SAARC virtual meet: India invites Pakistan to Covid-19 workshop


SAARC virtual meet: India invites Pakistan to Covid-19 workshop

India is hosting the workshop with other South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC ) countries.

India has invited Pakistan to join a health secretary-level meet virtually on Thursday to discuss the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.

India is hosting the workshop with other South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC ) countries.

The virtual workshop will discuss issues like the management of Covid-19, response to the pandemic and exchange of best practices amid the pandemic.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, during a video conference of the SAARC Heads of State on March 15, 2020, had proposed a Coronavirus Emergency Fund for the region.

This emergency fund was set up in response to the global coronavirus pandemic. The initiative seeks to mitigate the risks associated with the coronavirus pandemic in the South Asian region with India contributing USD10 million to it.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s proposal for the coronavirus emergency fund received extensive support from the SAARC members, sans Pakistan.

India is at the forefront in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic and has gifted covid vaccines to countries including Bangladesh with 20 lakhs doses, Myanmar with 17 lakhs doses, Nepal with 10 lakhs, Bhutan with 1.5 lakhs, the Maldives with 1 lakh, Mauritius with 1 lakh, Seychelles with 50000, Sri Lanka with 5 lakhs and Afghanistan with 5 lakhs among others.

SAARC groups together Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

The last time that the leaders of SAARC nations had shared a platform was in November 2014 when Nepal hosted a SAARC leaders’ summit.

About SAARC

The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) was founded in Dhaka on 8 December 1985 while its secretariat is based in Kathmandu, Nepal.

The SAARC is the regional intergovernmental organization and geopolitical union of states in South Asia.

Its member states are Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

The SAARC comprises 3% of the world’s area, 21% of the world’s population and 4.21% (US$3.67 trillion) of the global economy, as of 2019.




Jeff Bezos regains world’s richest person title as Elon Musk loses $4.6 billion


Jeff Bezos regains world’s richest person title as Elon Musk loses $4.6 billion

The electric automaker’s shares slipped 2.4 per cent, erasing $4.6 billion from its CEO’s fortune and removing him from the top spot of the Index.

Amazon Founder Jeff Bezos has regained his position as world’s richest person on the Bloomberg Billionaires Index ranking after Tesla shares plunged, resulting in a slight erosion in Elon Musk’s wealth.

On Tuesday, the electric automaker’s shares slipped 2.4 per cent, erasing $4.6 billion from its CEO’s fortune and removing him from the top spot of the Index.

Bezos returned as the world’s richest man with a net worth of $191.2 billion.

Last month, Musk became the world’s richest person, as his net worth crossed $185 billion after Tesla’s share price increased. He took the top spot from Bezos, who had held it since 2017.

Tesla has surged in value this year, and hit a market value of $700 billion last month, making the electric car maker worth more than Toyota, Volkswagen, Hyundai, GM and Ford combined.

Musk’s net worth increased by more than $150 billion and Tesla’s share price surged a massive 743 per cent last year.

Tesla last week announced it has invested $1.5 billion in the Bitcoin cryptocurrency. The announcement led to a surge in the price of one Bitcoin, that has even surpassed $50,000 per coin.

In its announcement, Tesla had said that it will also “begin accepting Bitcoin as a form of payment for our products in the near future.”

Prior to this, Musk led to a surge in Dogecoin prices with his tweet earlier this month.




2 massive blasts hit Yemen’s Marib amid escalating violence


2 massive blasts hit Yemen’s Marib amid escalating violence

Earlier in the day, UN Special Envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths expressed concern over renewed attacks.

Two massive explosions struck Yemen’s Marib, as violence has continued in the government-controlled oil-rich northeastern city, a government official said.

“Two massive explosions caused by ballistic missiles fired by the Houthi rebels against the densely populated city of Marib, with no casualties,” the official told Xinhua news agency on Tuesday.

The two Houthi-fired ballistic missiles landed on an empty area near a government facility in Marib, he added.

For the third consecutive day, the southern and western areas of Marib are witnessing non-stop battles, leaving dozens from the two-warring sides dead and injured.

“Nearly 30 soldiers were critically injured in today’s fighting and are receiving treatment at the medical centre,” sources at Marib’s public hospital said.

In the past two days, the Iran-backed Houthi rebels intensified their military operations and carried out a large offensive against the city controlled by the Yemeni government.

Earlier in the day, UN Special Envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths expressed concern over renewed attacks.

“Extremely concerned about the resumption of hostilities in the governorate of Marib by Ansar Allah (Houthi rebel group), especially at a time of renewed diplomatic momentum to end the war in Yemen and resume the political process,” Griffiths tweeted.

“A negotiated political settlement that meets the aspirations of the Yemeni people is the only sustainable solution to end this conflict,” the UN envoy noted.

Yemen has been mired in a civil war since late 2014, when the Houthi militia seized control over several northern provinces and forced the internationally-recognized government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi out of the capital Sanaa.




Sweden to introduce tighter rules on public transportation


Sweden to introduce tighter rules on public transportation

Sweden has so far recorded a total of 596,174 Covid-19 cases and 12,188 deaths.

Swedish authorities have announced restrictions on the number of passengers on trains and buses, out of fear that the Covid-19 pandemic might worsen after a slow and steady downward trend since the week before Christmas.

“It seems that the measures we had in place had a dampening effect, but it is worrying that the declining trend has stopped,” state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell said in a press conference on Tuesday.

Tegnell added that he expected “a difficult Covid-19 situation for a large part of this winter”, reports Xinhua news agency.

“For a while, it was quite similar across the various regions, with all moving more or less downwards. Now it’s a bit up and down in different places,” the state epidemiologist further said.

To slow down the spread of Covid-19, the government wants tighter restrictions on public-transport journeys, according to Minister for Infrastructure Tomas Eneroth.

“We propose an amendment to the Restriction Ordinance that anyone who organises long-distance traffic by bus or train must ensure that the number of passengers does not at any time exceed half of the vehicle’s seats for journeys exceeding 150 km,” Eneroth said.

The government plans to put the new rules in place from Feburary 14 until the end of May, he added.

Sweden has so far recorded a total of 596,174 Covid-19 cases and 12,188 deaths.




Bitcoin price soars over 22% to $47,787 after Tesla investment


Bitcoin price soars over 22% to $47,787 after Tesla investment

The announcement comes amid renewed interest shown by Musk in cryptocurrency and requests from Tesla customers for accepting bitcoin for buying the cars.

Bitcoin price jumped over 22 per cent, taking its value to an all-time high on Tuesday after tech billionaire Elon Musk invested $1.5 billion in the cryptocurrency.

The announcement led to a surge in the price of one Bitcoin, that was hovering around $47,787.54 at 1.00 pm, highest in 24 hours, on Tuesday, as per Coingecko.

In the past seven days, the value of Bitcoin has surged by 43.1 per cent, in which the latest jump was the major contributor.

While announcing the hefty investment in Bitcoin, the electric carmaker also said that it plans to begin accepting the digital currency as payment for its high-end vehicles soon.

The announcement comes amid renewed interest shown by Musk in cryptocurrency and requests from Tesla customers for accepting bitcoin for buying the cars.

Bitcoin has drawn enthusiasts for its scarcity and security, but the volatile digital currency still is not widely used to pay for goods and services. It’s mostly been a store of value, like gold, with some limited merchants like Overstock accepting bitcoin for payment.

Whether other major companies will follow Tesla’s lead in investing in Bitcoin or accepting it for transactions is unclear.

A vehicle is a large purchase, which could make Bitcoin a better fit to pay for it, but the wild price swings in Bitcoin could be a significant risk to any merchant who decided to accept it.

Tesla is in a unique position to accept digital currencies for payment, since the automaker does not rely on a network of independently owned dealerships to sell its vehicles unlike traditional car companies such as General Motors and Ford.

Whether Tesla will get a definitive competitive advantage in accepting Bitcoin remains to be seen.

The automaker could be simply investing in Bitcoin because Musk has been known to have eclectic tastes. Musk launched a Tesla car into space to demonstrate the payload capabilities of his SpaceX company rockets.




Beggars leave behind Jaipur’s streets to pick up vocational skills


Beggars leave behind Jaipur’s streets to pick up vocational skills

The beggars told that after waking up they do yoga followed by breakfast where they are served poha and paratha. “Then starts our counselling followed by lunch at noon.

An elegant heritage building here is playing host to 33 beggars these days, who are picking life skills thanks to an innovative Rajasthan government initiative.

The ambitious project started by RSLDC in association with Sopan society is imparting new skills to these beggars who were living on the streets till now.

Says Neeraj K Pawan, Secretary (Labour, Employment, Skill, Entrepreneurship and ESI), Rajasthan Government, “Initially, we’ve organized a 15-day counseling session for these destitute. After counseling, we shall start a 3-month training program for them to ensure that the hands which were once used to beg will now be working to earn a dignified livelihood,” he added

“We have already tied with Akshaya Patra, an NGO, for their placement. We are continuing with our first and second batch and shall start our next batch after three months. Due to Covid, we have kept the minimum of the number,” he added.

Initially, with the help of the police commissioner, the Rajasthan government carried out a survey to know about the educational qualifications and interests of these beggars. “We have made arrangements for their jobs too. Most of these people are aged around 30 and shall be trained as electricians, guards, beauticians and cooks. The Akshay Patra Foundation is ready to give them jobs too. We shall set an example for the world by rehabilitating these beggars and bringing them to the mainstream,” said RK Jain, Deputy General Manager, RSLDC.

The Akshaya Patra Foundation is an NGO that strives to eliminate classroom hunger by implementing the Mid-Day Meal Scheme in government schools and government-aided schools.

Meanwhile, the building playing host to the beggars opens into a beautifully curated lawn where they perform yoga in the morning. The steps take you to classrooms where the beggars are now pursuing their education.

Donning clean uniforms, these disciplined students told IANS they were happy to be learning new skills to earn and shall return home once they have a decent job.

Says Tulsiram, an Andhra Pradesh resident, “I came here 12 years back for a mechanical job in Jodhpur. However, I was so fed up with my family tensions that I gave up my job and then was working as a labourer and begging on the streets of Jaipur. Now, am here learning computers and want to stand on my own feet and earn a decent livelihood. Then I shall return to my family.”

Another beggar, Rajendra, says, “I came from Maharashtra to get medical treatment here and have been working as a laborer for the last 16 years. After the police survey, we’ve been taken to this center and promised that we shall learn something new which will give us new ways to earn. I’ll go back to Nagpur once I stand up on my own feet.”

Says Raghupati Dasa from Akshaya Patra: “We need 50 people as and when the school starts to cook the mid-day meal for students and we have other such jobs too. Our first priority will be to recruit people from these batches. We shall follow a three pronged strategy: to find out who is inclined towards spiritual growth, who wants to follow personal hygiene related to cooking and thirdly, who wants to do a decent job? Eventually, we will recruit people as helpers, cooks, drivers and to work in our gaushala,” he added.

The beggars told that after waking up they do yoga followed by breakfast where they are served poha and paratha. “Then starts our counselling followed by lunch at noon. 1 pm to 2 pm is rest time then we network, play ludo, carrom and chess. Evenings are for badminton in the night, we watch movies together,” said one of the beggars.




World needs economies to fully include nature, says landmark review


World needs economies to fully include nature, says landmark review

“We can orient our economies from extractive to restorative systems that sustain our underlying natural wealth and assets, and at the same time create jobs, protect our health and well-being now and in the future.”

The world needs an urgent and radical change to the way economies operate to save nature and to avoid a catastrophic breakdown, a first-of-its-kind landmark review for biodiversity by an Indian-British economist has concluded.

The 600-page report has been commissioned by the UK Treasury, marking the first that time a national Finance Ministry has authorized a full assessment of the economic importance of nature.

It acknowledges the world is losing nature at an unprecedented rate, destroying this precious and finite resource that will “limit our wealth and damage our health”.

The study from Professor Partha Dasgupta, the Cambridge University economist, says: “By taking seriously what we know about ecosystems and how they are affected by economic activity, the review presents a new way of approaching economic decision-making that accounts for nature as our most precious asset.”

It’s the first time ever a mainstream economist, with the backing of the UK government, discussed the need for urgent and radical reforms required to halt and reverse the erosion of natural assets.

“We need a paradigm shift: to radically rethink how we think, act and measure economic success e.g. moving beyond GDP as a benchmark for prosperity, ensuring we place nature at the heart of our economic decision making,” said Dasgupta.

“We can orient our economies from extractive to restorative systems that sustain our underlying natural wealth and assets, and at the same time create jobs, protect our health and well-being now and in the future.”

“This will also help us achieve wider societal goals, including tackling climate change, and alleviating poverty,” he said.

The review said two UN conferences this year — on biodiversity and climate change — provided opportunities for the international community to rethink an approach that has seen a 40 percent plunge in the stocks of natural capital per head between 1992 and 2014.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on the review that 2021 is critical in determining whether “we can stop and reverse the concerning trend of fast-declining biodiversity”.

“I welcome Professor Dasgupta’s Review, which makes clear that protecting and enhancing nature needs more than good intentions — it requires concerted, coordinated action.

“As co-host of COP26 (UN climate summit) and President of this year’s G7, we are going to make sure the natural world stays right at the top of the global agenda. And we will be leading by example here at home as we build back greener from the pandemic through my 10-point plan,” said Johnson.

British broadcaster and natural historian, David Attenborough said: “This comprehensive and immensely important report shows us how by bringing economics and ecology face to face, we can help to save the natural world and in doing so save ourselves.”

The global review on the Economics of Biodiversity, launched formally on February 2, finds that humanity has collectively mismanaged its global portfolio of assets, meaning the demands on nature far exceed its capacity to supply the goods and services “we all rely on”.

Its publication comes ahead of COP15 for biological diversity, where new long-term international targets for addressing biodiversity loss are expected to be agreed; and COP26 for climate change, where nature and nature-based solutions to climate change are expected to play a prominent role.

Responding to the Dasgupta review, Christiana Figueres, former UNFCCC Executive Secretary, said: “It is a compelling example of the leadership we need from government and the world’s leading experts on how to address the interrelated crises of nature and climate.

“The review makes it clear that it is less costly to conserve nature than to restore it once it is damaged or degraded and provides the economic rationale for expanding and improving the management of protected areas. We can translate this idea into action by protecting 30 per cent of the planet by 2030.”

The report said humanity must ensure its demands on nature do not exceed its sustainable supply and must increase the global supply of natural assets relative to their current level.

For example, expanding and improving management of Protected Areas; increasing investment in nature-based solutions; and deploying policies that discourage damaging forms of consumption and production.

It said almost all governments were exacerbating the biodiversity crisis by paying people more to exploit nature than to protect it.

A conservative estimate of the global cost of subsidies that damage nature was about $4 tillion to $6 trillion a year, it said.

“Humanity faces an urgent choice. Continuing down our current path presents extreme risks and uncertainty for our economies,” the review said.

Brian O’Donnell, Director for Campaign for Nature, told IANS that the review is the most comprehensive economic case for a new path forward ever compiled.

“Now that we have entered a climate and ecological emergency, it is urgent that we update our economic systems at all levels to fully include nature.”




US House approves budget resolution for Covid-19 relief package


US House approves budget resolution for Covid-19 relief package

A group of Republican Senators led by Susan Collins from the state of Maine on Monday unveiled their $618 billion Covid-19 relief proposal, falling short of Democrats’ demands.

The US House of Representatives approved on Wednesday a budget resolution that would allow Congress to pass President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief package without Republican support.

The Democrats-controlled House passed the budget resolution on Wednesday night by a vote of 218-212, with no Republicans supporting the measure, reports Xinhua news agency.

“While bipartisan talks continue, today’s passage of the 2021 budget resolution ensures that we have another path to enacting President Biden’s ‘American Rescue Plan’,” House Budget Committee Chair John Yarmuth said in a statement.

“The American people cannot wait, and Congress cannot slow down our response to these urgent crises while Republicans decide if they want to help or not,” Yarmuth said.

The Senate is expected to approve the budget resolution later this week.

Then both chambers will need to approve a budget reconciliation package that includes the Covid-19 relief deal, according to local media.

Using budget reconciliation, Democrats could push the relief package through the Senate with a simple majority, rather than the 60 votes needed for most legislations.

The package includes over $400 billion to combat the pandemic directly such as more funding for testing and vaccine distribution; roughly $1 trillion in direct relief to households; and over $400 billion for hard-hit small businesses and communities.

The party breakdown in the Senate is 50-50 now, with Vice President Kamala Harris having the power to cast the tie-breaking vote to give Democrats the majority.

“I think the President has been clear there is an urgency to delivering relief to the American people. And it’s important and vital that the House and Senate work quickly to get this bill packet passed,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said at a press briefing on Wednesday.

However, Republicans complained that using budget reconciliation to move forward the relief package would undermine Biden’s message of bipartisan cooperation and unity.

“We’ve heard a lot of talk about unity, but White House staff and congressional Democrats are working from the opposite playbook,” Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell tweeted on Wednesday.

“Senate Republicans will be ready and waiting with a host of amendments to improve the rushed procedural step that’s being jammed through,” McConnell said.

A group of Republican Senators led by Susan Collins from the state of Maine on Monday unveiled their $618 billion Covid-19 relief proposal, falling short of Democrats’ demands.

Following a meeting between Biden and Democratic senators at the White House on Wednesday, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said that “we must go big and bold” as this is a once-in-a-century health and economic crisis.

“We hope our Republican colleagues will join us in that, in that big bold program that America needs,” he said.




Donald Trump helipad at Mar-a-Lago to be soon demolished: Report


Donald Trump helipad at Mar-a-Lago to be soon demolished: Report

In September 2019, Mar-a-Lago became the primary residence for Donald and Melania Trump.

A helipad at former US President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida’s Palm Beach town built for use during his time in office, will soon be demolished, according to a media report.

The report published on Wednesday by the Palm Beach Daily News said that “a permit was pulled on Tuesday for demolition of the town’s sole helipad” at the resort to which Trump moved to on the morning of January 20 ahead of Joe Biden’s inauguration as the 46th President of the US.

The helipad, a concrete slab measuring 50 feet-long and 8 inches deep, was built in February 2017 on the west lawn of the Mar-a-Lago.

According to the report, Town Manager Kirk Blouin said that representatives for the club had inquired about permits to remove the helipad “in the past few weeks”.

“It seems to have been more controversial in media reports than it is in actual practice. They never made a request to keep it,” the Palm Beach Daily News report quoted Blouin as further saying.

The report however, did not mention any date for the beginning of the demolition nor did it say how long would the process take.

Palm Beach town does not allow helicopters or helipads, but made an exception for Mar-a-Lago on the conditions that it be used only for business related to the executive office and that it must be removed when Trump left the White House.

This latest development comes after a media report revealed late last month that Palm Beach authorities were currently performing a legal review Trump’s residency at Mar-a-Lago.

It was not immediately clear when the review would be completed.

Trump had purchased the resort, also a national historic landmark, in 1985.

While in office, Trump hosted meetings for international leaders, including former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping, at the club originally built between 1924 to 1927.

In September 2019, Mar-a-Lago became the primary residence for Donald and Melania Trump.




India, Indonesia, South Africa join World Logistics Passport


India, Indonesia, South Africa join World Logistics Passport

WLP now counts Mumbai International Airport, Nhava Sheva International Container Terminal, and Emirates SkyCargo in India as partners, it added.

The World Logistics Passport (WLP), which aims at increasing trading opportunities between emerging markets, on Wednesday announced the inclusion of India, Indonesia and South Africa as part of the grouping.

As a trade enhancing policy initiative, the WLP is closely aligned with the strategy for India@75 in its aims to boost national competitiveness, increase the efficiency of India’s logistics sector and build tighter economic integration with emerging economies in South and South East Asia, the grouping said in a release.

WLP now counts Mumbai International Airport, Nhava Sheva International Container Terminal, and Emirates SkyCargo in India as partners, it added.

“Today’s announcement shows that governments and businesses are thinking differently about how goods and services move round the world, and we are delighted to welcome India, Indonesia and South Africa to the club,” said Mike Bhaskaran, CEO of the World Logistics Passport.

Bhaskaran further added that “the grouping increases resilience in global supply chains and removes the barriers that prevent developing economies from trading as freely as they might, which is more important than ever as governments around the world seek to recover from the economic impact of COVID-19.”

The WLP now looks forward to welcoming the participation of the Ministry of Commerce & Industry to represent the government’s oversight of local operations, and the CBIC (Customs) as a partner, as well as other regional organisations, it stated.

Countries like Colombia, Senegal, Kazakhstan, Brazil, Uruguay and the UAE are already a part of the transnational club that creates opportunities for business across Africa, Asia, Central and South America to improve existing trading routes, and develop new ones, through the world’s first logistics loyalty program for freight forwarders and traders.

It overcomes non-tariff trade barriers by fast-tracking cargo movement, reducing administrative costs, advancing cargo information and facilitating movement between ports and air.

“As more partners join the World Logistics Passport network in India, the opportunities to reimagine how trade moves from Asia to Africa and Latin America multiply. It is a win-win for business as they join a network of fast-growing mega-hubs around the world which, in turn, will help boost their trade flows, said Rizwan Soomar, CEO & MD, Subcontinent, DP World. %MCEPASTEBIN%

The World Logistics Passport (WLP), which aims at increasing trading opportunities between emerging markets, on Wednesday announced the inclusion of India, Indonesia and South Africa as part of the grouping.

As a trade enhancing policy initiative, the WLP is closely aligned with the strategy for India@75 in its aims to boost national competitiveness, increase the efficiency of India’s logistics sector and build tighter economic integration with emerging economies in South and South East Asia, the grouping said in a release.

WLP now counts Mumbai International Airport, Nhava Sheva International Container Terminal, and Emirates SkyCargo in India as partners, it added.

“Today’s announcement shows that governments and businesses are thinking differently about how goods and services move round the world, and we are delighted to welcome India, Indonesia and South Africa to the club,” said Mike Bhaskaran, CEO of the World Logistics Passport.

Bhaskaran further added that “the grouping increases resilience in global supply chains and removes the barriers that prevent developing economies from trading as freely as they might, which is more important than ever as governments around the world seek to recover from the economic impact of COVID-19.”

The WLP now looks forward to welcoming the participation of the Ministry of Commerce & Industry to represent the government’s oversight of local operations, and the CBIC (Customs) as a partner, as well as other regional organisations, it stated.

Countries like Colombia, Senegal, Kazakhstan, Brazil, Uruguay and the UAE are already a part of the transnational club that creates opportunities for business across Africa, Asia, Central and South America to improve existing trading routes, and develop new ones, through the world’s first logistics loyalty program for freight forwarders and traders.

It overcomes non-tariff trade barriers by fast-tracking cargo movement, reducing administrative costs, advancing cargo information and facilitating movement between ports and air.

“As more partners join the World Logistics Passport network in India, the opportunities to reimagine how trade moves from Asia to Africa and Latin America multiply. It is a win-win for business as they join a network of fast-growing mega-hubs around the world which, in turn, will help boost their trade flows, said Rizwan Soomar, CEO & MD, Subcontinent, DP World.




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