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Europe in crisis: everyone from Putin to ordinary savers are stockpiling gold

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Welcome to the Caspian Daily, where you will find the 10 most important things you need to know on Caspian Sea Region. We appreciate ideas, reports, news and interesting articles. Send along to Caspian[at]moderndiplomacy.eu or on Twitter: @DGiannakopoulos

1European investors snapped up gold bars and coins at a rapid pace in the second quarter as turmoil in Greece threatened to push the country out of the eurozone.The World Gold Council (WGC) said demand in Europe for the precious metal rose sharply in the three months to June compared with the same quarter last year amid rapid buying of bullion, even as global demand fell by 12pc to a six-year low of 915 tonnes. Szu Ping Chan for the telegraph.

2Switzerland Lifts Sanctions On Iranian Oil, Precious Metals Sales. Switzerland is lifting some sanctions against Iran in what it calls a sign of support for the agreement between Tehran and world powers over its nuclear program. The neutral country’s governing Federal Council decided on August 12 to lift a ban on precious-metals transactions with Iranian state entities, and end requirements to report trade in Iranian petrochemical products and transport of Iranian crude oil, among other measures.The government, which also cited its “interest in deepening bilateral relations with Iran,” said it reserves the right to reimpose the sanctions if implementation of the nuclear deal fails.

3At least nine foreign national leaders, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, have confirmed they will attend Beijing’s military parade to mark the 70th anniversary of victory in the War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression (1937-45), media reports say. South Korean President Park Geun-hye will announce her decision no later than next week, her spokesman said. The leaders of Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan – all members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation – have confirmed they will come to Beijing for the celebration.

4Greece and Azerbaijan discussed the sale of a package of shares of DESFA gas transportation system operator to SOCAR.This issue was discussed at a meeting of Greek Minister Panos Skurletis with SOCAR Energy SA Greece director general Anar Mammadov, the ministry of industrial reform, environmental protection and energy of Greece said. During the meeting the minister stressed the positive attitude of the government in the field of energy cooperation with Azerbaijan. The sides reviewed the technical issues and agreed to hold a meeting soon to discuss and resolve the remaining issues to intensify the further actions that will allow beginning the design work for TAP in Greece.

5Whither Azerbaijan’s Islamists? The overall atmosphere in Azerbaijan is grim when it comes to freedom of speech and freedom of conscience. Yet, the release from prison of Taleh Baghirov, a young, charismatic Shia Muslim cleric, goes against the general trend in Azerbaijan. While it is certainly premature to call Baghirov’s release a “game changer,” it has implications for Azerbaijan’s Islamist politics that are worth pondering. [Eurasianet]

6Turkmenistan’s national gas company TurkmenGaz has agreed to acquire a 51% stake in the proposed $10bn Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) natural gas pipeline project.StateTAPI is a consortium formed by the state-owned gas companies of the four countries to manage the project.Other partners in the project include Afghan Gas Enterprise, Pakistan-based Inter State Gas Systems and Gail (India).The consortium leader is expected to be selected in September and construction on the project would begin in December.

7US general: Russia main threat for USA.Russia is among the most dangerous countries for the United States, US army chief of staff, general Raymond Odierno said.at a briefing in Pentagon.”I think Russia is most dangerous for a number of reasons. Primarily because it is better prepared than our other potential opponents”, the general believes.In particular, Russia ‘has serious potential for holding really complex operations in Ukraine”, he says.In this connection, Odierno finds it essential to expand the military potential of NATO-led troops in Eastern Europe.

8Development of the largest natural gas field in Turkmenistan, Galkynysh, continues, according to the newspaper “Neutral Turkmenistan.”More than 20 production wells have been drilled during the preparation for the launch of refining capacities in the central part of the oil and gas area of the field. In 2014, the departments of Turkmen state concern “Turkmenraz” completed construction of three production wells with a depth of over 4,500 meters with a total flow rate of more than 6.5 million cubic meters of natural gas per day. Teams of the “Turkmengeologiya” State Corporation commissioned three more wells. This year, geologists plan to drill another four deep wells with high flow rate of gas on the field.

9A nuclear guide to the Kazakhstan Steppe. The Soviet Union’s rise and fall as a superpower has left a toxic legacy on a large corner of the planet. Semipalatinsk Test Site or simply “The Polygon” is an 18,000-square-kilometre area on the Kazakh Steppe where the Soviet Union conducted 456 nuclear tests before the site was officially closed for testing in 1991.Today the Polygon is home to research on the effects of the tests on the surrounding ecology. And it’s also open for tours.Fifty years ago intruders would have been shot on sight. Now tourists are doing the shooting through viewfinders. [ABCnews]

10Azerbaijan will take part in the sessions of the commission on regulation of use of radio frequency spectrum and satellite orbits RRU (Regional Communication Union) and working group on preparations for the World radio frequency conference from September 7 to September 11 in Moscow.

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

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World News

World Bank Supports Maldives to Improve Secondary Education

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The World Bank’s Board of Executive Directors today approved a $9 million project to improve the performance of the education system, schools, and teaching and learning outcomes at the secondary education level in Maldives.

Maldives has achieved almost universal enrolment at early childhood, primary and lower secondary education levels, but low net enrolment and high gender disparity are the major challenges at the higher secondary level. Learning outcomes are moderate, with clear geographical disparities  among atolls, and between islands within atolls. The average scores for English, Mathematics and Dhivehi for Grade 4 and Grade 7 students ranged between 50 to 60 percent.

“The COVID 19 pandemic has had a profound impact on the Maldives’ general education system, forcing the extended closure of primary and secondary schools across the entire country,” said Faris. H. Hadad-Zervos, the World Bank Country Director for Maldives, Nepal, and Sri Lanka. “The project will broaden educational opportunities for the youth and advance the country’s equitable economic and human development.”

The new Maldives Atoll Education Development Project will support the Government in improving the quality of secondary education in subjects of strategic importance for economic development such as English language, mathematics, science, and skills education. Improved learning outcomes at secondary education level in these strategic subjects will help more students qualify for higher secondary education. Schools will be encouraged to adopt environment-friendly behaviors like saving energy and reducing waste. Support will be provided to atoll schools to expand their ICT equipment and technology while also improving the skills of teachers to address the needs of students with learning challenges. Skills of school principals, management officials, and teachers will also be improved through targeted programs.

“The Maldivian government is implementing a comprehensive curriculum reform initiative and is focusing on improving learning outcomes equitably across Atolls and islands,” said Harsha Aturupane World Bank Lead Economist and Task Team Leader. “Building on these positive steps, Maldives needs to strengthen the quality of general education with a special focus on teacher performance in the outer atolls, and the quality assurance of schools in the islands with small student populations” added Karthika Radhakrishnan-Nair, World Bank Education Specialist and Co-Task Team Leader of the project.

The Maldives Atoll Education Development Project will be implemented by the Ministry of Education. The total financing is $10 million, which is comprised of a $4.5 million grant and a $4.5 million credit from the International Development Association (IDA), the World Bank’s concessional credit window for developing countries, and a contribution of US$1 million of counterpart funds from the Government of Maldives.

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Financing to Support Liberia’s Reforms for Promoting Inclusive Economic Growth

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The World Bank Board has approved the third and last in a programmatic series of three Inclusive Development Policy Operations (IGDPO) designed to support key reforms that are critical to enabling inclusive growth. The financing, amounting to $55 million ($47.50 million International Development Association (IDA) concessional credit and $7.50 million IDA grant), will be disbursed as budget support. These reforms will remove distortions in key economic sectors, strengthen public-sector transparency, and promote economic and social inclusion.

The reforms supported in this programmatic series are aligned with the government’s objectives for improving access to quality agriculture seeds, clean and cheaper electricity, financial inclusion, access to social safety nets, and to other public services, especially for the poorest households, including refugees and refugee hosting communities.

We commend the Government of Liberia for successfully completing this programmatic reform series. The benefits of the reforms implemented are already becoming visible and include among others, the reduction in electricity tariffs and the cost of importing quality-verified solar products which will benefit many households in Liberia,” said Khwima Nthara, World Bank Liberia Country Manager.

This IGDPO builds upon the gains made under the first and second operations of this program approved in 2020 and 2021. The reforms supported by this operation will strengthen the regulatory environment to incentivize private-sector participation in the agriculture seed supply chain, through seed development, multiplication and certification. The actions supported under this operation will contribute to reducing commercial losses and strengthening Liberia Electricity Corporation’s (LEC) financial sustainability, as well as increasing access to solar energy. The previous operation supported the reduction of electricity tariff for poor households from US$0.385/kWh to US$0.22/kWh in May 2021, while this new operation further reduced the tariffs to US$0.15/kWh.

Numerous regulatory challenges that hindered the growth of digital financial services (DFS) have since been addressed by the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL), with active support from this budget support program along other World Bank Group  programs, resulting in Liberia’s National Financial Inclusion Strategy (NFIS) objective of increasing access to formal financial services to 50 percent by 2024 already being exceeded in 2021,” said Mamadou Ndione, World Bank Senior Economist and Task Team Leader of the IGDPO program.

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Tech News

How shipping can contribute to a more sustainable future

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This year’s theme – ‘New technologies for greener shipping’ – promotes innovation and solutions that support a transition in the sector. Maritime transport represents more than 80 per cent of global trade, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said in his message for the Day.

Meanwhile, the war in Ukraine –and the Black Sea Grain Initiative – have highlighted the vital role shipping plays in feeding the world.

Curb shipping emissions

“As shipping continues to connect humanity, it must play an essential part in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and building a fair and prosperous future for people and planet,” he said.

The UN chief stressed that the maritime sector “must accelerate its voyage to decarbonization.” Emissions from shipping are projected to grow considerably unless there is concerted global action, he warned.

“Governments and private companies need to work together to harness innovative technologies such as digitalization and automation and foster a just transition that includes developing countries and promotes renewable energy and alternative fuels,” he said.

“The vessels to be deployed in this decade will determine whether the shipping sector achieves net zero emissions by 2050. Smarter and greener zero emission ships must become the default choice and commercially available for all by 2030.”

Concern for seafarers

The celebrations on World Maritime Day provide a platform to showcase inclusive maritime innovation, research and development, and the demonstration and deployment of new technologies.

This year’s theme opens up a larger conversation about where shipping is headed, and how digitalization and automation can support the sector, said Kitack Lim, Secretary-General of the International Maritime Organization (IMO).

“But technological solutions for cleaner, safer and more sustainable shipping must also benefit people,” he stressed. “In this regard, the impact on seafarers and other marine personnel, including the need for training, must be considered.”

The theme also entails support for developing nations, particularly small island developing states (SIDS) and least developed countries (LDCs).

Saving lives at sea

In related developments, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) is using the Day to underscore the importance of marine meteorology to ensure safety at sea.

WMO has released a new publication and video showcasing how it works with partners, including national meteorological services and IMO, in providing forecasts and early warnings to save lives.

The growing impacts of climate change and more extreme weather are making marine meteorological services more critical than ever before, according to the UN agency.

“This has been underlined yet again by a recent succession of tropical cyclones in the Atlantic and Northwest Pacific, which have led to hazardous shipping conditions. Forecasts and warnings are essential to protect vessels, their cargo and sailors,” it said.

WMO is committed to the International Convention for Safety of Life at Sea, known as the SOLAS convention, through the broadcast of meteorological maritime safety information as part of the IMO Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS).

The SOLAS convention is generally regarded as the most important of all international treaties concerning the safety of merchant ships.

It was first adopted in 1914, in response to the Titanic disaster.

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