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Iran is ready to boost science diplomacy

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

1The Iranian minister of science, research and technology says the Islamic Republic is ready to boost “science diplomacy” with other countries following the removal of anti-Iran sanctions with the implementation of an agreement between the country and the P5+1.Mohammad Farhadi said in an interview with IRNA on Thursday night that Iran has, over the past few months, made arrangements for cooperation with a number of regional and European universities. He said that among the priorities of his ministry in the post-sanctions era is shoring up scientific collaboration with other countries through professor and student exchange programs, holding joint scientific courses, and if necessary, establishing foreign university branches in Iran, including in free zones.

2A landmark gas deal between China and Russia that has been years in the making looks set to be finalized, as the countries prepare to mark the 70th anniversary of victory in World War II.”The gas deal looks very likely to be confirmed at the final moment because of its large scale and importance due to international practices,” Andrey Denisov, the Russian ambassador to China said, adding that he was sure that there will be an agreement but that the details won’t be disclosed until the last minute. In May 2014, after 20 years of negotiations, China and Russia agreed to build a natural gas supply line, known as the “eastern route”, that is supposed to deliver 38 billion cubic meters of gas to Beijing and Northeast China annually, starting in 2018. Chen Yurong, an expert with the China Institute of International Studies, said that the Russian ambassador might have been referring to the “western route”.Negotiations on the western route, a 2,800-kilometer supply line to deliver 30 billion cubic meters of natural gas annually to China’s Xinjiang Ugyur autonomous region over 30 years, began in 2006. [ChinaDaily]

3OSCE Minsk Group plans to organize a meeting between the Armenian and Azerbaijani Foreign Ministers on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session in September, the group’s U.S. Co-chair said. In an interview with Azerbaijani news agency APA, James Warlick stated that the Co-chairs plan to travel to the region, but failed to mention certain dates. He also noted that it is highly necessary to reaffirm the sides’ commitment to the peaceful settlement of the Nagorno Karabakh conflict.The American diplomat once again stated that “the return of Artsakh adjacent areas is one of the key elements of negotiations.”

4The International Atomic Energy Agency and Kazakhstan signed an agreement on Thursday to locate the world’s first bank of low-enriched uranium (LEU) in the ex-Soviet nation to ensure fuel supplies for nuclear power stations and encourage nuclear non-proliferation.The $US150 million ($209 million) bank, containing the raw material for making fuel for nuclear power plants, will be built in Ust-Kamenogorsk in northeastern Kazakhstan. It will be governed by Kazakhstan’s laws but will be fully managed and operated by the IAEA.The storage facility, set to become fully operational in 2017, is intended to provide IAEA member states with confidence in a steady and predictable supply of fuel for nuclear power stations even if other supply mechanisms are disrupted.

5Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has discussed trade, economic, energy, and transport cooperation with his visiting Turkmen counterpart, Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov. The Turkmen state news agency reported that the talks in Kabul on August 27 touched upon the project to build the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline.The sides also discussed the construction of a Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Tajikistan (TAT) railway, which is currently under construction. Ghani’s office quoted the Afghan president as saying plans to transfer electricity to Pakistan via Afghanistan were also discussed.

6The evolution of negative Western narrative on Russia. “Russia made significant changes from the Soviet totalitarian system, but instead of acknowledging this progress, Russia is characterized by exploiting misleading historical analogies as ‘closed’, associated with the KGB, the Soviet Union, ‘relentless propaganda’, ‘government control’. The opinions of the Russian citizens on their political system or their president as well as the actions by the Russian state that do not fit the description of ‘dictatorial power’ are typically omitted from the Western media coverage. The result of this “selection bias” builds up over time to make an overall negative image of the country and the president” Angela Borozna for OpEdNews.

7Russia and China are developing drones that could make stealth aircraft obsolete. According to Zarchary Keck writing in The National Interest, both Beijing and Moscow have begun development of unmanned aerial vehicles that have the goal of finding, detecting, and possibly even eliminating enemy stealth aircraft. China’s stealth detection drone, called the Divine Eagle, is believed to be specially built to counter stealth aircraft while they are still far from the Chinese mainland. Popular Science notes that the drone’s “long range anti-stealth capabilities can be used against both aircraft, like the B-2 bomber, and warships such as the DDG-1000 destroyer … the Chinese air force could quickly intercept stealthy enemy aircraft, missiles and ships well before they come in range of the Mainland.” The Divine Eagle features multiple different radar systems, including X/UHF low band radar systems, according to Popular Science. These systems could be used to track stealth aircraft like the F-35 at long distances, as most stealth technology is created to avoid high band radar systems, thereby eroding one of the key advantages of the fifth-generation plane. [Business Insider]

8Azerbaijan is one of Italy’s main trade partners, Manuela Traldi, Italy-Azerbaijan Trade Institute ITAZERCOM head, said at a presentation entitled “Investments in Azerbaijan: Business Environment and Opportunities.” The presentation was held as part of the EXPO-2015 international exhibition in the Italian city of Milan. AZPROMO head Rufat Mammadov made a presentation on the investment environment and business opportunities of Azerbaijan. He informed the participants about the economy of the country and Azerbaijan-Italy economic and trade relations. He said that as a result of the successfully carried out socio-economic policy, Azerbaijan has achieved sustainable economic growth. The country has created a favorable investment and business environment, which led to its becoming a foreign investor.

9Troubles in Russia, China slow Kremlin’s pivot to Asia. A growing economic crisis in Russia and a growth slowdown in China that has rattled world markets means about $113 billion worth of joint projects ranging from gas pipelines to power grids have been stalled or delayed.With a major crackdown on corruption also in progress in China, and Russia hit by sanctions, falling oil prices and a collapsing currency, some joint Russian-Chinese projects may be delayed indefinitely, industry sources and analysts say. The developments represent a major challenge to President Vladimir Putin’s strategy of a pivot to Asia, spurred last year by the imposition of Western sanctions on Moscow for its role in the Ukraine crisis” Katya Golubkova and Denis Pinchuk for The Japan Times.

10Under the annual military cooperation plan between Azerbaijan and Turkey, a new group of the aircraft of Turkey’s Air Force has arrived in Azerbaijan to participate in the TurAz Falcon 2015 exercises being held between the two countries’ air forces. More than 30 means of aviation as well as MiQ-29, F-16 fighters jets, Su-25 strike assault, F-4E bomber, C-130 Hercules military transport planes, Mi-35 combat, Mi-17 and Sikorski UH-60 combat transport, Cougar AS532 search and rescue helicopters are participating in the exercises, the Defense Ministry said.

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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