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Ukraine – Russia: Turkiye and the UN mediates a grain deal to address the global food crisis
In the news
On 22 July, Ukraine and Russia signed a deal under Turkiye and the UN mediation, to remove the naval blockade restricting Ukraine from exporting grains. The deal allows a safe passage for ships and vessels carrying grains, fertilizers and ammonia from three key ports of Ukraine. The ports - Odesa, Chernomorsk, and Yuzhnyy will be monitored by the deal. The UN Secretary-General António Guterres said: "(the deal) will bring relief for developing countries on the edge of bankruptcy and the most vulnerable people on the edge of famine.”
On 23 July, Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelenskyy reported on Russia attacking the Odesa port with missiles. Russia’s foreign ministry spokesperson, responded that Russia had carried out a high-precision strike which targeted only the military infrastructure.
Issues at large
First, the deal. The reasons behind Ukraine and Russia signing the deal might differ, but the key purpose of Turkey and the UN’s involvement is to ease the growing war and its impact on the global food crisis. Ukraine being the producer of key commodities, Russia’s naval block has added to the global food crisis; to facilitate the grain exports, both parties needed a mediator to monitor. Through Turkey, Russia will be able to keep a check on what enters Ukraine’s ports, and Ukraine will be able to export its accumulated grains on a safe route.
Second, Russia’s objectives. Russia, at the peak of shelling down Ukraine, circling its eastern region and important ports, has agreed to the deal because of Turkey’s assurance to monitor and prevent the entry of weapons into Ukraine. It will also be signing a " mirror agreement " allowing Russia to export its agricultural produce without sanctions. This means, that while Russia is launching ground attacks, it also wants to protect its economy.
Third, the global food crisis. Ukraine is a significant producer of grains, cooking oil, fertilizers, wheat, corn, and sunflower oil; the war has pushed the food insecurity, especially in East Africa and the Middle East. 50 million people from seven countries in East Africa, including Somalia and South Sudan, have recorded acute hunger and close to 300,000 are on the edge of famine.
First, alternate to grain exports. The Russian navy has blocked certain ports of Ukraine, restricting Ukraine’s sea exports, but there are other ports at the entrance of the Black Sea, Bosporus, Danube and Azov Sea areas which can be utilised. Such ports might not have the facility to store grains, but with the ongoing war, developing such ports could be useful.
Second, the continuing Russian attacks despite the deal. According to the deal, Russia is not allowed to launch attacks or interrupt the vessels that pass through the humanitarian maritime corridor unless there is suspicion. Therefore, shelling on military infrastructure in Odesa port does not breach any part of the deal. Such attacks can be a strategy of Russia to ensure Ukraine does not counter back when Russia tries to seize any such vessels.
The Monkeypox Outbreak: WHO declares a global health emergency
In the news
On 23 July, the Director-General of World Health Organization (WHO) Tedros Adhanom Ghrebeyesus designated the ongoing monkeypox outbreak as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC). Tedros stated: “We have an outbreak that has spread around the world rapidly through new modes of transmission about which we understand too little and which meets the criteria in the international health regulations.”
Issues at large
First, increase in monkeypox cases worldwide. For the first time, several monkeypox clusters have been recorded simultaneously in endemic and non-endemic countries since May 2022. The outbreak has over 16,000 cases across 75 countries. Most cases have been recorded in countries where there has never before been evidence of monkeypox transmission. The occurrence of cases and chains of transmission in countries with no immediate or direct epidemiological ties to West or Central Africa regions is a first. Bermuda, Thailand, Serbia, Georgia, India, Saudi Arabia, and Bermuda have all reported their first cases since 14 July, bringing the total number of countries where the current epidemic has been identified to 73.
Second, issues with tracing and testing. A study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that anonymous sex has been a significant challenge in contact tracing, with only 28 per cent of men able to provide the names of all recent sexual contacts. Data in Canada, Spain, Portugal, and the UK suggest places, where men have sex with multiple partners, are increasing the spread of the outbreak. Regarding testing, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention official guidelines recommend that labs test for monkeypox using only samples of a patient’s skin taken from the visible rash. As a result, people whose fever and swollen lymph nodes show up a few days before their lesions must wait until the illness grows before it can be diagnosed. Therefore, people without symptoms will be left to wait and wonder, after an exposure, whether they could be infected.
Third, the availability of vaccinations. According to the CDC, historical evidence from Africa indicates that smallpox vaccination is at least 85 per cent effective in preventing monkeypox. The European Commission approved the Danish biotech company Bavarian Nordic’s Immunovex vaccine against Monkeypox in the EU member states. Bavarian Nordic has agreed to provide 2.5 million doses to a US contract manufacturer who will complete their manufacturing. The agreement would add to a previous purchase of three million doses of vaccine by early 2023, produced in Denmark, and would ensure the availability of vaccines in the fall. By mid-2023, over seven million doses will have been administered.
First, early awareness of the outbreak’s concern. Although the WHO’s emergency committee meeting on 24 July lacked consensus regarding the assessment of the virus, the director-general took the call to declare that the outbreak was an international concern. The director-general was also not reluctant to say that the virus is predominant in the gay community, without any concerns for stigmatization.
Second, the “wait and see” approach of governments. Announcing public health emergencies may end up costing the nation affected by the epidemic financially, particularly if travel and trade are restricted. Several countries are hesitant to exchange public health information in the event of an outbreak due to their concern over such actions. Too many countries adopt a "wait and see" attitude when it comes to such announcements, pushing them off until it is too late, as was the case with COVID-19.
The US: Wildfires in California, again
In the news
On 22 July, the Oak fire started near Midpines at the foothills of Sierra Nevada and has blown out of proportions, growing into one of California’s biggest wildfire incidents of 2022. Despite firefighting efforts, the fires have engulfed more than 15,600 acres, displaced nearly 6000 people, and are few miles away from the Yosemite National Park.
The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) termed the spread ‘explosive’ and said: “the growth of this fire is pretty amazing, given the fact of how quickly we had resources here.” More than 2000 firefighters backed by aircrafts and bulldozers are on the ground to try and douse down the fire. The Governor of California, Gavin Newsom has declared a state of emergency for Mariposa County, allowing for the supply of additional resources to respond to the wildfires.
Issues at large
First, recurring wildfires in California. The current incident is not the first, as Californian landscape is prone to wildfires due to natural reasons such as vegetation, wind patterns and the bark beetles that are known to feed on the trees, making them vulnerable to fire. However, in recent years, the scale of these fires has increased manifold. According to Cal Fires, eight of California’s 10 largest fires and 12 of largest 20 have occurred in the past five years.
Second, wildfires across the globe. Alaska, an Arctic state of the United States is experiencing wildfires due to record-breaking temperatures. The intense heatwave in Europe is resulting in fires across Greece, France, Spain, and Portugal, and thousands have been displaced.
Third, the link to climate change. The rise in temperature increased the rate of evaporation, leading to more moisture drawn from soil and vegetation. The excessive dryness, therefore, becomes a conducive ground for wildfires to spread. In other words, warmer temperatures pushed by climate change increase the risk of fires. The UNEP report titled “Spreading like Wildfire: The Rising Threat of Extraordinary Landscape Fires”, February 2022, notes that the extreme global fires may increase up to 14 per cent by 2030, 30 per cent by 2050, and 50 per cent by 2100. Highlighting the link to climate change, the report confirmed that “wildfires are made worse by climate change through increased drought, high air temperatures, low relative humidity, lightning, and strong winds resulting in hotter, drier, and longer fire seasons.”
First, learning from past experiences. There is a need to learn from the previous disasters and rebuild in a better and more resilient manner. As more population in the US moves out of the urban areas close to wilderness, it is important to implement stringent regulations for building/rebuilding infrastructure. In 2008, California laid down rules for building homes in fire-prone areas, including a “defensible space” without vegetation around the structure, access to water as an emergency measure and other minimum standards for fire-resistant construction.
Second, the implementation of environmental-friendly policies is the only way forward. Leviathan-like disasters are causing irreparable damage across the world. As climate change narrows in, the scale of disasters increases proportionally, effectively closing in on time for climate action and the ability to cope with disasters.
East and Southeast Asia
China: President sends congratulatory note at Peace and Security Forum
On 25 July, China’s defence minister Wei Fenghe attended the ministerial meeting of the second China-Africa Peace and Security Forum and called for enhancing the peaceful cooperation between China and African countries. The defence minister read out president Xi Jinping’s congratulatory note for the forum: “Attaching great importance to China-Africa peace and security cooperation, president Xi has put forward the initiative of building a China-Africa community with a shared future in the new era, pointing the way forward for China and Africa to strengthen solidarity and coordination and achieve common security.” Wei further called for stronger strategic communication, maintaining equipment and technological cooperation, deepening joint maritime exercises and expanding exchanges in professional fields.
South China Sea: China commemorates the 20th anniversary of the Declaration of the Conduct of Parties
On 25 July, China’s foreign minister Wang Yi addressed the opening ceremony of the 20th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea and said that peace and stability are crucial in the region. The Declaration of Conduct establishes the basic principles and common norms and is the first political document signed by China and ASEAN on the South China Sea issue. Wang said: “All sides should firmly support all efforts that are conducive to peaceful settlement and management of disputes, oppose any words and deeds that create tension and provoke confrontation in the region.” He called for improving bilateral and multilateral maritime-related dialogue mechanisms. Wang also stated that the South China Sea is neither a "safari park" for states outside the area nor a "fighting arena" for superpowers to engage in conflict. Wang added that only the countries surrounding the South China Sea region should resolve the issue.
China: National Health Commission predicts a decline in birth rate before 2025
On 25 July, The Strait Times reported that the National Health Commission’s head of population and family affairs stated that China's population growth has slowed dramatically and is anticipated to drop before 2025. According to statistics, the rate of new births in 2021 was the lowest in numerous provinces in decades. Only one province in China, Guangdong, has experienced more than one million births. Birth rates in central Hunan province dropped below 500,000 for the first time in over 60 years. As a result of reasons such as the high cost and work overload, many young people in China are struggling to stop a significant decline in natural population growth.
Singapore: Human rights group calls for former Sri Lankan president’s apprehension
On 23 July, International Truth and Justice Project (ITJP), an NGO that records war crimes and promotes justice in Sri Lanka, registered a complaint with Singapore’s attorney general asking the latter to apprehend former president Gotabaya Rajapaksa for violating the Geneva Conventions and international humanitarian law during the 2009 civil war. The ITJP executive director Yasmin Sooka said: “Gotabaya in September 2008 ordered the immediate withdrawal of the United Nations and relief agencies from the war zone in order to ensure that there would be no witnesses to the carnage that was unleashed on [Tamil] civilians by the Sri Lankan army.”
Cambodia: Exports to RCEP countries recorded at USD 3.28 billion
On 21 July, Cambodia’s ministry of commerce notified that exports to Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) countries amounted to USD 3.28 billion in the first half of 2022. The Undersecretary of State and Spokesperson of the Cambodian ministry of commerce, claimed that the RCEP’s initiation was the major reason for the increase in Cambodia's exports in the initial six months of 2022. While Cambodia’s prime imports were from Vietnam, China, and Japan, its exports amounted to “USD 1.17 billion, USD 612 million and USD 542 million USD, respectively.” The Governor of the National Bank of Cambodia (NBC) predicted that Cambodia will grow by 5.3 per cent in 2022 due to various factors such as development in the real estate sector, agriculture, and tourism and “export of garments, bags and footwear.”.
Thailand: Prime minister surpasses 4th no-confidence vote
On 23 July, Thailand’s prime minister Prayuth Chan-ocha defeated a no-confidence motion passed against his government because of economic misgovernance and corruption. Although 206 voted against the government and nine abstained from voting, the government managed to secure 256 votes in favour due to its majority in the parliament. The prime minister said: “For the remaining 250 days of the government, I insist that I will do everything to take the country out of the crisis as soon as possible.” Earlier, Prayuth faced three censure motions. The opposition accused Prayuth of spying on those who opposed his policies and censured him for decriminalizing Cannabis with no safety protocols.
Thailand: Government announces monkeypox alert
On 24 July, Thailand issued a “national monkeypox alert” after public health minister, Anutin Charnvirakul held an emergency meeting with the health agencies. The minister claimed that the public health ministry’s emergency operations centre would control the monkeypox cases in Thailand. Recently, a Nigerian man residing in Thailand was diagnosed with the disease. The health minister assured that the country’s disease monitoring officials were closely scrutinising travellers at the borders to prevent the spread of the disease. Further, the medical services department claimed that the country had sufficient smallpox vaccines to secure its people.
Myanmar: Four pro-democracy activists were accorded death sentence by Junta
On 25 July, in a secretive trial, four democracy rights activists were accorded capital punishment by Myanmar’s Junta on charges of committing terrorist activities. Global News Light reported that: “…the four men were executed because they gave directives, made arrangements and committed conspiracies for brutal and inhumane terror acts." The accused include Ko Jimmy, a prominent member of pro-democracy student group and Phyo Zeya Thaw, an NLD lawmaker. Additionally, Hla Myo Aung and Aung Thura Zaw were accorded death sentence for terminating the life of a junta-appointed informer. The UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Myanmar, Tom Andrews and the National Unity Government (NUG) claimed that they were greatly enraged and dismayed over the incident.
India: Protests in Lakshadweep demand resumption of ship services
On 21 July, the protestors marched towards the secretariat and demanded the resumption of ship services in the Union Territory. The protests turned violent and resulted in mass arrests by the administration. The administration said that the protests were political stunts and were “misguided.”
Sri Lanka: Fuel crisis worsens
On 26 July, Sri Lanka restricted fuel import for a year due to depleting foreign exchange reserves. A fuel rationing system will be followed. The power and energy minister said: "An advertisement was published today calling for expression of interest (EOI) for oil companies to import, distribute and sell petroleum products in Sri Lanka." The Ceylon Petroleum Corporation, which controls 80 per cent of the oil market, will give a share of its fuel stations and resources to the new entrants. Amidst the fuel crisis, the schools also reopened.
Sri Lanka: Clampdown of protests turns violent
On 22 July, the Sri Lankan military assaulted peaceful protestors, including journalists and lawyers. The protestors had agreed that they would peacefully leave the protest sites the next day following the court order, however, the military turned violent. Opposition leader Sajith Premadasa tweeted: “A useless display of ego and brute force putting innocent lives at risk & endangers Sri Lanka’s international image, at a critical juncture,” The UN Human Rights Office said: “We have concerns that the raid on the camp sends a chilling message to peaceful protesters, including elsewhere in the country,”
Afghanistan: Tashkent Conference was constructive, says the Taliban
On 26 July, acting minister of Foreign Affairs, Amir Khan Muttaqi, while speaking at the end of the Tashkent conference, said: “Good views were exchanged for economic and transit development and for Afghanistan to become an economic hub,” adding, “We hope with this exchange of views and information, the economic and political relations with neighbouring, regional and world countries will be incentivised.” Before the meeting, the ministry of Foreign Affairs of Uzbekistan said: “The main goal of the event is to develop a set of measures and proposals for the approaches of the world community to promote stability, security, post-conflict reconstruction in Afghanistan and its integration into regional cooperation processes in the interests of the multinational Afghan people and the whole world.” The conference was attended by representatives of 20 countries, including Russia, the EU, the US, China, the UK, Japan, Iran, Pakistan, and India.
Pakistan: UNHCR report cites Pakistan as the largest refugee-hosting country in Asia and the Pacific
On 25 July, a United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) report said that Pakistan continues to be the largest refugee-hosting country in Asia and the Pacific. According to official estimates, 250,000 Afghans have entered Pakistan since the Taliban takeover in August 2021, and over 1.5 million Afghans still prefer to stay in Pakistan. Further, the report cites that by December 2021, the “Documentation Renewal and Information Verification Exercise” (DRIVE) revealed that there were 1,252,800 registered Afghans, carrying “proof of registration” (PoR) cards in Pakistan.
Central Asia, Middle East, and Africa
Tajikistan: 104 children and 42 women repatriated from ISIS camp
On 25 July, 104 children and 42 women were repatriated to Tajikistan from a refugee camp in Syria. An official statement on the state news agency website claimed that the repatriation is aimed at saving Tajik children from hopelessness and returning them to a peaceful life in their country. Several Tajik nationals continue to live in camps and prisons in Syria. Although the exact numbers are not known, it is estimated that around 600 Tajik nationals continue to remain in these camps and prisons. Previously, the Tajik government undertook a similar repatriation effort in 2019 focused on children.
Syria: Russian air strike kills seven
On 22 July, Russia launched air attacks on al-Jadidah village in Idlib in northern Syria. The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that Russian aircrafts conducted four strikes on targeted areas. The White Helmets confirmed that the strikes had killed seven civilians, including four children, and injured 12 others, including eight children. The attack is the first of its kind in months in this village which lies far from the frontlines of the war in Idlib.
Yemen: Houthis abduct nearly 100 women
On 25 July, Geneva-based SAM Organization for Rights and Liberties said that the Houthis had abducted nearly 100 women since the beginning of July. Homes and female student accommodations in Hajjah, Haresh and Abes districts were aggressively raided, and women were abducted on charges of sex work, adultery and ‘immoral acts’ and sent to Houthi-run prisons. SAM stated: “what happened with the women is a full-fledged kidnapping crime that does not take into account the legal controls imposed by the law.” The Houthis rejected a mediation proposal offered by the local and tribal leaders trying to secure their release.
The Mediterranean: Thousands of migrants from Libya and Tunisia arrive in Italy
On 25 July, BBC reported that nearly 1,200 migrants from Africa, the Middle East and Asia had arrived in Italy in 24 hours by boats from Libya and Tunisia; 674 had been rescued from a fishing boat off the Calabria coast, and five people were found dead. Another 522 were rescued from 15 boats and brought to Lampedusa port on 23 July. Lampedusa is a major arrival port for entering Europe. The rescued migrants included Afghanis, Pakistanis, Somalis, Sudanese and Ethiopians.
Libya: 13 killed in clashes involving forces loyal to Presidency Council
On 22 July, 13 people were killed and 27 injured in the capital Tripoli during clashes between rival factions in areas housing diplomatic missions, and international and government agencies. An interior ministry spokesperson said the fighters were affiliated with the Presidency Council, the body acting as the transitional head of state. The prime minister’s office said the interior minister was replaced in response to the clashes
Mali: Al Qaeda affiliate group claims attack on military base
On 23 July, the Jama'at Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimeen (JNIM), a group affiliated to the al Qaeda, claimed responsibility for the attack on Mali's main military base near the capital city Bamako on 22 July. This comes after the Mali military had already accused the JNIM's Katiba Macina branch of the attack on the day. The JNIM said the branch attacked the speculated presence of a Russian mercenary from the Wagner Group. The JNIM statement said: "We say to the Bamako government: if you have the right to hire mercenaries to kill the defenceless innocent people, then we have the right to destroy you and target you."
Europe and the Americas
Russia: ROSCOSMOS to exit International Space Station after 2024
On 26 July, the newly appointed chief of the Russian Space Agency said that Russia would withdraw from the ISS after 2024 and build its orbiting outpost. The ROSCOSMOS chief revealed a model of Russia’s orbital station, estimated to cost USD six billion and told president Vladimir Putin: “I think that by that time, we will start putting together a Russian orbital station.” In the context of the ongoing war, the deteriorating relations with the US and the ISS’ ageing infrastructure, the announcement could be an attempt by Russia’s Space industry to raise the bar and ensure the Russian economy is well equipped with the necessary space services.
Russia: Gazprom announces further cuts in gas flow via Nord Stream 1
On 25 July, Russia's Gazprom announced that it would further reduce natural gas flows through a major pipeline to Europe to 20 per cent of capacity. They cited necessary equipment repairs as the cause behind the cut and said that the "daily throughput'" to Germany would be reduced to 33 million cubic meters. The pipeline was already delivering just 40 per cent of its capacity from 21 July, following 10-day scheduled maintenance. German economics and climate minister, Robert Habeck, commented on this move and said: “Putin is playing a perfidious game,” as this further exacerbates the impending energy crisis as European countries try to shore up storage for the coming winter months.
Haiti: Boat carrying 60 refugees capsizes near the Bahamas
On 25 July, at least 17 people drowned when a boat carrying refugees towards the US. Police in the Bahamas said the boat capsized more than 11 km (6.8 miles) off New Providence Island. Divers went down and recovered 17 bodies; the immigration minister said survivors indicated that they paid between USD 3,000 and USD 8,000 for the voyage. Gang wars and endemic poverty has pushed many Haitians toward the US.
Cuba: New Cuban Family Code to be put to referendum in September
On 22 July, the Cuban National Assembly of People’s Power approved to submit the new Code of the Families to a referendum. The proposed Code of Families focuses on various modern family progressive ideas, like same-sex marriage, greater women’s rights, and increased protections for children, the elderly and other family members. The referendum ballot will bring a single question: “Do you agree with the Family Code?” Cuba is already a regional front-runner in women’s rights. Women head up nearly 50 percent of households, make up 60 per cent of professionals, have free access to abortion, and can claim up to two years’ maternity leave.
Canada: Shootings in British Columbia kill two civilians
On 25 July, a lone gunman went on a shooting spree and killed two civilians and injured two others. The gunman was shot dead on the scene and was revealed to be targeting homeless people in the Langley city of British Columbia province. The police have identified the accused and stated that the gunman shot into closed buildings that were unoccupied at that time. The motive for the killings remains unclear. Mayor Van Val den Broek called the incident a tragedy and called on elected officials to do more to help the homeless people of British Columbia.
Canada: Pope Francis issues apology to indigenous people
On 25 July, at a gathering of indigenous people in Masckwacis, Alberta, Pope Francis issued an apology for the atrocities committed by the residential schools from 1880 to 1990 in the same region. The Pope called it a “disastrous error” committed by overzealousness and said it was “right to remember such traumas even at the risk of opening old wounds.” The Pope also recognized that words alone are not enough and concrete action must be taken; he is investigating with experts on the same. Residential schools for indigenous people were run by Christian missionaries which separated kids from their parents, inflicted physical and sexual abuse, erased languages and cultures. In these catholic run schools, thousands of children died and survivors were left traumatized. A lot of mixed feelings of hope, healing and anger were expressed by the survivors of the indigenous community after hearing the apology.
The US: Former Trump Advisor Steve Bannon found guilty
On 22 July, a congressional committee jury investigating the Capitol Hill riots that took place on 6 January 2021 ruled Steve Bannon guilty of “contempt of Congress.” Bannon, a former advisor of Trump,was convicted of two charges: one for refusing to appear for a deposition and two for refusing to submit required documents in response to the committee’s subpoena. Bannon’s legal team presented a defence stating that he made a mistake but not a crime; the justice department argued that Bannon had chosen his allegiance to Trump over the law. The jury debated only for three hours before reaching its verdict; the committee leaders called it a “victory for the law.” Bannon faces up to two years in jail and USD 200,000 fines. His sentencing has been set to 21 October. Bannon vowed to have the case reversed stating: “we may have lost the battle here today but we will not lose the war.”
The US: Alaska experiences its largest wildfires
On 25 July, AP News reported that Alaska is experiencing wildfires like it has never seen before. Until now 530 wildfires have been recorded in 2022 which have blazed through an area the size of Connecticut and the worst of the wildfire season is yet to come. Some residents have been forced to evacuate and one civilian was killed. Alaska experiences wildfires regularly, mostly caused by lightning and human incidents. However, heat waves and climate change have exacerbated the frequency of fires. There is no loss of property but the massive amounts of smoke released has caused dangerous breathing conditions. The smoke also caused a helicopter to crash which was carrying firefighting equipment.