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Azerbaijan, the most stable country in the South Caucasus

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

1Azerbaijan is the most stable country in the South Caucasus in terms of stability in domestic and foreign policy, economic power and the ability to resist extremism, says a report published by Minchenko Consulting. The report mentions that the collapse of the USSR gave birth to six armed conflicts, the majority of which still remain unsettled. “The South Caucasus is the only region in the post-Soviet area where some of the states do not have diplomatic relations. There are no diplomatic relations between Azerbaijan and Armenia, Georgia and Russia, Armenia and Turkey,” says the report.Azerbaijan is mentioned as the most stable country among the three South Caucasian countries in terms of stability in domestic and foreign policy, economic power and the ability to resist extremism. Azerbaijan comes first thanks to its monolithic political system and strong economy.

2Russia’s Defense Ministry broadcasting channel, Zvezda-TV, reports that Moscow has plans to start building new early warning radar stations in Azerbijan and near the Arctic Circle. The radar stations are meant to provide long-distance monitoring of airspace. Construction of the Voronezh-DM radar will start at Azerbaijan’s Soviet-era Qabala military complex in 2017 and is scheduled to be completed during 2019. The new radar will replace old Soviet radar system Daryal, which Russia stopped using in December 2012 due to differences with Baku over the Qabala lease fee.

3Some 234 trains have been launched via the China-Europe-China railway route through Kazakhstan for the first seven months of 2015, which is almost three times more than in the same period of last year, Kazakhstan Temir Zholy (Railway of Kazakhstan) said.”As of 2015, the number of organized container trains is expected to increase up to 510 or more than 40,000 containers, which is almost 40 times more than in 2011,” a statement said.”Kazakhstan Temir Zholy is actively working to implement the transit-transport potential of the country in three main vectors: East-West (China-Europe-China), TRACECA (China, Turkey, the Caucasus); North-South (China, Russia, India, Gulf countries),” a statement said. “Great success in this area was observed in transcontinental transportation via the China-Europe-China route.” The container transportation via this route increased, mainly due to redirecting the cargo flow from marine transport to railway transport.

4Kazakhstan Power Market Outlook To 2025. This report elaborates Kazakhstans power market structure and provides historical and forecast numbers for generation, capacity and consumption up to 2025. Detailed analysis of the Kazakhstan power markets regulatory structure, import and export trends, competitive landscape and power projects at various stages of the supply chain is provided. The report also gives a snapshot of the power sector in Kazakhstan on broad parameters of macroeconomics, supply security, generation infrastructure, transmission infrastructure, degree of competition, regulatory scenario and future potential. Financial performance of the leading power companies is also analyzed in the report. [Market Research Reports]

5Turkmenistan has seen a 7.8-percent GDP growth in oil and gas condensate production in the January-July 2015 period. This data was announced at a meeting of the Turkmen Cabinet of Ministers, which summarized the results from various sectors of the national economy for the first seven months of the current year. It was also noted that the country’s GDP growth was at the level of 8.7 percent, including an industrial sector growth rate of about 4.4 percent, 12.6 percent in the construction sector, 13 percent in trade, and 12.2 percent in agricultural production. The volume of investments from all financing resources amounted to 27.7 billion manat, representing a 7.9 percent growth from that of the same period in 2014.

6How Much Pressure Will Iran Put On Oil Prices? “According to Robin Mills, Head of Consulting at Manaar Energy, the anticipation of the Iranian deal has already caused prices to fall and further falls will depend on the pace of the increase in Iranian exports.“Iranian exports will increase somewhat ahead of the formal confirmation of lifting sanctions, about 6 months after the approval of the deal by the U.S. and Iran (which itself takes 3 months from signing), but the return of ~1 million bpd of Iranian exports will depress prices by $5-10 per barrel. In the long term, growing production from Iran will help keep prices moderate,” stated Mills to Oilprice” source: investing.com

7Central Asian Cities: Between Demography and Politics. “We live in a rapidly urbanizing world, where city populations are growing in across the globe at an impressive rate. In 1950, 28.8 percent of the world’s population lived in cities, in 1975 – this figure was 37.2 percent and in 2000 – 45.0 percent, while more recently, in 2009, it exceeded 50 percent. This trend is also apparent in the post-Soviet space, chiefly in Central Asia. In 1959, city-dwellers accounted for 38.5 percent of the population, whereas in 2014 this figure had risen to 47.6 percent, with the population increasing from 8.9 to 32.1 million. According to UN forecasts, by 2050 the region is to become home to 82 million people, with 45 million or 55 percent residing in cities. The fastest increase takes place in major cities, which are gradually becoming into megalopolises, and this gives rise to a range of political challenges for Central Asian states” Artem Dankov for RIAC.

8Kazakhstan’s Mining Fiscal Regime. Kazakhstan has significant fossil fuel reserves, and mineral and metal deposits. It produces a variety of mineral resources such as coal, uranium, lead, zinc, tungsten, molybdenum, borates, phosphorite, copper, potassium and cadmium. The fiscal regime report covers mining industry of Kazakhstan which is governed by the Ministry of Industry and New Technology and Ministry of Environmental Protection. The Law of Subsoil and Subsoil Use is the main regulating law for mining activities in the country. The report outlines governing bodies, governing laws, licenses, rights, obligations and key fiscal terms which includes upfront payments and taxes on subsurface usage, land tax, vehicle tax, deductions, depreciation, loss carry forward, withholding taxes and value added tax (VAT) [Research and Markets]

9Three-day consultations of heads of customs services of the participating countries of international transport project North-South, including Azerbaijan, will start in Delhi tomorrow. Indian ambassador to Russia Pundi Srinivasan Raghavan has informed today that the parties are actively working on launching this project as it will halve the costs on the delivery of goods. Transport corridor from Nava Sheva (Mumbai, India) through Bandar Abbas (Iran) to Astrakhan (Russia) and Baku (Azerbaijan) is expected to reduce much the time of transporting cargo from India to the regions of Central Asia and Russia. Currently, an important issue in the running of transport corridor North-South is the completion of railway line Qazvin-Rasht-Astara with length of 375 km.

10Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan and Turkey agreed to create a common Turkic-speaking channel.Memo was signed during the first meeting of the ministers in the sphere of information and media council of cooperation in Astana. The channel will broadcast in the language of the member-states which signed a memo on its creation.

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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