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Saudi Arabia Plans to Build Canal to Bypass Strait of Hormuz

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

1Saudi Arabia is planning to construct a water canal in Yemen named Salman to use it as a link between the Persian Gulf and the Arabian instead of the Strait of Hormuz.”Studies are underway on the construction of a waterway which starts from a part of Saudi Arabia’s water border in Khour al-Adid area between the UAE and Qatar and stretches 950km to the Arabian Sea,” Sa’ad Ibn Omar, the head of Arab Studies Center in Riyadh, revealed on Wednesday. Omar said that the Salman Canal is due to be built so that Qatar, the UAE and Kuwait can export their oil to other world states through this canal instead of the Strait of Hormuz which is controlled by Iran.”Saudi Arabia has also considered two other alternative paths for the canal which include Oman to replace Yemen if necessary,” Omar said.

2Reports say Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko will meet with the French and German leaders in Paris in early October to discuss efforts to resolve the Ukraine conflict. The meeting would be the first face-to-face talks by the four since they met in mid-February to forge a cease-fire agreement in Minsk. The Elysee Palace said in a statement that the four leaders had spoken via phone on September 9 for about 90 minutes and that they agreed that a general cease-fire in eastern Ukraine between government troops and Russian-backed separatist fighters has generally held since September 1.

3Greece and Iran have reportedly granted Russia permission to fly over their territory when supplying aid to Syria. The Interfax news agency quoted a Russian Embassy official in Tehran as saying on September 9 that Iran approved all of Moscow’s requests on flights delivering humanitarian aid to Syria. Separately, a Russian Embassy official in Athens told TASS that Greece granted Russia the right to use its airspace for humanitarian flights to Syria on August 31. Greece said this week that the United States had asked it to close its airspace to Russian aid flights to Syria because of concerns that Moscow might be building up military forces to support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

4A conference titled “Religious tolerance: the culture of coexistence in Azerbaijan” has been organized in the French capital as part of the “Azerbaijan in the heart of Paris” project implemented by the Heydar Aliyev Foundation. Azerbaijan’s First Lady, President of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation, Mehriban Aliyeva, as well as representatives from Azerbaijani and French religious organizations attended the conference.Addressing the event, Mehriban Aliyeva said Azerbaijan is located at the crossroads of civilizations and cultures, serving as a bridge between Asia and Europe, and this plays an important role in the development of cultural diversity.“Traditions of tolerance are alive in our country today. Azerbaijan is a member of both the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and the Council of Europe. We are proud of our cultural and historical heritage,” the first lady said.

5In January-August 2015, Kazakhstan produced 30.2 billion cubic meters of natural gas, which is 6 percent more than in the same period last year, Deputy Minister of Energy of Kazakhstan Uzakbai Karabalin said during a press conference at the office of the Central Communications. He said that the growth of gas production in Kazakhstan has been observed not for the first time. Last year, gas production in the country amounted to 43.2 billion cubic meters, which is 2.2 percent more than the same period of 2013. The main growth of gas production is provided by such large mining companies as Karachaganak Petroleum Operating, Tengizchevroil, CNPC-Aktobe.

6Turkmenistan has seen a 8.3 percent GDP growth in social and economic development from January to August of this year, according to a recent meeting of the Cabinet of Ministers. Summarizing the results from various sectors of the national economy for the first eight months of the current year, production was cited to have grown by 7.2 percent, reported Review.uz website. The high economic potential and stable GDP growth will allow the government to provide a wide range of additional social benefits to citizens of Turkmenistan.

7NATO and the United States have expressed concern over reports of growing Russian military activity in Syria. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said that, if confirmed, Russia’s involvement would “not contribute to solving the conflict.”U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, to reiterate his concerns. Spokesman John Kirby said Kerry made clear to Lavrov that if the reports were true “it could lead to greater violence and are not helpful at all” to efforts by the international community to end the conflict.The Russian Foreign Ministry said Lavrov “highlighted the significance of a consolidated response to terrorist groupings that have seized a sizable part” of Syria.” Russia acknowledges it has sent military experts to assist with Russian arms deliveries.

8Azerbaijan is ready to continue supporting fraternal Afghanistan in developing the transport, energy, information and communication technologies, Ashraf Shikhaliyev, the head of the Azerbaijan International Development Agency (AİDA) under the Azerbaijani foreign ministry, said Sept. 9. He said that the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway and new Baku International Sea Trade Port will create favorable opportunities for Afghanistan to enter the world markets. This will revive and contribute to the sustainable development of the economy of Afghanistan.

9The depreciation of Kazakhstan’s national currency, the tenge, after the abolition of the currency corridor has put additional pressure on the balance sheets of the country’s banks, but the entire market implements prudential and other regulations, and the situation in the banking sector is under control. This remark was made by the Deputy Chairman of the National Bank of Kazakhstan, Kuat Kozhahmetov at a press-conference in Almaty on September 9. The official also said that the conducted stress tests showed that “the adequacy of the capital is good.” For several months the National Bank has developed a package of legal acts aimed at facilitating conditions for banks in the current economic situation.

10The Ministry of Culture and Tourism has prepared a new bill ‘On tourism’ for improvement of legislative base in the sphere of tourism. In line with the sources in the ministry, the new bill ‘On tourism’ which reflected proposals and recommendations of the Twinning project experts of the World Tourism Organization and European Union, features the major institutional, regulatory and advanced experience for a more effective control of the tourism sphere. According to the ministry, application of this bill will promote further development of the tourism potential of Azerbaijan, raising effectiveness of business processes, regulation of tourism activity by the state and creation of broad opportunities on support of tourism industry.

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 Operations Reach $32.2 Billion in 2017- ADB Annual Report

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The Asian Development Bank (ADB) Annual Report 2017, released today, provides a clear, comprehensive, and detailed record of ADB’s operations, activities, and financial results over the past year.

Annual operations of ADB reached a record $32.2 billion in 2017, as the bank continues to meet Asia and the Pacific’s growing development needs, according to the Annual Report. This was a 26% increase from the year before.

ADB’s total operations of $32.2 billion last year consisted of $20.1 billion in loans, grants, and investments from its own resources (up 51% from 2016) including nonsovereign operations of $2.3 billion (a 31% increase from 2016); $11.9 billion in cofinancing from bilateral and multilateral agencies and other financing partners; and $201 million in technical assistance (a 11% increase from 2016).

These figures are based on ADB’s new performance measure of “commitments,” or the amount of loans, grants, and investments signed in a given year. ADB introduced this measure in 2017 to promote project readiness at approval stage, expedite post-approval steps, and get closer to project disbursement, by placing more emphasis on when the projects are signed, rather than when they are approved by ADB’s Board of Directors.

“We began a new chapter in meeting development needs across Asia and the Pacific in 2017,” said ADB President Takehiko Nakao. “With the merger of the bank’s concessional Asian Development Fund lending operations with the ordinary capital resources balance sheet from the start of 2017, ADB has a solid capital base to support our operations going forward.”

Mr. Nakao added, “We continue to combine finance with innovative solutions to respond better to the region’s diverse and specific challenges and needs, such as rapid urbanization, climate change, and growing demand for water and energy.”

ADB’s financing of climate mitigation and adaptation reached a record $4.5 billion in 2017, a 21% increase from the previous year. The bank is now in a good position to achieve its $6 billion annual climate financing target by 2020. ADB also mobilized an additional $606 million from external financing, bringing total climate financing to $5.2 billion last year.

The Annual Report emphasizes the importance of partnerships for ADB in scaling up project financing, and for sharing development knowledge and expertise. With the support of donors, ADB established five new trust funds in 2017 that will unlock capital for climate investments through innovative financial products, increase private sector participation in climate change mitigation and adaptation projects, help cities prepare high-priority urban infrastructure investments, increase mobilization of domestic resources, and integrate high-level technology into infrastructure project designs.

On the downside, ADB’s disbursements decreased to $11.1 billion in 2017 from $12.3 billion in 2016, according to the Annual Report. Cofinancing also fell short of ADB’s targets.

“We will come up with concrete measures to increase disbursements and cofinancing, building on the new ADB procurement policy approved in April 2017 and ongoing efforts to leverage the bank’s resources,” said Mr. Nakao.

The Annual Report 2017 presents a more comprehensive picture of ADB operations than the previous annual reports in terms of numbers and institutional data. It provides expanded sections on financial highlights, sector and thematic work, and knowledge. ADB’s specific assistance to countries and regional programs, lists of trust funds and corporate reports, and organizational structure are also added.

The figures in the report update the provisional operations numbers released by ADB in January.

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New Funding for Mindanao Trust Fund to Strengthen Peace and Development in Southern Philippines

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Efforts to bring peace and progress in Mindanao were reaffirmed today following the signing of a new agreement that will build more socioeconomic infrastructure and improve literacy in conflict affected areas.

The new Program Partnership Agreement signed by the Bangsamoro Development Agency (BDA) – the development arm of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) – and humanitarian organization Community and Family Services International (CFSI) entrusts the two parties to implement the USD 3.2 million grant with financing from the Mindanao Trust Fund for Reconstruction and Development (MTF).

The Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation (AECID) also provided complementary funding amounting to 1 million euro to support similar activities.

“This new partnership agreement strengthens Normalization under the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro. It will help improve the quality of life of people in conflict-affected areas through community participation and the pursuit of sustainable livelihood within a peaceful, deliberative society,” said Secretary Jesus Dureza, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process. “For four years, we have been reaching out to our fellow Filipinos in the south, touching lives and taking ‘peace by piece’ steps towards a developed Bangsamoro.”

Established in 2006 with support from development partners including the Australia, Canada, European Union, Sweden, New Zealand, and the United States, and administered by the World Bank, the MTF consolidates international development assistance for the socioeconomic recovery of conflict-affected communities in Mindanao and seeks to build confidence in the normalization process with the MILF.

From 2006 to 2017, development partners have provided PHP 1.4 billion (USD 28.9 million) to the program. Within this period, results delivered by the MTF-Reconstruction and Development Project include 573 projects that improved infrastructure, strengthen livelihoods and functional literacy in 315 conflict-affected communities across 75 municipalities. Nearly 650,000 people now benefit from clean water, better roads, and more post-harvest facilities and access to farming and fishing equipment.

“The support of the Philippine government and development partners towards projects that strengthen the Bangsamoro’s capacities to improve their socioeconomic conditions reinforce people’s trust on the Bangsamoro peace process and the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law,” said MILF Peace Implementing Panel Chair Mohagher Iqbal.

The project also supported activities to improve livelihoods, infrastructure, and basic literacy in the Six Acknowledged MILF Camps: Camps Abubakar, Omar, Rajamuda, Badre, Bushra, and Bilal. The decision of Secretary Dureza of OPAPP, the MILF, and development partners to further intensify these efforts through the MTF highlight the partners’ commitment to peace and development in Mindanao.

“Greater economic opportunity and access to basic services foster hope in conflict-affected areas, which can build understanding and collaboration among community members. The World Bank is committed to supporting efforts that enhance the prospects for peace in Mindanao,” said Mara K. Warwick, World Bank Country Director for Brunei, Malaysia, Philippines and Thailand.

“Australia is a longstanding supporter of peace and development in Mindanao, and is proud to be a partner for change in the second phase of the Mindanao Trust Fund,” said Australian Ambassador Amanda Gorely. “As the first phase has already shown, the socio-economic infrastructure and literacy projects it will provide can have a remarkable impact for communities in Muslim Mindanao.”

“One of the biggest challenges for development policies is to tackle the most vulnerable communities affected by multiple conflicts and threats; to not leave them behind. This complex aim needs joint resources from national and international stakeholders following a sound local leadership. MTF has acted as a valuable driver of such efforts,” said Juan Pita, General Coordinator of AECID.

The MTF has a steering committee that oversees the implementation and evaluation of the program. It is chaired by OPAPP, BDA, and the World Bank, which also serves as the trust fund secretariat.

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Bangladesh: World Bank Increases Support for Clean, Renewable Energy

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The World Bank today approved $55 million to expand use of clean renewable energy in rural areas of Bangladesh where grid electricity cannot reach easily.

The additional financing to the Second Rural Electrification and Renewable Energy Development (RERED II) Project will install 1,000 solar irrigation pumps, 30 solar mini-grids, and about 4 million improved cookstoves in rural areas. The project, including the additional financing, will enable about 10 million people living in villages, shoals, and islands to access electricity and use energy efficient cookstoves. These interventions will help the country reduce carbon emissions.

We are proud to be helping Bangladesh increase access to clean electricity through solar power. Today, the country has one of the world’s largest domestic solar power programs, covering 14 percent of the population,” said Qimiao Fan, World Bank Country Director for Bangladesh, Bhutan, and Nepal. “Building on its success in using solar energy to provide electricity in rural areas, this financing will also scale up other clean renewable energy options.”

The project has already built 10 solar mini-grids in remote areas, including islands and shoals to provide grid quality electricity. This additional financing will help construct another 30 solar mini-grids. These will provide about 28,000 connections to households and businesses, including small and medium-sized enterprises.

The financing will also help increase use of solar irrigation pumps, a low-cost technology that is well suited to the country’s flat terrain and abundant sunshine. This switch from diesel pumps will decrease greenhouse gas emissions and save foreign exchange by reducing the government’s subsidy on diesel imports.

“In Bangladesh, indoor air pollution causes 107,000 deaths per year, mostly women and children. Traditional cookstoves used in rural areas is a major contributor to this,” said Amit Jain, World Bank Team Leader for the project. “This project will scale up use of improved stoves. Their energy-efficient design will emit 90 percent less carbon monoxide and use half as much firewood as a traditional stove. A major thrust of the project will be to increase use of affordable-fuel efficient cookstoves by the poor and extreme poor.”

Since 2002, the World Bank has been helping the government expand renewable energy programs. In the energy sector, the World Bank has ongoing support of over $1.6 billion in Bangladesh covering generation, transmission, distribution, and renewable energy.

In addition, the Green Climate Fund (GCF) Board has on February 27, 2018 approved an additional $20 million to support the energy efficient cookstoves project, which is their first approved cookstoves project.

The credit from the World Bank’s International Development Association, which provides grants or zero-interest loans, has a 38-year term, including a 6-year grace period, and a service charge of 0.75 percent.

The World Bank was among the first development partners to support Bangladesh following its independence. Since then, the World Bank has committed nearly $28 billion in grants and interest-free credits to the country. In recent years, Bangladesh has been among the largest recipients of the World Bank’s interest-free credits.

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