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Kazakhstan joins currency war as tenge plummets after float

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

1Kazakhstan switched to a floating exchange rate, creating fears that the world is about to witness a new round of “currency wars.” After currency devaluations in neighboring Russia and China, oil and mineral-rich Kazakhstan’s currency fell 36 percent overnight after its government introduced a floating exchange rate for its currency, the tenge. While Kazakhstan’s economy is more dependent on oil prices than Russia’s, it has been able to avoid currency devaluations until now. After the country’s currency collapsed, many stores closed, apparently to change price tags. The Alser electronics store in the central department store of Almaty, Kazakhstan’s largest city hung up a sign saying it is “closed for technical reasons.” [Sputnik]

2Iran, Kazakhstan discuss launching energy trade zone. Iran, Kazakhstan’s provincial officials discussed mutual ties, including establishment of a free trade zone of energy, oil and gas in the Caspian Sea. Rabi’ Fallah Jolodar the governor-general of Iran’s Mazandaran Province and Rakimbek Amirjanov a deputy governor-general of Kazakhstan’s Mangystau Province have conferred over ways to further develop bilateral ties, Fars News Agency reported August 19. During the meeting, the two sides focused on the establishment of a free trade zone of energy, oil and gas in the Caspian Sea. Amirjanov noted that launching the Aktau-Sari flight would further facilitate economic cooperation between the two provinces.Data released by Iran’s Customs Administration shows last year Iran exported $205.11 million of non-oil goods to Kazakhstan while importing $175.95 million worth non-oil goods.

3Russian lawmakers are calling the largest allied airborne drills in Europe since the Cold War a threat and provocation rather than a defensive exercise. The war games, dubbed Swift Reponse 15, involve nearly 5,000 soldiers from 11 NATO countries flying across Germany, Italy, Bulgaria, and Romania, and will continue from August 15 to September 13.In announcing the games August 18, the U.S. Army said they were aimed at demonstrating “high-readiness” and the capacity to maintain “a strong and secure Europe.”But Vladimir Komoyedov, head of the State Duma Defense Committee, said August 19 that Russia in response is keeping its forces “on alert.”Konstantin Kosachyov, head of the Federation Council International Affairs Committee, said the exercises are egging on a recent escalation of fighting in eastern Ukraine.”Conducting large-scale NATO drills is tantamount to conducting an operation to cover or support another adventure of Kyiv.” He said the “hyper exercise” is actually undermining security in Europe rather than increasing it. “Europe is secure and strong precisely when sabers are rattled less,” he said.

4IS Releases Russian Propaganda App. Islamic State (IS) militants from the extremist group’s Russian-speaking faction have released a propaganda app for Google’s popular Android platform. The app, called Caucas, is not available through the Google Play Store, where Android users obtain mainstream apps. Instead, it was made available for download on August 18 via links posted on sites such as archive.org, a U.S.-based digital archive that IS often uses to post videos. The app provides several types of IS propaganda in Russian. [RFERL]

5Almaty among Top 100 liveable cities. Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) rated 140 cities by livability. The cities were ranked based on “stability, healthcare, culture and environment, education and infrastructure”. Almaty landed on the 100th place of the rating earning 65.3 points out of 100. The City of Apples earned 77 points for stability, 66.7 for healthcare, 57.6 for culture and environment, 66.7 for education and 60.7 for infrastructure. [Tengrinews]

6Azerbaijan has developed six projects under the Harmonizing Digital Markets Initiative and submitted them to the European Commission for financing, according to remarks made by Tofig Babayev on August 17. The director of the Regional Information Technologies Academy told Trend that the main projects to be financed in 2016-2017 will be determined by the end of 2015.”The projects developed in six areas of HDM Initiative, including e-customs, e-commerce, e-business, and e-security, will be further implemented in Azerbaijan,” he noted. The HDM Initiative includes countries of the Eastern Partnership (Belarus, Moldova, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia).

7What makes Kazakhstan right for the bank deal? “Kazakhstan is home to some of the world’s most abundant uranium deposits, making it a key contributor to nuclear fuel supplies around the globe. In 2011, Kazakhstan increased uranium production to almost 20,000 tonnes, making it the largest uranium-producing country. Russia, China and Japan all export significant percentages of their uranium supplies from Kazakhstan. Although Kazakhstan currently does not generate nuclear power, the country is exploring assistance from Russia and Japan to construct nuclear power plants” [Gulf News]

8Russia’s top diplomat has said his country doesn’t care about the United States’ unilateral sanctions against Iran over the delivery of the Russian-made S-300 anti-aircraft missile defense system to the Islamic Republic. “The U.S. sanctions are no concern of ours,” Sergei Lavrov said on August 19, emphasizing that Moscow stands only by its own international commitments, Press TV reported. This came as Washington voiced concern a day earlier over delivery of the S-300 missiles to the Islamic Republic. John Kirby, U.S. State Department spokesman, said that Washington is concerned about the delivery of the defense system to Tehran despite the fact the move does not violate any UN Security Council resolutions.

9The oil sector, which determined direct investments in Azerbaijan for two months running, failed to restore this status for March-July. In July direct investments in the Azerbaijan’s oil sector increased by 2.1% against June providing only 47.9% of all investments in the economy against 64.1% in January, abc.az reports. The State Statistics Committee (SSC) informs that over Jan-Jul 2015 it was invested AZN 4.125 bn in the oil sector ($3.9 bn on the exchange rate by the end of reported period of AZN 1.0495 to the US dollar) that is by 19.57% higher against the 2014 same term. The non-oil sector was invested AZN 5.2 bn (-6.7%). Oil investments for the reported period made up 44% and non-oil investments -56% of all investments in the economy.

10Iran is going to inaugurate eight new petrochemical projects during the current Iranian fiscal year, Ali Mohammad Bosaqzadeh, an official with the Iranian National Petrochemical Industries Company, said. He added that Iran’s petrochemical production increased by 4 percent in the current Iranian calendar year (since March 21). According to Bosaqzadeh, 18 million metric tons of petrochemical products were produced from March 21 to July 22. He said eight petrochemical firms across the country had productions above 90 of their nominal capacities in the meantime.During the period, Iran sold about 4.4 million metric tons of petrochemical products worth 860 trillion rials ($28.8 billion) in the domestic market.

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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New Target: Cut “Learning Poverty” by At Least Half by 2030

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The World Bank introduced today an ambitious new Learning Target, which aims to cut by at least half the global rate of Learning Poverty by 2030. Learning Poverty is defined as the percentage of 10-year-olds who cannot read and understand a simple story.

Using a database developed jointly with UNESCO Institute of Statistics, the Bank estimates that 53 percent of children in low- and middle-income countries cannot read and understand a simple story by the end of primary school. In poor countries, the level is as high as 80 percent. Such high levels of learning poverty are an early warning sign that all global educational goals and other related sustainable development goals are in jeopardy.

Success in reaching this learning target is critical to our mission,” World Bank Group President David Malpass said. “Tackling learning poverty will require comprehensive reforms to ensure domestic resources are used effectively. The target points to the urgency of investments in better teaching and better coordination of vital learning priorities.”

This new target aligns with the Human Capital Project’s efforts at building the political commitment for accelerating investment in people. Much of the variation in the Human Capital Index – used to track countries’ progress in health, education, and survival – is due to differences in educational outcomes.

“We know that education is a critical factor in ensuring equality of opportunities,” said Annette Dixon, Vice President, Human Development, World Bank Group. “Many countries have almost eliminated learning poverty – with levels below 5 percent.  But in others, it is incredibly high, and we are putting at risk the future of many children. That is morally and economically unacceptable. This Learning Target aims to galvanize action toward an ambitious but reachable goal.”

Several developing countries are showing that accelerated progress is possible. In Kenya, progress has been accomplished through technology-enabled teacher coaching, teacher guides, and the delivery of one textbook per child (in both English and Kiswahili) with contents suitable to the level of students. In Egypt, the government has changed its curriculum and assessment systems, so students are evaluated throughout the year, with the key element of the reforms focused on learning, instead of getting a school credential. And in Vietnam, the clear and explicit national curriculum, the near-universal availability of textbooks, and the low absenteeism among students and teachers are credited for contributing to the country’s outstanding learning outcomes.

Unfortunately, in many other countries the current pace of improvement is still worryingly slow. Even if countries reduce their learning poverty at the fastest rates seen over the past 20 years, the goal of ending it will not be attained by 2030.

“Cutting learning poverty by at least half is feasible but requires large political, financial and managerial commitments and a whole of government approach,” said Jaime Saavedra, Global Education Director, World Bank Group. “Taking learning poverty to zero -assuring that all children are able to read- is a fundamental development objective, as is eliminating hunger or extreme poverty.  All children have the right to read – and in each country, a national dialogue is needed in order to define how and when learning poverty can be eliminated, and to set intermediate targets for the coming years.

The Bank will use three pillars of work to help countries reach this target and improve the human capital outcomes of their people:

A literacy policy package consisting of country interventions that have proven to be effective in promoting reading proficiency at scale: ensuring political and technical commitment to literacy grounded in adequately funded plans; ensuring effective teaching for literacy, through tightly structured and effective pedagogy; preparing teachers to teach at the right level and providing practical in-school teacher training; ensuring access texts and readers to all; and teaching children in their home language.

A refreshed education approach to strengthen entire education systems — so that literacy improvements can be sustained and scaled up and all other education outcomes can be achieved. This approach comprises of five pillars: i) prepared and motivated learners, ii) effective and valued teachers, iii) classrooms equipped for learning, iv) safe and inclusive schools, and v) a well-managed education system.

An ambitious measurement and research agenda – to include measurement of both learning outcomes and their drivers, as well as a continued action-oriented research and innovation, including smart use of new technologies, on how to build foundational skills.

Change is needed at scale, quickly, and for large populations. That cannot be done without technology. Open-source digital infrastructure and information systems will be used to assure resources reach all teachers, students and schools.

Tracking progress calls for a dramatic improvement in the capacity to measure learning, particularly in low-income countries. A World Bank-UNESCO Institute for Statistics partnership will help countries strengthen their learning assessment systems and improve the breadth and quality of country data on learning to better monitor performance over time and in internationally-comparable ways. Further, the World Bank’s new Learning Assessment Platform will enable countries to evaluate student learning more efficiently and effectively.

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African financial centres step up efforts on green and sustainable finance

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When we talk about climate change and sustainable development, the continent that is often highlighted as facing the greatest socio-economic challenges is Africa.

It is in many African nations that the impacts of climate change are hitting the hardest and that communities need the most support to ensure food security, decent housing, access to clean energy and so much more, including jobs for the ballooning youth unemployment which is seeing more than 12 million youth enter the labour market each and every year.

The will and the knowledge exist to turn things around. A survey for Africa Climate Week in March showed that most African nations were already starting to implement their mitigation and adaptation commitments under the Paris Agreement.

But over half of the countries have struggled to mobilize climate finance, less than one quarter have a financing strategy, and only one third have appropriate financial instruments.

There is some movement. The World Bank Group has promised US$22.5 billion over 2021-2025 in climate support in Africa, while nations are increasingly able to secure money from the Green Climate Fund.

Private finance is desperately needed, however, which is why the UN Environment Programme (UNEP)-convened International Network of Financial Centres for Sustainability (FC4S) is launching a new work programme for the continent.

Financial Centres for Sustainability, a global network of 30 financial centres, will work with its five Africa member centres—Abidjan, Cairo, Casablanca, Lagos and Nairobi—to encourage strategic action, collaborate with peers across the continent, and facilitate engagement with major international hubs.

“There is an appetite for investing in Africa, in recognition of the fact that of all the investment bets you can make, this is the one that is sure to come up trumps,” said Patrick Njoroge, Governor of the Central Bank of Kenya, at the launch of the new work programme at the Financial Centres for Sustainability’s annual meeting in Geneva. “There is also an appetite to use the members’ investment muscle to do good and help defend the planet against the ravages of climate change and environmental degradation.”

There is, despite many old-fashioned notions about Africa, plenty of private money in the continent. Nairobi, for example, is a thriving regional hub for banks, businesses and entrepreneurs with money to invest.

But there are many barriers to boosting sustainable finance in African countries, including a lack of clear policies and regulatory frameworks on climate change, a lack of awareness on the sources of climate finance and limited engagement from the private sector.

These barriers, and the different levels of development on the sustainable finance agenda in African financial centres, requires a coordinated strategic effort to help mainstream sustainable finance as a foundational element of financial centre development strategies.

The programme will help the centres assess the green finance landscape in their countries and set strategies for sustainable finance development. It will provide technical assistance on specific green and sustainable finance projects, including support on the development of a green bond market in Abidjan, activating the green bond market in Egypt, and a proposal to advance “green tagging” of bank loans in Lagos.

“Financial centres generate a powerful clustering effect by concentrating banking, capital markets, investing, insurance, professional services with policy and regulation,” said Mohammed Omran, Executive Chairman, Financial Regulatory Authority of Egypt. “Financial centres in Africa are no different. We have a real opportunity to turn African centres into global green hubs and provide the finance the continent needs for a brighter future.”

Financial Centres for Sustainability will also increase policy dialogue and engagement, and collaboration between African centres and the rest of the international network.

Specific actions will include setting clear definitions for green or sustainable finance, integrating sustainability priorities relevant for a given national context into the design and execution of strategies, and identifying options to create strong enabling environments to attract international investment into green and sustainable investment options in local markets.

The message is that with the over 3.5 trillion of financing gap for both the nationally determined contributions and the Sustainable Development Goals implementation, social-driven financing will not be optimal. Africa as a region urgently needs to move from this socially inclined financing to investment financing where returns are environmental, social, economic and financial. This should build on already ongoing initiatives like the innovative financing mechanisms across the continent like the risk-sharing facilities coming up across the continent.

UN Environment

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Achieving Broadband Access for All in Africa Comes With a $100 Billion Price Tag

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Across Africa, where less than a third of the population has access to broadband connectivity, achieving universal, affordable, and good quality internet access by 2030 will require an investment of US $100 billion. This is according to a report launched at the Annual Meetings of the World Bank Group, which calls for urgent action to close the internet access gap while providing a roadmap to reach this ambitious goal.

The report from The Broadband for All Working Group  gives practical insights and suggestions of what is needed to attain this objective, including an action plan for universal broadband connectivity in Africa. To achieve universal broadband access, African countries will need to bring about 1.1 billion more people online. This will require exceptional and coordinated efforts from governments, the private sector, development partners, and civil society, the report says, but the investment is worth it.

The digital agenda is first and foremost a growth and jobs agenda,” says Makhtar Diop, the World Bank’s Vice President for Infrastructure. “The working-age population in Africa is expected to increase by some 450 million people between 2015 and 2035. If current trends continue, less than one quarter will find stable jobs. Broadening internet access means creating millions of job opportunities.”

While the number of broadband connections in Africa crossed the 400 million mark in 2018 (nearly twenty times 2010 levels), the regional average broadband penetration —including 3G and 4G connections— is only 25% in 2018. Mobile broadband coverage in Africa is still at 70% of the population. Even in North Africa, there is ample room for growth with 4G networks covering only about 60% of the population. Additional challenges, such as the lack of access to reliable and affordable electricity, make accelerating Africa’s digital transformation journey even more difficult.

According to the report, nearly 80% of all required investments are directly related to the need to roll out and maintain broadband networks. However, connecting the unconnected is about more than just infrastructure: about 20% of required investments consists in building the user skills and local content foundations, and another 2-4% should be allocated to setting up the appropriate regulatory framework, the report notes. While the private sector has driven most successful broadband initiatives, public agencies play a crucial role by implementing effective sector regulation, addressing potential market failures, and creating the conditions for an open, competitive broadband sector. 

“In large parts of Africa, we are witnessing a lack of progress in extending access and network coverage. Affordability is also declining in many nations. Promoting greater digital inclusion is going to require more effective and innovative collaboration,” said Doreen Bogdan-Martin, Executive Director of the Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development and Director of ITU’s Telecommunication Development Bureau. “We need to leverage our strengths and expertise. Governments can help with policies enabling new technologies, new business models and investment. The right policies will, in turn, provide the private sector with the incentives to build out infrastructure and explore new technologies and applications that will drive demand.”

Connecting the 100 million people in rural and remote areas that live out of reach of traditional cellular mobile networks will require strong private sector involvement, innovative business models, and alternative technologies, such as satellite and Wi-Fi based technical solutions, the report notes.

Let us be clear: no single actor will be able to meet Africa’s 2030 target and carry the burden of a $100 billion investment funding requirement alone. All stakeholders must work together to make sure that every African has affordable and reliable access to the internet”, says Hafez Ghanem, the World Bank’s Vice President for the Africa Region. This includes: the African Union and regional economic communities; African governments and respective public investment agencies; sector regulators; multilateral development banks and regional development banks; the United Nations and other development agencies; the private sector; and civil society groups and nongovernmental organizations.

* The Working Group on Broadband for All: A Digital Moonshot Infrastructure for Africa, led by the World Bank, was established in 2018 under the Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development with the primary objective of identifying investment requirements and policy roadmaps to increase connectivity and to reach full coverage in Africa. This report draws upon the expertise of Broadband Commissioners and experts from around the world.

About the Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development: ITU and UNESCO set up the Broadband Commission for Digital Development in 2010 with the aim of boosting the importance of broadband on the international policy agenda and expanding broadband access in every country as key to accelerating progress towards national and international development targets. Following adoption of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in September 2015, the Commission was re-launched as the Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development to showcase and document the power of ICT and broadband-based technologies for sustainable development. Its members include top CEO and industry leaders, senior policy-makers and government representatives, international agencies, academia and organizations concerned with development.

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