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Volcano Eruptions in The Philippines: United Nations Aid Operation in Place As Thousands Told to Flee



|| Wednesday: January 15: 2020 || ά. The United Nations has expressed its concerns over the warnings issued by The Philippines’ authorities that volcanic eruptions on the country’s most populous island could last ‘days, months or, even, years’. In explosive eruptions last Sunday, the Taal Volcano, located on the island of Luzon, some 70 kilometres south of the capital city of Manila, began to violently spew magma, which has led to the evacuation of more than 38,000 people to 198 evacuation centres so far, according to the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs:OCHA.

The Government has officially requested the UN’s support in procuring face masks to help against ash, dust and noxious sulfur dioxide, UN Spokesperson Mr Stephane Dujarric told reporters in New York. Within hours, the volcano shot a mile-high plume of ash and triggered multiple earthquakes. Taal has had at least 35 reported eruptions since records began, most recently in 1977. Mr Dujarric said that OCHA and International Organisation for Migration:IOM teams were on the ground near the volcano. 

Meanwhile, knee-deep gray ash covers homes, animal cadavers and alarming cracks on the island’s surface, as UN teams visit evacuation centres and support local authorities. The country of 105 million sits on the Pacific Ocean’s ‘ring of fire’, where seismic activity is frequent.   

Although, eruptions had eased by Wednesday, Taal remains on level four of a five-step alert level, signalling the possibility of a flare-up within hours or days, that still threatens the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. The earthquakes, that followed the earlier eruption caused large fissures in the ground, demonstrating Taal’s intense energy and hinting at an imminent explosion, according to scientists.

In parts of Manila and surrounding provinces schools have been suspended since Monday. And while emergency crews have restored some power and electricity, a large part of the region remains in the dark. Before the coast guard began barring people from returning, some residents ventured back through thick mud to their destroyed homes to salvage what they could, according to news reports from the scene.

::: Caption: Students volunteer at a Red Cross logistics centre to pack relief goods for victims of the Taal volcano in The Philippines: Image: The Philippines Red Cross :::

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|| Readmore || :::ω::: || || 160120 || Up ||






India: Reducing Pressure on the Banking and Thermal Coal Sectors for the White Elephants of These Stranded Assets Must Be Dealt With Sooner Than Later



|| Monday: January 13: 2020: Vibhuti Garg Writing || ά. Despite a number of years in the making, the issues leading to Indian thermal power assets becoming white elephants remain largely unresolved and problematic. Non-payment in India’s thermal power generation sector, plagued by a staggering US$40-60 billion of non-performing or stranded power generation assets, continues to, seriously, undermine the banking sector, particularly, with the growing number of financially stressed, underutilised power plants.

In recent months, however, there has been some progress made in addressing the growing problem of stranded assets. The National Company Law Tribunal:NCLT is leading several resolution processes  to revive stressed assets in the power sector. Some settlements have been achieved under the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code:IBC, like NHPC’s takeover of the Lanco Teesta Hydro power project, settled in October 2019.

For others, settlement has been completed outside the IBC resolution process via a change in management, including, Adani Power’s acquisition of GMR Energy Chhattisgarh in August 2019, Renascent Power Ventures’, Tata Power and ICICI Bank, 75% acquisition of Prayagraj Power in December 2019 and Agritrade Resources’ acquisition of SKS Power Binjokte in late 2018.

Despite this progress, IEEFA notes that the project resolutions have been limited to date. Added to this, the recent decline in thermal power demand is seeing power plant utilisation rates drop to decade lows, acting as a new key headwind against sustained resolution. IEEFA’s recent report, Seriously Stressed and Stranded: The Burden of Non-Performing Assets in India’s Thermal Power Sector, reviewed twelve non-performing power generation projects.

One of those projects was the 01.35 gigawatt:GW Nashik Thermal Power Plant, a coal-based plant, located in Sinnar near Nashik in Maharashtra and owned by Rattan India Power Limited. This plant became stranded due to outdated technology, the lack of viable long-term power purchase agreements:PPAs and unresolved land acquisition issues, resulting in the absence of the final mile of rail linkage, meaning no access to coal supplies. The Nashik Thermal Power Plant is undergoing a resolution process outside the parameters of the IBC, with the same promoters.

Another non-performing Project by Rattan India Power Limited the 01.25GW Amravati Thermal Power Project, located in Nandgaonpeth village in Amravati district, Maharashtra, is, also, going through a resolution process. This project became part of a deal in December 2019, described as the largest settlement outside the NCLT framework without a change in management. 

The Amravati plant’s existing debt of Rs65,750m:US$926m, carried by a consortium of lenders led by PFC and SBI, was taken over by new investors, including, Goldman Sachs and Varde Partners, at a discount of 38% for Rs40,500m:US$570m. The deal resulted in a total loss on debt of Rs25,250m:US$356m. The total project loss is massive, possibly, more than 50%, when compared to the actual historic investment value, US$01.3bn, of the asset.

As part of the deal, the Rattan India Power board, also, issued securities to asset reconstruction company Aditya Birla ARC Limited, including, ordinary shares at Rs10:US$0.14:share and preference shares at Rs100,000:US$1,400:share, amounting to Rs8,057m and Rs6,655m, US$112m, and US$93m respectively, with the aim of reducing Rattan India Power’s outstanding debts owed to the original consortium of lenders.

The Amaravati Deal is the first transaction to close under the Reserve Bank of India’s revised framework for stressed asset resolution announced in June. It is, also, being touted as the first of its kind, where foreign investors replace Indian lenders through a process of resolution outside the NCLT framework. In the past, deals resolved under the NCLT framework were settled at Rs 01.2-01.5 crore:MW. The Amravati transaction was closed at Rs3 crore:MW:US$0.42m/MW of capacity. The deal is seen as showing the global investment community’s continued faith in the Indian economy.

While the deal suggests doors can open for fresh capital to flow into the distressed thermal power sector, post write-downs, the transaction is, also, being considered as a re-affirmation of the excellent long-term economic growth potential in India and the critical role the power sector will play in supporting that growth.

The recent downgrade of India’s outlook from stable to negative by rating agencies, such as, Moody’s and multilateral organisations like the International Monetary Fund:IMF, due to concerns that the country’s stalled economic growth will remain materially lower than previous years, suggests otherwise.

Electricity demand, a key indicator of economic activity, has been growing relatively consistently at over 06% annually during the last decade in India. However, in the nine months of this fiscal year to date, April to December 2019, India’s national electricity demand slowed to just +0.6% growth, with the last four months, actually, reporting a year on year decline.

IEEFA notes that there is key financial risk for coal-fired power plants. With exceptionally strong hydro-electricity generation, India’s coal-fired power generation is down 25 terawatt hours year to date, -02.5% year on year. Once built, non-mine mouth coal-fired power generation has the highest marginal cost of operation. It is more financially exposed to weaker than expected demand and increased zero-marginal cost supply of renewable energy in the power generation sector. Coal shortages, the power distribution company’s:DISCOMs poor ability to pay for supply, a lack of accountability by promotors, air pollution regulations, growing water scarcity pressures and the increasing cost-competitiveness of renewable energy are other drivers contributing to stressed coal-fired power in India.

As thermal power continues to lose market share, India has made progress in renewable energy installations. In the last three years, net capacity additions have been 10-14GW annually, while the net capacity addition of coal-fired capacity has been reduced to 03-04GW annually. Renewable energy will continue its upward trajectory in the long term as the technology is cheaper with significantly lower externalities, near zero carbon emissions, air and particulate pollution and water usage, in addition to the growing availability of debt and equity financing and increasing economic advantages.

Renewable energy installations would increase more but for the national burden of the many non-performing thermal assets in the power sector. The banking system is hamstrung, unable to extend the necessary traditional energy sector flow of capital, that is critical to sustained, strong economic growth in India.

India should cancel those coal-fired power plant proposals, that are currently floundering and stalled, rather than investing more good money in bad assets without addressing the underlying drivers of asset stranding.

::: Vibhuti Garg is an IEEFA Energy Economist :::

|| Readmore || :::ω::: || || 140120 || Up ||





Iraq: Hundreds of Thousands of People Remain Missing After Decades of War and Violence: ICRC



|| Tuesday: September 10: 2019 || ά. The families of hundreds of thousands of missing Iraqis marked the International Day of the Disappeared recently as the Office of Iraq’s Prime Minister pledged to support relatives and investigate cases.

Iraq has one of the highest number of missing people in the world, the result of decades of conflicts and violence. Nearly every Iraqi family is personally affected or knows someone, who is.

Thousands of Iraqis have gone missing, many presumed dead, in violence in recent years. One family told an International Committee of the Red Cross:ICRC  Team of the agony of searching for answers after Nabil Saleh, a 28-year old father of three, went missing during an attack in 2014.

“We see first-hand the heart-breaking emotional aftermath of a missing parent or child. Families never cease their anxious search for information.” Said Ms Katharina Ritz, the Head of Delegation in Iraq for ICRC .

The Office of Iraq’s Prime Minister, during a joint appearance with ICRC to highlight the Day of the Disappeared, said that  Iraqis had suffered for too long from the successive armed conflicts and that the government would spare no effort to continue to look into the fate and whereabouts of these missing persons and to bring hope and support to their families.

 “There wasn’t a single place I didn’t go to look for him; mass graves, morgues, everywhere. I just need a grave to visit, if, he is dead. That’s not too much to ask.” Said Mr Salah Jafaar, 53.

The issue is a global one, exacerbated by armed conflict and violence, natural disasters and migration. The ICRC is currently following the cases of 145,000 missing people worldwide, though, this figure is only a fraction of all the people believed to be missing worldwide.

In South Sudan, the ICRC is following more than 4,200 cases of missing people, many of whom were forced to flee violence and lost contact with family. The ICRC has registered 451 missing people in South Sudan this year.

In Ukraine, more than 1,500 families have asked ICRC to help clarify the fate of a missing relative since the beginning of the current conflict. Around 770 families are still looking today.

In Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Serbia and Kosovo, some 35,000 persons went missing as the result of armed conflicts in the former Yugoslavia. More than 20 years later, families of more than 10,000 missing persons still live in uncertainty.

Nigeria, Yemen, Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria account for a majority of the ICRC’s most recent missing cases. We also follow less recent cases in places like Sri Lanka, the western Balkans, and Lebanon, to name but a few.

Globally in 2018, the ICRC reunited more than 1,000 people, including 840 children, with their families. However, more than 45,000 new missing persons cases were registered by the ICRC’s Central Tracing Agency, the neutral entity mandated by the Geneva Conventions.

People, who live for decades without answers about their loved ones face devastating consequences, including, emotional suffering, economic hardship, and administrative and legal hurdles.

“When a person goes missing, their family suffers unimaginable anguish and distress, so clarifying the fate of missing people is a humanitarian act.” said Mr Martin Schuepp, ICRC’s Director for Europe and Central Asia. “Reconnecting families is as important to our mission as providing food, shelter or water. People we assist frequently tell us that their absolute priority is to learn, if, their loved ones are safe.”

Readmore at icrc.:::ω.

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Closing the Retirement Gender Gap in Viet Nam



|| Monday: June 10: 2019: ILO News || ά. With all eyes were on a huge screen in the press centre of the National Assembly building, in the middle of old Hanoi, reporters and camera crews await important decisions made by lawmakers. At the headquarters of Viet Nam National Television:VTV, Ms Nguyen Thu Ha, the Deputy Director of the News Department, is, also, closely following the debates on the reform of the country’s Labour Code, particularly, that on narrowing the gender gap in retirement age.

The reform under discussion aimed to address Viet Nam’s labour market challenges, including, an ageing society and align national laws with international labour standards. Women in Viet Nam currently retire five years earlier than men, at the age of 55. The draft revised Labour Code aimed to increase the female retirement age to 60 and the male to 62, thus, reducing the gender gap to two years. “I hope the deputies can see the rationale behind it and will adopt it.” Says Ms Ha.

She aired a talk show on the retirement age increase, including, gender gap bridging, on the evening before the discussion on the revised draft Labour Code, in the hope of providing the public and lawmakers with useful background and arguments in favour of closing the gender gap.

“We need to explain the difference between two questions; ‘Does it make sense?’ and ‘Do you want it?’. While no one wants to work longer, reducing the gender gap in retirement age is a must in the future.” she says. Admitting it is not easy to change public awareness, Ms Ha hopes that one day everyone will understand how gender gaps are hindering the country’s development.

Only a couple of years ago, the senior TV Editor says that she never questioned the gender gap at retirement age. “I thought since women and men are different, different laws should apply, too.”

Her perspective started to change when she began attending workshops on social protection and retirement related issues, facilitating high-level discussions at national forums, joining media trainings and interviewing experts from the International Labour Organisation:ILO for VTV programmes. This way, she became aware of the consequences of the gender gap.

“It’s such a ridiculous, huge gap.” she says. “And the gap would only widen, with men having much more time to advance in their career, if, the status-quo is maintained.”

The ILO office in Viet Nam has helped the country, at the request of the Government, improve its laws and policies, in particular, labour law and social insurance reform. The ILO provided technical and advocacy support under the New Industrial Relations Framework programme, co-funded by the US Department of Labour, the EU and the Japan-funded project on extending social security coverage in ASEAN.

The five-year gap in retirement ages between women and men, as well as, some other gender based discrimination in the country’s legal system, was built upon the assumption that women were weaker and needed protecting.

“The disconnection between the protective approach of the current laws and the proven abilities and ambitions of women, becomes starker everyday as the need for change becomes more urgent.” says Ms Andrea Prince, Labour Lawyer at the ILO, adding that the inequality created by the five-year gap in retirement ages, also, results in women receiving less training and fewer promotions and lower earnings during their working life.”

Data shows that women live longer than men in Viet Nam. According to the ILO, life expectancy among women over 60 is 02.7 years longer than men. “By retiring earlier, women receive a lower pension because they have contributed less and, often, at lower wages for the same jobs as men, while living longer.” says Ms Nuno Cunha , ILO specialist on social security.

Changing the law, also, requires changing of public perceptions and attitudes, which is not easy. “It is difficult to enhance public awareness but, at least, the media’s views have changed positively on the issue of the gender gap in retirement age over the past few years. They moved from being against equalising retirement age for women and men, to highlighting the necessity to do it.” says Ms Ha.

Ms Ha appreciates what the ILO has done in Viet Nam to support the country’s journalists and other stakeholders, by providing evidence-based arguments and practical experience from other countries. Now, she is planning more programmes on the issue, because the revision of Viet Nam’s Labour Code will be discussed on June 12 at the National Assembly and until the Deputies vote on the bill in their second sitting this October.

Caption: Image: ILO:::ω.

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WHO Deploys Support Teams in Response to HIV Outbreak in Sindh Province of Pakistan



|| Thursday: May 30: 2019 || ά. An international team of experts from the World Health Organisation:WHO Headquarters and the Regional Office for the Eastern Mediterranean has arrived in Pakistan to support the response to an outbreak of HIV in Larkana in Sindh province, Pakistan, at the request of the country’s Ministry of Health.

The outbreak was first reported on April 25, 2019 and a major HIV screening programme started on April 28. It was expanded on May 08, with additional health workers being deployed. Testing is ongoing. So far more than 600 HIV cases have been identified.

The majority are among children and young people: more than half of those affected are children under the age of five. This poses a particular challenge. Prior to this outbreak, there were just over 1,200 children diagnosed with HIV and receiving anti-retroviral treatment in the whole of Pakistan. On May 16 local authorities established a new anti-retroviral treatment clinic for children in Larkana.

Key tasks for the WHO-led team will include: ascertaining the source of the outbreak and controlling it; providing technical expertise, particularly, in the areas of HIV testing, paediatric HIV treatment and family counselling and ensuring adequate supplies of rapid diagnostic tests and anti-retroviral medicines for both adults and children, as well as, single-use needles and syringes.

The WHO mission includes experts in emergency response management, epidemiology, HIV clinical care and infection prevention and control from WHO, as well as, the Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network:GOARN.

The team will work closely with Pakistan’s Ministry and all partners, including, the Aga Khan University, Pakistan’s Field Epidemiology and Laboratory Training Programme:FELTP, UNAIDS and UNICEF in Larkana.:::ω.

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Cyclone Fani Hits India: Now Moving Towards Baangladesh as the UN Moves to Protect the Vulnerable Refugees in the Country