Panic buying sees Pakistan face ‘artificial shortage’ of diesel ahead of IMF loan review

Special Panic buying sees Pakistan face ‘artificial shortage’ of diesel ahead of IMF loan review
Pakistani commuters wait for their turn to fill vehicles at a gasoline station in Islamabad, Pakistan. (AFP/File)
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Updated 25 April 2022

Panic buying sees Pakistan face ‘artificial shortage’ of diesel ahead of IMF loan review

Panic buying sees Pakistan face ‘artificial shortage’ of diesel ahead of IMF loan review
  • Islamabad has asked the world body to extend $6 billion pact, boost funding by $2 billion
  • Government expected to roll back popular fuel subsidies to meet lender’s demands

ISLAMABAD: Panic buying across Pakistan is fueling an “artificial shortage” of diesel, the Ministry of Energy said on Monday, as Islamabad is expected to roll back fuel price subsidies amid the government’s efforts to revive its $6 billion loan program from the International Monetary Fund.

Pakistan, facing economic challenges after a new government took over this month from ousted Prime Minister Imran Khan, has asked the IMF to extend its loan program and increase the funding by an extra $2 billion to help ease difficulties in financing, the country’s Finance Minister Miftah Ismail has said.

The South Asian country has agreed to roll back subsidies to the oil and power sectors, the IMF said in a statement, ahead of a mission visit next month “to resume discussions” on the loan program, when officials are expected to thrash out details on the bailout package.

The likely increase in diesel prices has fueled a shortage across Pakistan, with farmers among those struggling to secure enough fuel as the country is in the peak of the wheat harvesting season. The Ministry of Energy said Pakistan has enough diesel supply.

“This is an artificial shortage as Pakistan has enough diesel reserves available to fulfill the demand,” Rabbiya Khalid, a spokesperson for the ministry, told Arab News.

“People should stop panic buying. There is absolutely no shortage of diesel in Pakistan.”

The shortage has also hit the country’s most populous Punjab province, where wheat harvesting has been delayed as a result.

“The diesel shortage is hurting the farmers and delaying the wheat harvesting,” Mian Muhammad Umair Masood from the Pakistani farmers’ association, Pakistan Kissan Ittehad, told Arab News.

Masood said the delay in wheat harvesting would impact the sowing of other crops, including cotton, maize and rice, and called on the government to continue the fuel subsidy to support the farmers.

“The oil shortage at this crucial time could lead to food insecurity in the country,” he said. “Diesel is mainly used in agriculture, and a fuel subsidy to farmers means additional crop yield and food security.”

The new government, promising populist measures, had kept fuel prices unchanged this month to provide relief to its citizens. But aid from the world lender appears critical as Pakistan grapples with Asia’s second-fastest inflation rate, and as its foreign exchange reserves fell to less than two months of import cover.

The IMF suspended its $6 billion loan to Pakistan in 2020, after Pakistan failed to meet its lending conditions. The plan was revived last year under tougher conditions agreed to by Khan’s administration, including raising oil prices and electricity tariffs, but the increases were rolled back in response to public anger over rising living costs.

Pakistan revises prices of petroleum products every 15 days, and the next revision is scheduled for April 30. It is expected that fuel prices would increase to fulfill the IMF’s demands.

Samiullah Tariq, head of research at Pakistan Kuwait Investment, said that sufficient stock of the diesel was available in the country, and the shortage was “temporary” as oil company dealers expected a price hike by the end of this month.

“The government should announce the revised oil prices as early as possible to end this artificial shortage,” Tariq told Arab News.


World faces unprecedented global hunger crisis, UN chief says

World faces unprecedented global hunger crisis, UN chief says
Updated 24 June 2022

World faces unprecedented global hunger crisis, UN chief says

World faces unprecedented global hunger crisis, UN chief says
  • More than 460,000 people in Somalia, Yemen and South Sudan are in famine conditions
  • Millions of people in 34 other countries are on the brink of famine

UNITED NATIONS: There is a “real risk” of multiple famines this year, UN chief Antonio Guterres said on Friday and urged ministers meeting on food security to take practical steps to stabilize food markets and reduce commodity price volatility.
“We face an unprecedented global hunger crisis,” Guterres told the meeting in Berlin via video. “The war in Ukraine has compounded problems that have been brewing for years: climate disruption; the COVID-19 pandemic; the deeply unequal recovery.”
More than 460,000 people in Somalia, Yemen and South Sudan are in famine conditions under the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) — a scale used by UN agencies, regional bodies and aid groups to determine food insecurity. This is the step before a declaration of famine in a region.
Millions of people in 34 other countries are on the brink of famine, according to the IPC.
“There is a real risk that multiple famines will be declared in 2022. And 2023 could be even worse,” said Guterres, calling mass hunger and starvation unacceptable in the 21st century.
Guterres said there could be no effective solution to the crisis unless Ukraine and Russia, which produce about 29 percent of global wheat exports, find a way to properly resume trade.
Shipments from Ukrainian ports have been halted by Russia’s invasion of its neighbor. Moscow wants certain Western sanctions lifted in order to resume its grain and fertilizer exports.
The United Nations and Turkey are trying to broker a deal.
Guterres did not elaborate on the talks, saying: “Public statements could hinder success.”
He also asked ministers at the Berlin meeting to address a finance crisis in developing countries.

Ukrainians cheer nation’s EU candidacy amid wartime woes

Ukrainians cheer nation’s EU candidacy amid wartime woes
Updated 24 June 2022

Ukrainians cheer nation’s EU candidacy amid wartime woes

Ukrainians cheer nation’s EU candidacy amid wartime woes
  • Arseniy Yatsenyuk, an opposition leader who became prime minister after the revolution, expressed joy at the country's candidate status
  • “Thank you to our soldiers - they won this decision," Yatsenyuk tweeted

KYIV: The European Union’s decision to make Ukraine a candidate for EU membership offered war-weary Ukrainians a morale boost and hope of a more secure future Friday as the country’s military ordered its fighters to retreat from a key city in the eastern Donbas region.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky hailed the decision of EU leaders as vindication for his nation’s fight against Russia’s aggression and said he was determined to ensure Ukraine retained the ability to decide if belonged in Europe or under Moscow’s influence.
“This war began just when Ukraine declared its right to freedom. To its choice of its future. We saw it in the European Union,” Zelensky told the nation in a televised address late Thursday. “That is why this decision of the EU is so important, motivates us and shows all this is needed not only by us.”
Others recalled the 2014 revolution that ousted Ukraine’s pro-Moscow president, sparked in part by his decision not to complete an association agreement with the EU. Russian President Vladimir Putin had opposed the agreement, just as he demanded before he sent troops into Ukraine on Feb. 24 that Ukraine never be allowed to join NATO.
Arseniy Yatsenyuk, an opposition leader who became prime minister after the revolution, expressed joy at the country’s candidate status but also “bitterness” over the “terrible price that Ukraine pays for the desire to be a free, independent European state.”
“Thank you to our soldiers — they won this decision,” Yatsenyuk tweeted. “Ukraine is a great country that will inevitably become a member of the EU and, just as inevitably, a member of NATO.”
Ukraine applied for membership less than a week after Russia invaded the country and must undergo a complicated process of many months to be eligible to join the 27-nation bloc.
The EU also granted candidate status to the small nation of Moldova, another former Soviet republic that borders Ukraine and also has territory controlled by pro-Russia separatists. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Friday called the decision “internal European affairs” that shouldn’t complicate already difficult regional dynamics.
“It is very important for us that all these processes do not bring more problems to us and more problems in the relations of the countries mentioned with us. There are enough of these problems anyway,” Peskov said.
In Pokrovsk, a small town close to the four-month-old war’s frontline in eastern Ukraine, few resident wanted to share their thoughts on EU candidacy as they hurried to collect their daily aid handouts. Those who did said the decision would send a strong message to the Russians trying to seize cities and villages a few miles away.
“The next stop is NATO. There is no way back now. I was born during the USSR, but there is no return (to that)” Pokrovsk resident Valerii Terentyev said. “Ukraine wanted a different thing, and in my opinion it is the right thing.”
The chairman of Ukraine’s parliament said that a path toward EU membership would remind the country’s soldiers that their fight is worth the hardship and won international admiration.
“This is a powerful political message. It will be heard by soldiers in the trenches, every family that was forced to flee the war abroad, everyone who helps bring our victory closer. But it will also be heard in the bunker,” Stefanchuk said.
Encouragement aside, the reality remains that the European Union sometimes is long on words of solidary and support but short on the kind of concerted action that might deter outside threats, even though a treaty obligates EU countries to assist a fellow member facing armed aggression.
To gain EU membership, countries must meet a detailed host of economic and political conditions, including a commitment to the rule of law and other democratic principles. The EU’s executive arm has indicated that Ukraine also will have to curb entrenched corruption and adopt other government reforms.
Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said the EU’s embrace of Ukraine was “an important symbolic signal, but it’s the beginning of the beginning.”
Some Ukrainians understood that their country still has much to do in order to meet the tough membership criteria.
“We still need to grow” resident Yevhen Zaitsev said. “There is much corruption. There are a lot of lies“
While the EU fast-tracked its consideration of Ukraine’s application for membership, the ongoing war could complicate the country’s ability to fulfill the entry criteria. Russian forces in recent weeks have slowly advanced in their offensive to capture the Donbas region, where pro-Russia separatists have controlled much of the territory for eight years.
Ukrainian forces were ordered to retreat from the besieged city of Sievierodonetsk, one of the last Ukrainian-held areas of Luhansk province, to avoid being completely surrounded.
The city has faced relentless Russian bombardment while Ukrainian troops fought the Russians in house-to-house battles before retreating to a huge chemical factory on the city’s edge.
Luhansk Gov. Serhiy Haidai said the retreat order was given to prevent encirclement by Russian forces that made gains around Sievierodonetsk and the neighboring city of Lysychansk in recent days.

British doctor with 15 Hajj trips shares top tips

British doctor with 15 Hajj trips shares top tips
Updated 24 June 2022

British doctor with 15 Hajj trips shares top tips

British doctor with 15 Hajj trips shares top tips
  • Use umbrellas, sunscreen and stay indoors in the afternoons if you can to avoid summer heat, says Dr. Imran Zia
  • “Carry important medication in hand and hold luggage, with repeat prescriptions, covering letters,” he advised

LONDON: A British Muslim doctor on Thursday shared his tried and tested tips with pilgrims who are about to participate in the first post-pandemic Hajj open to foreigners, which includes preparing for the intense summer heat, and carrying important medicines.

Dr. Imran Zia, clinical director for emergency medicine at Barts Health NHS Trust, has accompanied British groups on Hajj as both a medical expert and a guide at least 15 times.

During a webinar hosted by the Council of British Hajjis, the veteran health worker explained how pilgrims should prepare for summer temperatures of over 40 degrees Celsius.

“Umbrellas are very useful, especially in the heat and the temperature at the moment is likely to be between 40 and 45 degrees. We are not used to such high temperatures in the UK and I would encourage you to wear light colors and use sunscreen. Avoid going out in the afternoon if you can,” Zia said.

As the Hajj involves a lot of walking between the holy sites in the scorching heat, Zia advised pilgrims to break-in the footwear they plan to use.

“Please walk in the sandals that you are going to take with you. Every year we see people buying a new pair of sandals, taking them to Saudi Arabia, and then getting blisters. You need to wear in those sandals now.

“If you feel that the soles of your feet are going to give you problems, then I’d encourage you to buy good quality insoles, and glue them to the inside of your sandal. You’ll find that that will give you an immense amount of relief. It’s like you’re walking on air.

“If you’re diabetic, I would discourage you from taking flip-flops as they encourage infections, skin breakages, sweatiness, and will likely give you problems. So it’s better to get sandals with straps that you can secure,” the medical professional said.

Zia also addressed the notorious Hajj cough that many pilgrims get due to the dry and dusty environment and the fact that people from all over the world have gathered in one place.

“With the Hajj cough, which unfortunately many people get, the onset is pretty rapid. It comes on very suddenly and your temperature will go up and down. You will have a pronounced headache and it’s really quite severe. Having a sore throat is very common. It’s a dry cough and you’ll feel really achy, like you’ve been hit by a bus,” Zia said.

“Unfortunately, there is no medicinal tablet I can recommend that you take other than using simple measures such as paracetamol to keep the temperature down, lozenges to help with the sore throat, gargling with saltwater, and having a rest.”

He said the best way to prevent getting the Hajj cough is to wear a face mask, keep one’s mouth covered, and practice good hygiene.

“If you see someone coughing, keep your distance,” the doctor said.

He also highlighted the importance of pilgrims taking a sufficient amount of medicine for those who have existing health conditions.

“Take plenty of medication. One thing I will say about medication is that you should take it in your hand luggage. Also pack some in your hold luggage. And if it’s really important medication that you do not want to get lost, pack it with the person who’s accompanying you as well, with a covering letter,” Zia said.

“Some medications, especially for cancer or diabetes are just not available. Take a repeat prescription with you so that if you do become ill, people know what medication you’re on. If you have a serious condition, I will always encourage you to take the name of your hospital consultant, the hospital consultant’s contact number or the secretary of their department, and your hospital number with you.”

He also advised people who usually wear contact lenses to avoid doing so during the pilgrimage and to pack a spare pair of spectacles.

“I would encourage all of you to avoid contact lenses, if possible. It’s likely that you’re going to be awake for many hours in the dusty environments and suffer from lack of sleep. The last thing you want to do is to get an eye infection. And take a spare pair of spectacles,” Zia said.

Lastly, the doctor shared his golden list of “Ps”:

Prescription list, of all prescribed medication

Patient details with contact numbers, especially if you have an ongoing problem

Paracetamol will help reduce a temperature

Plasters for blisters 

Petroleum jelly (unscented) will ease chafing between the legs

Penicillin/antibiotic if you can obtain this medication

Taiwan confirms first imported case of monkeypox

Taiwan confirms first imported case of monkeypox
Updated 24 June 2022

Taiwan confirms first imported case of monkeypox

Taiwan confirms first imported case of monkeypox
  • Patient flew back to Taiwan on June 16 and returned home for mandatory COVID-19 quarantine
  • The man is being treated in isolation ward

TAIPEI: Taiwan’s government on Friday confirmed its first imported case of monkeypox, a man in his 20s who had studied in Germany from January until June this year when he returned to the island.
Taiwan’s Centers for Disease Control said the man flew back to Taiwan on June 16 and returned home for mandatory COVID-19 quarantine for all arrivals.
On June 20, he developed symptoms including a fever, sore throat and a rash and sought medical attention, where he was tested and confirmed to have monkeypox, it added in a statement.
He is now being treated in an isolation ward and his close contacts are showing no symptoms, it said.
In the Asia Pacific, Singapore, South Korea and Australia have also all reported cases.
More than 40 countries where monkeypox is not endemic have reported outbreaks of the viral disease as confirmed cases exceed 3,000.
Monkeypox, which spreads through close contact and was first found in monkeys, mostly occurs in west and central Africa and occasionally spreads elsewhere.

Ukraine forces to retreat from battleground city: governor

Ukraine forces to retreat from battleground city: governor
Updated 24 June 2022

Ukraine forces to retreat from battleground city: governor

Ukraine forces to retreat from battleground city: governor
  • Capturing Severodonetsk, in the Donbas region, has become key goal of Russia
  • News came after EU granted Ukraine candidate status in a strong show of support

KYIV: Ukrainian forces will retreat from Severodonetsk in the face of a brutal Russian offensive that is reducing the battleground city to rubble, a senior Ukrainian official said Friday.
The news came shortly after the European Union made a strong show of support for Ukraine, granting the former Soviet republic candidate status, although there is still a long path ahead to membership.
Capturing Severodonetsk, in the Donbas region, has become a key goal of the Russians as they focus their offensive on eastern Ukraine after being repelled from Kyiv following their February invasion.
The strategically important industrial hub has been the scene of weeks of street battles as the outgunned Ukrainians put up a fierce defense.
But Sergiy Gaiday — governor of Lugansk, which includes the city — said the Ukrainian military would have to retreat.
“They have received an order to do so,” he said on Telegram.
“Remaining in positions that have been relentlessly shelled for months just doesn’t make sense.”
The city has been “nearly turned to rubble” by continual bombardment, he added.
“All critical infrastructure has been destroyed. Ninety percent of the city is damaged, 80 percent (of) houses will have to be demolished,” he said.
The Ukrainians had already been pushed back from much of the city, leaving them in control of only industrial areas.
Capturing Severodonetsk and its twin city of Lysychansk would give the Russians control of Lugansk, and allow them to push further into the wider Donbas.
Gaiday said the Russians were now advancing on Lysychansk, which has been facing increasingly heavy Russian bombardment.
AFP journalists driving out of the city Thursday twice had to jump out of cars and lie on the ground as Russian forces shelled the city’s main supply road.
They saw dark smoke rising over the road ahead, and heard artillery fire and saw flashes of light, while the road was strewn with trees felled by shelling.
The situation for those that remain in the city was increasingly bleak.
Liliya Nesterenko said her house had no gas, water or electricity and she and her mother were cooking on a campfire. She was cycling along the street, and had come out to feed a friend’s pets.
But the 39-year-old was upbeat about the city’s defenses: “I believe in our Ukrainian army, they should (be able to) cope.
“They’ve prepared already.”
A representative of pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine earlier told AFP the resistance of Ukrainian forces trying to defend Lysychansk and Severodonetsk was “pointless and futile.”
“At the rate our soldiers are going, very soon the whole territory of the Lugansk People’s Republic will be liberated,” said Andrei Marochko, a spokesman for the Moscow-backed army of Lugansk.
With Ukraine pleading for accelerated weapon deliveries, the United States announced it was sending another $450 million in fresh armaments, including Himars rocket systems.
The systems can simultaneously launch multiple precision missiles at an extended range.
At a Brussels summit Thursday, EU leaders granted candidate status to Ukraine, as well as Moldova.
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky hailed the news as “a unique and historic moment,” adding: “Ukraine’s future is within the EU.”
French President Emmanuel Macron said the decision by EU leaders sent a “very strong signal” to Russia that Europeans support the pro-Western aspirations of Ukraine.
President Vladimir Putin had declared Ukraine to be part of Moscow’s sphere and insisted he was acting due to attempts to bring the country into NATO, the Western alliance that comes with security guarantees.
European powers before the invasion had distanced themselves from US support for Ukraine’s NATO aspirations, and EU membership is at least years away.
Ukraine and Moldova will have to go through protracted negotiations and the European Union has laid out steps that Kyiv must take even before that, including bolstering the rule of law and fighting corruption.
Western officials have also accused Russia of weaponizing its key exports of gas as well as grain from Ukraine, contributing to global inflation and rising hunger in the world.
A US official warned of new retaliatory measures against Russia at the Group of Seven summit being attended by President Joe Biden in Germany starting Sunday.
Germany ratcheted up an emergency gas plan to its second alert level, just one short of the maximum that could require rationing in Europe’s largest economy, after Russia slashed supplies.
“Gas is now a scarce commodity,” German Economy Minister Robert Habeck told reporters, urging households to cut back on use.
Demand for gas is lower in the summer but shortages could cause problems with heating in the winter.
A Kremlin spokesman reiterated its claim that the supply cuts were due to maintenance and that necessary equipment from abroad had not arrived.