Sri Lanka inflation hits new record as food, fuel shortages continue

Sri Lanka inflation hits new record as food, fuel shortages continue
People wait in line to buy domestic gas tanks near a distributor, amid the country’s economic crisis, in Colombo, Sri Lanka on Wednesday. (Reuters)
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Updated 01 June 2022

Sri Lanka inflation hits new record as food, fuel shortages continue

Sri Lanka inflation hits new record as food, fuel shortages continue
  • Inflation rose to nearly 40 percent in May, from previous high of 29.8 percent set in April
  • Sri Lanka’s cash-strapped government has announced a taxation overhaul

COLOMBO: Inflation in cash-strapped Sri Lanka hit close to 40 percent in May, a record high that is not expected to drop in coming months, as food and fuel shortages continue in the country that is facing its worst economic crisis in over seven decades.
The island nation of 22 million defaulted on its $51 billion foreign debt for the first time in history last month. The crisis has led to political turmoil and mass protests that have been ongoing since March.
A severe shortage of foreign currency had stalled imports of essential goods, including food, fuel, and medicines for months.
The Colombo Consumer Price Index rose to 39.1 percent year-on-year in May, up from 29.8 percent in April, according to data released by the Department of Census and Statistics on Tuesday. Food inflation surged 57.4 percent, up from 46.6 percent in April.
“The inflation rate is expected broadly around the current levels, close to 40 percent, for the rest of the year,” economist Murtaza Jafferjee, chairman of the Colombo-based think tank Advocata Institute, told Arab News.
Jafferjee added that Sri Lanka’s inflation was “never as high as this,” as he blamed the soaring inflation mainly on tax cuts since President Gotabaya Rajapaksa came to power in 2019 and made the decision last year to ban all chemical fertilizer, which had led to a significant fall in crop yields.
The country, battling its worst economic crisis since independence in 1948, needs $4 billion in emergency funds this year. Its leaders have been trying to negotiate a deal with the International Monetary Fund for months.
Since securing a bailout from the IMF would require structural reforms, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe on Tuesday raised taxes by rolling back the cuts ordered by Rajapaksa in November 2019.
While the decision is unlikely to be popular among the protesting citizens who have already been severely battered by the crisis, Ranjith Bandara, economics professor from the University of Colombo, told Arab News that “unless remedial measures are taken by the state, the inflation can go from bad to worse.”


Blackouts hit 130 million in Bangladesh after grid failure

Blackouts hit 130 million in Bangladesh after grid failure
Updated 56 min 56 sec ago

Blackouts hit 130 million in Bangladesh after grid failure

Blackouts hit 130 million in Bangladesh after grid failure
  • Bangladesh has suffered a major power crisis in recent month as a result of higher global energy prices
  • It remained unclear what caused Tuesday's unscheduled blackout, which hit more than 80 percent of the country shortly after 2 pm local time

DHAKA: At least 130 million people in Bangladesh were without power on Tuesday afternoon after a grid failure caused widespread blackouts, the government’s power utility company said.
Bangladesh has suffered a major power crisis in recent month as a result of higher global energy prices following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and has imposed regular service cuts to conserve electricity.
But it remained unclear what caused Tuesday’s unscheduled blackout, which hit more than 80 percent of the country shortly after 2 p.m. local time (0800 GMT), according to the Power Development Board.
Apart from some locations in Bangladesh’s northwest, “the rest of the country is without power,” Power Development Board spokesman Shamim Ahsan told AFP.
Ahsan said 130 million people or more were without electricity and it remained unclear what had caused the fault.
“It is still under investigation,” he said, adding that a technical malfunction was the probable cause.
Junior technology minister Zunaid Palak said on Facebook that power would be restored by 8 p.m. in the capital Dhaka, itself home to more than 22 million people.
Soaring energy prices have wrought havoc on the South Asian nation’s electricity grid in recent months, with utilities struggling to source enough diesel and gas to meet demand.
A depreciating currency and dwindling foreign exchange reserves left Bangladesh unable to import sufficient fossil fuels, forcing it to close diesel plants and leave some gas-fired power stations idle.
The government imposed lengthy power cuts to conserve existing stocks in July, with outages lasting up to 13 hours each day at their peak.
Tens of thousands of mosques around the country have been asked to curtail the use of air conditioners to ease pressure on the electricity grid.
The blackouts sparked widespread public anger and helped mobilize large demonstrations on the streets of the capital Dhaka.
At least three protesters were killed by security forces during the rallies, partly motivated by rising cost-of-living pressures.
Around 100 others were injured during a police crackdown on one demonstration, according to the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party.
Consumer inflation has hit household budgets hard and the government recently pledged to cap the price of several staple foods, including rice, to quell public discontent.
Bangladesh last witnessed a major unscheduled blackout in November 2014, when around 70 percent of the country went without power for nearly 10 hours.


WHO warns Haiti cholera toll likely to rise

WHO warns Haiti cholera toll likely to rise
Updated 04 October 2022

WHO warns Haiti cholera toll likely to rise

WHO warns Haiti cholera toll likely to rise
  • Fresh fears of a resurgent epidemic nearly three years after Haiti’s last confirmed case
  • WHO: The world was now witnessing a ‘worrying upsurge’ in cholera outbreaks

GENEVA: Haiti’s cholera outbreak death toll is likely “much higher” than reported and cases are expected to rise, the WHO said Tuesday, warning the country’s multiple crises would complicate response efforts.
The crisis-wracked Caribbean nation said Sunday that at least seven people had died from cholera, raising fresh fears of a resurgent epidemic nearly three years after Haiti’s last confirmed case.
Multiple suspected cases have been detected in Carrefour-Feuilles on the edge of the capital Port-au-Prince, and in the coastal neighborhood of Cite Soleil.
The areas are entirely controlled by gangs and access to them has been very difficult since the end of July.
Conditions in Haiti have worsened in recent weeks with blockades, fuel shortages, protest marches, looting and general strikes.
“This situation greatly complicates the humanitarian response,” World Health Organization spokesman Christian Lindmeier told reporters in Geneva.
“The situation is evolving rapidly, and it is possible earlier cases have been undetected.”
He said the death toll figures could be “much higher.”
“With the humanitarian situation as it is, the sanitary situation, and the gang-controlled areas where there’s hardly any access to control, to test or even to bring in assistance, we should expect, unfortunately, cases to be higher, and to rise,” he said.
Lindmeier said a request was being prepared to be submitted to the international coordination group for the procurement of oral cholera vaccines.
However, global vaccine availability is limited with demand outstripping supply.
Cholera is an acute diarrheal infection in the small intestine causing sometimes fatal dehydration. It is generally contracted from food or water contaminated with vibrio cholerae bacteria.
In February this year, Haiti celebrated three years without a single confirmed cholera case and was preparing to submit its case for cholera-free status certification at the end of 2022.
Cholera killed nearly 10,000 people in the wake of Haiti’s 2010 earthquake, when United Nations workers helping with the response introduced it to the country.
The outbreak affected at least 820,000 people, the WHO said.
The first infections were detected around the Artibonite River, where UN peacekeepers had dumped fecal matter.
It was not until August 2016 that the UN officially acknowledged its role in the epidemic.
Lindmeier said there was no information yet on where the current outbreak originated, but said roughly 80 percent of people carrying vibrio cholerae could be asymptomatic, making it difficult to detect.
The United Nations said it stood ready to deploy emergency response teams as soon as safe access is assured and fuel supplies are unblocked.
On Friday the WHO warned that after years of decline, the world was now witnessing a “worrying upsurge” in cholera outbreaks.
In the first nine months of this year alone, 26 countries have reported cholera outbreaks, the WHO said.


Belarus’s Lukashenko accuses Ukraine of border provocations

Belarus’s Lukashenko accuses Ukraine of border provocations
Updated 04 October 2022

Belarus’s Lukashenko accuses Ukraine of border provocations

Belarus’s Lukashenko accuses Ukraine of border provocations
  • Lukashenko allowed his close ally Russia in February to use Belarus as a staging post for its invasion of Ukraine
  • Belarus is not a party to the conflict and that its own forces are not involved

LONDON: Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko accused neighboring Ukraine on Tuesday of sending 15,000 troops to the border area to build defenses and conduct reconnaissance, actions that he called “provocations.”
Lukashenko allowed his close ally Russia in February to use Belarus as a staging post for its invasion of Ukraine. However, he has said Belarus is not a party to the conflict and that its own forces are not involved.
In comments carried by the state news agency BelTA, Lukashenko said the Ukrainian unit brought up to the border had blocked roads and was setting up checkpoints and firing positions.
“In a word, has not only barricaded itself, but built a wall. Constantly conducting optical, radio-electronic and radio-technical reconnaissance of our territory, troops and objects,” Lukashenko said.
“Often with their drones violating the line of the state border. And at the same time, they worry and worry: ‘Oh, don’t let Belarus enter the war’. And there are constant provocations at the border.”
Ukrainian officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Lukashenko said his country was involved in the conflict only to prevent it spreading into Belarus and to “prevent an attack on Belarus under the guise of a special military operation from Poland, Lithuania and Latvia.”
“As I have said, nobody will shoot the Russians in the back from the territory of Belarus,” he said.
Belarus’s three western neighbors are all part of the NATO transatlantic alliance, which is helping Ukraine to defend itself against Russia with weapons and intelligence but says it will not take a direct part in the conflict.


Merkel wins UN refugee agency award over welcome of Syrians

Merkel wins UN refugee agency award over welcome of Syrians
Updated 04 October 2022

Merkel wins UN refugee agency award over welcome of Syrians

Merkel wins UN refugee agency award over welcome of Syrians
  • Under Angela Merkel’s leadership, Germany welcomed over 1.2 million refugees in 2015 and 2016

GENEVA: The UN refugee agency said Tuesday it’s giving its highest award to former German Chancellor Angela Merkel for her efforts to welcome more than 1 million refugees — mostly from Syria — into Germany, despite some criticism both at home and abroad.
Matthew Saltmarsh, spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, said Merkel had been selected as the latest recipient for the Nansen award, which is handed out annually by the Geneva-based UN agency.
“Under the then-Federal Chancellor Merkel’s leadership, Germany welcomed more than 1.2 million refugees and asylum-seekers in 2015 and 2016, which, as you will remember, was the height of the conflict in Syria, and there was deadly violence in other parts of the world,” Saltmarsh told reporters. “Dr. Merkel helped to highlight the plight of refugees globally.”
Merkel’s decision to let in so many migrants boosted the far-right Alternative for Germany party and resulted in protests by a vocal minority. She was also blasted by some governments for being too friendly to refugees, when some European Union partner states were closing borders to refugees and asylum-seekers.
The award includes a $150,000 prize. Merkel is expected to travel to Geneva next Monday to receive the award, Saltmarsh said. Four regional winners were also announced.
The UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award honors individuals, groups or organizations that go “above and beyond the call of duty” to protect refugees, other displaced and stateless people, the agency says.
More than 60 laureates have received the award since it was founded in 1954 to celebrate Fridtjof Nansen, a Norwegian scientist, explorer and diplomat who was the first commissioner for refugees in the League of Nations — the predecessor of the the United Nations
The recipient in 2021 was the Jeel Albena Association for Humanitarian Development in Yemen, for its support for displaced Yemenis.


Russia’s Federation Council ratifies annexation of four Ukrainian regions

Russia’s Federation Council ratifies annexation of four Ukrainian regions
Updated 04 October 2022

Russia’s Federation Council ratifies annexation of four Ukrainian regions

Russia’s Federation Council ratifies annexation of four Ukrainian regions
  • Russian Federation Council unanimously ratified legislation to annex Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia

MOSCOW: The upper house of Russia’s parliament voted on Tuesday to approve the incorporation of four Ukrainian regions into Russia, as Moscow sets about formally annexing territory it sized from Kyiv during its seven-month conflict.
In a session on Tuesday, the Federation Council unanimously ratified legislation to annex the Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions of Ukraine, following a similar vote in the State Duma, Russia’s lower house, yesterday.
The documents now pass back to the Kremlin for President Vladimir Putin’s final signature to complete the process of formally annexing the four regions, representing around 18 percent of Ukraine’s internationally-recognized territory.
Russia declared the annexations after holding what it called referendums in occupied areas of Ukraine. Western governments and Kyiv said the votes breached international law and were coercive and non-representative.

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