From Cairo to Casablanca, informal workers suffer

From Cairo to Casablanca, informal workers suffer
Morocco was among the first African countries to start shutting down borders and economic activity in recent weeks to stem the spread of the coranavirus. (AFP)
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Updated 26 March 2020

From Cairo to Casablanca, informal workers suffer

From Cairo to Casablanca, informal workers suffer
  • The poor in North Africa have been hard hit by virus-induced downturn

RABAT: Earlier this month, Soukaina Rgragui, her one-year-old daughter and diabetic mother lived modestly on the money brought back home by Soukaina’s husband, a vendor of used furniture in the streets of Morocco’s capital Rabat.

Now that virus containment measures have shut down his informal business, Rgragui finds herself among many vulnerable Moroccans begging strangers on the Internet for help.

Morocco was among the first African countries to start shutting down borders and economic activity in recent weeks to stem the spread of the virus, and other African governments are watching the fallout in Morocco as they adopt similar measures.

Rgragui’s husband is among some 2 billion people the International Labor Organization (ILO) estimates work in the “informal economy,” without official contracts or worker protections. Such work is especially widespread in Africa, where informal workers make up as much as 85 percent of the labor force, according to the ILO.

These are already among society’s poorest and most vulnerable, and their troubles resonate widely. In Tunisia, a unregistered fruit vendor set himself on fire in 2010 out of desperation, unleashing the Arab Spring uprisings that overthrew governments and changed the face of the region.

In Morocco, such workers are not eligible for government handouts to those who are now jobless because of restrictions on businesses and movement meant to stem the spread of the virus.

After Morocco started shutting down “non-essential” business activity, the little savings the Rgraguis had were depleted after buying a week’s worth of food, milk for the baby and medicine for the grandmother, Rgragui said.

“Please help with whatever you can,” she pleaded on a coronavirus support group on Facebook. “We don’t have money to buy diapers for the baby.”

Since late February, the Moroccan government has been steadily introducing virus control measures that gradually turned Morocco’s vibrant cities into ghost towns.

Borders, schools, shops, companies, cafes and mosques have closed. Movement between cities is restricted. Only one member of each family is allowed to go out shopping for necessities, and those who still work must have permission papers to show to the authorities or else face up to three months of prison time.

“Morocco chose to prioritize the collective good of its people at the expense of the economy and commerce. The measures our country took are essential to limit the spread of the virus,” Health Ministry communications official, Hafid Ezzahiri, said.

FASTFACT

$1.45

One in three Egyptians is living in poverty, or what is about $1.45 per day.

Morocco has so far recorded 122 confirmed cases of the new coronavirus and four deaths.

“Economic problems are inevitable, as it is the case in the rest of the world. We hope to recover soon,” he added.

The government is offering a $200 monthly stipend through June to registered workers who have lost their jobs. But that does not apply to Mohammed, who worked unofficially for a gardening company before the virus crisis hit. He and his brother picked up garbage, used tissues and masks from the gardens of Marrakech, for $9 a day.

“I would rather starve than have the coronavirus,” said Mohammed, who spoke on condition his last name be withheld because they are not registered workers, and because of the shame he feels about his current condition. “But why must I choose between two ills?”

He and his brother are isolating themselves from their father who is battling cancer. “It hurts me that I can’t get close to my father,” he said. “I am afraid for his fragile health.” Before letting him go, Mohammed’s employer gave him $100 to “help with the hard times.” But now, he said, “I am running out. My father’s treatment costs $50 every ten days.”

A government Economic Watch Committee created in response to the coronavirus said on Monday that it is studying proposals to assist Moroccan workers in the informal sector.

In recent years, Morocco diversified social services to help people in rural areas, the elderly and widows, but services are still not sufficient to help all in need. According to a study by Morocco’s Planning Agency last year, half of Moroccans are unaware of the existence of social programs for poverty, medical coverage or even pension funds.

In the Arab world’s most populous country, Egypt, millions work without contracts or official salaries, and will be hard-hit now that the government announced a curfew on Tuesday and restrictions on movement. One in three Egyptians is living in poverty, or what is about $1.45 per day.

Egypt’s government has discussed setting up a crisis fund to support informal workers, but the fund would face the monumental task of registering them and finding a way to ensure help reaches them quickly.

In Morocco’s coastal city of Casablanca, the country’s economic capital, phone repairer Mohamed Boulekhlaf has been allowed to keep his small shop open, but business has collapsed as people are ordered to stay inside. He is increasingly worried about getting the virus from customers.

“We are very afraid of what may happen in the future,” he said.

Individuals and celebrities have shown support for poor families and are encouraging well-off Moroccans to donate.

Teacher Meriem El Ghazi decided to take charge of her neighbor’s family in Marrakech for as long as this crisis continues after the family breadwinner lost his job to virus measures. 

“We must stand with one another,” she said. “We are each other’s only safety net,” she said.


UAE licenses second unit of Barakah nuclear power plant

UAE licenses second unit of Barakah nuclear power plant
Updated 1 min 32 sec ago

UAE licenses second unit of Barakah nuclear power plant

UAE licenses second unit of Barakah nuclear power plant
DUBAI: The nuclear regulator in UAE has issued an operating license for the second unit of the Barakah nuclear power plant, an official from the regulator said on Tuesday.
The plant in the Al Dhafrah region of Abu Dhabi, one of the seven emirates making up the UAE and the nation’s capital, is the first nuclear power station in the Arab world and part of the Gulf oil producer’s efforts to diversify its energy mix.
Barakah’s Unit 1 was connected to the national power grid in August and in December reached 100 percent of reactor power capacity during testing.
Unit 1’s commercial operations are expected to start this year, Hamad Al Kaabi, deputy chairman of Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation (FANR) and the UAE’s representative at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), told journalists.
The project has faced delays, some related to training staff as the country builds a nuclear industry from scratch.
Construction on Unit 1 began in 2012 and the plant was expected to start up in 2017, but FANR did not grant a license to the operator Nawah Energy Company until February 2020.
Nawah first applied to FANR for licenses for the two units in 2015.
When completed Barakah, which is being built by Korea Electric Power Corp. (KEPCO), will have four reactors with 5,600 megawatts (MW) of total capacity — equivalent to around 25 percent of the UAE’s peak demand.
Construction of Unit 3 is 94 percent complete and Unit 4 is 87 percent complete, Kaabi said.
Asked about security at the plant, Kaabi said measures were in place to protect the site from physical and cyber threats. He did not provide details.

OECD hikes 2021 world growth forecast to 5.6% on vaccine, stimulus rollout

OECD hikes 2021 world growth forecast to 5.6% on vaccine, stimulus rollout
Updated 15 min 11 sec ago

OECD hikes 2021 world growth forecast to 5.6% on vaccine, stimulus rollout

OECD hikes 2021 world growth forecast to 5.6% on vaccine, stimulus rollout
  • The “top policy priority” is to deploy vaccines as quickly as possible, to save lives as well as to speed economic recovery.

PARIS: The OECD sharply hiked its 2021 global growth forecast on Tuesday as the deployment of coronavirus vaccines and a huge US stimulus program greatly improve the economic prospects.
The Paris-based Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development said it now expects the global economy to grow 5.6 percent, an increase of 1.4 percentage points from its December forecast.
“Global economic prospects have improved markedly in recent months, helped by the gradual deployment of effective vaccines, announcements of additional fiscal support in some countries, and signs that economies are coping better with measures to suppress the virus,” it said in a report.
The recovery will be largely led by the United States thanks to President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus program, Laurence Boone, chief economist of the OECD, told AFP.
The OECD sees the US economy growing 6.5 percent this year, a very sharp increase of 3.3 percentage points on its previous forecast, with the world as a whole returning to pre-pandemic output levels by mid-2021.
But for the moment, only China, India and Turkey have surpassed pre-pandemic levels and the picture is very mixed elsewhere.
“Despite the improved global outlook, output and incomes in many countries will remain below the level expected prior to the pandemic at the end of 2022,” said the OECD, which groups the world’s most developed economies.
It said the “top policy priority” is to deploy vaccines as quickly as possible, to save lives as well as to speed economic recovery.
“There are huge and significant risks to our economic projections, most notably the pace of vaccination,” Boone told AFP.
“What we know is the faster countries vaccinate, the quicker they can reopen their economy,” she said.
Britain, which also has rolled out vaccines quickly, got a 0.9 percentage point increase to 5.1 percent — higher than the UK’s own forecast, which was lowered last week.
The eurozone, where vaccination campaigns have been slower, received only a 0.3 percentage point bump to 3.9 percent, as the recoveries in both Italy and France were revised lower.


Abu Dhabi opens region’s first COVID-19 test lab inside an airport

Abu Dhabi opens region’s first COVID-19 test lab inside an airport
Updated 36 min 24 sec ago

Abu Dhabi opens region’s first COVID-19 test lab inside an airport

Abu Dhabi opens region’s first COVID-19 test lab inside an airport
  • assengers arriving at Abu Dhabi International Airport through terminals 1 and 3 will be tested at the new facility
  • Results will be available in 90 minutes

DUBAI: Abu Dhabi is set to open the region’s first airport polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) testing laboratory for COVID-19.


The laboratory will be located within the Abu Dhabi International Airport (AUH), and will provide quick coronavirus test results in line with global travel standards.

“Through partnering with Pure Health and Tamouh Healthcare, Abu Dhabi International Airport is now able to offer travelers state-of-the-art rapid testing services delivered by a dedicated laboratory facility,” said Shareef Hashim Al-Hashmi, chief executive of Abu Dhabi Airports.

The move comes as airports around the world explore new ways to accelerate the revival of air travel demand, which was heavily affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The introduction of the RT-PCR COVID-19 testing is a milestone achievement in our ongoing efforts to facilitate the safe resumption of international air travel and support the recovery of the aviation industry,” Al-Hashimi said.

The 4,000-square-meter testing site has the capacity to test more than 20,000 travelers per day, according to a release.

Passengers arriving at Abu Dhabi International Airport through terminals 1 and 3 will be tested at the new facility, where results will be shared via SMS, WhatsApp, and the Alhosn mobile application in 90 minutes.

Those who test negative and are coming from predetermined low-risk countries will not have to self-isolate. Otherwise, quarantine rules will apply – 10 days of self-isolation and mandatory use of quarantine wristband, which will be fitted at the facility.

Abu Dhabi Airports, the operator of AUH, earlier implemented safety mechanisms at the airport as it restores people’s confidence in traveling.

These airport enhancements include touchless elevator technology, thermal scanners with facial recognition capabilities, as well as sterilization tunnels.


Pandemic to stall UAE banks’ recovery in early 2021: A&M report

Pandemic to stall UAE banks’ recovery in early 2021: A&M report
Updated 52 min 40 sec ago

Pandemic to stall UAE banks’ recovery in early 2021: A&M report

Pandemic to stall UAE banks’ recovery in early 2021: A&M report
  • Growth in loans and advances during 2020 slowed sharply to 1.4 percent from 13.2 percent in 2019

DUBAI: The pandemic will continue to affect profitability for banks in the United Arabia Emirates (UAE) in the early quarters of 2021, after a sharp drop in return on equity last year, consulting firm Alvarez & Marsal (A&M) said on Tuesday.
Return on equity fell to 7.7 percent in 2020 from 13.3 percent the previous year, A&M said in a report on the UAE’s top 10 banks.
“We possibly have not turned the corner,” Asad Ahmed, head of Middle East financial services for A&M told a briefing, saying this goes for banks globally as well as in the UAE.
“In terms of the region and the UAE, 2021 will continue to be a year which does not produce stellar results, but hopefully next year onwards we will see the numbers turn around.”
Growth in loans and advances during 2020 slowed sharply to 1.4 percent from 13.2 percent in 2019, the report said.
2021 is expected to be less volatile than the past year, but banks might see a deterioration in their asset quality after the completion of the central bank’s stimulus scheme later this year, it said.
Total loan-loss provisions jumped 79 percent year-on-year to 28.1 billion dirhams ($7.65 billion) for the top 10 UAE banks last year, as a challenging economic environment and banks’ exposure to several high-profile cases boosted impairments, A&M said.
UAE banks have been hurt by their exposure to hospital operator NMC Health, which disclosed more than $4 billion in hidden debt after short-seller Muddy Waters questioned its financial reporting.
The hospital operator filed for administration in London in April last year.


Vodafone towers unit set for 14.7-bn euro valuation

Vodafone towers unit set for 14.7-bn euro valuation
Updated 09 March 2021

Vodafone towers unit set for 14.7-bn euro valuation

Vodafone towers unit set for 14.7-bn euro valuation

LONDON: British mobile phone giant Vodafone on Tuesday announced the price range for the upcoming German stock market flotation of its towers business, valuing the unit at up to 14.7 billion euros ($17.4 billion).
The float of up to one-quarter of Vantage Towers comes amid increasing demand for mobile telecommunications connectivity across Europe, driven by data growth, 5G roll-out and regulatory coverage obligations.
Mobile phone giants are also floating or selling off their tower businesses in order to slash debt.
German-headquartered Vantage Tower will have its first day of trading on the Frankfurt stock market on or around March 18, with a price-per-share range of between 22.5 euros and 29 euros, Vodafone said in a statement.
The initial public offering (IPO) “implies a total market capitalization for Vantage Towers of 11.4 billion euros to 14.7 billion euros,” it added.
Digital Colony, a digital infrastructure investor and operator based in the US, has agreed to be a cornerstone investor in the IPO, alongside RRJ, a global equity fund based in Singapore, with commitments of 500 million euros and 450 million euros, respectively.
“The Vantage Towers IPO is moving ahead at pace,” Vantage chief executive Vivek Badrinath said in the statement.
“Today’s price range announcement is accompanied by the news that two leading global investors have committed to cornerstone our IPO with the purchase of 950 million euros of shares at the offer price.”
Vantage Towers’ portfolio includes 82,000 macro sites — towers, masts and rooftops — across 10 European countries.
“Demand for data and connectivity across Europe is powering growth in the towers sector,” Badrinath said.
“Our superior grid and leading market positions mean we are well placed to benefit from this growth and our recent financial results highlighted the good commercial and operational momentum across the business,” he added.
Vodafone said it was targetting proceeds of up to 2.8 billion euros from the IPO, helping to reduce its debt pile.
Earlier this year, heavily-indebted Telefonica agreed to sell its telephone masts in Europe and Latin America to US-based telecom infrastructure firm American Towers for 7.7 billion euros.
The Spanish group said it would use the proceeds to cut debt by 4.6 billion euros.
Vodafone meanwhile rebounded into profit during the first half of its financial year, or six months to September.
During the same period a year earlier, the group had suffered a hefty loss after India’s Supreme Court ordered telecoms companies to pay long-standing licensing fees.