KHAPLU, GHANCHE: In the mountainous region of Gilgit-Baltistan in northern Pakistan, daily power cuts of up to 20 hours or more in some districts have pushed locals to protest over having to observe Ramadan in darkness.Gilgit-Baltistan, an impoverished part of the larger Kashmir region, is the gateway of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) with high potential to generate energy from hydropower, but its residents have so far reaped few rewards of the $65 billion infrastructure project.When the province went to local assembly polls in November last year, Prime Minister Imran Khan promised to set up hydroelectric power plants.Last month, the region’s chief minister, Khalid Khurshid, gave the provincial secretary powers to ensure no power cuts during suhoor and iftar meals in Ramadan.Last week, Khan announced a 370 billion rupee ($2.4 billion) development package for the region, part of which is intended to address the electricity crisis. In a meeting this week, between the finance minister of Pakistan and Khurshid, the federal government promised to “undertake several projects for hydropower generation.”The construction of “the biggest dam in Pakistan’s history,” the Diamer-Bhasha Dam, meanwhile, was inaugurated by the prime minister in July last year.Several other hydropower projects are also being built in the area, including the Kohala and Neelum Jhelum projects, with the former still under construction and the latter completed in 2019.But despite this flurry of activity and promises, for now, local businesses, not to mention and Ramadan and upcoming Eid Al-Fitr celebrations, have been upended by power outages.“There is no electricity in our village,” Ghulam Nabi Sanai, from Ghanche district, told Arab News on Wednesday. “We registered complaints about the absence of electricity, but no power department officials heard us. That’s why we had to stage a sit-in.”For the past few days, Sanai said, residents of his hometown had been preparing and eating their iftar and suhoor meals in darkness.Large-scale construction of new power plants — mainly coal-fired ones funded by China — has dramatically boosted Pakistan’s energy capacity in the last couple of years. But even as supply surges, electric power is still not reaching up to 50 million people in Pakistan who need it, according to a 2018 World Bank report, though expansion of transmission lines is planned.Power outages also remain common.Sher Ali Rana, a tailor in Ghanche, said he normally sewed some 400 outfits for Eid. This year, however, he would hardly be able to make 150 dresses due to electricity shortages.“Our tailor community has to face power outages every year, but this year we are facing the worst kind of load shedding … there is no electricity for 24 hours,” Rana said.Locals in many other districts, including Skardu and Gilgit, also complain worsening power cuts have paralyzed their daily lives.Riaz Ali, an executive engineer at Gilgit-Baltistan’s power department, said a major problem of power supply in the region was that its electricity system was not fully connected to the national grid. Low production capacity of existing power stations was another problem, he said.Generation capacity in winter was 92 megawatts, while the demand was 452 megawatts, Ali said. In summer, generation capacity was 122 megawatts against a demand of 132.But the engineer said he was hopeful new projects promised under CPEC would solve the region’s power crisis for good.“If big projects are launched,” he said, “Gilgit-Baltistan has the potential to generate more than thousands of megawatts of electricity.”
Virus rule extension endangers Euro 2020 final at Wembley
TOKYO: Japanese medical experts said on Friday that banning spectators at the Olympics was the least risky option for holding the Games, even as they appeared resigned to the possibility of fans in venues during the COVID-19 pandemic.The government and Tokyo 2020 organizers have for months held off deciding whether domestic spectators will be allowed…
TOKYO: Japanese medical experts said on Friday that banning spectators at the Olympics was the least risky option for holding the Games, even as they appeared resigned to the possibility of fans in venues during the COVID-19 pandemic.The government and Tokyo 2020 organizers have for months held off deciding whether domestic spectators will be allowed — overseas fans are already banned — underscoring their desire to salvage the event amid deep public opposition.Japan has avoided the kind of explosive coronavirus outbreaks that crippled many other countries. But the vaccine roll-out has been slow and the medical system pushed to the brink in parts of the country. The government’s drive to hold the Games has been criticized by hospitals and doctors’ unions.“There is a risk the movement of people and opportunities to interact during the Olympics will spread infections and strain the medical system,” the experts, led by top health adviser Shigeru Omi, said in a report issued on Friday.They said that holding the Games without spectators was the “least risky” option and the desirable one.Yet Omi’s experts have already floated the possibility that venues could hold up to 10,000 fans in areas where “quasi-emergency” measures, such as shorter restaurant hours, have been lifted. That has heightened the perception the Games may well be held with spectators.The final decision is expected at a meeting set for Monday between organizers, including Tokyo 2020 and the International Olympic Committee, and representatives from the national and Tokyo governments.The president of Tokyo 2020, Seiko Hashimoto, said that while she accepted the Olympics would be safer without spectators, organizers were still looking for ways to have fans safely in venues, like other events.“Given that other sports events are being held with spectators, I think it’s also Tokyo 2020’s job to continue to look for ways to understand and lessen the risk of infections at the Olympics until we’ve exhausted all the possibilities,” she told a news conference following the release of Omi’s report.The Games were delayed last year as the pandemic raged. Cancellation would be costly for organizers, the Tokyo government, sponsors and insurers.Some 41 percent of people want the Games canceled, according to a Jiji news poll released on Friday. If the Games go ahead, 64 percent of the public want them without spectators, the poll found.Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s government decided on Thursday to end emergency coronavirus curbs in nine prefectures including Tokyo while keeping some “quasi-emergency” restrictions.Tokyo is scheduled to be under such restrictions until July 11. The current state of emergency, the third since April last year, expires on June 20.The lifting of previous emergencies has been followed by increased infections and strains on hospitals.Organizers should be prepared to act swiftly to ban spectators or declare another state of emergency if needed, the experts said. If spectators are allowed, rules should be strict, such as limiting fans to local residents, the experts said.Omi, a former World Health Organization official, has become increasingly outspoken about the risks from the event. He told parliament this month it was “not normal” to hold the Games during a pandemic.Other Japanese health experts and medical organization have been much more vocal, calling for the Games to be canceled outright.One of the signatories of Omi’s recommendations, Kyoto University professor Hiroshi Nishiura, said he believed canceling the Games would be best, but the decision was for the government and organizers.“If the epidemic situation worsened, no spectators and canceling the Games in the middle (of the event) should be debated,” he told Reuters.The country has recorded more than 776,000 cases and over 14,200 deaths, while just 15 percent of its population has had at least one COVID-19 vaccination.
UN proposal seeks arms embargo and democracy in Myanmar
DHAKA: Bangladeshi authorities have conditionally cleared the country’s first coronavirus vaccine for clinical trials, which the producer expects to complete in the next few months.The vaccine, Bangavax, is a new generation mRNA vaccine that, like the Pfizer and Moderna ones, teaches our cells how to make a protein that triggers an immune response inside our…
DHAKA: Bangladeshi authorities have conditionally cleared the country’s first coronavirus vaccine for clinical trials, which the producer expects to complete in the next few months.The vaccine, Bangavax, is a new generation mRNA vaccine that, like the Pfizer and Moderna ones, teaches our cells how to make a protein that triggers an immune response inside our bodies. Developed by Dhaka-based Globe Biotech Ltd. (GBL), the vaccine was approved for production by the country’s drug regulator in late December.On Wednesday, the Bangladesh Medical Research Council (BMRC) approved clinical trials of Bangavax under the condition that “before starting any human trial, the vaccine producing company needs to conduct an animal trial on monkeys or chimpanzees,” BMRC director Prof. Dr Ruhul Amin said.GBL has been waiting for the trial approval since January.“It’s a lengthy process,” Amin said. “However, we are doing our best to facilitate the trials of Bangavax.”Dr. Mohammed Mohiuddin, head of quality at GBL, said that while the company is now waiting for the BMRC’s written recommendations, it is preparing to start the trials.“It will take us eight to nine months to complete the whole process,” he said. “Since we are using pure mRNA technology in Bangavax and no virus is used in this process, we are supposedly not required to make an animal trial.” He said that GBL was in touch with organizations abroad as there is no institution conducting animal trials in Bangladesh.“To run an animal trial, some foreign companies are asking for a G2G — government to government contract. We hope the government should extend help to us in this case,” Dr. Mohiuddin said.As Bangavax is estimated to cost $10-$15, several dollars cheaper than the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, it may help Bangladesh with its immunization drive, in which only 2.6 percent of the country’s 166 million people has been vaccinated so far, mainly due to a shortage of COVID-19 jabs.
Dr. Mohammed Mushtuq Husain, an adviser at the state-run Institute of Epidemiology Disease Control and Research (IEDCR), said if Bangavax trials prove successful they would position Bangladesh ‘ahead in the vaccine race amid this global crisis period.’
GBL says it has the capacity to produce 10 million doses a month, and its lab tests on mice suggest that one dose would suffice.“We are expecting that it will be a single dose vaccine as we found about 100 percent efficacy rate during lab trial on mice,” Dr. Mohiuddin said.Dr. Mohammad Mushtuq Husain, an adviser at the state-run Institute of Epidemiology Disease Control and Research (IEDCR), said if Bangavax trials prove successful they would position Bangladesh “ahead in the vaccine race amid this global crisis period.”“They (GBL) should be provided with necessary administrative and financial support as and when required. But the highest level of precaution is a must at every stage of the trials,” he said.“If we become successful in this endeavor, Bangladesh may consider exporting vaccine to other developing countries after meeting local demand.”
Kuwait to allow vaccinated foreigners entry from August
LONDON: Iran-backed militias in Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) employ assassinations, kidnappings and other forms of violence in order to protect the income they derive from widespread and deep-rooted corruption in Iraq, a panel of experts said on Thursday.At an online event hosted by British think tank Chatham House and attended by Arab News, Mohammad…
LONDON: Iran-backed militias in Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) employ assassinations, kidnappings and other forms of violence in order to protect the income they derive from widespread and deep-rooted corruption in Iraq, a panel of experts said on Thursday.At an online event hosted by British think tank Chatham House and attended by Arab News, Mohammad Al-Hakim, senior advisor on economic reform to Iraq’s prime minister, said the country’s corruption crisis extends back to the days of Saddam Hussein’s rule, but is now systemic, politically sanctioned and backed by the threat of violence by Iran-backed groups.“There’s a deep problem with the structure of the Iraqi state. This is very much a legacy that needs to be addressed,” Al-Hakim said. “The Iraqi state system has been deteriorating over 50 years.”Iraq ranks in the bottom 20 countries in the world in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index.Government employees from the bottom to the top of Iraqi governance are engaging in systematic corruption, said Al-Hakim.At the highest levels of the Iraqi state, civil servants have developed relationships with politicians that they use to line their own pockets and make money for their political allies.Maya Gebeily, Middle East correspondent at the Thomson Reuters Foundation, said one of the underpinnings of this system is the PMF, which operates as a “cartel,” using violence to suppress any opposition or attempt to upturn the status quo.“It’s important to think about this corruption as a cartel. There are players in the cartel who agree with each other on how to divvy up the spoils that are coming in either from tariffs, from a specific project, or into the ministry,” she added.“That’s why there are no ‘turf wars’ … because everyone is benefitting from this system. As soon as the bodies start showing up, that means an economic loss.”But that has not deterred the militias from violence, Gebeily said. They just do not use it against each other.“What they’re doing is using violence against anybody who’s trying to root out corruption. Researchers, activists and others who’ve been extremely vocal about corruption have been kidnapped, murdered or otherwise harassed,” she said.Law-abiding officials have been physically threatened, beaten up or had their families attacked when they refused to be complicit in corruption.“Armed groups use violence as an enforcement mechanism to make sure their economic interests are secured,” said Gebeily.“Let’s say you want to import cigarettes. Cigarettes are extremely lucrative to import, so you need an extremely powerful group — and the one I discovered was importing them was Kata’ib Hezbollah — to be involved in that import.”Iraq’s most powerful armed militia, Kata’ib Hezbollah has directly attacked US forces in the country.It is also widely believed to be behind a string of assassinations and kidnappings, including that of Hisham Al-Hashimi, a journalist who described the Iran-backed group as “the strongest and most dangerous group in the so-called Islamic resistance.”Renad Mansour, director of the Iraq Initiative at Chatham House, said: “If we’re talking about power and where it lies in the Iraqi state, you only need look at the attempt by the prime minister to arrest Qasem Muslih, the leader of a brigade in the PMF, and why the prime minister was unable to keep someone who he accused of having a role in assassinations in jail.”Mansour added: “Actually, these aren’t just militias. They have more connectivity to Iraq’s Parliament, to Iraq’s judiciary, than the prime minister does. They’re effectively connected to power in a more central way than the traditional and formal heads of state.”This reveals the true and farcical nature of power in Iraq, Mansour said. “Those sitting on top of the system struggle with access to the state that they’re meant to be head of,” he added.“Those apparently sitting outside the state actually have more connectivity to the essence, the power, the core of the state.”