plan. Key pillars include building capacity for a more gender responsive budget, developing women’s skills in the digital and agriculture sectors; boosting access to finance for women; increasing data related to women in the private and informal sectors; implementing legislative reforms to reduce gender gaps; and strengthening knowledge and capacity around access to childcare.

The plan also includes a special focus on supporting vulnerable groups of women and targeting internally displaced women and returnees to areas liberated from ISIS.

On the launch of the plan, Dr. Yussra Kareem, National Coordinator of the MGF in Iraq and Director General for Women’s Empowerment Directorate at the General Secretariat of the Council of Ministers, said: “Women’s economic empowerment is one of the most important pillars focused on by the general policy for women’s empowerment, and it comes in the context of women’s rights to equality and social justice, and the 2030 sustainable development plan. In light of this, the Advisory Committee for Women’s Economic Empowerment, in cooperation with the World Bank, developed the National Action Plan for 2021-2022 for women’s economic empowerment and identified its six priorities.”

“Iraqi women have proved to be strong and resilient throughout decades of economic and security challenges. Increasing the participation of Iraqi women in the policy-making process and in leading roles is key to promote peacebuilding and social development.” said Saroj Kumar Jha, the World Bank’s Mashreq Regional Director. “The World Bank Group stands ready to support Iraq in strengthening the enabling environment for women’s economic participation and improving women’s access to economic opportunities.”

More women in the Iraqi workforce means more growth and less poverty. IFC is working with the private sector to help remove barriers that hold women back from joining the workforce,” said Abdullah Jefri, IFC’s Manager for the Levant.

Building a resilient economic recovery and ensuring inclusive long-term growth requires the full and equal participation of women in the economy. Canada continues to support Iraq in their efforts to strengthen women’s economic empowerment and welcomes the launch of this workplan under the Mashreq Gender Facility to help address the barriers to women’s participation in the labour force and enhance their opportunities to succeed,” said H.E Ulric Shannon, Ambassador of Canada to Iraq.

Sustainable development in any country cannot be achieved if women are not included in economic life and in political decision-making bodies. To ensure women participation in the labour market is smart economics, and this requires active and tireless efforts over time. The launch of the Woman Economic Empowerment Workplan 2021-2022 today is a step in the right direction, and Norway is proud to support the Mashreq Gender Facility in these vital efforts,” said H.E Erik Burger Husem, Chargè d’affaires at the Norwegian Embassy in Iraq.

The new plan will be implemented with support from national and international civil society organizations, and the private sector, in close coordination with the World Bank Group and international development partners.

The plan is a joint effort between the government of Iraq and the World Bank Group under the Mashreq Gender Facility (MGF), launched in January 2019 by the World Bank Group with  financial support from the governments of Canada and Norway. The facility provides technical support to Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan to boost women’s economic participation and drive inclusive growth. Under the MGF, Iraq set the target of increasing female labor force participation of 5 percentage point by 2024.

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