Feb 15, 2021

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has been appointed the new chief of the World Trade Organization, becoming the first woman to ever lead the Switzerland-based institution and the first African citizen to take on the role. However, this is not the first time that Okonjo-Iweala makes history.

Born in Nigeria, Okonjo-Iweala graduated from Harvard University in 1976 and then earned a PhD from MIT. She then became the first woman to take on the Nigerian finance ministry and the foreign ministry too. She was also the first female to run for the World Bank presidency, where she spent 25 years.

In October, her WTO candidacy was supported by all geographic regions at the trade body apart from the United States, where the then-Trump administration said it would continue backing the Korean candidate. However, Okonjo-Iweala’s appointment was cleared when President Joe Biden announced a few days ago his support for the 66-year old.

Her vision for the WTO
The WTO is at a crossroads after many countries seemed to take a step back from long-standing norms governing international trade. In addition, its appellate body has been paralyzed for months after the U.S. — again, under the Trump administration — prevented the appointment of new judges therefore rendering it unable to rule on any trade disputes.

“My vision is also of a rejuvenated and strengthened WTO that will be confident to tackle effectively ongoing issues,” Okonjo-Iweala told WTO members during a hearing in July.

“It is clear that a rules-based system without a forum in which a breach of the rules can be effectively arbitrated loses credibility over time,” she said at the same hearing.

I can take hardship. I can sleep on the cold floor anytime.

Officials in the European Union and the United States have previously said the WTO needs to be reformed and its rules updated, but there is no consensus on how to do it.

“The WTO appears paralyzed at a time when its rule book would greatly benefit from an update to 21st century issues such as ecommerce and the digital economy, the green and circular economies,” Okonjo-Iweala said.

She is also likely to support female participation in global trade, having said that “greater efforts should be made to include women-owned enterprises in the formal sector.”

 

Source: CNBC

Ghana, like many of its counterparts on the continent, is contending with the fallout from the rapid spread of SARS-CoV-2 variants. Of particular concern is the B.1.1.7 variant first identified in the UK. It is estimated to be up to 70% more infectious and 65% more lethal than the ancestral strain.

Scientists at the West African Centre for Cell Biology of Infectious Pathogens have confirmed that B.1.1.7 is now the dominant variant in Ghana based on nationwide genomic surveillance. And that it is responsible for 88% of cases in the capital city.

The ongoing surge in new infections, hospital admissions and deaths has refocused public attention on a situation that the Ghana Medical Association describes as “dire”. Intensive care units are operating at the limits of their staff and space constraints. And more young people appear to be developing severe forms of the illness.

This means that the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines in Ghana cannot come quickly enough. But what is the country’s COVID-19 vaccination strategy? And how well advanced are plans to execute it?

Potential pitfalls

At least 60% of Ghana’s 31 million residents will need to be vaccinated for the population to attain herd immunity. The goal of the president, Nana Akufo Addo, is that every Ghanaian will be vaccinated. But a timeline for this remains elusive as no plan has been made public.

The president has promised to procure and administer 17.6 million COVID-19 vaccine doses in the first half of 2021 as part of an initial push. But there is uncertainty even around this target.

Firstly, how the country will secure this number of doses is not yet clear.

Secondly, there are questions around how the doses will be stored and distributed, as well as the capacity of the country’s existing cold chain infrastructure.

And there will be a final major hurdle to clear – convincing many sceptical Ghanaians that the vaccines on offer are safe and effective.

Constraining factors

A number of external factors are hampering Ghana’s efforts to secure the doses it needs to reach its mid-year target.

Unlike developed nations, countries like Ghana have limited bargaining power to negotiate directly with manufacturers. As a result, it is principally relying on two multilateral initiatives to procure COVID-19 vaccines – the COVAX facility and the African Vaccine Acquisition Task Team. Combined, they have secured 1.27 billion vaccine doses for African nations.

COVAX is a global initiative co-led by the World Health Organisation, Gavi and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations. It aims to develop, manufacture and distribute COVID-19 vaccines to all nations on a fair and equitable basis. It operates as a funding mechanism that uses the collective purchasing power of participating nations to obtain competitive prices.

Nevertheless, participating low- and middle-income countries will only receive enough vaccines to cover up to 20% of their populations.

Ghana expects to take delivery of up to 968,000 doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine by the end of March 2021 as part of an initial batch from COVAX. These first doses have been earmarked for the nation’s healthcare workforce of about 108,000.

COVAX aims to deliver the remainder of this initial tranche of 2.4 million doses by June 2021. This should be enough to protect about 1.2 million Ghanaians with the two-jab Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine. But reaching the president’s target will require about four times that amount.

This means that Ghana will have to lean heavily on vaccine supplies from the African Vaccine Acquisition Task Team – an initiative being driven by the African Union. It aims to bridge the gap between the 20% population coverage promised by COVAX to participating African countries and the 60% coverage they need to attain herd immunity.

The African Export-Import Bank and the World Bank are supporting the strategy with about $7 billion in cash advancements to vaccine manufacturers on behalf of AU member states. The African Vaccine Acquisition Task Team has so far secured 270 million doses of the Pfizer, Oxford-AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines. Deliveries are scheduled to begin later this month.

In early February the sirector of the Africa Centers for Disease Control announced that 16 African nations had applied to the task team for vaccine supplies totalling 114 million doses. While the final allocations are yet to be published, Zambia, Kenya and Nigeria are set to receive 42.7 million.

It is not yet known if Ghana is one of the remaining 13, nor how many doses it intends to order from the African Vaccine Acquisition Task Team.

Ghana’s Presidential Advisor on Health, Anthony Nsiah-Asare, recently hinted that the country was also procuring vaccines through bilateral deals with some of its development partners. But these supplies are likely to be a negligible fraction of the 15.2 million additional doses required to meet the June target.

This means that Ghana’s supplies from the African Union initiative is likely to determine the nation’s ability to reach its mid-year goal of 17.6 million doses.

The groundwork

Ghana’s COVID-19 vaccination drive will face other challenges that ought to be addressed urgently.

One is a storage and distribution plan that prioritises speed and minimises waste. Public health authorities have assured Ghanaians that a comprehensive plan exists – it has not yet been made public – to make use of the country’s existing cold chain infrastructure for vaccine distribution.

This infrastructure supports Ghana’s enviable record in immunisation coverage that has helped reduce infant mortality and the incidence of vaccine-preventable diseases such as measles. In 2019, immunisation coverage for essential vaccines was in excess of 90%. Ghana has not recorded a single death from measles since 2003. In addition, it was certified as having eliminated maternal and neonatal tetanus in 2011.

But there are gaps. Ghana’s current cold storage facilities lack the capacity to house vaccines like those manufactured by Pfizer and Moderna because of the arctic temperatures required to store them. Both use a technology known as mRNA.

This limits the COVID-19 vaccine options available to Ghana. It also matters because these vaccines can be adapted to target new SARS-CoV-2 variants relatively quickly compared with other vaccine technologies. Having access to them could therefore determine how fast nations are able to respond to the emergence of new variants.

Ghana faces a potentially bigger stumbling block: public scepticism about COVID-19 vaccines.

Anxieties and uncertainties about their safety underlies considerable hesitancy in Ghana towards the COVID-19 vaccines. The proliferation of fake news and misinformation on social media and in certain quarters of the popular press are fanning those embers.

To meet this challenge public health authorities will have to be laser-focused on identifying and addressing both legitimate apprehensions and conspiracy theories. They will also have to be proactive in monitoring digital platforms because of the dynamic and viral nature of vaccine misinformation.

It will also be important to measure progress towards public acceptance of the vaccines. One route would be to conduct a series of public surveys to assess the evolving landscape of knowledge and attitudes. This would enable the government to identify specific misinformation that allows for more focused communication about vaccine safety and efficacy.

Much of that will also depend on media coverage. It is therefore crucial to engage the media on its role in combating misinformationThe Conversation

 

Nana Kofi Quakyi, Research Fellow, New York University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Feb 14, 2021

Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari cleared the way for the launch of an infrastructure company with initial seed capital of a trillion naira ($2.4 billion) as Africa’s largest oil producer attempts to steer itself out of a likely economic contraction.

The company, named Infraco, which is being set up in partnership with the private sector, is expected to grow its capital and assets to 15 trillion naira over time to fund public projects like roads, rails and power, Laolu Akande, the vice president’s spokesman, said in a statement on Friday.

The government of Africa’s most populous country is seeking to expand investments to stimulate recovery in an economy facing its second recession in four years. Nigeria requires at least $3 trillion over 30 years to close its infrastructure deficit, Moody’s Investors Service said in a November report.

The start-up funding will come from the Central Bank of Nigeria, the Nigerian Sovereign Investment Authority, and the Africa Finance Corporation.

Vice President Yemi Osinbajo will head a committee charged with getting the company started, while central bank Governor Godwin Emefiele will chair Infraco. The managing director of the NSIA, the president of the AFC, representatives of the Nigerian Governors Forum, and the ministry of finance will also help form the board, along with three independent directors from the private sector.

Ethiopia is set to hold general elections for members of the federal parliament and regional councils on June 5, 2021. It will be the sixth such elections, and another chance for Ethiopia to transit to democracy.

For many centuries, Ethiopia was ruled by a long line of absolute monarchs . The last emperor was overthrown by a popular revolution in 1974. However, the revolution was hijacked by a military junta that ruled the country until its overthrow in 1991.

There was hope that Ethiopia would embrace democracy for the first time when the Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front, a coalition of four ethnic political parties, took power in 1991 and introduced multiparty elections. This was not to be. The front conducted five sham general elections and ruled the country with an iron fist for 28 years.

From 2016 up to 2018, the coalition faced a popular uprising against increased human rights violations and massive corruption. It also faced an internal power struggle between reformists who sought the opening of the political space and those who wanted to maintain the status quo.

The political crisis climaxed in the exit of prime minister Hailemariam Desalegn and entry of prime minister Abiy Ahmed in 2018.

The new optimism of a democratic transition springs from several important developments. In the last two years, the government has taken political and legislative reforms that may contribute to a more competitive election. For example, the electoral board which oversees the polling has been re-established as an independent institution.

Despite the upbeat expectations, the June elections face serious challenges. Ethiopia’s party system is extremely volatile. Political parties are weak and fragmented. And the elections will take place amid the upheaval in Tigray, one of the country’s 10 federal regions.

Advances

There are many reasons for the optimism.

Firstly, several exiled opposition politicians and political parties are allowed to operate inside the country.

Secondly, a new electoral law has set out new rules for political party registration. These have had the effect of pushing out a large number of weak and fragmented political parties from the party system. Previously, there were more than 130 political parties many of which were weak and volatile. The majority were not active in elections or any political movement. The new law requires re-registration on the basis of standards such as proof of endorsement from voters and constituencies.

Alongside this, political parties that have previously been marginalised in the regional states of Afar, Benishangul Gumuz, Harari, Gambela, and Somali are now part of the national political discourse.

Thirdly, the National Electoral Board of Ethiopia is now accountable to the House of Peoples’ Representatives, the federal legislative house. And, in a significant compromise between the ruling and opposition political parties, a prominent former opposition politician and political prisoner, was appointed by the House of Peoples’ Representatives in late 2018 to lead the board.

Fourth, the Federal Supreme Court and the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission are now led by prominent professionals. Both worked for the advancement of human rights and social justice for many years.

And a new law on civil society has made it possible for nongovernmental organisations, professional associations, and consortiums to engage in the advancement of human rights and democracy. These include civic and voter education, capacity building for political parties, human rights institutions, and courts.

Nevertheless there are still serious challenges.

Challenges

Parties continue to exist that don’t have strong links with voters and constituencies. In addition, most of the political parties that make up the party system are regional and continue to be focused on ethnicity to mobilise supporters.

The problem with this is that ethnic political parties use extreme ethnic propaganda to win the support of the ethnic groups they claim to represent. They are also unlikely to seek political compromises.

Another challenge is the first-past-the-post election rule. The rule makes representation of diverse interests and views in the federal and regional legislative organs difficult. Likewise, some leaders of opposition parties are in prison, limiting the diversity of views and interests that should be represented in the general elections.

The lack of security in some constituencies poses an additional challenge to the general elections. In the regional state of Tigray, the election for the regional council has been postponed by the National Electoral Board until security is improved, and election polls are established by the provisional regional government.

Also, the COVID-19 pandemic remains a threat against several aspects of the election process. This includes voter and candidate registration, voter education, organisation of polling stations and constituencies, election campaigns and voting.

Postponed ballot and fallout

The 2021 elections were originally set to be carried out on 29 August, 2020. But they were pushed back by the House of Peoples’ Representatives because of the COVID-19 pandemic. This led to an extension of the mandate of the federal government that run out on 5 October, 2020.

Both processes faced criticism from opposition politicians and political parties. The Tigray Peoples’ Liberation Front, the political party which governed the regional state of Tigray for 30 years, opposed the extension. Moreover, the front refused to recognise the federal government beyond 5 October, 2020.

The front conducted its own regional election on 20 September, 2020 and declared itself the winner. This was in violation of the Federal Constitution and against the mandate of the National Electoral Board. This action led to the escalation of political differences between the front and the federal government.

The Tigray Peoples’ Libration Front had been on a collision path with the federal government from the first day of its fall from a federal to regional power in 2018.

In addition, the fact that the Tigray Peoples’ Liberation Front is an armed ethnic political group arguably made it inherently susceptible to resort to violence as a way of resolving political differences.

Conclusion

The upcoming 6th general elections are yet another historic chance for Ethiopia to hold free and fair elections. Through democratic competition, Ethiopia can avert conflict, strengthen its democratic institutions, and begin the transition to democracy. The elections are a matter of survival.The Conversation

 

Girmachew Alemu, Associate Professor of Law, Addis Ababa University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Feb 12, 2021

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has joined the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to ban crypto trading.

SEC has stopped admittance of affected persons into its Regulatory Incubation Framework for Fintech firms.

In a statement on Thursday, SEC said it received inquiries on a perceived policy conflict between its September 11 statement on Digital Assets, Classification and Treatment and the February 5 CBN circular.

The commission stressed that there were no contradictions or inconsistencies.

It clarified that last year’s statement was to provide regulatory certainty within the digital asset space, due to the growing volume of reported flows.

SEC said as the regulator of the banking system, the CBN has identified certain risks that threaten investors’ protection.

The commission disclosed that it engaged with the CBN and agreed to work together to further analyse and better understand the risks.

“For the purpose of admittance into the SEC Regulatory Incubation Framework, the assessment of all persons (and products) affected by the CBN Circular of February 5, 2021, is hereby put on hold until such persons are able to operate bank accounts within the Nigerian banking system”, it announced.

It said planned implementation of the Regulatory Incubation Guidelines for FinTech firms who intend to introduce innovative models for offering capital market products and services will continue.

SEC added that it would keep monitoring developments in the digital asset space to create a regulatory structure that enhances economic development and promotes a safe and transparent capital market.

Feb 12, 2021

Air Namibia has announced the cancellation of all its operations, effective February 11, as the country’s government is poised to announce its flag carrier's voluntary liquidation.

In a late-night notice on social media, the 75-year-old airline announced that all its aircraft would be grounded. Its reservations system was suspended with no new bookings being accepted from February 11, 2021. Passengers have been advised to register claims for refunds.

Air Namibia spokesperson Twaku Kayofa told ch-aviation the government was expected to make an announcement on to explain its decision.

Kayofa confirmed that trade union representatives had informed the company’s 636 employees on February 10 that they would receive an ex gratia pay-out equal to 12 months of salary, but no benefits.

The government, the airline’s executive, and unions are to meet on Thursday to discuss the liquidation's finer details. Cabinet has already approved the voluntary liquidation of the airline with a three-person board of directors now appointed to prevent the airline’s assets from being attached in case of failure to pay creditor Challengair its first instalment next week.

According to the Namibian Sun newspaper, the board includes lawyer Norman Tjombe, businesswoman Hilda Basson-Namundjebo, and economist James Cumming who will collectively assist interim CEO Theo Mberirua in running the company.

The decision to shutter the 75-year-old carrier follows the airline’s board's resignation on February 3, after the government did not oppose an application in the Namibian High Court to have the airline liquidated. The application was made by the estate of former Belgian operator Challengair over outstanding payments on legacy debt of 1998 concerning the lease of a B767-300(ER). Lawyers representing both parties reached an 11th-hour out-of-court settlement on January 28 for EUR9.9 million (USD11.9 million), but without the government's apparent support, who said it could not afford to bail out the airline, nor had it managed to find it a strategic equity partner. The first installment of EUR5 million (USD6 million) on the settlement was due on February 18. Kayofa told ch-aviation Challengair would join the list of creditors following liquidation.

Finance Minister Ipumbu Shiimi earlier said a turnaround plan for the cash-stricken flag carrier would cost taxpayers significantly more than NAD7 billion Namibian dollars (USD461.6 million), after already spending NAD8.4 billion (USD554 million) in the past 10 years to bail out the airline. He said Air Namibia had been loss-making since its inception, plagued by a flawed business model that rendered 15 out of its 19 routes unprofitable. A combination of the types of aircraft, routes, high employee numbers, and other structural inefficiencies had contributed to the financial distress of the company.

At the time of its collapse, Air Namibia's fleet entailed four A319-100s (of which two are owned and two are leased from Deucalion Aviation Funds), two A330-200s (both leased from Castlelake), four EMB-135ERs (financially leased from HOP! (A5, Paris Orly) but unencumbered since October 2020), and one inactive B737-500 (owned). The Namibian government has been in contact with the lessors, Kayofa said.

 

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Feb 12, 2021

Faced with a host of challenges like the prevailing economic uncertainties, leading global banks recorded a significant decline in brand value.

According to data researched by Trading Platforms UK, the top ten global banks cumulatively lost $23.01 billion in brand value in 2020. The banks recorded a total brand value of $98.12 billion, representing a drop of 18.99% compared to 2019’s $121.13 billion figure.

HSBC had the highest brand value in 2020 at $18.74 billion, a drop of 19% from 20219’s $23.6 billion. JP Morgan’s brand value of $17.64 billion was the second-highest, representing a drop of 11% from 2019’s $19.82 billion. Citi ranked third in brand value at $15.66 billion, a decline of 17% from the $18.87 billion worth recorded in 2019. Barclays had the tenth highest value at $4.62 billion, a drop of 19% from 2019’s $4.62 billion figure.

The analysis also shows that HSBC was the biggest loser in brand value by $4.42 billion, followed by Citi at $3.21 billion. Elsewhere, Barclays ranks tenth after losing its brand value by $1.05 billion.

Top Banks Cumulative Value

Top Banks Raw Data Cumulative Value

Banks’ brand value impacted by a loss in revenue streams

The decline in the brand value for the highlighted banks emanated mainly from the challenging economic times resulting from the coronavirus pandemic. The banks saw some of the revenue avenues slow down. The facilities faced lower non-interest revenues, as there was less demand for their different services. Furthermore, the number of borrowers was also limited with banks’ anticipated consumer loan defaults considering that most people were rendered jobless.

Away from the pandemic, the banking sector was also facing uncertainties of the trade war between the United States and China. However, the tension had less impact compared to the pandemic. The stress resulting from the U.S. presidential election and the Brexit situation also complicated matters for the banking sector.

Impact of challenger banks

The challenger banks’ evolution of last year has also sliced a share of the leading traditional banks’ brand value. The pandemic ushered in a new era where most consumers turned to digital facilities for regular banking products as lockdown measures prohibited movement. Some of the traditional banks that did not have sufficient digital banking infrastructure faced the heat from fintech facilities.

Overall, the crisis strengthened the competitive pressures among banking institutions by accelerating the shift towards digitalization of financial service providers. Some of the traditional banks heavily invested in digital services, enabling them to compete with fintech and other banks. At the same time, some of the traditional banks showed intentions to acquire existing challenger banks.

Generally, the brand value is enhanced mainly through the ability to deliver better customer service, a key offering of the challenger banks. The digital shift opened up more opportunities to meet customers’ needs. The brand value drop could have been worse, considering that some banks had initiated their digital transformation before the pandemic.

It is worth noting that Chinese facilities did not feature on the top list as the banks from the region faced few challenges encountered by counterparts in North America and Europe. The country’s ability to suppress the pandemic early offered the perfect opportunity for banks to embark on recovery.

 

In a number of wealthy countries, the number of COVID-19 vaccines ordered vastly exceeds what’s needed, while many poorer countries will have to wait – possibly for years – for vaccines to become widely available.

If these rich countries’ orders are fulfilled, what will happen to the excess vaccines? Will they be wasted, traded to the highest bidder, or allocated free or at cost to those poorer countries where COVID-19 is still raging?

Lamenting many countries’ lack of access to vaccines, the director-general of the World Health Organization (WHO), Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, has described the world as being “on the brink of a catastrophic moral failure”. Wasting these over-ordered doses would compound this accusation many times over.

Ordering so many vaccines is not in itself immoral. It was completely reasonable that those in charge of procurement in countries such as the UK and Canada ordered a wide portfolio of vaccines. There was no way of knowing which would meet regulatory approval.

The speed of development, as well as the relatively low number of failures, has also been unexpected, producing a good number of potentially viable vaccines in a short space of time. Nonetheless, COVID-19 vaccine development cannot be considered a success until this redistribution issue is resolved.

Assessing the size of the problem

The Duke Global Health Innovation Center in the US is tracking how many vaccine doses each country has ordered. Calculating the number of surplus vaccines requires making some assumptions – for instance that every adult will get vaccinated – so these are quite rough estimates.

The EU has ordered 1.6 billion doses for its adult population of roughly 375 million. As these vaccines require two doses to provide full protection – except for the 200 million single-shot vaccines from Johnson & Johnson – the bloc’s orders will cover just under 900 million people. If all orders are fulfilled, this creates a surplus of around 525 million full vaccinations.

Similarly, the UK has ordered 219 million full vaccinations for its 54 million adults (a surplus of 165 million), while Canada has ordered 188 million full vaccinations for its 32 million adults (an excess of 156 million).

An Italian health worker getting vaccinated
Most vaccine orders are yet to be fulfilled, so these countries don’t yet have surpluses – but probably will later in 2021. Pasquale Senatore/Shutterstock

Of course, these surpluses will change as fresh data emerges. New orders will be placed, some may be cancelled, and vaccines still in development could fail during testing.

Note that I’ve focused on Canada, the UK and the EU for a few reasons. While they aren’t the only nations to have over-ordered, this group of countries engages significantly with the WHO and with international development issues more generally. Civil society organisations in the field of global justice are also active in holding these governments to account, so there’s a much greater likelihood that they will develop policies for redistribution.

How redistribution could happen

Much will rest on the goodwill of governments and the nature of their contracts with vaccine makers.

It could be argued that vaccine hoarding by governments is sensible, considering the possibility that annual or periodic vaccinations may be needed. However, the expiration dates on vaccines and the likelihood that vaccines will need to be tweaked to handle new variants suggests that hoarding is irrational.

Some contracts may also allow for over-ordered batches to be deferred or cancelled, but this is unlikely to make the problem of excess vaccines disappear completely. Also, unused vaccines that have nearly expired, or those less effective in some parts of the world in the face of mutated variants of the virus, might suddenly become available for redistribution in large quantities.

Several international agencies could help with the redistribution, including the WHO, Gavi and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations. But perhaps the most obvious redistribution route is the COVID-19 Vaccine Global Access Facility – known as Covax. This was set up specifically to share COVID-19 vaccines fairly around the world. It has already made progress in ordering new vaccines and planning their initial distribution, but it has yet to clarify how it would redistribute any surplus vaccines donated to it.

Covax also has no power to compel states to share their surpluses with it. The decisions of individual governments will therefore be crucial. It appears that the European Commission has decided to leave redistribution to individual countries. Norway, for instance, has committed to sending its surpluses to Covax. Canada has said it will do likewise. Other decisions are in the balance. It’s possible that vaccine surpluses may be used instead to placate near neighbours or to advance foreign-policy goals. Spain, for example, announced on January 19 2021 that it will sell 30,000 excess doses to Andorra at cost.

For countries that don’t hand their surpluses to Covax, a more positive approach would be for redistribution to be led by need. If this were the case, the next step would be to identify where vaccines should be sent. Two targets suggest themselves: places where infection is high and places home to displaced people, such as in Yemen, Syria, South Sudan and Bangladesh, where it is difficult to socially distance and medical supplies, hand sanitiser and PPE are often lacking.

Finally, surplus vaccines requiring intense cold storage will be harder to distribute, as not all countries will have the necessary infrastructure. One innovative idea could be to use international airports in recipient countries as “coolports”, with freezers installed and all approved vaccines administered from there. However, it might be easier to simply redeploy vaccines with easy storage requirements to countries where cold storage is difficult. To some extent, redistribution may end up being driven not by need or politics, but by logistics.The Conversation

 

Robin Cohen, Emeritus Professor, Development Studies, University of Oxford

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Feb 10, 2021

Bitcoin was driven to new record highs Tuesday morning – trading above $48,000 – as investors continue to pile in on the news that Tesla bought $1.5bn worth of the cryptocurrency.

A filing with the U.S. financial regulator on Monday reveals that the electric car company run by the world’s richest person, Elon Musk, has made the massive purchase of the digital asset which has jumped more than 300% in a year.

The surge in the price of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, including Dogecoin – which was also fuelled by an endorsement by Musk on Twitter over the weekend - comes as digital currencies become mainstream due to soaring interest from both retail and institutional investors, increasing levels of mass adoption, and as global interest rates remain at historic lows.

But how does a new crypto investor choose a platform on which to buy, sell, hold and exchange?

Nigel Green, an influential cryptocurrency expert and CEO of deVere Group, one of the world’s largest independent financial advisory and fintech organizations, says there are five fundamentals.

He says: “More and more people are wanting to invest into cryptocurrencies, knowing that they are the future of money.

“But many, even those who have extensive knowledge of the stock market, have concerns about selecting the right cryptocurrency exchange.

“The total capitalisation of the cryptocurrency market is now an estimated $1.2 trillion, but it is still lightly regulated. This means that it’s vital that investors know what to look for in an exchange.”

He continues: “There are five fundamentals for your checklist.

“First, security. The system of a private exchange for saving consumer documents as well as funds should be as decentralised as possible as if it’s all on a couple of web servers, that makes them easy hacking targets.

“Investors should also look for a system that utilises two-step verification throughout login, such as a password, and also quick-expiring codes received through the app.

“Avoid exchanges which offer cheap trade costs or services but are based in areas around the world where investor security is weak.

“In addition, investors ought to assess exchanges as well as the businesses behind them as they would certainly do with any other organisation that they would depend on to protect their money.”

“Second, costs. Some exchanges are proficient at addressing costs in advance, while others hide them. Go for the exchanges that are upfront and transparent.

“Third, simplicity and ease of use. Take into account that you’re not always going to trade from your desktop. In fact, finding an exchange that focuses on 'on-the-move' trading via a secure app is often a better option.

“Fourth, dependability. Does the exchange run efficiently when trading quantity is high, or when the currencies rate is see-sawing? Some exchanges are notorious for their system accidents and trading stops.

Fifth, client service. Make sure an exchange has a chat or fast communication service integrated.”

Mr Green concludes: “Whilst Elon Musk’s Tesla, and other institutional investors, including PayPal amongst others, will have teams of crypto experts behind them, retail investors can also get involved.

“Investing in cryptocurrencies remains highly speculative and it is not for everyone - but one of the keys to success would be selecting the right crypto exchange.”

The behaviour and life cycles of the largest animals on the planet are incredibly important for the healthy functioning of our planet’s life support systems.

Unfortunately, many big species now face extinction due to their value in the illegal wildlife trade, vulnerability to habitat degradation and because they often come into conflict with humans.

The African tropics host many of these remaining megafauna or large animals like gorillas, elephants and hippos, but they are now losing ground. African forest elephants, for instance, have a population just 10% of their potential size, occupying 25% of their potential range.

Knowing how much influence these large animals have on the functioning of our world – and how vulnerable they are to extinction – it’s more important than ever to monitor and restore the health of their remaining populations and the safe havens that support them.

Forest elephants drinking in the Djidji river, Ivindo National Park, Gabon. © Malcolm Starkey

We wanted to know how elephants are faring in Lopé National Park, a 5000 km² protected area in the heart of Gabon. Researchers at the site have observed some of the highest densities of forest elephants ever recorded.

Lopé National Park has a rich diversity of wildlife, including forest elephants, chimpanzees, gorillas and mandrills. Many of these wildlife species rely on wild forest fruits for food.

In our recently published paper we analysed 32 years of valuable data about tree behaviour and found that – between 1986 and 2018 – there was a massive collapse in fruiting events.

This has resulted in a fruit famine and, based on a body condition score applied to archived photographs, an 11% decline in the physical condition of the elephants at our study area since 2008.

The implications of this finding are that even where forest elephants and other megafauna are relatively well protected from external threats such as hunting, global human pressures – such as the climate crisis – could affect their survival.

A collapse in fruiting also means that the forests themselves may be undergoing significant change, with some trees species possibly reproducing slower than required to support a healthy population.

Long-term research in Lopé National Park

In 1986, pioneer primatologist Caroline Tutin started monitoring food resources for wildlife at Lopé by recording monthly observations of flowers, fruit and leaves in the canopies of hundreds of marked trees.

Field researchers at the site still continue to record these observations each month. This effort has resulted in the longest unbroken record of individual tree reproduction in the tropics, representing a priceless resource for monitoring environmental change.

Our analysis found that there was an 81% decline in the probability of encountering ripe fruit. This means that, on average, elephants and other animals would have found ripe fruit on one in every 10 trees in the 1980s, but need to search more than 50 trees today. We found matching declines in flowering too, indicating that the problem is not pollination or fruit maturation but something earlier on in the chain of fruit production.

Omphalocarpum procerum with large fruits held directly on the stem at Lopé NP. Elephants are the only animal that can break open the fruit and disperse the seeds. © Nils Bunnefeld

Once we knew about this we had two questions: What is causing this decline? And what impact is this decline having on the many wildlife species that depend on fruit?

Drop in physical condition

Elephants are the largest fruit-eating animals in the Central African forest ecosystem. They have an average biomass of over 3.5 tonnes at our site, meaning they require large amounts of food to satisfy their nutritional needs. They have a broad diet that includes fruit, grass, other vegetation and even tree bark, but previous research at Lopé showed that fruit is dominant in their diet.

We collated a large photographic database of elephants dating back to 1997 (80,000 images) and invited experts in forest elephant ecology to assess the body condition of elephants in these images using a systematic scoring system. Using these newly-derived data we found an average 5% drop in physical condition of forest elephants at Lopé since the beginning of the photographic record in 1997, and a more concerning 11% decline since 2008.

We don’t yet know the consequences of this decline in body condition for elephant populations, but the effects are unlikely to be benign, especially when coupled with other pressures such as illegal hunting in the wider region.

Elephants searching for food at the forest edge in Lopé National Park. © Anabelle Cardosso

Is this climate change?

Incredibly, before the climate crisis had become widely accepted as a threat to species and ecosystems, the changes illustrated in our paper were predicted by Caroline Tutin. In 1993 she discovered that some Lopé tree species depend on a critical drop in night-time temperatures during the long dry season to trigger flowering. In years when temperatures in the dry season did not dip below 19ºC these species produced no fruit and in an unusual year when this same drop in temperature occurred outside the dry season, some of these species produced fruit out of season.

Tutin suggested that as temperatures continued to increase – due to climate change – species such as these would be likely to reproduce less often if they missed out on this critical temperature to trigger flowering.

We don’t yet know for sure if this decline in fruiting is caused by climate change. However, our previous work shows that global warming has resulted in an increase of almost 1ºC in average night-time temperatures in Lopé during the study period.

What now?

The fruit famine witnessed at Lopé National Park could be happening across the African tropics but we have no concrete evidence because unfortunately long-term ecological data like these are very rare.

Maintaining support for consistent long-term monitoring is challenging and severely underfunded, even in richer parts of the world, despite the fact that this information is desperately needed to allow countries to prepare for and respond to environmental changes.

The year 2020 was supposed to be a turning point for the climate and biodiversity crises with both the UN Summit on Biodiversity and UN Climate Ambition Summit scheduled to take place at the end of the year, but COVID-19 rightly took over the international agenda. However, with ever-increasing global temperatures and the approach of a key UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in 2021, it’s vital that the world takes stock of the environmental situation.

We must make a concerted plan to transform the way we manage forests, food, fisheries and climate if we are to move towards a healthier and more sustainable world.The Conversation

 

Emma Bush, Scientist, Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE); Katharine Abernethy, Professor, University of Stirling, and Robin Whytock, Post Doctoral Research Fellow, University of Stirling

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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