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Global construction output growth revised to 0.5pc in 2020

Global construction output growth revised to 0.5pc in 2020

A leading data and analytics company GlobalData as reported by Trade Arabia on 4 April 2020, informs that Global construction output growth revised to 0.5pc in 2020. It must be said that it will be more acutely felt in the Gulf area of the MENA region with the Gulf economies to pick up this year following spending spree per a Reuters poll.


Global construction output growth revised to 0.5pc in 2020

Prior to the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, leading data and analytics company GlobalData had predicted that there would be an acceleration in the pace of growth in the global construction industry, but given the severe disruption in China and other leading economies worldwide following the outbreak, the forecast for growth in 2020 has now been revised down to 0.5% (from 3.1 per cent previously). 

The current forecast assumes that the outbreak is contained across all major markets by the end of the second quarter, following which, conditions would allow for a return to normalcy in terms of economic activity and freedom of movement in the second half of the year.  However, there will be a lingering and potentially heavy impact on private investment owing to the financial toll that was inflicted upon businesses and investors across a wide range of sectors, stated the top analytics company in its ‘Global Construction Outlook to 2024 – COVID-19 Impact’ report.  

While growth in 2021 will be marginally higher than previously expected owing to the projected rebound (and high year-on-year growth rate) in the first half of next year, in the event that the spread of the virus continues into the second half of 2020, further downward revisions to the growth outlook are likely, it added. 

Danny Richards, the lead economist at GlobalData, said:

“With extreme quarantine measures including lockdowns of entire countries as well as international travel restrictions being imposed across many major economies, the supply shock is expected to dampen economic activity.” 

“The direct impact on construction has been the halting of work with labour unable to get to sites or because of disruption in the delivery of key materials and equipment,” he noted. 

“More generally, the construction industry will be heavily affected by the expected widespread disruption to economic activity and a likely drop in investment, with planned projects being delayed or cancelled,” he added.  

GlobalData foresees particular struggles in the commercial and industrial sectors; businesses in these sectors are most at risk from the severe drop in economic activity, domestically and globally, and their immediate priorities will be on staying afloat and rebuilding their core operations, rather than expanding and investing in new premises or capacity.  

The residential sector also will struggle as economic activity weakens and unemployment rises, despite low-interest rates and direct government support, revealed Richards.  “There is a high risk that a considerable proportion of the early stage projects in these sectors will be cancelled or at least pushed back, with few new projects starting in the second quarter of 2020 as firms review their expansion plans,” he added. 

According to Richards, the governments and public authorities would likely be aiming to advance spending on infrastructure projects as soon as normality returns so as to reinvigorate the industry.  

“With interest rates falling to record lows, borrowing costs will be at a minimum, but the success of government efforts to spend heavily on infrastructure will be dependent in part on their current financial standing,” he explained.  

“Moreover, with most governments prioritizing cash hand-outs, particularly to the economically weaker segment, their capability to invest in the infrastructure segment is likely to be constrained, especially in countries with high debts,” he added.

-TradeArabia News Service 

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Turkey tries to keep wheels of economy turning

Turkey tries to keep wheels of economy turning

Bulent Gökay, Keele University elaborates on how Turkey tries to keep wheels of economy turning despite worsening coronavirus crisis. It, contrary to its neighbours, would not go down the same way. Read on to find out why.


Turkey confirmed its first case of the new coronavirus on March 11, but since then the speed of its infection rate has surpassed that of many other countries with cases doubling every two days. On April 2, Turkey had more than 15,000 confirmed cases and 277 deaths from complications related to the coronavirus, according to data collated by John Hopkins University.

The Turkish government has called for people to stay at home and self-isolate. Mass disinfection has been carried out in all public spaces in cities. To encourage residents to stay at home, all parks, picnic areas and shorelines are closed to pedestrians.

Some airports are closed and all international flights to and from Turkey were banned on March 27. All schools, universities, cafes, restaurants, and mass praying in mosques and other praying spaces has been suspended, and all sporting activities postponed indefinitely.

Manufacturing remains open

Many small businesses in the service sector are closed, and many companies in banking, insurance and R&D have switched to working from home. But in many industrial sectors, such as metal, textile, mining and construction, millions of workers are still forced to go to work or face losing their jobs. In Istanbul, where more than a quarter of Turkey’s GDP is produced, the public transport system still carries over a million people daily.

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkey’s president, has openly opposed a total lockdown, arguing a stay-at-home order would halt all economic activity. On March 30, he said continuing production and exports was the country’s top priority and that Turkey must keep its “wheels turning”.

But in the short term, many of Turkey’s export markets for minerals, textiles and food, such as Germany, China, Italy, Spain, Iran and Iraq, are already closed due to the virus. This has led to enormous surpluses piling up in warehouses. Even where there are overseas customers, getting the goods delivered has proven difficult. The process of sanitising and disinfecting the trucks and testing the drivers before they travel takes many extra hours, sometime days, after waiting in long lines.

Still, Erdogan’s statements give the impression that he sees this pandemic not only as a serious crisis, but also as an opportunity for Turkish manufacturers. The hope is that, after the Chinese shutdown, European producers which depend on Chinese companies for a range of semi-finished products may consider Turkey as an alternative supplier in the longer term. That’s why the government is still allowing millions of workers to go to factories, mines and construction sites despite the huge health risk.

A bruised economy

The Turkish government announced a 100 billion lira (£12 billion) stimulus package on March 18. It included tax postponement and subsidies directed at domestic consumption, such as reducing VAT on certain items and suspension of national insurance payments in many sectors for six months. But this is an insignificant sum for an economy as big as Turkey’s.

Most of the support will go to medium and large companies that were forced to close, and only a very tiny amount to individual workers. In order to benefit from the scheme, a person must have worked at least 600 days in the past three years (450 days for those in Ankara). Those with most need get the lowest level of help or no help from the state.

The tourism sector, which accounts for about 12% of the economy, has already been decimated. Some 2.5 million workers will not be able to work as they had been expecting to in the peak tourist months between April and September.

Limited room for manoeuvre

Even before the virus hit Turkey the economy was already weak, still trying to recover from the impacts of a 2016 coup attempt and a 2018 currency crisis, both of which caused severe stress to Turkey’s economic and financial systems.

In March, Turkey’s Central Bank reduced its benchmark interest rate by 1%, and several of the country’s largest private banks announced measures to support the economy, such as suspending loan repayments. As a result, the Turkish lira initially held up reasonably well, compared with other emerging market economies, but it fell to an 18-month low on April 1 as the coronavirus death rates accelerated. Official interest rates have fallen below 10%, providing some protection to those holding Turkish lira versus some foreign currencies.

Turkey’s financial options to limit the impact of the crisis are limited. Credit rating agency Moody’s revised its prediction for the country GDP from 3% growth in 2020 to a 1.4% contraction. Still, it may get a reprieve from the low oil price. Turkey imports almost all its energy needs, and with the recent fall in the price of oil and gas, this means Turkey could save about US$12 billion (£9.6 billion) in energy imports.

It is hard to see very far ahead. During the next few months, it’s expected that Turkey, alongside South Africa and Argentina, could be sliding toward insolvency and debt default. After that, everything depends on how this crisis progresses and how long it will take to end.

Bulent Gökay, Professor of International Relations, Keele University

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

Solar O&M outfit ‘boosts’ Jordan project output

Solar O&M outfit ‘boosts’ Jordan project output

reNEWS Solar reports on 2 April 2020 that Alectris, MASE work together to automate asset management activity with the Solar O&M outfit ‘boosts’ Jordan project output. As reported countless times, Solar is gaining traction in MENA region. And this story is not the last one.

Alectris is a global service provider for the integrated care of solar photovoltaic (PV) energy assets and MASE, (Modern Arabia for Solar Energy), was established by the Arabia Group of Companies, to lead clean energy development in Jordan and the MENA+GCC region. 


Solar operations and maintenance company Alectris has completed a project to automate asset management activity at a photovoltaic plant in Jordan.

Alectris implemented the initiative at the 11.5MW facility with MASE, a solar O&M provider in the Middle East.

The partnership between Alectris and MASE aims to automate and standardise asset management activity across new solar projects in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).

As solar development has increased in the MENA region, O&M and asset management has “struggled to keep pace”, limiting long-term productivity prospects, said Alectris.

The partnership began in 2016 with MASE responsible for field operations and maintenance services on location, while Alectris provided operations and “legacy expertise” in global asset care.

“Working together, both businesses successfully improved the bankability of the project, which was financed by key development finance institutions operating across the region,” said Alectris.

The initiative involved the integration of Alectris’ ACTIS software platform for solar PV plant asset management, with all data monitoring streams gathered under the single platform to “improve oversight” into project activity.

Alectris managing director Vassilis Papaeconomou said: “Solar development in the MENA region offers a significant opportunity to invest in clean energy projects.

“But if this market momentum is to be maintained, it is imperative that operating plants offer security and stability of financial returns. By partnering with MASE, we’ve been jointly able to combine the latest in asset management software with leading experience in services activity.

“This will ensure that project owners and investors benefit from enhanced and efficient performance reporting and operational management, saving time, reducing costs and ensuring the plant delivers at its optimum. As a result, the plant delivered above expectations with an excellent performance ratio and availability close to 100% over the last three years.”

MASE chief executive Tareq Khalifeh added: “Throughout this collaboration, Alectris have proved to be reliable, dedicated and experienced with a wealth of knowledge that has been indispensable when working in an exciting but challenging market.”

Qatar to pay workers in quarantine full salaries

Qatar to pay workers in quarantine full salaries

The total number of confirmed coronavirus cases rise to 781 in Qatar, including two deaths. Information broadcast by QATAR based Al Jazeera NEWS that informs that Qatar to pay workers in quarantine full salaries. This was, in the not so distant past, was always the case.
Qatar has about 2.6 million inhabitants as of early 2017, the majority of whom (about 92%) live in Doha, the capital. Foreign workers amount to around 88% of the population, with Indians being the largest community numbering around 1,230,000. It will host the Football World Cup of 2022.

Qatar to pay workers in quarantine full salaries
The government announced that three billion riyals ($824m) were set aside to support companies in paying their employees. [Sorin Furcoi/Al Jazeera]

Migrant workers in Qatar who are in quarantine or undergoing treatment will receive full salaries, the government has announced.

Qatar has announced 781 confirmed coronavirus cases – the highest in the Arab Gulf region – and two deaths.

In a news conference on Tuesday, the Ministry of Administrative Development, Labour and Social Affairs (MADLSA) also said it was mandatory for employers and companies to follow the policy.

He added that a hotline service (92727) was launched to receive workers’ grievances.

“The companies are responding fully because they know that the workers were put in quarantine as a precautionary measure to protect all of us,” Muhammed Hassan al-Obaidly, assistant under-secretary for labour affairs at MADLSA, said.

He also said three billion riyals ($824m) were set aside to support companies in paying their employees.

“We are working 24 hours through department concerned for wage protection system to monitor the companies on a daily basis, checking the transactions, sending messages directly to the companies who are found delaying the payments,” said al-Obaidly.

“We will communicate with the workers in their language and will take the statement to address the issue. They do not need to come to the services centre of the ministry.”READ MORE

Qatar welcomes Bahrain move to evacuate citizens stuck in Doha

Those outside Qatar will be able to renew their Qatar identity cards (QID) without any penalties, he added.

Those who are unable to return home after having their jobs terminated will “remain in Qatar with proper lodging and food”.

“Some countries have closed their airports and, in such cases, an appropriate mechanism will be set on how to repatriate these workers to ensure they do not remain stranded.”

Reiterating Qatar’s policy of providing free treatment to all individuals infected with coronavirus, al-Obaidly, said those who do not have valid working visas and are illegal in the country would also be treated free of charge.

Amid growing fears over the spread of the virus, Qatar has banned the entry of foreigners after suspending all incoming flights for the next two weeks.

Last week, Qatar announced the closure of all shops, except for food stores and pharmacies, and bank branches. Eighty percent of government employees were also ordered to work from home.

Read more on:

MORE ON CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC

Gulf faces recession as oil deluge meets COVID-19

Gulf faces recession as oil deluge meets COVID-19

MENA sovereign wealth funds are set to yank billions from stock markets, with the cash needed back home reported Alison Tahmizian Meuse in an article Gulf faces recession as oil deluge meets COVID-19 in an Asian Times article dated March 30, 2020. It is said elsewhere notably in the local media that these sovereign funds could shed something like $300 billion.


A stairwell in the Queen Elizabeth II cruise liner docked at Port Rashid in Dubai, where the tourism sector has been devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo: AFP

Middle East oil exporters are bracing for recession and the lowest growth rates since the 1990s, with economists warning that the “twin shocks” of Covid-19 and plummeting oil prices will have a knock-on effect across the region.

“Quarantines, disruption in supply chains, the crash in oil prices in light of the breakdown of OPEC+, travel restrictions, and business closings point to a recession in the MENA region, the first in three decades,” the Institute of International Finance warned this week.

Oil exporters in the Gulf and North Africa are projected to see growth levels drop to 0.8%, IIF said, based on an average price per barrel of $40. At the time of publication on Monday, crude was hovering at cents above $20 per barrel.

Petro-titans like Saudi Arabia, which have shifted major resources toward sovereign wealth funds in recent years, are expected to recall funds back home as their collective surplus of $65 billion is flipped inside out to a deficit of the same amount or more.

These sovereign wealth funds could shed up to $75 billion in stocks in the coming period, Reuters on Sunday quoted JPMorgan’s Nikolaos Panigirtzoglou as saying.

Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund currently holds significant shares in everything from ride-hailing app Uber to Japan’s SoftBank.

Such funds have likely already offloaded as much as $150 billion-worth of stock in the month of March, said Panigirtzoglou.

How did we get here?

Saudi Arabia earlier this month launched an oil price war, flooding the market with crude in a game of chicken against Russia after the latter refused to collaborate on production cuts.

Moscow, which desired lower prices to compete with US shale, did not blink.

The result has been, Bloomberg reports, a “cascade” of oil surplus, with some landlocked producers literally paying buyers to relieve them of supplies they cannot store.

From Saudi Arabia to Algeria, MENA exporters are expected to see hydrocarbon earnings fall by nearly $200 billion this year, according to the Institute of International Finance report, resulting in a loss of more than 10% of GDP in this sector alone.

As the price war was launched, the novel coronavirus began spreading through the Gulf, shattering hopes of diversifying toward tourism in the near future.

Saudi Arabia, with approximately 1,300 confirmed cases as of Monday, has shuttered the gates of Mecca over fears it could become the new virus epicenter after Iran.

The religious pilgrimage to Islam’s holiest sites, mandatory for every Muslim, nets Saudi Arabia billions of dollars each year.

Knock-on effect

The financial troubles in the Gulf do not stop at the Persian Gulf, but are slated to have a painful knock-on effect across the Middle East region.

Young people from Lebanon, Jordan, and Egypt – with its population of 100 million, have for decades turned to the Gulf Arab states for jobs after graduation, doing everything from running restaurants in Riyadh to working in banks in Dubai.

Such positions have become even more crucial in a time of heightened visa restrictions in the United States and Europe.

A recession in the Gulf, thus spells an even worse outlook for already struggling economies in the Levant, which often look to the oil producers for help during hard times.

“A global recession will lead to a reduction in trade, foreign direct investment, tourism flows, and remittances to Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, and Lebanon,” IIF said.

Egypt, the report notes, is expected to see a “significant drop” in critical Suez Canal transit revenues, as global trade suffers.

The Egyptian government earlier this month revoked the press credentials of Guardian correspondent Ruth Michaelson after she reported on a researcher’s findings that Egypt was seeing a higher number of Covid-19 cases than reported.

Bani Adam: the 13th-century Persian poem

Bani Adam: the 13th-century Persian poem

Arshin Adib-Moghaddam, SOAS, University of London comes up with ‘Bani Adam: the 13th-century Persian poem that shows why humanity needs a global response to coronavirus’ to tell us that this novel pandemic per this poem is not locally that much of a novelty, not different from its predecessors and it is all about human connectivity.


Bani Adam: the 13th-century Persian poem
A 19th drawing of the tomb of the Iranian poet Saadi in Shiraz. Pascal Coste via Wikimedia Commons.

Coronavirus is all about human connectivity. From a philosophical perspective, I’ve been thinking about how this virus is forcing us to confront our common fate, highlighting our connections in the process. The novel coronavirus defies geography and national borders. There is no escaping it – exactly because humanity is inevitably interdependent.

In a beautifully emotive poem called Bani Adam (human kind), drafted in the 13th century, the Persian-Muslim polymath Sa’adi used what can be employed as an analogy to our current challenge in order to visualise this common constitution of humanity. It reads:

Human beings are members of a whole,
in creation of one essence and soul.
If one member is afflicted with pain,
other members uneasy will remain.
If you have no sympathy for human pain,
the name of human you cannot retain.

These verses from Sa’adi’s Bani Adam decorate the walls of the United Nations building in New York and the poem was quoted by US president Barack Obama in his videotaped New Year (Nowrouz) message to Iran in March 2009 to open up a new chapter in Iranian relations with the US. More recently, the British band Coldplay used the poem as the title of a song in their album Everyday Life. It’s a poem that speaks to the inevitability of a common fate of humanity, that unites us into an intimately shared space.

A common fate

This effort of conjoining what has been artificially divided through nationalisms, religious doctrines and other forms of ideology, was equally central to a poem by the German genius Johann Wolfgang Goethe. He was very much influenced by Persian/Muslim philosophy and poetry, in particular by the 14th-century poet Hafez-e Shirazi.

In his magnificent work West-Eastern Divan, a very early manifesto against cultural essentialism – viewing one’s own culture in complete separation of others – Goethe wrote:

When people keep themselves apart in mutual disdain.
A truth is hidden from the heart.
Their goals are much the same.

As a communicable disease, the coronavirus compounds our inevitable common fate. Our existence cannot be safeguarded in isolation, we can only survive together: my fate is yours, ours is theirs. Social media, for instance, has adopted terms such as “viral” to describe particularly successful Tweets or Facebook posts, which demonstrate the dialogues between our bodies and minds that are ongoing at every second of the day on this global canvass. This interconnected reality of ours merges (rather than divides) categories such as “us” and “them”, “self” and “other” which are at the heart of problematic ideas about today’s eternal cultural wars.


Read more: Philosopher in Italian coronavirus lockdown on how to think positively about isolation


Our leaders continue to speak about the coronavirus in distinctly martial and psycho-nationalist terms. Even in a staunchly secular liberal-democracy such as France, president Emmanuel Macron described the crisis in war-like terms. US president Donald Trump used similar words when he likened himself to a “wartime president” in order to describe his fight against the virus.

And yet at the height of the pandemic, Trump’s administration pushed through more unilateral sanctions against Iran, which has been badly hit by coronavirus, and Venezuelan officials . At the time when countries such as China and Cuba are sending specialists to the epicentres of the crisis, Trump has punished the most vulnerable members of Iranian society for the sake of nationalistic power politics.

In search of a global response

In the meantime, many of us are concerned because we are finding out, tragedy by tragedy, that there is a lack of multilateral cooperation. Our elected leaders are incompetent or helpless and rampant capitalism has focused much of our resources on profit, rather than on institutions that serve the people.

The coronavirus transmuted into such an all-encompassing pandemic for two simple reasons. First, our common biology does not respect any of the mental and physical borders that were created to keep us apart. Second, coronavirus revealed how globalised our contemporary world is. Our lives are so closely interlinked and networked that this outbreak travelled all around the world within weeks.

The speed at which the virus spread demonstrates quite clearly the contracted space that we are all living in on Earth. Yet our politicians speak about national remedies and continue as if nothing has happened, as if we can insulate ourselves forever. It should be the World Health Organization and other UN bodies which take the lead to coordinate global policies for global problems.


Read more: Why defeating coronavirus in one country isn’t enough – there needs to be a coordinated global strategy


Yet, in clear contradiction to what is needed, politicians continue to speak of coronavirus in terms of mere national emergencies. This approach compartmentalises what is conjoined, and contributes to the current crisis which can only be faced properly with global coordination and within multilateral organisations. But the UN and its auxiliary network is despised by the new breed of hyper-nationalist leaders all around the world. It is these leaders who have stunted our ability to resolve borderless challenges such as this current pandemic.

There is a common fate inscribed in our lives which demands global answers to global challenges. “No man is an island,” wrote the poet John Donne in 1624. It’s time that we act upon the science, with the empathy of a poet, and institute a new form of internationalism that acknowledges and celebrates our common humanity.

Arshin Adib-Moghaddam, Professor in Global Thought and Comparative Philosophies, SOAS, University of London

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

The Conversation

Iran’s army sets up hospital in capital as virus toll climbs

Iran’s army sets up hospital in capital as virus toll climbs

The recent pandemic is sparing no country around the world. It is confronted in a variety of ways that are fundamentally tied to each country’s specificities. Iran’s army sets up hospital in capital as virus toll climbs by Amir Vahdat and Joseph Krauss could be a solution that if generalised throughout could not only bring results. It could shorten the hardships of all current healthcare facilities efforts of the neighbouring countries.

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran announced another 144 deaths from the coronavirus on Friday and said thousands more were in critical condition as the military completed work on a 2,000-bed field hospital in an exhibition center in the capital.

Iran has reported nearly 2,400 deaths among more than 32,000 cases. Iranian officials have repeatedly insisted they have the outbreak under control despite concerns it could overwhelm the country’s health facilities.

Iran’s army sets up hospital in capital as virus toll climbs
People in protective clothing walk past rows of beds at a temporary 2,000-bed hospital for COVID-19 coronavirus patients set up by the Iranian army at the international exhibition center in northern Tehran, Iran, on Thursday, March 26, 2020. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

In Yemen, meanwhile, the U.S. Agency for International Development began scaling back aid efforts in areas controlled by the Iran-backed Houthi rebels over their resistance to allowing measures that ensure aid goes to those who most need it. Yemen has yet to record any coronavirus cases, but an outbreak in the war-torn country could be catastrophic.

Iran’s military said the new facility, which includes three units and several isolation wards, was set up in just 48 hours. It will be used for patients who are recovering from the COVID-19 illness caused by the virus.

State TV on Thursday quoted Gen. Ali Jahanshahi as saying the hospital has been handed over to medical staff and will begin receiving patients next week.

Most people infected by the virus only experience mild symptoms, such as fever and cough, and recover within a few weeks. But the virus can cause severe illness and death, particularly in older patients or those with underlying health problems. It is highly contagious and can be spread by otherwise healthy people showing no visible symptoms.

The virus has infected more than half a million people worldwide and killed more than 24,000. More than 120,000 people have recovered, according to the Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering.

Iran is battling the worst outbreak in the region. Health Ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour announced the latest deaths on Friday, bringing the total number of fatalities to 2,378 amid 32,332 confirmed cases.

He said nearly all of the approximately 2,900 newly confirmed cases are in critical condition. More than 11,000 people have been released from hospitals, according to the ministry.

Authorities have urged people to stay home but have not imposed the sweeping lockdowns seen elsewhere in the region.

Iran has been under severe U.S. sanctions since President Donald Trump withdrew his country from Iran’s 2015 nuclear agreement with world powers. The U.S. has offered humanitarian aid to Iran but authorities have refused.

Earlier this week, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, refused American aid and seized on a conspiracy theory that the United States created the virus, something for which there is no scientific evidence.

Hundreds of Iranians have meanwhile been sickened or died from drinking methanol in the mistaken belief that it offers protection from the virus. Word of fake remedies has spread across social media in Iran, where many are deeply suspicious of the government after it initially downplayed the crisis.

Lebanon, which has reported 391 infections and seven deaths, will impose a nighttime curfew starting Friday. The country of nearly 5 million has been under lockdown for two weeks, with only essential businesses allowed to remain open, a measure that will remain in place for at least another two weeks.

Israel, meanwhile, has seen a surge in infections in recent days. It has reported 3,035 cases and 10 fatalities, mainly older patients with pre-existing conditions. The Palestinian Authority, which governs parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank, has reported 84 cases.

Authorities in the Gaza Strip, which has been under an Israeli and Egyptian blockade since the Hamas militant group seized power there in 2007, have reported nine cases.

Gaza’s health care infrastructure has been severely eroded by years of conflict and isolation. A major outbreak in the territory, which is home to more than 2 million Palestinians, could be extremely difficult to contain.

Another major areas of concern is Yemen, where the Houthis have been at war with a Saudi-led coalition for five years. The war has killed more than 100,000 people, displaced millions more and driven the Arab world’s poorest country to the brink of famine.

A USAID spokesperson said it was suspending nearly $73 million in aid “in the face of long-standing Houthi interference in humanitarian operations.” The Houthis control the capital, Sanaa, and much of northern Yemen, areas home to 70% of the country’s population.

The spokesperson said USAID will continue to provide life-saving assistance in areas at risk of famine. It will also support U.N. flights, water and sanitation programs which are essential to preventing the spread of the virus. It will also continue providing aid in southern Yemen.

The spokesperson spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity in keeping with regulations.

The Houthis have long sought to divert aid to their fighters and supporters. Last year, the rebels blocked half of the U.N.’s aid programs and resisted efforts to expand biometric registration and other measures to ensure aid was delivered to civilians.

But Samah Hadid, director of advocacy for Oxfam Yemen, expressed concern that USAID’s pullback could leave the country even more vulnerable to the pandemic.

“With the start of the rainy season, we are projecting that Yemen could face over one million cases of cholera this year,” she said. “Coupled with coronavirus, this would spell a catastrophe for Yemen.”

___

Krauss reported from Jerusalem. Associated Press writers Isaac Scharf in Jerusalem, Maggie Michael in Cairo and Sarah El Deeb in Beirut contributed to this report.

Read more on the above-linked APNews original document and all the following related topics.

Coronavirus brings a disinformation surge about Qatar

Coronavirus brings a disinformation surge about Qatar

An article on disinformation titled Coronavirus brings a disinformation surge about Qatar, originally published by Coda Story is republished here as an eye-opener on how the world pandemic is currently made, as it were, good use of in the MENA’s Gulf region.

  • Text by Burhan Wazir
  • Photo by bphoto/AFP via Getty Images
  •  

A weaponized hashtag and fake Twitter accounts seek to blame the small Gulf nation for the spread of COVID-19

The ongoing blockade of Qatar by its neighbors is being further intensified by a new round of disinformation blaming the Gulf country for the spread of COVID-19.

Last week, Noura Almoteari — a Saudi Arabia-based journalist — posted on Twitter, saying that Qatar has known about the existence of COVID-19 since 2015. Earlier this month, she accused Doha of paying billions to China “to grow the virus.” She also coined the Twitter hashtag “Qatar is corona,” which has now been used hundreds of times on the platform. Almoteari stated that the country was spreading the virus in order to damage both the UAE’s upcoming Expo 2020 and Saudi Arabia’s future plans to diversify into a post-oil economy.

In addition to this, Qatar has come under attack from Twitter bot accounts that blame the country for the coronavirus outbreak. In January and February, numerous fake Twitter profiles advanced the theory that Qatar was responsible for spreading the virus to Argentina. The accounts have since been suspended.

The land, sea and air blockade of Qatar began in June 2017, when Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain severed diplomatic links with the gas-rich country, after years of rancor over Doha’s foreign policy.

The blockading quartet issued a list of demands, which seemed designed to turn Qatar into a client state. The orders included that Doha cut all ties with the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist movements, and that it shutterits media operations, including the broadcaster Al Jazeera. 

In the years since the blockade was launched, Qatar has faced repeated accusations from Saudi Arabia and the UAE of supporting terrorism. Armies of Twitter accounts and carefully orchestrated disinformation campaigns have become a prominent and ongoing feature of this diplomatic quarrel.

“The coronavirus campaign against Qatar began online as early as January, long before the current corona outbreak,” said Marc Owen Jones, assistant professor of Middle East Studies and Digital Humanities at Hamad bin Khalifa University in Doha, in a phone interview with Coda Story. 

“There were definitely some early disinformation campaigns on Twitter, which were basically saying that Qatar was responsible for the coronavirus, and that it had played a role in spreading it. People are trying to preempt the crisis and exploit it politically.” Subscribe to Coda’s Coronavirus Crisis newsletter

The disinformation campaign has also targeted Qatar’s labor camps — institutions common in Gulf nations, which house thousands of low-paid migrant workers. One Saudi newspaper has published a number of stories about the outbreak of COVID-19 affecting “hundreds” of people in the industrial areas outside Doha, where many of Qatar’s 1.9 million migrant workers live.

Qatar’s Ministry of Public Health says the total number of reported coronavirus cases in the country currently stands at 481. 

“I would say this is a continuation of the verbal barrage of misinformation and disinformation that is part of the Qatar blockade,” said Dr Sanam Vakil, a senior research fellow with the Middle East & North Africa Programme at Chatham House in London. “In this current iteration, it accuses the Qataris of spreading the virus. This will continue for quite a degree of time, and these sorts of campaigns are a reflection of how deep seated the tensions are.”

Vakil said the disinformation about Qatar echoed how other countries are trying to internationalize the cause of COVID-19. In recent days, China has sought to blame the U.S.; earlier this month, Bahrain accused Iran of “biological aggression” by covering up the spread of the coronavirus.

“While it is interesting these bots are blaming Qataris, I think it is part of a nationalist impulse that is not just unique to the Gulf in using an external crisis to whip up support,” Vakil added.

Kristian Coates Ulrichsen, author of “Qatar and the Gulf Crisis,” believes that the outpouring of digital disinformation about Qatar on Twitter must at least have the tacit approval of authorities in countries like the UAE and Saudi Arabia, where social media is closely monitored. 

“The fact that such comments have been made by high-profile individuals in Saudi Arabia and the UAE without facing any official censure suggests that their messaging carries the implicit approval of authorities, who are in other circumstances extremely quick to police and respond harshly to commentaries that they do not agree with,” he said.

Burhan Wazir is the Managing Editor of Coda Story’s Authoritarian Tech and Disinformation channels. He’s an award-winning journalist and editor, based in London, who previously worked at The Observer, The Times and Al Jazeera. He lived in the Middle East from 2008-2016.

Get in touch via burhan@codastory.com

The Arab World’s Perfect COVID-19 Storm

The Arab World’s Perfect COVID-19 Storm

Nasser Saidi describes in a Project Syndicate article The Arab World’s Perfect COVID-19 Storm. The author holds that this recent pandemic analysed here impacts will be significant. It is perhaps the first time that these are equally shared not only throughout the MENA region but the world at large. Any differences will, however, be in the manner with which this pandemic is specifically confronted locally. Read on for a better perspective view of the GCC region’s future.

March 24, 2020 

In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, policymakers in the Gulf Cooperation Council states are rolling out stimulus measures to support businesses and the economy. But the camel in the room remains oil, especially the immediate impact on demand of the Chinese and global economic slowdown.

BEIRUT – Middle Eastern and Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) economies are heading toward a recession in 2020 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, collapsing oil prices, and the unfolding global financial crisis.

The fast-spreading global pandemic – with Europe its new epicenter – is generating both supply and demand shocks. The supply shock results from output cuts, factory closures, disruptions to supply chains, trade, and transport, and higher prices for material supplies, along with a tightening of credit. And the aggregate-demand shock stems from lower consumer spending – owing to quarantines, “social distancing,” and the reduction in incomes caused by workplace disruptions and closures – and delayed investment spending.

The two largest Arab economies, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, are proactively fighting the spread of COVID-19, for example by closing schools and universities and postponing large events such as the Art Dubai fair and the Dubai World Cup horse race. Likewise, Bahrain has postponed its Formula One Grand Prix.

Saudi Arabia has even announced a temporary ban on non-compulsory umrah pilgrimages to Mecca, and has closed mosques. Because religious tourism is one of the Kingdom’s main sources of non-oil revenue, the umrah ban and likely severe restrictions on the obligatory (for all Muslims) hajj pilgrimage will have a large negative impact on economic growth.

True, policymakers across the GCC are rolling out stimulus measures to support businesses and the economy. Central banks have focused on assisting small and medium-size enterprises by deferring loan repayments, extending concessional loans, and reducing point-of-sale and e-commerce fees. And GCC authorities have unveiled stimulus packages to support companies in the hard-hit tourism, retail, and trade sectors. The UAE has a consolidated package valued at AED126 billion ($34.3 billion), while Saudi Arabia’s is worth $32 billion and Qatar’s totals $23.3 billion. Moreover, policymakers are supporting money markets: Bahrain, for example, recently slashed its overnight lending rate from 4% to 2.45%.

But the camel in the room remains oil, especially the immediate impact on demand of the Chinese and global economic slowdown. The International Energy Agency optimistically estimates that global oil demand will fall to 99.9 million barrels per day (bpd) in 2020, about 90,000 bpd lower than in 2019 (in the IEA’s pessimistic scenario, demand could plunge by 730,000 bpd). Indeed, successive production cuts had already led to OPEC’s global market share falling from 40% in 2014 to about 34% in January 2020, to the benefit of US shale producers.

The weakening outlook for oil demand has been exacerbated by the Saudi Arabia-Russia oil-price war, with the Saudis not only deciding to ramp up production, but also announcing discounts of up to $8 per barrel for Northwest Europe and other large consumers of Russian oil. Although the Kingdom’s strategic aim is to weaken shale-oil producers and regain market share, the price war will also hit weaker oil-dependent economies (such as Algeria, Angola, Bahrain, Iraq, Nigeria, and Oman), and put other major oil producers and companies under severe pressure. Indeed, in the two years after oil prices’ last sharp fall, in 2014, OPEC member states lost a collective $450 billion in revenues.

That episode prompted GCC governments to pursue fiscal consolidation by phasing out fuel subsidies, implementing a 5% value-added tax (in the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain), and rationalizing public spending. Nonetheless, GCC countries continue to rely on oil for government revenues, and their average fiscal break-even price of $64 per barrel is more than double the current Brent oil price of about $30 per barrel. The UAE and Saudi Arabia have estimated break-even prices of $70 and $83.60, respectively, while Oman ($88), Bahrain ($92), and Iran ($195) are even more vulnerable in this regard. More diversified Russia, by contrast, can balance its budget with oil at $42 per barrel.

The near-halving of oil prices since the start of 2020, the sharp fall in global growth, and the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic will put severe strains on both oil and non-oil revenue. As a result, GCC governments’ budget deficits are likely to soar to 10-12% of GDP in 2020, more than double earlier forecasts, while lower oil prices will also result in substantial current-account deficits.

Governments will respond by cutting (mostly capital) spending, magnifying the negative effect on the non-oil sector. Some countries (Kuwait, Qatar, and the UAE) can tap fiscal and international reserves, while others (Oman, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia) will have to turn to international financial markets.

But will GCC governments be able to borrow their way out of this phase of lower oil prices? Global equity and debt markets currently are close to meltdown; with investors fleeing to safe government bonds, liquidity is drying up.

The GCC countries will suffer a negative wealth effect, owing to losses on their sovereign wealth funds’ portfolios and net foreign assets. And, given bulging deficits and the prospect of continued low oil prices, sovereign and corporate borrowers will find it harder and more expensive to access markets. The ongoing financial crisis will therefore exacerbate the effects of the oil-price shock and the pandemic.

The pandemic itself is still unfolding, and its eventual global impact will depend on its geographical spread, duration, and intensity. But it is already clear that in the coming weeks, there will be heightened uncertainty about global growth prospects, oil prices, and financial-market volatility. And as the pandemic continues its deadly march, the GCC economies – like many others – will be unable to avoid recession.

A new low-cost solar technology for environmental cooling

A new low-cost solar technology for environmental cooling

A new low-cost solar technology for environmental cooling developed in Politecnico di Torino, Italy could bring some advantages in this day and age; especially in the MENA region.


Space cooling and heating is a common need in most inhabited areas. In Europe, the energy consumed for air conditioning is rising, and the situation could get worse in the near future due to the temperature increase in different regions worldwide. The increasing cooling need in buildings especially during the summer season is satisfied by the popular air conditioners, which often make use of refrigerants with high environmental impact and also lead to high electricity consumption. So, how can we reduce the energy demand for building cooling?

A new study comes from a research group based at the Politecnico di Torino (SMaLL) and the National Institute of Metrological Research (INRiM), who has proposed a device capable of generating a cooling load without the use of electricity: the research has been published in Science Advances*. Like more traditional cooling devices, this new technology also exploits the evaporation of a liquid. However, the key idea proposed by the Turin researchers is to use simple water and common salt instead of chemicals that are potentially harmful for the environment. The environmental impact of the new device is also reduced because it is based on passive phenomena, i.e. spontaneous processes such as capillarity or evaporation, instead of on pumps and compressors that require energy and maintenance.

“Cooling by water evaporation has always been known. As an example, Nature makes use of sweat evaporation from the skin to cool down our body. However, this strategy is effective as long as air is not saturated with water vapour. Our idea was to come up with a low-cost technology capable to maximize the cooling effect regardless of the external water vapour conditions. Instead of being exposed to air, pure water is in contact with an impermeable membrane that keeps separated from a highly concentrated salty solution. The membrane can be imagined as a porous sieve with pore size in the order of one millionth of a meter. Owing to its water-repellent properties, our membrane liquid water does not pass through the membrane, whereas its vapour does. In this way, the fresh and salt water do not mix, while a constant water vapour flux occurs from one end of the membrane to the other. As a result, pure water gets cooled, with this effect being further amplified thanks to the presence of different evaporation stages. Clearly, the salty water concentration will constantly decrease and the cooling effect will diminish over time; however, the difference in salinity between the two solutions can be continuously – and sustainably – restored using solar energy, as also demonstrated in another recent study from our group**”, explains Matteo Alberghini, PhD student of the Energy Department of the Politecnico di Torino and first author of the research.

The interesting feature of the suggested device consists in its modular design made of cooling units, a few centimetres thick each, that can be stacked in series to increase the cooling effect in series, as happens with common batteries. In this way it is possible to finely tune the cooling power according to individual needs, possibly reaching cooling capacity comparable to those typically necessary for domestic use. Furthermore, water and salt do not need pumps or other auxiliaries to be transported within the device. On the contrary, it “moves” spontaneously thanks to capillary effects of some components which, like in kitchen paper, are capable of absorbing and transporting water also against gravity.

“Other technologies for passive cooling are also being tested in various labs and research centres worldwide, such as those based on infrared heat dissipation into the outer space – also known as radiative passive cooling. Those approaches, although promising and suitable for some applications, also present major limitations: the principle on which they are based may be ineffective in tropical climates and in general on very humid days, when, however, the need for conditioning would still be high; moreover, there is a theoretical limit for the maximum cooling power. Our passive prototype, based instead on evaporative cooling between two aqueous solutions with different salinities, could overcome this limit, creating a useful effect independent of external humidity. Moreover, we could obtain an even higher cooling capacity in the future by increasing the concentration of the saline solution or by resorting to a more sophisticated modular design of the device” commented the researchers.

Also due to the simplicity of the device assembly and the required materials, a rather low production cost can be envisioned, in the order of a few euros for each cooling stage. As such, the device could be ideal for installations in rural areas, where the possible lack of well-trained technicians can make operation and maintenance of traditional cooling systems difficult. Interesting applications can also be envisioned in regions with large availability in water with high saline concentration, such as coastal regions in the vicinity of large desalination plants or nearby salt marshes and salt mines.

As of now, the technology is not yet ready for an immediate commercial exploitation, and further developments (also subject to future funding or industrial partnerships) are necessary. In perspective, this technology could be used in combination with existing and more traditional cooling systems for effectively implementing energy saving strategies.

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[*] Matteo Alberghini, Matteo Morciano, Matteo Fasano, Fabio Bertiglia, Vito Fernicola, Pietro Asinari, Eliodoro Chiavazzo. Multistage and passive cooling process driven by salinity difference, SCIENCE ADVANCES (2020), URL: https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/6/11/eaax5015

[**] Eliodoro Chiavazzo, Matteo Morciano, Francesca Viglino, Matteo Fasano, Pietro Asinari, Passive solar high-yield seawater desalination by modular and low-cost distillation, NATURE SUSTAINABILITY (2018), URL: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41893-018-0186-x