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Lebanon electricity crisis: ‘Disaster in the making’ | Business and Economy News



Beirut, Lebanon – Lebanon’s electricity sector is again on the verge of total failure, and the government has once more continued to throw money at it, instead of fixing it.

State-run producer Électricité du Liban (EDL) ran out of funds to purchase fuel, so the government issued a letter to the central bank for an advance from its withering reserves.

A source from the energy ministry told Al Jazeera the advance is worth $200m. The central bank’s subsidies, estimated at more than $15m, are depleting rapidly, and Lebanon’s expensive and ineffective electricity sector is partly to blame.

In a May 2020 presentation to international donors, Energy Minister Raymond Ghajar said that losses from the electricity sector cost about $1.6bn in public funds every year, though some reports say it can bleed up to $2bn. That is about 3 percent of the country’s entire economy, and experts told Al Jazeera it makes up for almost half of the cash-strapped country’s public debt.

“In the absence of any political solutions, we’re just kicking the can down the road,” Marc Ayoub, Energy Researcher at the American University of Beirut’s Issam Fares Institute, told Al Jazeera. “If we pay $200m [pounds], we carry on for two or three more months, then what?  We cannot continue like this.”

Struggling economy

Other stopgap measures have failed or stalled, most notably a fuel-for-medical-services deal with Iraq, where reportedly for security reasons caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab did not fly to the country to secure the deal in late April. On Tuesday, Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah suggested the Tehran-backed group is ready to negotiate and purchase fuel from Iran.

Lebanese households for almost three decades put up with daily intermittent power cuts that last for three hours in Beirut, though power cuts elsewhere usually last longer.

Those who can afford it pay private generator suppliers for an extra power boost. And despite the sheer ineffectiveness, the government continued to sustain the system: subsidising fuel and maintaining its bloated workforce, which activists and experts say are part of the political parties’ “clientelistic networks”.

While citizens and policy experts alike have condemned the country’s ineffective electricity sector, Lebanon’s struggling economy has renewed concerns of not being able to keep the lights on. Lebanon is reeling from a crushing economic crisis, with a local currency that has lost around 85 percent of its value and food prices among the highest in the world.

Today, power cuts have become more frequent, even in some of the most affluent parts of the capital. Power plants are shutting down, after running out of fuel to operate. In some cases, the EDL cannot pay for fuel from oil tankers that had already arrived in the country. Most recently, Turkey’s Karpower shut down two floating power barges – which provided a quarter of the country’s electricity – due to payment arrears.

Generator suppliers now say they are struggling to break even because of soaring demand and skyrocketing costs. One distributor, Kassem, told Al Jazeera they are resorting to buying fuel at extraordinary prices on the black market, amid shortages.

“Power cuts in Beirut were three hours but are hitting 12 hours sometimes,” he said anxiously, explaining most generators will overheat after about six hours. “The weather is nice at the moment, but once it gets hotter, demand will increase.”

And, like elsewhere in Lebanon’s struggling markets, Kassem said price hikes are imminent to cover expensive fuel and generator maintenance. “We can’t fill gaps left by the state. To think that we can replace state electricity almost entirely with generators is nonsense.”

Lebanon has asked the international community to contribute almost $5.6bn for its electricity sector development [Aziz Taher/Reuters]

Empty promises and vested interests

For more than a decade, Lebanese officials have promised sweeping structural reforms that would secure uninterrupted electricity while stopping the haemorrhaging of public finances. Whether it was bringing in more power plants, diversifying fuel sources for more efficiency, and even investing in solar panels, wind farms and hydroelectric power, the authorities said they had a vision to reduce the deficit and to develop this archaic sector.

Much of these promises are based on a 2010 “ambitious but realistic” policy paper by then-energy minister Gebran Bassil, which he said would reduce losses from the sector to zero by 2014. Bassil also said in his paper this reformation plan could make the sector possibly profitable by 2015.

Bassil’s successors were often from the same political party he now heads, the Free Patriotic Movement, and have since pushed for this plan both in government and to the international community. Its latest reiteration was in April 2019.

Not much of the plan went into effect, apart from bringing in two Turkish floating power barges. Initially a temporary measure, the barges are still docked in Lebanon to this day. Despite worsening economic circumstances and the repeated failure to implement the plan, the Lebanese authorities continue to push for it, with virtually no adjustments.

“The ministry has typically had that sense that they have their policy paper and don’t need to look elsewhere,” independent energy policy consultant Jessica Obeid told Al Jazeera. “This is problematic because at some point the ministry’s key concern became implementing that policy than finding a different way to provide electricity.”

Implementing the policy plan is quite expensive from start until finish; then-Energy Minister Bassil said the government would contribute up to $1.55bn, the private sector $2.32bn, and a total of $2.65bn from the international community.

With the country’s financial wellbeing rapidly deteriorating since then, Lebanon in 2018 had asked the international community to contribute almost $5.6bn for its electricity sector development projects at an international donor conference in Paris. The international community has since urged Lebanon to enact economic reforms and accountability mechanisms to unlock billions of dollars in developmental aid.

That said, a source at the energy ministry told Al Jazeera the current government, only functioning at a caretaker capacity, has its hands tied.

“[The caretaker government] cannot make any financial decisions,” the source said. “The main impediment is [the lack] of a full-fledged government.”

‘Not reinventing the wheel’

Lebanon has been without a government for 10 months, and continuing quarrels between President Michel Aoun and Prime Minister-elect Saad Hariri have caused a crippling deadlock. Not even French President Emmanuel Macron, who promised to secure development aid, could break the logjam.

But Obeid and other experts say that the country’s sectarian power-sharing system built on “vested interests”.

Even building power plants or contracting companies for development projects is linked to the country’s political class. One notable case was the proposed power plant in the northern coastal town of Selaata in late 2019. The town is not on the grid, and activists and politicians alike accused the FPM-backed Energy Ministry of proposing the site for its own political motives, given its location in a Christian town.

Though the plant faced major opposition even from within the country’s ruling political parties, it continued to be a heavily promoted component element of Lebanon’s electricity reform proposals as recently as May 2020. By September, even French President Emmanuel Macron reportedly demanded to scrap plans for the controversial power plant.

Électricité du Liban itself is a politicised entity. One year ago, the government appointed its new board of directors through an opaque process based on sectarian quotas.

Marc Ayoub, the energy researcher, said many feasible steps could be taken to resolve this crisis. “We’re not reinventing the wheel here,” he said, explaining that any solution to solving Lebanon’s power problems also lie in a wider economic restructuring. But will the country’s leadership give up its endemic nepotism and political interests?

“Whatever we’re proposing, it’s against the interest of the political elite,” Ayoub added. “We’re telling them to stop benefitting from something they’ve been benefitting from for 20 years.”

At the same time, both officials and experts alike do not expect any investment into Lebanon to restructure its fragile electricity sector without an International Monetary Fund-approved economic rescue plan, though talks have not resumed for almost a year since they broke down in July 2020.

So how long can Lebanon continue to keep the lights while its current setup drains the little that is left of public finances? One year, Obeid said.

“In the current situation where we’re heading, my assumption is that they’re going to keep depleting whatever’s left of depositors money,” she said. “It’s a disaster in the making.”

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Nic Dlamini is set to be first black South African at Tour de France




South African cyclist Nic Dlamini
Nic Dlamini is set to become the first black South African to ride the Tour de France

Nic Dlamini will make history at this year’s Tour de France by being the first black South African to compete in cycling’s most famous race.

The 25-year-old will be one of the eight riders for Africa’s only top-flight professional cycling team Qhubeka-Assos at the Tour, which runs from 26 June until 18 July.

He will be the only African on the team that will be jointly led by Australia’s Simon Clarke and Austrian Michael Gogl as well as including the Italian 2015 Vuelta a Espana winner Fabio Aru.

“Being selected to ride in my first Tour de France is an absolute dream come true for me,” Dlimani said.external-link

“It’s always been an childhood dream and now that I’m about to live it makes it feel surreal.

“I think it speaks to what the team is about, the Ubuntu spirit [I am because we are], and how we change people’s lives because it is honestly a very special moment: to come from a small township and then to go to the Tour de France.”

He becomes the latest rider to progress from the South African-registered team’s development squad and onto the UCI WorldTour.

Humble beginnings

South African cyclist Nic Dlamini

The 25-year-old, who grew up in an informal settlement in Cape Town, first caught the eye as a runner before moving into cycling where his talents saw him move to the UCI’s World Cycling Centre Africa in Potchefstroom, South Africa.

“Considering where I come from it would simply have been impossible for me to have the opportunity to ride at the Tour de France if it wasn’t for Team Qhubeka-Assos,” he explained.

“The platform that they’ve provided me, and other riders from Africa, to compete at the highest level in cycling has been critical.

“I really hope that this will serve as a reference of hope and inspiration to many young South Africans, and people around the world, who have been working really hard to reach their dreams. My hope is that they take from this that anything is possible.

“I want to race the Tour to inspire more kids on Qhubeka bikes to follow in my footsteps and to experience the world like I have, for more kids in communities to put their hands up for bikes to work hard like I did, to dream big.”

According to the team “Dlamini’s style of racing will likely see his talents deployed in the offensive strategy the team will look to pursue during the race, while also playing a key supporting role in the flatter stages.”

The team is completed by Belgium’s Victor Campenaerts, Max Walscheid of Germany, debutant Sean Bennett of the USA and Colombian Sergio Henao.

Qhubeka-Assos’ team principal Douglas Ryder also hopes that Dlamini’s inclusion is a special moment.

“For Nic, what a moment though; his story is simply an incredible one and for him to have earned this opportunity shows that dreams really do come true, and for the team to have provided that opportunity makes me incredibly proud,” he said.

“He’s always been an individual that has stepped up and taken the opportunities that he’s fought for; and he does so again as he lines up at the startline in Brest on the sport’s biggest stage in front of the world.

“This will culminate in an incredible moment for him, South Africa and especially for our team.

“His selection speaks to everything about what we’ve created and built with this team through providing hope, an opportunity and then ultimately the platform to be on the biggest stage of all, the Tour de France.”

The only African rider to have worn the Tour de France leader’s famous ‘yellow jersey’ is Dlamini’s compatriot Darryl Impey, who wore it for two stages in 2013.

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In COVID hit Asia, mixed messages on refugee vaccinations | Coronavirus pandemic News




Medan, Indonesia – Earlier this month, dozens of Rohingya refugees landed on a deserted island off the coast of Indonesia’s Aceh Province.

The refugees had been at sea for more than 100 days, having left Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh in a rickety wooden fishing boat, and were spotted huddling on uninhabited Idaman Island by local fishermen who used the island as a rest stop between fishing trips.

By June 5, just a day after their arrival, all 81 refugees, including children, had been vaccinated against COVID-19.

“The refugees were vaccinated in conjunction with the local government,” Nasruddin, the humanitarian coordinator of Geutanyoe Foundation, an NGO which provides education and psychosocial support to refugees in Indonesia and Malaysia, told Al Jazeera.

“When we found them, they were in a crisis situation on the island with no food, water or electricity, so local residents brought them food and we also brought them 50 tanks of water,” he added. “The feeling on the ground was that we needed to share our vaccines with the refugees in order to protect them as well. No one complained that the vaccines were being given to refugees.”

Aceh Province has been widely praised by humanitarian groups, NGOs and the general public for vaccinating Rohingya refugees, but elsewhere in Southeast Asia, asylum seekers, refugees and migrant workers have not been so lucky.

Hard line

When Nasruddin assessed the 81 refugees on Idaman Island, they told him that they had wanted to go to Malaysia. Some had family members who were already living there, while others were under the impression that the country had a more liberal policy towards refugees than its neighbours.

Some of the Rohingya refugees who arrived in Aceh earlier this month. They told NGOs that they had wanted to go to Malaysia because they had family there or thought it would be more welcoming to refugees than other countries in Southeast Asia [Cek Mad/AFP]

But like most countries in Southeast Asia, Malaysia is not a signatory to the United Nations Refugee Convention and while the government has said it will vaccinate everyone living in the country, it has also taken a hard line on undocumented migrants and refugees, including Rohingya.

“In February, the cabinet decided that in the interest of pandemic recovery all foreigners would receive vaccination free of charge, including refugees and undocumented migrants,” Lilianne Fan, the co-founder and international director of Geutanyoe Foundation who is based in Kuala Lumpur, told Al Jazeera.

“The COVID-19 Immunisation Task Force and Science Minister Khairy Jamaluddin as coordinator of the vaccination programme, have been vocal advocates of this approach.

“However, the recent statement of the minister of home affairs that those without valid documents should not be vaccinated, combined with renewed crackdown on undocumented migrants, contradicts the government’s earlier position and will simply drive more people into hiding and slow down Malaysia’s pandemic recovery.”

Malaysia went into its second strict lockdown at the beginning of June after cases of coronavirus surged – stretching hospitals and intensive care units to the limit. The health ministry announced 6,440 new cases on Friday.

The government has indicated that it will ease the lockdown as more people are vaccinated, and Khairy has consistently stressed that the programme will include everyone living in the country.

But as it did during last year’s first lockdown, Malaysia has once again stepped up operations against undocumented migrants.

Malaysia’s Home Minister Hamzah Zainudin has declared that PATI – the acronym for undocumented people in the Malay language – will be detained and sent to immigration detention centres.

This month, he stressed that undocumented migrants had to “surrender” before they would be vaccinated.

In early June, a video from state news agency Bernama showed 156 undocumented migrants from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Myanmar being sprayed with disinfectant in Cyberjaya, near Malaysia’s international airport, after they had been detained.

Last week the immigration department shared a post on its Facebook page – styled like a poster for an action movie – with the headline “Ethnic Rohingya migrants are not welcome”. After an outcry, but not before it had been widely shared among refugee communities, it was deleted.

The Human Rights Commission of Malaysia on Monday expressed concern at “recent statements portraying migrants, undocumented or irregular migrants, refugees and asylum seekers as a threat to the safety and security of the country and a risk to the health of Malaysians” and urged the government to rethink its approach.

“Instilling fear through threats of arrests and detention of undocumented foreigners is counterproductive in light of ongoing efforts to overcome the pandemic and achieve herd immunity,” it said, stressing the clear differences in the situations of migrant workers, and refugees and asylum seekers.

Malaysia closed its borders during the first strict lockdown last year when immigration officers carried out a number of raids on areas under ‘enhanced’ lockdown. Rights groups fear more raids will deter people from coming forward for the vaccine that is crucial to Malaysia ending the COVID pandemic [File: Lim Huey Teng/Reuters]

Rohingya made up about 57 percent of the 179,570 refugees registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Malaysia at the end of May.

Unofficial estimates suggest the country may have as many as three million undocumented migrants, according to the International Organization for Migration.

Widespread problem

The mixed messaging on vaccinations for refugees is not exclusive to Malaysia.

In a statement released in early June, the UN refugee agency warned that a shortage of vaccines in the Asia Pacific region was putting the lives of refugees and asylum seekers at risk.

“Refugees remain especially vulnerable to the spread of COVID-19. Overcrowded settings, coupled with limited water and sanitation facilities, can contribute to increased infection rates and an exponential spread of the virus,” UNHCR spokesperson Andrej Mahecic said in the statement.

There are almost 900,000 Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar, making it the single largest and most densely populated cluster of refugee camps in the world. According to Mahecic, the number of COVID-19 cases in the camps has increased dramatically in the last two months.

As of 31 May, there had been more than 1,188 confirmed cases among the refugee population, with more than half of these cases recorded in May alone.

None of the refugees in Cox’s Bazar has yet been vaccinated against COVID-19.

Mahecic added that, in many countries in the Asia Pacific region, there were not enough vaccines to go around, leading to groups such as migrant workers and asylum seekers being sidelined.

The UNHCR had observed a “worrying increase” in the number of coronavirus cases among refugees and asylum seekers in countries including Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia, he said.

Indonesia, at least, appears to be starting to do more to address the problem.

The UNHCR says COVID-19 has begun to accelerate in the crowded refugee camps of Cox’s Bazar, but no Rohingya living there have been vaccinated [File: Mohammad Ponir Hossain/Reuters]

Other parts of the country have started to follow Aceh’s lead, according to the IOM, which vaccinated more than 900 refugees in the Indonesian city of Pekanbaru in Riau Province in early June in collaboration with the local government.

“IOM applauds the response of the City Government of Pekanbaru for making vaccines available to the refugee community in the city,” Ariani Hasanah Soejoeti, the national media and communications officer of IOM Indonesia told Al Jazeera, adding that all refugees in the city over the age of 18 have now received vaccines.

“Vaccines are one of our most critical and cost-effective tools to prevent outbreaks and keep individuals and therefore entire communities safe and healthy,” she said.

“The virus knows no borders or nationality; and neither should our solidarity.”

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Why Ethiopia’s 'alphabet generation' feel betrayed by Abiy




PM Abiy Ahmed swept to power after mass protests, but his Oromo community still feel like outsiders.

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