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Kazakhstan readies itself for EXPO2017

Dimitris Giannakopoulos

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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

1In 2017, Astana, the capital city of my home country of Kazakhstan, will host the next Universal World Exposition, joining a long heritage that includes Shanghai’s extraordinary effort in 2010. EXPO-2017 is a national project that provides a great opportunity for the Republic of Kazakhstan to investigate new sources of energy and current developments in green technologies. We have set ambitious goals to ensure that this exhibition is held at the highest level, meeting the expectations and hopes of other countries. The president of Kazakhstan has set up some challenging objectives; we need to turn EXPO-2017 into the central point for the third industrial revolution, which includes the development of an alternative economy and the creation of new high-tech materials, sources of renewable power and a skilled workforce. The promotion of EXPO-2017 is gaining significant feedback from across the world” Rapil Zhoshybayev, first deputy minister of foreign affairs of Kazakhstan. [Global times]

2Mayor of Almaty replaced with fresh face: analysis. Kazakhstani political analysts Andrey Chebotarev and Dosym Satpayev talked to Tengrinews about the meaning of the new appointments. The first believes that both appointments are a sign of trust that the President put into the two men. The second thinks Yessimov was downgraded, and Baibek’s appointment was a way to encourage the younger generation of civil servants. Director of the Center of Topical Research Alternative Andrey Chebotarev contended that rotation of high-level officials was a normal occurrence. Yessimov had served as Akim (Mayor) of Almaty for quite a long time – since 2008. The expert believes that appointing Yessimov as head of the National Company Astana EXPO – 2017 was a sign of confidence that the President had in him.

3The Pluto of International Organizations: The Evolution of the SCO. “The SCO seems to be structured in a manner that undermines its own development, as IO evolution is understood by the scholarly community. The member states simultaneously support and undermine the organization via individualized micro-agendas because of their worries about the tricks each might play upon the other. Interestingly, what the literature does not do is question the legitimacy of the SCO. This is one of the main contentions here: membership of the SCO in the IO community should be questioned instead of simply de facto bestowed. Until now, its membership has always been a given” Dr. Matthew Crosston for Modern Diplomacy.

4Off the Coast of Iran, a High-Stakes Version of Spy Versus Spy. “In the skies and waters of the Persian Gulf, the Strait of Hormuz, the Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Aden, the two continue to constantly watch each other. American naval ships openly roam the waters along Iran’s 1,100-mile-long southern coastline, their radar trained on the Iranian shore and on Iranian ships leaving their harbors. Iranian fighter jets patrol the skies, keeping an eye on American combat planes that take off from an aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf every time an Iranian jet comes close to their ship. “It’s a little bit of a game we play,” said Capt. Benjamin Hewlett, the commander of the air wing aboard the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt, which is in the Persian Gulf keeping an eye on Iran right now. “When they launch, we launch. We consider this our sovereign territory, so we make sure they’re not unescorted in and around the aircraft carrier” Helene Cooper for New York Times.

5Enagás making investment in important gas pipeline connecting Azerbaijan with Europe. We are investing in an important gas pipeline connecting Azerbaijan with Europe, CEO of Enagás, Marcelino Oreja said while speaking about Trans-Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) project in an interview with “European CEO” newspaper. He said that this gas pipeline would supply gas to the European Union.

6The “Azerbaijan: Land of Tolerance” exhibition will open its doors to all art lovers in Paris on August 18.World famous for his intrepid style of photographing the world’s most exotic places, Reza is putting on display a series of photographs on the Christian, Muslim, and Jewish communities cohabitating in Azerbaijan. All are driven by a deep commitment for sharing, mutual respect, and dialogue with each other. The exhibition, to be held between August 18 and September 10, highlights the millennial ties that all of these religious communities have forged with each other.

7The Russia-OPEC-America Nexus: Reimagining the Great Oil Game. “The most intriguing geopolitical connection with oil prices collapsing is the Western sanction regime on Russia. As inflation hit the Russian economy and protracted recession weighed on Russian morale, OPEC ramped up production. Similarly, Russia has (as of May 2015) produced more oil since the end of the Soviet era. Interestingly, this economic stand-off brought the two biggest oil-producing countries (Saudi Arabia and Russia) to the bargaining table as Russia considers closer ties to OPEC. This tantalizing prospect of a Russian-OPEC alliance has almost always been an illusion since OPEC’s formation and would drastically increase OPEC’s global power in determining oil prices. OPEC has never really trusted Russia and an alliance may only form out of dire necessity. But that is something the United States would staunchly oppose” Brian Hughes for Modern Diplomacy.

8An Azerbaijani delegation will attend the international forum of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank to be held in Tbilisi on August 23-25. The event will bring together government and state officials, economists, experts from 57 countries. The forum will focus on the activity of AIIB, investment in infrastructure projects in partner countries of AIIB, as well as economic cooperation. AIIB is newly created bank that is expected to be established by the end of this year for the purpose of providing loans for infrastructure projects in developing countries in Asia.

9An Iranian official says Iran and Azerbaijan have been talking on transiting gas to Europe. Azerbaijani and Iranian officials have in recent weeks discussed in Tehran ways to export Iran’s gas to Europe via Azerbaijan, the Fars news agency quoted an unnamed official as saying Aug. 18. Recently, on Aug. 4, an Azerbaijani delegation headed by Economy and Industry Minister Shahin Mustafayev traveled to Iran and met with Iranian top officials, including Oil Minister Bijan Namdar Zanganeh.“Azerbaijani delegation offered their Iranian counterparts to cooperate in the gas export to Europe via Azerbaijan, as Iran’s involvement will leave no concern in terms of providing Europe with gas,” the source said.According to the report, the two parties stressed that the Iranian gas export to Europe through Azerbaijan is easier than its direct export to the West. The head of Azerbaijan’s state oil company SOCAR, Rovnag Abdullayev said in April that Iran is interested in purchasing a stake in the Trans-Anatolian Natural Gas Pipeline (TANAP).

10North Korea’s Balancing Act in the Persian Gulf. “In March 2015, Saudi Arabia signed a deal with South Korea to build two small and medium-sized nuclear reactors. This move grabbed the attention of the White House, as it symbolized Saudi dissatisfaction with U.S. attempts to forge a nuclear deal with Iran. The synchronized timing of North Korea’s missile shipments to Yemen and the North Korean regime’s defiant rejection of Iran-style nuclear talks with the U.S. is therefore intriguing. Pyongyang’s extension of assistance to Yemen could be its way of retaliating against Saudi nuclear cooperation with South Korea, which will probably increase should the US Congress ratify the Iran deal” Samuel Ramani for The Huffington Post.

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

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ADB Study Maps Supply Chains for Key Products in COVID-19 Response

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The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has released a landmark study which maps supply chains for critical products in the global response to the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, clearing the way for the identification and removal of blockages in their production and distribution.

The interactive maps will enable banks, investors, governments, and healthcare professionals to pinpoint key companies in the supply of portable ventilators, N95 respirators, face shields, goggles, aprons, surgical masks, and gowns. The maps consider the elements of each product down to its component metals and fabrics.

“To fix any supply chain problems, we need an in-depth description of what goes into these products and which companies are involved,” said ADB’s Head of Trade and Supply Chain Finance Steven Beck. “Mapping these supply chains means that if help is needed, banks, investors, and governments can use the data to quickly relieve bottlenecks and ramp up supplies.”

The mapping project feeds data that already exists from many sources into an algorithm that sorts the information by applying various industry and product codes. Until now, that data has existed in multiple forms on a variety of separate databases, but never brought together in a user-friendly format. A future phase of this initiative will look at blockages at ports, tariff requirements, and other impediments to the efficient functioning of supply chains for these critical goods.

ADB announced on 13 April a tripling in the size of its response to the pandemic to $20 billion. The package expands on the $6.5 billion initial response announced on 18 March, adding $13.5 billion in resources to help ADB’s developing member countries counter the severe macroeconomic and health impacts caused by COVID-19.

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Human Rights

More ‘can and must be done’ to eradicate caste-based discrimination in Nepal

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People walk down a street of shops in Kathmandu, Nepal. (file) photo World Bank/Peter Kapuscinski

Shocked over the killing last weekend of five men in Nepal, who had planned to escort home one of their girlfriends from a higher caste, the UN human rights chief on Friday stressed that ending caste-based discrimination is “fundamental” to the overall sustainable development vision of leaving no one behind.

“It is distressing that caste-based prejudices remain deeply entrenched in our world in the 21st century, and I am filled with sadness for these two young people who held high hopes of building a life together despite the obstacles presented by their accident of birth” said High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, referring to the couple at the centre of the tragedy.

Last Saturday, a 21-year-old man from the ‘untouchable’ Dalit caste, known as Nawaraj BK, and his friends, traveled some 32 km from Jajarkot district, to Western Rukum district, the home of the man’s girlfriend, who belongs to a higher social caste.

They intended to escort the young woman back to their home district, reportedly at her request, but were attacked and chased into a river. Five men, four of whom were also Dalits, were later found dead, while another is still missing.

“Caste-based discrimination remains widespread, not only in Nepal but other countries, and often leads to serious harm and, as in this case, even loss of life”, lamented Ms. Bachelet. 

Dalits under attack

Nawaraj’s case is not an isolated one.

Dalits, formerly known as “untouchables”, have suffered for generations of public shaming at the hands of upper-caste Hindus and continue to face widespread atrocities across the country, with any seeming attempts at upward social mobility, violently shut down.

In a similar case, disturbing reports have also emerging about a 12-year-old Dalit girl who was killed in a separate attack in the village of Devdaha, in the Rupandehi district in southern Nepal.

She is said to have been forcibly married to her alleged rapist from a dominant caste. The girl’s body was reportedly left hanging from a tree on Saturday.

The High Commissioner called for an independent investigation into the attacks, underscoring that the victims and their families have the right to justice, truth and reparations.

Searching for justice

The killings have triggered outrage in Nepal, prompting the federal Ministry of Home Affairs to establish a five-member “high-level investigation committee” to look into the incident. 

On Tuesday, police reportedly filed a complaint against 20 alleged perpetrators. 

“Despite constitutional guarantees, impunity for caste-based discrimination and violence remains high in Nepal”, according to the UN human rights office (OHCHR). 

And while the country has taken “big strides to address this scourge”, she maintained that “so much more can and must be done, to eradicate this blight on society”.

The Nepali Parliament’s Law, Justice and Human Rights Committee has asked authorities to immediately investigate two cases of gang-rape of Dalit women, as well as other caste-based cases involving murder, enforced disappearances and forced abortion.

Although Nepal is party to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, the Committee tasked with monitoring the treaty observed that despite the abolition of “untouchability” in Nepal, Dalits continue to face deep-rooted discrimination, including issues surrounding inter-caste marriages.

Discrimination at every turn

And the risks for this vulnerable caste has only increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

On Monday, the parliamentary committee directed the Government to investigate all incidents of caste-based discrimination and violence during the coronavirus lockdown. 

Dalits in Nepal and other countries experience discrimination at every level of their daily lives, limiting their employment and educational opportunities, the places where they can collect water or worship, and their choice of who to marry, says OHCHR.

Structural barriers and discrimination force Dalits to continue low-income and dehumanizing employment, such as manual scavenging, disposing of dead animals, digging graves or making leather products.

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Myanmar: Power System Efficiency Project Brings Country Closer to Universal Electricity Access

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The World Bank’s Board of Executive Directors today approved a $350 million credit from the International Development Association (IDA) to increase the output and efficiency of power generation and improve the resilience of Myanmar’s electricity system to climate change and disasters. The Board also approved $110 million in additional financing for the Essential Health Services Access Project, implemented nationwide since 2015.

Myanmar needs to double its current installed power generation capacity over the next five to seven years to achieve universal electricity access by 2030. The Myanmar Power System Efficiency and Resilience Project will finance the upgrade to the Ywama gas-fired power plant, improving the availability and reliability of electricity services to consumers in the Yangon region. Investments in the power plant and in transmission infrastructure will free-up electricity supply in the rest of the country and will remove capacity constraints to enable more households to connect.

The project also contributes to Myanmar’s climate change mitigation and adaption commitments under the Paris Agreement. By using highly efficient technology, the project will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions per unit of electricity produced and investments in the power network will improve the system’s preparedness against climate change and disasters.

“Myanmar has the lowest electrification rate in South East Asia with only 50 percent of households connected to the public grid. This project will help close the power supply gap in an affordable and environmentally sustainable way, thereby removing one of the key constraints to achieving Myanmar’s goal of universal electricity access by 2030,” said Mariam Sherman, World Bank Country Director for Myanmar, Cambodia and Lao PDR.

The Government of Myanmar adopted the National Electrification Plan in 2014 to achieve universal access to sustainable electricity services by 2030, drawing on World Bank analytical support provided through the National Electrification Project (NEP). To date, the NEP has delivered electricity access to 2 million people and to schools, rural health clinics and community centers by extending the public grid in over 5,000 rural villages and delivering Solar Home Systems and renewable energy mini-grids in 7,200 villages throughout the country.

Access to Quality Health Services

The additional financing for the Myanmar Essential Health Services Access Project (EHSAP), consisting of a $100 million IDA credit and a $10 million Global Financing Facility (GFF) grant, will continue to support the Ministry of Health and Sports (MOHS) to increase access to quality essential health services, with a focus on maternal, newborn, and child health.

Since 2015, EHSAP has supported over 12,000 primary healthcare facilities across the country, ranging from township hospitals to the sub-rural health centers, with monthly funds to improve service delivery at these critical health facilities. The project strengthens the quality of healthcare by building skills of frontline health workers. It also aims to improve the regularity and systematic approach of healthcare supervision visits and the efficiency and responsiveness of public finance through financial trainings and financial data system modernization.

The additional finance will support primary healthcare infrastructure in some of the most socio-economically disadvantaged townships so that they are fully functional for essential service delivery and to scale up activities to strengthen the health system, including pandemic preparedness and response, which will support inclusion of health service delivery for all people in Myanmar. 

“We highly appreciate the World Bank and Global Financing Facility’s additional finance for the Essential Health Services Access Project. It provides vital support in reaching the goal of our National Health Plan 2017-2021 to extend access to essential health services of good quality for all people in Myanmar,” saidUnion Minister for Health and Sports Dr. Myint Htwe.“It moreover contributes to the objective of the Myanmar Sustainable Development Plan to reach universal health coverage in a pro-poor manner.”

COVID-19 Response

In the fight against COVID-19, funds under EHSAP are also being mobilized to assist capacity building and operational costs to intensify surveillance and testing activities in all states and regions, establish a functioning information and reporting system for all suspected cases, facilitate engagement with basic health staff and Ethnic Health Organizations for community surveillance, disseminate guidelines to health staff and community volunteers, and develop public Information, education and communication materials.

The World Bank has provided a $50 million loan for the Myanmar COVID-19 Emergency Response Project to help Myanmar fill a critical gap in its contingency plan to urgently increase hospital preparedness and surge capacity in order to reduce the spread of COVID-19, protect health workers, and treat patients.   

This project will also receive an $8 million grant from the World Bank Group’s Global Pandemic Emergency Financing Facility (PEF). The PEF is intended to provide financial support to IDA-eligible countries in case of major multi-country disease outbreaks. The PEF grant for Myanmar will support the surge response in the health sector, with special attention on benefiting the most vulnerable groups and communities in conflict- affected areas and ethnic health providers.

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