Pakistan to ink debt relief agreements with 4 countries

Pakistan to ink debt relief agreements with 4 countries
Pakistan is to sign four debt relief agreements with Germany, Italy, Canada and the UK in exchange for investments in environmental conservation efforts. (Shutterstock)
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Updated 01 June 2021

Pakistan to ink debt relief agreements with 4 countries

Pakistan to ink debt relief agreements with 4 countries
  • Pakistan owes nearly $11.54 billion to the Paris Club of country lenders

KARACHI: Pakistan is to sign four debt relief agreements with Germany, Italy, Canada and the UK in exchange for investments in environmental conservation efforts.

“The memoranda of understanding under the debt-for-nature (DFN) program will be signed on June 5,” Zartaj Gul, state minister for climate change, told Arab News on Sunday.

According to the UN Development Programme (UNDP), under a DFN agreement the lender country agrees to reduce the debtor’s outstanding payments by channeling the money into conservation and climate-related expenses instead.

Gul said that, during the negotiations process, Pakistan assured creditors of its commitment to combat climate change in exchange for “the amount of loans they will forgive.”

Pakistan owes nearly $11.54 billion to the Paris Club of country lenders, including $1.42 billion to Germany, $175 million to Italy, $5 million to the UK, and $403 million to Canada.

According to an April report from the International Monetary Fund, Pakistan has repaid around $40 million to Canada and Germany. It is scheduled to pay an additional $29 million to both countries during the current fiscal year.

“We will not pay back the debts but, against that part of the loan, we will make progress on the restoration of the natural environment whether it be biodiversity conservation or restoration, or be it green jobs,” Gul added.

She explained that the signing of the DFN agreement was part of the event lineup for World Environment Day on June 5, which Pakistan is hosting for the first time.

“Pakistan will seek to highlight environmental issues and showcase the country’s initiatives and its role in global efforts,” Gul said, adding that the country qualified for the DFN deal based on its performance in conservation efforts, including the 10 Billion Tree Tsunami program.

The five-year tree-planting initiative, launched by Prime Minister Imran Khan in 2018, aims to counter extreme weather conditions that scientists link to climate change.

“Our portfolio is very strong as we have done work for the conservation of nature in Pakistan, and it shows our commitment to combat climate change. Pakistan’s efforts are globally recognized. During the last three years, we have shown performance through the Billion Tree Tsunami, Clean Green Pakistan, plastic bag ban, recharge Pakistan, ecosystem restoration, and setting up 23 national parks.”

Helping Gul’s office with the DFN initiative is Pakistan’s Economic Affairs Division, which is working with the UK, Italy, Germany and Canada who have “shown a willingness” to sign the agreement.

In comments to reporters last week, Climate Change Minister Malik Amin Aslam confirmed the four countries’ expression of interest.

“We are hoping to give the good news to the world and Pakistanis that Pakistan is progressing with some countries on the DFN (deal),” Gul said.

Though the exact amount for the agreement remains unknown, Gul said it would be determined after the final ratification of the agreement by the governments.

“These are long-standing and non-payable loans under the current circumstances. Nature-based solutions in exchange for debt relief will not only reduce Pakistan’s debt burden but will also benefit the environment in the country and the region as a whole.”

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Women show the way as India pushes ‘eco-miracle’ seaweed

Women show the way as India pushes ‘eco-miracle’ seaweed
Updated 28 October 2021

Women show the way as India pushes ‘eco-miracle’ seaweed

Women show the way as India pushes ‘eco-miracle’ seaweed
  • India is the world’s third largest carbon polluter, behind China and the US, and has yet to set a target date for its emissions to reach net zero

RAMESWARAM, India: Draped in a colorful saree and shirt, Lakshmi Murgesan dives into the azure waters off India’s southern coast to collect seaweed, which is being hailed by scientists as a miracle crop that absorbs more carbon dioxide than trees.
India is the world’s third largest carbon polluter, behind China and the US, and has yet to set a target date for its emissions to reach net zero.
But authorities are looking into how seaweed farming could help reduce the impact of greenhouse gas emissions, reverse ocean acidification and improve the marine environment, as well as providing a sustainable livelihood for marginalized coastal communities.
“I am doing this for my children... It requires a lot of hard work, but I am able to earn good profits from about four months of work,” said Murgesan, who makes 20,000 rupees ($265) each month farming the fibrous macroalgae.
“I would not have been able to educate my children but after doing this, I could send my children to college,” she added, smiling as she emerged from the waters in Rameswaram, in the southern state of Tamil Nadu.
M. Ganesan, a government marine scientist, said seaweed provides a possible way forward as coastal habitats and wetlands absorb five times more carbon than terrestrial forests.
“It is a miracle crop in many ways, it is eco-friendly, it doesn’t use land or fresh water. It absorbs carbon dioxide dissolved in water during photosyntheses and oxygenates the entire marine ecosystem,” Ganesan told AFP.
India, which has an 8,000-kilometer (5,000-mile) coastline, is now aiming to boost production from the current 30,000 tons to more than one million tons each year by 2025.
Globally, seaweed production was worth around $12 billion in 2019 and is expected to grow to $26 billion by 2025, with China and Indonesia having 80 percent of the market share.

Murgesan is part of a team of women who work together to cultivate fronds of seaweed on bamboo rafts, before harvesting and drying them.
The tropical waters of Tamil Nadu form an ideal environment — with one raft yielding up to 200 kilos (440 pounds) in around 45 days.
The product is then sent for sale in markets nationwide as well as the US and Australia through AquAgri, a private company that promotes algal cultivation in India.
Popular in East and South East Asian cuisine, seaweed is also used in medicine, cosmetics, bio-fertilizer and bio-fuel.
“Seaweed has major use as a crop bio-stimulant for increasing productivity and making the crop more resilient to climate induced stresses. It’s also used as a major ingredient in meat and food processing,” Abhiram Seth, managing director of AquAgri, told AFP.
And while it has not been traditionally popular in India, in July the government announced some $85 million in subsidies for seaweed farming initiatives over the next five years.
Seaweed cultivation is already common in Japan, China, Indonesia and the Philippines.
Interest is growing in Australia, which has outlined a plan to develop a $100 million industry by 2025.
Seth said there was potential to benefit both the environment and farmers like Murgesan.
“Seaweeds clean up the water. At the same time seaweed cultivators get a sustainable income without having to relocate to urban areas to find work,” he explained.

Seaweed does not require fertilizer, freshwater, or pesticides. Kelp, one of the most commonly farmed types, grows at a rate of 61cm (two feet) a day.
They absorb an estimated 173 million metric tons of carbon each year — the same annual emissions as New York State, according to a 2016 paper in Nature Geosciences.
And a recent study by the University of California found that mixing red seaweed in animal feed could help reduce methane emissions.
“We now have sound evidence that seaweed in cattle diet is effective at reducing greenhouse gases and that the efficacy does not diminish over time,” Ermias Kebreab, director of the World Food Center, said in the research.
As well as absorbing carbon dioxide when it is alive, when it dies and drops to the seafloor, seaweed also keeps carbon in the sediment, Ganesan added.
However scientists say there can be downsides to farming it.
“Overharvesting seaweed has its drawbacks because it forms the food for many reef dwelling creatures like sea urchins and reef fish,” said marine biologist Naveen Namboothri, from Dakshin Foundation, adding that extraction could disturb the reef.
Conscious of these risks, Murgesan and the other farmers work for only 12 days a month and don’t harvest during the main fish breeding season, between April and June.
Seaweed farmer Vijaya Muthuraman, who never went to school, relies on traditional knowledge.
“We only grow as much as we need and in a way that doesn’t harm or kill the fish,” she said, sitting on the shore after the day’s toil, the gentle surf rising and ebbing behind her.
The dangers of getting hurt by the rocky sea bed or stung by jellyfish always lurk for the women, but they appeared undaunted, laughing and chatting away their worries.
“We face a lot of hazards but this work has given me and my family some dignity,” she said, adding: “Our living standards have improved and now others in my village also want to become seaweed farmers.”


World should shut nearly 3,000 coal plants to keep on climate track — study

World should shut nearly 3,000 coal plants to keep on climate track — study
Updated 28 October 2021

World should shut nearly 3,000 coal plants to keep on climate track — study

World should shut nearly 3,000 coal plants to keep on climate track — study
  • China has reduced the share of coal in its total energy mix from 72.4 percent in 2005 to 56.8 percent last year, but absolute consumption volume has continued to rise

SHANGHAI, China: The world will need to shut down nearly 3,000 coal-fired power plants before 2030 if it is to have a chance of keeping temperature rises within 1.5 Celsius, according to research by climate think tank TransitionZero.
In a report published days before the UN COP26 climate change summit in Glasgow, TransitionZero said there are currently more than 2,000 GW of coal-fired power in operation across the world, and that needs to be slashed by nearly half, requiring the closure of nearly one unit per day from now until the end of the decade.
The need to close nearly 1,000 gigawatts of coal-fired capacity would put the onus on China — the world’s biggest source of climate-warming greenhouse gas and owner of around half of the world’s coal-fueled plants — to accelerate its shift toward cleaner electricity.
“The logical conclusion is that half of the effort will need to come from China,” said Matt Gray, TransitionZero analyst and author of the report.
China has reduced the share of coal in its total energy mix from 72.4 percent in 2005 to 56.8 percent last year, but absolute consumption volume has continued to rise. President Xi Jinping vowed earlier this year that China would start to cut coal use, but only after 2025.

Its coal strategy has also come under added scrutiny in recent weeks as regulators try to find the extra volume required to resolve an energy crunch that has forced factories to shut and put winter heating and electricity supply at risk.
Gray said while coal consumption will rise in the short term, the crisis is forcing China to accelerate reform that will eventually help the country reduce its fossil fuel reliance.
A recent policy aimed at forcing operators of coal-fired power generators to sell electricity via the wholesale market will expose them to competition from renewable sources and further underscore their lack of competitiveness, he added.
“I think it is fair to say that keeping the lights on and keeping buildings warm will be the exclusive priority of the Chinese government coming into winter,” he said.
“But our hope is for this crisis to be seen as a wake-up call for being reliant on coal-fired power.”


Traders losing $854k a day while Afghan-Pakistan border crossing stays shut

Traders losing $854k a day while Afghan-Pakistan border crossing stays shut
Updated 28 October 2021

Traders losing $854k a day while Afghan-Pakistan border crossing stays shut

Traders losing $854k a day while Afghan-Pakistan border crossing stays shut
  • Border closed by Taliban due to ‘visa issues’: PAJCC chairman

KARACHI, Pakistan: The closure of one of Pakistan’s major border crossings with Afghanistan is costing local businesses up to 150 million Pakistani rupees ($854,000) per day in lost trade, commerce chiefs claimed on Wednesday.

Chaman is the second-largest commercial border point between the two countries and links the Balochistan province of Pakistan with Spin Boldak in the Afghan province of Kandahar.

It is one of the most regular trade routes used for the transportation of goods between the two countries.

The crossing, a vital source of customs revenue for the cash-strapped Taliban government in Afghanistan, has been closed for about three weeks, despite repeated protests by truckers and others stuck waiting at the border.

Muhammad Hashim Khan Achakzai, president of the Chaman Chamber of Commerce and Industry, told Arab News: “The border has been closed since the first week of this month which is costing us between 100 million and 150 million rupees per day.

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Suspension of cross-border commerce has driven an estimated 50,000 local traders out of business.

“Every day around 10,000 people travel on both sides of the border from Chaman,” he said, adding that some laborers and traders had been waiting more than 20 days for the border to reopen.

As Afghanistan sinks deeper into economic crisis, neighboring countries have been increasingly worried about a mass movement of refugees. Now, the closure of Chaman and interruptions to traffic at Torkham in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, as well as the suspension of Pakistan Airlines flights from Kabul, have left Afghanistan largely cut off.

Originally closed by Pakistani authorities due to security threats, disputes over issues ranging from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) to the validity of Afghan travel documents have prevented the reopening of the Chaman crossing, despite severe hardship to truckers and local farmers.

The border was briefly opened on Sunday night and people from both sides were allowed to cross over mainly on medical grounds. However, it was closed again and no movement of goods from either side has been allowed since, according to traders.

Pakistani officials said the issue was on the Afghan side and they expected it to be resolved within the next few days. A spokesperson for the Taliban was unavailable for comment.

Zubair Motiwala, chairman of the Pakistan Afghanistan Joint Chambers of Commerce and Industry, told Arab News: “They (the Taliban) have some visa issues, that is why they have closed the border. They are saying they will open it in a couple of days.” 

In the meantime, however, at least 50,000 people in Chaman district who are linked to cross-border trade in a population of around 200,000 continue to suffer.

Jalaat Khan Achakzai, a local trader and former president of the CCCI, told Arab News: “The border closure has driven some 50,000 small and medium traders out of business.”

Traders said trucks carrying dry fruits, vegetables, and other perishable items were parked on both sides of the border.

“Around 2,000 trucks carrying loaded and empty containers are waiting. Traders are also incurring losses as they have to pay around $150 container detention charges to the shipping companies,” Achakzai said.

Jamaluddin Achakzai, also a local trader and former president of the CCCI, said: “Talks between local officials and people from Spin Boldak have taken place but without any outcome. It is vital to open the border which is impacting the livelihoods of more than half-a-million people on both sides. The transporters are selling the fuel, petrol, and diesel of their vehicles to survive.”

Some who have crossed the border said the condition of both Pakistani and Afghan transporters was worsening.

Ehtisham Mufti, a senior Pakistani journalist who recently traveled through the area to Kandahar, told Arab News: “The condition of Pakistani and Afghan truckers on the Afghan side is even more painful as they don’t have enough financial resources to survive. Human tragedy can be avoided if immediate measures are taken in time.”


Bombing in Myanmar city highlights escalating violence

Bombing in Myanmar city highlights escalating violence
Updated 28 October 2021

Bombing in Myanmar city highlights escalating violence

Bombing in Myanmar city highlights escalating violence
  • UN officials and other observers have warned that unrest triggered by the military’s seizure of power in February is spinning toward civil war

BANGKOK, Thailand: Midday bombings near a busy government office injured at least nine people in Myanmar’s second biggest city on Wednesday, in what appeared to be the latest high-profile attack by militants opposed to the country’s military rulers.

Other attacks by foes of the government were also reported on social media and news websites sympathetic to the opposition. Shootings and bombings in Myanmar’s cities and armed clashes in the countryside are daily occurrences, and UN officials and other observers have warned that unrest triggered by the military’s seizure of power in February is spinning toward civil war.

Two explosions rocked an area near the Road Transport Administration Department in Mandalay, damaging at least 14 motorbikes, witnesses said by phone. They spoke on condition of anonymity because of fear of being targeted by security forces for speaking to the media.

A member of the Htarni Shae Rescue team said four people were hurt in the initial blast  five more from his and another rescue team when the second explosion took place after they arrived with ambulances. Such rescue teams are usually charity organizations and are common in many parts of Southeast Asia.

Video of the busy location posted online showed two columns of flames and smoke rising into the air as people ran in panic along the adjacent road.

A group calling itself the Special Attacking Force (Upper Burma) said on its Facebook page that it had carried out the bombing. It said it wanted to deprive the military government of revenue to buy bullets. The targeted office collects driving fees and taxes.

The group warned people to stay away from agencies that collect money for the government.

Similar opposition groups are active all over Myanmar, many calling themselves people’s defense forces.

Opposition to military rule has hardened in the months since the army seized power, ousting the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi. The takeover was first met by nonviolent demonstrations which were suppressed with deadly force by the army and police. The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners estimates that security forces have killed about 1,200 civilians, a figure the government says is too high.

Protesters then began using more active self-defense as violence escalated on both sides. The government is now facing an insurgency in the cities, where militants’ actions typically include bombings and targeted killings, and in the countryside, where soldiers battle village militias and the established guerrilla forces of ethnic minorities that have sought greater autonomy for decades.

Wednesday’s attack in Mandalay was in support of a civil disobedience movement that seeks to deprive the state of workers and revenue. Civil servants have been encouraged to stay away from work and customers have been urged not to pay their electricity bills.

The Special Attacking Force said it had issued many warnings to the Road Transport Administration Department and other government offices that support the functioning of the government, called the State Administration Council.


UK to increase foreign aid spending by 2024 — but delay could cost lives

UK to increase foreign aid spending by 2024 — but delay could cost lives
Updated 27 October 2021

UK to increase foreign aid spending by 2024 — but delay could cost lives

UK to increase foreign aid spending by 2024 — but delay could cost lives
  • London cut foreign aid spending by billions last year to manage pandemic
  • Poverty, child labor, child marriage will persist until aid budget increased, charity tells Arab News

LONDON: Britain’s plans to increase foreign aid spending back to pre-pandemic levels by 2024 have been welcomed by charities, but some have told Arab News that the delay could have serious humanitarian ramifications.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced on Wednesday that London would return to its legal obligation to spend 0.7 percent of gross domestic product — around $5 billion in real terms — on foreign aid by 2024, up from the current 0.5 percent implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Our improving fiscal situation means we will meet our obligations to the worlds’ poorest,” Sunak said while delivering the Treasury’s annual budget announcement. “Today’s forecast shows that we are in fact scheduled to return to 0.7 percent in 2024 and 2025.”

The cuts were forced through Parliament after much resistance from cross-bench politicians, who warned that massive reductions to the UK’s aid spending would have dire real-world consequences for countless people the world over, including many in the Middle East.

Some charities and humanitarian organizations have welcomed Sunak’s pledge to increase foreign aid spending back to 0.7 percent.

“We welcome the projection for UK aid funding to return to 0.7 percent in 2024/25. In the meantime, UK aid remains a critical lifeline for millions of people in need of urgent assistance, with humanitarian needs soaring, due to a mixture of COVID-19, climate and conflict,” Richard Blewitt, an executive director at the British Red Cross, told Arab News.

“We call on the government to ensure aid continues to be allocated on the basis of need. UK aid needs to be prioritized for the most vulnerable communities in the world where suffering is reaching unprecedented levels.”

But others have warned that the three-year delay could have serious consequences for vulnerable Syrians, Yemenis and others, as well as a negative impact on the UK’s security and the country’s post-Brexit ambition to become “Global Britain.”

Charles Lawley, head of communications and advocacy at Syria Relief, told Arab News that “the most optimistic scenario is that there is only a minor increase in suffering, and the NGO community and other donors are able to fill the gaps left by such a huge aid budget reduction” until the aid is increased later in the decade.

“However, it is likely that the cuts will mean a rise in poverty and a rise in negative coping mechanisms such as selling assets, child labor and early marriage.”

His organization has been providing life-saving aid and support in Syria throughout the country’s brutal war.

Because of the aid cuts, “the most vulnerable in Syrian society will be exposed to even greater risk,” Lawley said.

“A situation that creates desperation usually results in a poorer security situation. People could very well look for income through groups that do pose a threat to UK interests,” he added.

“These are not the actions of the ‘soft-power superpower’ that ‘Global Britain’ was meant to be. This is the action of a short-sighted little England.”