Jan 23, 2020

Three American crew helping to battle Australia’s devastating bushfires were killed Thursday when their water-bombing plane crashed in mountainous terrain during a sortie to tackle another outbreak of the deadly blazes.

Officials said the Hercules C-130 plane erupted in a large fireball on impact in a national park the Snowy Mountains shortly before 1:30 pm (0230 GMT).

The cause of the crash was not immediately known, but New South Wales Rural Fire Service commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons had said earlier in the day that high winds were making flying the water tankers “very difficult”.

“We’ve got a number of firefighters and a number of crew that are in the area and working to contain and work around the fire,” Fitzimmons said.

The incident brought the death toll in Australia’s bushfires to at least 32 since the crisis began in September.

The highly experienced US firefighting trio was working for Canadian firm Coulson Aviation, which had been contracted to help fight the fires.

State Premier Gladys Berejiklian said the crash highlighted the danger faced by firefighters as they attempted to extinguish massive blazes across Australia’s southeast.

“There are in excess of 70 aircraft that have been used today alone and today is a stark and horrible reminder of the dangerous conditions that our volunteers, (and) our emergency services personnel… (face) on a daily basis,” she said.

The crash happened as at least seven fires, whipped up by scorching temperatures and strong winds, flared to emergency status following a brief lull brought by rain and cooler temperatures.

Bushfires also forced the closure of Canberra Airport Thursday, with all flights in and out of the country’s capital suspended to allow the deployment of aerial firefighting crews to battle the approaching flames.

Temperatures soared to 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) in Sydney, where a bushfire also broke out in a northwestern suburb of Australia’s biggest city.

Wind gusts had been forecast to reach 90 kilometres per hour (55 miles per hour) in some areas, but Fitzsimmons said the winds were stronger than expected, especially in the fire-ravaged southeast.

Jan 23, 2020

World Health Organisation (WHO) on Wednesday postponed taking a decision on whether the mysterious coronavirus that killed at least 17 people and sickened hundreds of others in China a global health emergency.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said physicians need more information and asked the committee which he is leading, which held an emergency meeting in Geneva, Switzerland on Wednesday to reconvene on Thursday.

Tedros told roughly 150 reporters on a conference call that was delayed for almost two hours while the committee met that “today, there was an excellent discussion during the committee meeting, but it was also clear that to proceed, we need more information.”

Tedros said the emergency committee on Wednesday was split on whether to designate the illness a global health emergency, noting that “WHO has researchers in China collecting data.

“The decision about whether or not to declare a public health emergency of international concern is one I take extremely seriously, and one I am only prepared to make with appropriate consideration of all the evidence.”

Chinese authorities said many of the patients with the new illness had come into contact with seafood and meat markets, suggesting the virus is spreading from animals to people.

WHO physicians said they found evidence of human-to-human transmission within close contacts, citing family members, and within a health-care environment and that the virus was stable and not showing any kind of unusual activity.

WHO defines a global health emergency, also known as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern, as an “extraordinary event” that is “serious, unusual or unexpected.”

The virus that emerged from Wuhan, China, had spread throughout Asia, infecting more than 540 people in China, Thailand, Taiwan, Japan and the Republic of Korea, according to WHO and Chinese state media.

The U.S. had also confirmed its first case on Tuesday, a Washington state man who was travelling in China, the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, said.

Meanwhile, Lawrence Gostin, a professor and Faculty director of the O’Neill Institute for National & Global Health Law at Georgetown University, said “WHO does not enact emergencies easily. The international health agency only applied the emergency designation five times since the rules were implemented in mid-2000.

“The last time WHO declared a global health emergency was in 2019 for the Ebola outbreak in eastern Congo that killed more than 2,000 people.

“The agency also declared global emergencies for the 2016 Zika virus, the 2009 H1N1 swine flu, and the 2014 polio and Ebola outbreaks.”

Jan 23, 2020

The U.S. is moving to add more countries to its travel ban list, President Donald Trump said on Wednesday, but gave no other details, saying the changes would be announced soon.

The Trump administration is planning to add seven countries – Belarus, Eritrea, Kyrgyzstan, Myanmar, Nigeria, Sudan and Tanzania – to the list, U.S. media reported on Tuesday.

Trump on Tuesday confirmed he plans to expand his travel ban that bars citizens of certain countries from entering the U.S.

He told The Wall Street Journal in an interview on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, that he is looking to add more countries, though he would not say which ones.

The president’s comments confirm an Associated Press report from earlier this month.

Any additions or alterations to the travel ban would draw immediate legal challenges.

Trump’s openness to expand one of his most controversial policies at the outset of an election year signals that he will seek to rev up his base of supporters and double down on the isolationist ideas that he rode to the White House in 2016.

The Supreme Court in a 5-4 ruling in 2018 upheld a version of the ban that blocked nationals from five Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S.

The ban applies to people from Iran, Libya, Syria, Somalia and Yemen.

The ban upheld by the high court was a watered down version of the original White House proposal, which barred people from Iran, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Somalia and Sudan from coming to the U.S. for 90 days and banned all refugees for 120 days.

The proposal drew nationwide protests at airports and other public places from critics who decried it as Islamophobic, Reuters reports.

Jan 23, 2020

The African Development Bank says it has freed up $600 for investment in renewable energy in Africa.

The President, African Development Bank, Dr Akinwumi Adesina, who disclosed this in his keynote speech at the UK-Africa Investment Summit, said, “Huge opportunities exist for investment in renewable energy, especially for hydropower, wind, solar, thermal and geothermal.

“But many of these opportunities can’t be realised unless we invest a lot more in project preparation to make the projects bankable. The African Development Bank through its NEPAD infrastructure project preparation facility has helped to mobilise financing for $8.5bn of infrastructure projects.”

The AfDB said the Sustainable Energy Fund for Africa, based at the bank, had supported investments in excess of $800m in renewable energy.

He said, “With global climate change, and increasing frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, there is an urgent need to climate proof infrastructure investments.

“The devastating cyclones in Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe led to massive destruction of critical infrastructure. The same applies to coastal states, which are more vulnerable to coastal erosion and floods. Infrastructure investment must now be climate-resilient.”

According to Adesina, the bank used a partial risk guarantee to support the Lake Turkana wind power project in Kenya, the largest wind power generation project in Africa, which will produce 300 megawatts of electricity.

“The African Development Bank’s €20m Partial Risk Guarantee essentially backstopped the government of Kenya’s obligations to developers against delays in the construction of transmission lines,” he said.

He noted that the bank launched a $1bn synthetic securitisation that it used to transfer risks on its private sector portfolio assets to the private sector.

Adesina said, “We are currently exploring with the DFID the use of synthetic securitisation for the sovereign portfolio of the African Development Bank. This will be used to transfer sovereign risk to the market, working with insurers and reinsurers in the UK. This could be a huge game changer for how governments can transfer their sovereign risks on infrastructure to the market.

“Because the bulk of infrastructure is financed through foreign loans, and the revenue streams are in local currency, it introduces high financial and forex risks to investors. Using swaps and hedging are effective, no doubt, but more can be achieved by focusing on local currency financing. This will also help with debt sustainability as the bulk of Africa’s external debt is on infrastructure.”

Jan 23, 2020

Angola's billionaire former first daughter Isabel dos Santos has been charged with money laundering and mismanagement during her stewardship of state-owned oil firm Sonangol.

Documents leaked this week alleged the daughter of ex-president Jose Eduardo dos Santos, plundered state coffers to build her fortune, estimated at $2.1 billion.

Isabel dos Santos is accused of mismanagement and embezzlement of funds during her tenure at Sonangol and is thus charged in the first instance with the crimes of money laundering, influence peddling, harmful management ... forgery of documents, among other economic crimes," prosecutor general Helder Pitta Gros told a news conference late Wednesday.

Investigations into Isabel dos Santos's 18-month tenure as Sonangol head from June 2016 were opened after her successor Carlos Saturnino raised the alarm about "irregular money transfers" and other dodgy procedures.

Dubbed Africa's richest woman, Isabel dos Santos is accused of using her father's backing to plunder state funds from the oil-rich but poor southern African country and moving the money abroad with the help of Western firms.

She stopped living in Angola after her father, who ruled the country with an iron fist for nearly 40 years, stepped down in 2017 for his anointed successor Joao Lourenco.

Gros said dos Santos was among five suspects, all of whom were currently residing abroad.

"At the moment, the concern is to notify and get them to voluntarily come to justice," said Gros.

 

Jan 23, 2020

Young Nigerians make up the largest population of the growing flow of migrants from Africa to developed countries. In 2016, over 20,000 involved in the Mediterranean Sea crossing were reported to be from Nigeria.

In addition, from 2017 until late 2019, hundreds of Nigerian migrants were deported from various destinations including Italy, Libya and South Africa.

These young people embark on very risky journeys across the globe, and casualties continue to increase on a daily basis.

Understanding their reasons for leaving the country is important if Nigeria is going stem the tide.

I conducted a study to establish the extent to which young people aged between 15 and 35 were susceptible to illegal migration and whether they were aware of what it entailed. I also examined the attitudes and survival strategies adopted by irregular migrants returning to Nigeria.

I focused on three groups of migrants who fall into the “irregular migration” category. The first were those who arrived in a country illegally. The second, those who arrived legally – for instance on the basis of tourist or student visas – and then overstayed the period covered by their visas. And finally, asylum seekers whose claims have been rejected and who have not left the country as required.

My findings showed that most young people who migrated under irregular circumstances were motivated by three factors: economic reasons, family dynamics and social media.

Most said they believed that the “end will surely justify the means”. And that they perceived ability to travel abroad as a sign of success.

Research

We conducted interviews with 63 young people who had not yet left the country in four Nigerian cities: Lagos, Ibadan, Ile-Ife and Benin City. We targeted those susceptible to migration. These included those who were unemployed, in their final year at a tertiary-level education institution and those engaged in Nigeria’s compulsory National Youth Service Corps. We also included seven young people who had tried to migrate but had been returned.

We also ran separate focus group discussions for men and women. We chose people on the basis of whether or not they were familiar with the process of irregular migration.

Once in the groups we asked questions to determine their familiarity with the concept of irregular migration. Most said they were. We also established that most were unfamiliar with formal immigration procedures and that more than half did not have a valid passport.

Most knew someone personally who had travelled out of the country through illegal means such as forging a passport, using unauthorised agents, and travelling to “Europe by road” – as irregular migration is referred to in the popular idiom.

Most expressed positive attitudes about irregular migration, stating that the end would justify the means. They all shared the view that migrants were far better off than those who stayed behind because they had access to a better quality of life.

Bola, a 29-year-old female unemployed youth from Osun State, asserted:

Sincerely, those who migrate outside the country often live far better than we in Nigeria. They enjoy constant power supply, good weather, eat good diet and to a reasonable extent, they are secured.

The drivers

Irregular migration tends to fester in the face of economic adversity. Nigeria’s economy is in a bad shape. Unemployment among young people is particularly high at 36.50% in 2018.

In addition, poverty levels have got worse. In 2019, the number of extremely poor Nigerians was estimated at 91.6 million, nearly half of the country’s total population. Nigeria also has 87 million people living in poverty.

This increase is one of reasons Nigerians leave the country in search of “Eldorado”. In other words to find security, work and new ways of life in other countries.

A recent report launched by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) on irregular migration echoed my findings. In documenting the experiences of Africans who had migrated to Europe using irregular means, it identifies a lack of opportunity to exert influence on their governments as reasons for migration.

Solutions

Finding answers isn’t easy. For example, some of the recommendations made in the UNDP report, such as creating more incentives for young people at home and expanding legal pathways for migration – come across as rhetoric. Most aren’t new either.

Several suggestions have been put forward by scholars and development bodies. These include: facilitating circular migration between European and African countries, tackling the issues of unemployment and underemployment in countries of origin, and addressing the problems resulting from violence and other forms of political instability.

The common denominator is that all efforts must be designed with the aim of making the home a place people don’t want to leave. And programmes to discourage young people from irregular migration must go beyond deterrence and punishments.

There should also be a concerted effort to challenge the fundamentally erroneous beliefs about migration. This must include demystifying fantasies about life abroad and educating young people about the realities of life as an irregular migrant.

Finally, those who stay home and succeed must be celebrated.

The Conversation

Lanre Ikuteyijo, , Obafemi Awolowo University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Jan 22, 2020

Israeli researchers have discovered a method to rejuvenate the kidneys, which has the potential to eliminate the need for dialysis in the future, Israel’s Sheba Medical Center said on Wednesday.

In a study published in the journal Cell Reports, researchers from the center showed that it is possible to rejuvenate the kidneys and improve their function using the patient’s own stem cells.

Previously, it was found that the adult kidney can constantly renew itself over time through the activity of colonies of cells that function to replace lost and degenerated cells in the kidney.

In the current study, the team developed a new technology that allows the extraction of such healthy kidney cells from diseased kidneys.

These cells are expanded into large numbers within a laboratory environment, and by generation of three-dimensional cultures called `kidney spheres’, they show improved function to generate new kidney tissue and replace lost cells.

The cells are administered into the kidney, allowing them to rebuild it, positively influence neighboring cells and improve the kidney’s function.

Because the newly developed technology relies on the patient’s own cells, it circumvents problems associated with immune rejection.

This treatment, successfully tested on mice, resulted in improved renal function in the treated mice.

The results are expected to be further studied in clinical trials in patients with renal failure.

Jan 22, 2020

Transactions estimated to be well over N108.427 trillion were consummated across the instant payment and the Point of Sales (POS) platforms in the country in 2019, latest data from the Nigerian Interbank Settlement Scheme (NIBSS) has confirmed.

The figure, when set beside the N82.746 trillion posted in 2018, represents a 31% increase year on year. Put differently, Nigerians are conducting more transactions via the two electronic channels than before.

Of the N108.427 trillion recorded in 2019, instant payments accounted for N105.223 trillion or more than 97% while POS transactions constituted the rest N3.205 trillion.

Total transaction volume across both platforms stood at over 1.584 billion in the year under review compared to more than 1.015 billion recorded in 2018, a 56% growth as a matter of fact. By implication, it is probable that more Nigerians are embracing the two electronic payment options.

While 1.146 billion transactions were executed through the NIP, 438.614 million deals were carried out via the POS.

The NIBSS report indicates that value of NIP transactions soared from N80.423 trillion in 2018 to N105.223 trillion last year. It means that value of NIP transactions grew by about 31% in just one year.

In volume terms, about 1.146 billion transactions were consummated using the NIP in 2019 compared to 729 million deals recorded in the year before, translating to 57% leap.

Total POS transaction value surged from N2.323 trillion as of end of 2018 to N3.205 trillion in the corresponding period of 2019, representing a 38% rise.

Total transaction volume via the POS in 2019 stood at 438.614 billion, up from 285.887 billion in 2018.

Understandably, December was the peak month for NIP volume, NIP value, POS volume and POS value with 126.567 billion, N10.737 trillion, 46.138 billion and N372.687 billion recorded respectively as shoppers engaged in massive spending during the yuletide season.

The impressive growth across these parameters is an affirmation of the sustained expansion in financial inclusion in the country.

However, the biggest boost to financial inclusion in Nigeria in the year that just went by came from the unprecedented growth in mobile inter-scheme transactions (mobile transfers) via mobile devices.

This was premised on the rigorous efforts by banks to deepen mobile inter-scheme offerings among Mobile Money Operators in order to deliver quality services to teeming digitally enabled Nigerians.

According to the NIBSS report, total value of mobile money transactions ballooned dramatically from N28.136 billion in 2018 to N148.968 billion in 2019, representing over 429% rise.

Total mobile money volume skyrocketed by more than five times from 7.230 million in 2018 to 41.212 million in 2019, a massive 470% increase in just one year.

Jan 22, 2020

Nestlé Nigeria Plc on Wednesday relaunched its Golden Morn brand, a product created and produced in Nigeria by Nigerians with 100 per cent locally-sourced agricultural and packaging materials.

Speaking during the re-launch at its Agbara factory, Nestle Managing Director, Mr Mauricio Alarcon, said Nestle Golden Morn Maize was fortified with GRAINSMART in fresh new maize design with modern stand up pouch.

According to him, GRAINSMART is a unique blend of vitamins and minerals including Vitamin A, Vitamin B1, Vitamin B5, Vitamin C and Iron.

“We are committed to contributing meaningfully toward improving Nigeria’s nutrition profile and to the growth of the national economy.

“Nestle Golden Morn, a product created in Nigeria by Nigerians, is produced in Nigeria with 100 per cent locally sourced agricultural and packaging materials.

“Local sourcing is not only a smart business decision to ensure supply. It is also the right thing to do as it contributes to transforming small and medium scale businesses involved in Nestle’s value chain either directly or indirectly.

“Our business model is built on our belief that our business will only be profitable in the long term by creating value for shareholders and for the society, particularly in the communities where we operate, a concept we call Creating Shared Value (CSV),” he said.

Alarcon said that an estimated 200 million people in Africa are undernourished, a figure that had increased by almost 20 per cent since the early 1990s.

“At Nestlé, we are committed to helping to develop sustainable solutions to this menace through the inclusion if bio-fortified food crops and the fortification of our products.

“Today, over 80 per cent of Nestlé products sold in Nigeria is fortified with micronutrients, reaching 34 million households.”

Also speaking, Mr Aboubakar Coulibaly, Category Manager, Dairy, Nestle Nigeria Plc., said: “GRAINSMART is a smart blend of iron and vitamins (B1, B5 and C) specially made for cereals.

“This aids the normal release of energy in the body and contributes to mental performance and learning,” Coulibaly said.

The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Alhaji Sabo Nanono, represented by the Director, Federal Department of Agriculture, Mrs Karima Babangida, commended Nestle for being a key stakeholder and partner of the ministry in producing and supplying quality and nutritious products toward the reduction of malnutrition in Nigeria.

“The re-launch of Golden Morn fortified with vitamins and minerals could not have come at a better time than now.

“This is a typical private sector investment that would contribute to greatly reducing malnutrition and boosting the economy of our nation.

“The Federal Government is encouraging more private sector investment in the production and marketing of bio-fortified foods and other micronutrient-rich commodities,’’ the minister added.

Also, Dr Chris Isokpunwu, Head of Nutrition, Federal Ministry of Health, commended the company for its contributions toward improving the nation’s health indices.

Nestlé Golden Morn can be eaten by all members of the family as a smart source of energy for all.

Jan 22, 2020

As the world’s dominant currency, the US dollar maintained its leading role in forex trading last year. The US dollar was on the side of 88 per cent of all trades last year, according to data gathered by LearnBonds.com.

Forex Exchange Turnover by Currencies

The turnover in the euro, the second most traded currency in the world, slightly increased to 32 per cent, revealed the 2019 Triennial Survey of Forex Exchange.

During 2019, currencies of emerging market economies boosted their share and hitting 25 per cent of total forex trading volume. The figure represents a four per cent increase over the three-year period, continuing a trend seen in previous surveys.

The Japanese yen dropped five percentage points to a 17 per cent share of global turnover, compared to 2016, but remained as the third most traded currency in the world. This fall was primarily caused by a slide in the importance of Japanese yen/US dollar trading amid lower volatility. However, dealing in other leading yen cross trading such as the Australian dollar/yen and the euro/yen increased over the last three years.

Other heavily traded currencies remained unchanged on their 2016 shares. The British pound was the fifth most traded currency in 2019 with a 13 per cent share in global forex turnover, followed by the Australian dollar, Canadian dollar and Swiss franc.

The most traded emerging market economy currency, the Chinese renminbi, didn’t lift its rank in the overall currency list and remained as the ninth most traded currency in the world. However, the total turnover in the Hong Kong dollar nearly doubled in three years. The Indian rupee, Korean won and Indonesian rupiah also positioned higher in the global ranking.

US dollar/euro Trades Account for One Quarter of Total Forex Turnover

The 2019 statistics indicate that trading the US dollar/euro currency pair made 24 per cent, or nearly one-quarter of total forex volume over the last year.

US dollar/Japanese yen trading dropped by 4.6 per cent three years to a 13.2 per cent share of global turnover. US dollar/sterling trades made around 9 per cent of forex turnover, as they had in the previous three-year survey.

The US dollar/emerging market economies currency pairing racked up the most significant increase since 2016, jumping to a 20.2 per cent share of overall forex trading volume.

Looked at by geography, the 2019 data shows that forex trading is still concentrated in the largest financial centres. The domestic currencies of US, the UK, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Japan were involved in nearly 80 per cent of all foreign exchange trading in 2019.

Still, the share of the forex trading taking place in the US and the leading Asian financial centres has fallen over the last three years. By contrast, the UK market rose by six percentage points hitting a 43 per cent share of global forex activity last year.

While China saw a huge 87 per cent jump in foreign exchange trading over the three-year period, ending 2019 as the eighth largest forex centre in the world.

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