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‘Covid set to increase number of extremely poor people by around 120 million globally’

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Statement by António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations

Since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, we’ve heard a lot about global solidarity. Unfortunately, words by themselves will not end the pandemic – or curb the impact of the climate crisis. Now is the moment to show what solidarity means in practice. As G20 Finance Ministers meet in Venice, they face three crucial solidarity tests: on vaccines, on extending an economic lifeline to the developing world, and on climate.

First, vaccines. A global vaccination gap threatens us all. While Covid-19 circulates among unvaccinated people, it continues to mutate into variants that could be more transmissible, more deadly, or both. We are in a race between vaccines and variants; if the variants win, the pandemic could kill millions more people and delay a global recovery for years.

But while 70 percent of people in some developed countries are vaccinated, that figure stands at less than one per cent for low-income countries. Solidarity means delivering on access to vaccines for everyone – fast.

Pledges of doses and funds are welcome. But let’s get real. We need not one billion, but at least eleven billion doses to vaccinate 70 percent of the world and end this pandemic. Donations and good intentions will not get us there. This calls for the greatest global public health effort in history.

The G20, backed by major producing countries and international financial institutions, must put in place a global vaccination plan to reach everybody, everywhere, sooner rather than later.

 The second test of solidarity is extending an economic lifeline to countries teetering on the verge of debt default.

Rich countries have poured the equivalent of 28 percent of their GDP into weathering the Covid-19 crisis. In middle-income countries, this figure drops to 6.5 percent; in least developed countries, to less than 2 percent.

Many developing countries now face crippling debt service costs, at a time when their domestic budgets are stretched and their ability to raise taxes is reduced.

The pandemic is set to increase the number of extremely poor people by some 120 million around the world; more than three-quarters of these ‘new poor’ are in middle-income countries.

These countries need a helping hand to avoid financial catastrophe, and to invest in a strong recovery.

The International Monetary Fund has stepped in to allocate $650 billion in Special Drawing Rights – the best way to increase the funds available to cash-strapped economies. Richer countries should channel their unused shares of these funds to low and middle-income countries. That is a meaningful measure of solidarity.

I welcome steps the G20 has already taken, including the Debt Service Suspension Initiative and Common Framework for Debt Treatment. But they are not sufficient. Debt relief must be extended to all middle-income countries that need it. And private lenders must also be brought into the equation.

The third test of solidarity concerns climate change. Most major economies have pledged to cut their emissions to net zero by mid-century, in line with the 1.5 degree target of the Paris Agreement. If COP26 in Glasgow is to be a turning point, we need the same promise from all G20 countries, and from the developing world.

But developing countries need reassurance that their ambition will be met with financial and technical support, including $100 billion in annual climate finance that was promised to them by developed countries over a decade ago. This is entirely reasonable. From the Caribbean to the Pacific, developing economies have been landed with enormous infrastructure bills because of a century of greenhouse gas emissions they had no part in.

Solidarity begins with delivering on the $100 billion. It should extend to allocating 50 percent of all climate finance to adaptation, including resilient housing, elevated roads and efficient early warning systems that can withstand storms, droughts and other extreme weather events.

All countries have suffered during the pandemic. But nationalist approaches to global public goods like vaccines, sustainability and climate action are a road to ruin.

Instead, the G20 can set us on the road to recovery. The next six months will show whether global solidarity extends beyond words to meaningful action. By meeting these three critical tests with political will and principled leadership, G20 leaders can end the pandemic, strengthen the foundations of the global economy, and prevent climate catastrophe.



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GL follows up Udaya’s initiative, negotiates concessionary crude oil supplies with UAE

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Balance-of-payment crisis continues to stagger govt.

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The United Arab Emirates (UAD) has agreed to discuss a possible arrangement to provide Sri Lanka crude oil on concessionary terms in the face of the country experiencing a severe balance-of-payments crisis, according to the Foreign Ministry.

Foreign Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris took up the matter with UAE Minister of Industry and Advanced Technology Dr. Sultan Al Jaber, on the sidelines of the 76th session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York. Prof. Peiris is on President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s delegation to the UNGA.

In late August, Energy Minister Udaya Gammanpila sought the intervention of the Acting Head of the UAE Embassy in Sri Lanka, Saif Alanofy. Minister Gammanpila also met the Iranian Ambassador in Colombo in a bid to explore the possibility of obtaining oil from Iran on concessionary arrangements.

The Foreign Ministry statement on Prof. Peiris meeting with the UAE Minister dealt with the financial crisis experienced by the country. “Foreign Minister Peiris explained the challenges Sri Lanka is experiencing in respect of its external budget, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Prof. Peiris focused in particular on the country’s requirement for oil and requested concessionary arrangements from the UAE.”

The Foreign Ministry quoted Minister Al Jaber as having said that the UAE would be happy to assist and proposed the establishment of a strategic framework to take the process forward.”

The ministry stressed that both sides agreed to follow-up rapidly.

Energy Minister Udaya Gammanpila earlier told The Island that concessionary arrangements were required to procure oil as part of an overall strategy to overcome the developing crisis.

Pivithuru Hela Urumaya (PHU) leader and Attorney-at-law Gammanpila said that increase in fuel prices in the second week of June this year was only a part of the government’s response to heavy pressure on foreign reserves. Minister Gammanpila said that the decision was taken close on the heels of dire warning from the Central Bank.

Minister Gammanpila said that in spite of foreign currency crisis, the government ensured an uninterrupted supply of fuel. According to him, Sri Lanka spent as much as USD 3.5 to 5 bn annually on oil imports depending on the world market prices.

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President attends 9/11 commemoration in NY

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President Gotabaya Rajapaksa yesterday attended the special commemorative event near the Manhattan Memorial in the United States to mark the 20th anniversary of terrorist attacks in Washington and New York.

The terrorist attacks took place on September 11, 2001, targeting the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon, the headquarters of the United States Department of Defence.

Coinciding with the 76th Session of the United Nations General Assembly, the United Nations Office of Counter-Terrorism and the 9/11 Memorial Museum jointly organised the event. Other Heads of State and government representatives, who were in New York to attend the UN General Assembly, were also present at the event to pay tribute to those who lost their lives in those attacks.

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FSP calls on govt. allies not to pretend to oppose adverse deal with US firm

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By Anuradha Hiripitiyage

Due to the secret agreement signed with US firm New Fortress Energy, Sri Lanka would soon face a situation akin to the one already faced by Ukraine, the Frontline Socialist Party (FSP) predicted yesterday.

“Sri Lanka is trying to reduce its dependency on coal and switch over to LNG. With this in mind, several coal and diesel power plants are to be converted into LNG in the coming decade. Now, we will entirely depend on the US to provide us with LNG to power these plants. Given that the US intends to control the seas in which Sri Lanka is placed strategically, they will not let us off the hook once they establish their foothold here. We are in deep trouble,” FSP Propaganda Secretary, Duminda Nagamuwa said.

Nagamuwa said that some constituents of the government were pretending that they opposed the transfer of government’s shares in the Yugadanavi Power Plant to New Fortress Energy. “But this is not the time for theatrics but for concrete action”, he said.

Nagamuwa said that the agreement between the government and US Company New Fortress Energy to construct a new offshore liquefied natural gas (LNG) receiving, storage and regasification terminal at Kerawalapitiya as well as the transfer of government’s shares in the Yugadanavi Power Plant had to be scrapped.

“Even government ministers agree that the agreement was not discussed with them. Several affiliates of the government are trying to convince the people that they are fighting this decision from inside. However, past experience has shown that when push comes to shove they will stay with the government. They must show the leaders of the government that they are not puppets,” he said.

Nagamuwa said that if those affiliated to the government were serious in their opposition to undermining Sri Lanka’s energy security they should show their commitment by doing something concrete.

The Yugadanavi Power Station at Kerawalapitiya already produced 300 MWs of energy and there was a plan to build another 350 MW plant there. The US Company had now been allowed to build an offshore LNG receiving, storage, and regasification terminal and to provide LNG to the existing Power Station and the new 350 MW power plant to be built, he said.

“Now we are under the power of the US. We will soon be facing the plight of Ukraine,” he said.

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