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‘A world problem’: immigrant families hit by Covid jab gap | Global development

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For months she had been dreaming of it and finally Susheela Moonsamy was able to do it: get together with her relatives and give them a big hug. Throughout the pandemic she had only seen her siblings, nieces and nephews fully “masked up” at socially distanced gatherings. But a few weeks ago, as their home state of California pressed on with its efficient vaccination rollout, they could have a proper reunion.

“It was such an emotional experience, we all hugged each other; and with tears in our eyes, we thanked God for being with us and giving us the opportunity to see each other close up again and actually touch each other,” she says. We never valued a hug from our family members that much before.”

A couple of weeks later, the high school counsellor set off from her home in Oakland for a family trip to Disneyland on the outskirts of Los Angeles. It felt “strange … but wonderful” after a year spent hunkered down with her elderly parents. But while they were away she and her relatives received news that brought great sorrow: one of Moonsamy’s cousins, the daughter of her father’s sister, had died of Covid-19.

Susheela Moonsamy in Califronia, where she has lived for 35 years.
Susheela Moonsamy in California, where she has lived for 35 years. ‘You think of the ones that have gone,’ she says. Photograph: Robert Gumpert/The Guardian

This was not a family member in California, where Moonsamy has lived for 35 years, but in South Africa, the country where she was born and her parents left during apartheid. There, Covid is running rampant in a virulent third wave. Less than 6% of the population has had one dose of the vaccine and less than 1% has had two.

The virus has now claimed the lives of 13 of Moonsamy’s family and friends, and she feels every day may bring more bad news. Amid talk of the pandemic nearing its end in California, where more than half the population is fully vaccinated, she has very mixed feelings.

“It’s definitely exciting,” she says. “But at the same time you think of the ones that have gone, and you feel, if only they were able to get to this point – to celebrate with us. That would be just so great. We need to remember them … and look forward. To celebrate the freedom but at the same time keep the ones who have gone in mind.”

Moonsamy is far from the only person to feel conflicted about the easing of restrictions. Across Europe and North America in the coming months, mass vaccination programmes are expected to bring back some form of normality. In England restrictions are due to be eased on 19 July, baptised “Freedom Day” by the tabloid press. In the US, most states have lifted restrictions already. Across the EU, to varying degrees, countries are preparing to reopen for summer.

But in much of the rest of the world – from Kampala to Cape Town, the Philippines to Peru – the pandemic is not only ongoing but worsening. In low-income countries just 1% of the population on average has been given at least one dose of the vaccine.

Caught in the middle of this growing divide are millions of people with relatives in the developed and the developing worlds, who find themselves struck by the staggering global inequality in their daily family catchups, WhatsApp groups and Skype chats.

These huge differences have long been a facet of the diaspora experience, but the pandemic has magnified them. For many, the two-speed vaccination programmes have come to represent all that one part of the family has and the other has not.

“[I feel] a huge amount of guilt … and a lot of sadness,” says Isabella (not her real name), a law student born in Colombia but who has lived in Canada since she was four.

“You know, why is the world the way it is? Why is it that you have to leave your home country to be safe, to be healthy? Why couldn’t we have just stayed home and had the same experience as Canada’s having?”

Families of Covid-19 victims spreading their relatives’ ashes in holes where they will plant trees as a tribute to their loved ones
Families of Covid victims spread their ashes in holes where they will plant trees as a tribute to their loved ones at a nature reserve near Bogotá. Colombia has officially recorded more than 100,000 Covid-19 deaths. Photograph: Raúl Arboleda/AFP/Getty

Like much of South America, Colombia is in the grip of a third wave of Covid-19, which has claimed about 45,000 lives since mid-March – more than 40% of the total death toll. About 24% of the population has had their first dose of the vaccine; in Canada, the figure is 69%.

Isabella, 23, is fully vaccinated. Getting her first dose last month was an emotional experience. “I felt happy but I also remember just wanting to burst into tears when I was sitting in the little chair, because when I looked around me it was incredible to see how well organised the vaccination programme was, but I also knew that this is not the case in Colombia and it would be at least another year before my cousin my age in Colombia would be sitting in the same chair,” she says. “And who knows what might happen between now and then?”

Farouk Triki, 30, is a Tunisian software engineer living in Paris. He left his parents and siblings behind to move to France with his wife four years ago. He has had his vaccination, but none of his family back home have: the Tunisian rollout has seemed tortuously slow to those living there, with just 5% having received both doses.

Last month, as cases reached a record high, the first cases of the Delta variant were confirmed among the population, which has had the highest reported Covid-19 deaths per capita in Africa.

Covid-19 patients in the intensive-care unit of Ibn Jarrah hospital in Kairouan, Tunisia.
Covid-19 patients in the intensive-care unit of Ibn Jarrah hospital in Kairouan, Tunisia, which has been hard hit by the pandemic. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty

“[I’m] concerned and scared,” says Triki, “because I’ve heard that it’s even worse than the British [variant]”, which his family caught in March. His parents, Farouk and Hanen, both teachers in Sfax on the Mediterranean coast, emerged unscathed from the illness, with neither requiring hospital treatment. But Hanen remembers the time with sadness. “Many relatives and friends died of Covid 19,” she says.

For Isabella, who could only watch from afar as Covid tore through first her mother’s side of the family and then, last month, her father’s, the predominant feeling is helplessness. “I think [that] is the biggest thing, a feeling of not being able to do anything,” she says. “We try to help our family financially, sending them money if they need it, but other than that … that’s really all we can do from here.”

Others in a similar situation have attempted to rally the community to send money to help their home countries. Raj Ojha, a mortgage broker from Nepal living in Slough in the south of England, has raised £2,000 through his organisation, the Nepalese British Community UK group. The money will go to two grassroots charities helping those hit hardest in the small Himalayan nation.

“We are here in the UK and we can’t physically go back to Nepal. All we can do is extend our helping hands to the organisations that are working tirelessly in Nepal,” he says.

Ojha, who is in his 40s, is fully vaccinated, whereas when he spoke to his elder sister, who is 62, last month, she told him that she had been refused her first dose.

“That is the difference. She told me she was pushed away from the crowd, told ‘you are not 65 yet, you can’t get the vaccination yet’. And she has got diabetes and other illnesses as well,” he says. Ojha has family in Kathmandu and eastern Nepal, and none of them have been fully vaccinated; less than 3% of the country’s population has had both jabs.

At the start of this year, the head of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, warned that the world stood “on the brink of a catastrophic moral failure” if it did not get more vaccinations to the developing world. But such efforts have stalled. The Covax scheme, designed to deliver cheap doses and promote vaccine equality, was already facing accusations of aiming too low when its chief supplier, the Serum Institute of India, announced it was diverting its vaccine exports for domestic use. So far, it has distributed only 95m of the almost 2bn vaccines promised this year. Supplies are not the only problem: in many lower- and middle-income countries the logistics of a mass vaccination rollout put a huge strain on fragile healthcare systems.

A man carries his father on his back past a queue of people in Kathmandu, Nepal
A man carries his father away from the immunisation centre in Kathmandu, Nepal, after he received a second dose of the vaccine. Only a tiny fraction of thepopulation is fully inoculated. Photograph: Rojan Shrestha/NurPhoto/Rex/Shutterstock

Moonsamy, Ojha and Isabella agree that there is an ethical imperative for richer countries to help those with fewer resources. However it would not simply be altruism – it just makes sense.

“Now that developed countries are getting on the way to having their populations vaccinated, huge, huge efforts need to be made to get vaccines to developing countries – if not for the goodness of doing that for others then at least to protect the rest of the world from more variants,” says Isabella.

Moonsamy agrees. “This is a world problem that affects all of us. By helping others, we are actually helping ourselves,” she says. Last weekend, Moonsamy held a 4 July gathering for some of her Californian relatives. They laughed, ate and talked. They also prayed for their family in South Africa. “Our hearts ache for them,” she says.

“As much as we enjoy our amazing freedom from being locked down for the past year … we are not really free until we are all free. So we continue to do our part by helping others so that we can one day all celebrate our freedom together.”

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Why is offshore wind the ‘Cinderella’ of EU climate policy?

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Last year, 2020, saw seismic energy policy shifts across the industry. The global gas-market remains bearish and extraordinarily oversupplied, with gas prices seeing increasing downward pressure and volatility. Whereas, in the face of global turmoil, the offshore wind power industry continues to thrive.

The unprecedented year of new offshore wind farm installations resulted in a total of over 35 GW capacity operating across the globe by the end of 2020.

From the long-term perspective, the Ocean Renewable Energy Action Coalition (OREAC) has set a goal of 1,400 GW by 2050, which means an accelerated pace of global roll-out of offshore wind generation projects.

On 14 July, the European Commission unveiled its long-awaited ‘Fit for 55’ package, seeking to overhaul EU regulation that lines up with the bloc’s target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 55 percent by 2030. This involves a new 2030 renewable energy goal. According to the latest European Commission’s impact assessment it ought to be at least 38-40 percent, in place of the current 32 percent renewables target.

That means that the EU requires 433-452 GW of wind energy capacity by 2030 – a threefold increase on the 179 GW installed today.

Wind power will be the principal delivering technology of the Green Deal in the European Commission’s strategic long-term vision for climate-neutral economy.

Hitting the bloc’s decarbonisation goal will require a 25-fold increase in offshore wind capacity. And an even bigger build-up in the number of new onshore wind capacity.

Industry can deliver the volumes pending a robust EU industrial renewables policy that guarantees that such a grand huge wind power expansion is made in Europe and that the industry is cost-competitive both within and outside the EU.

Technology is not the main barrier to the deployment of wind energy needed for the Green Deal however.

The European energy market is quite complex, serving millions of households and business round the clock. Presently, there are no market mechanisms for offshore grid development projects to be bankable. Countries have diverse capital programmes and market operation rules which hinder investment flows in offshore hybrid projects from being discharged.

The vagueness on future market design and revenues for offshore wind farms prevents the process of an integrated offshore grid deployment.

Grid gridlock?

Today, Europe invests about €40bn a year on grids, which is not enough. In order to expand and optimise Europe grid infrastructure. annual investments in grid infrastructure shall go up to €66-80bn per year over the next 30 years.

Efforts will be needed at offering clarity via regulatory changes to the EU Electricity Regulation, particularly it shall be better addressed how offshore wind projects will be dealt with when it comes to congestion income distribution and cross-border capacity allocation.

The benefits of an accelerated development will be substantial. The EU wind energy sector generates €37bn to EU GDP, operates 248 factories across the EU, and each new wind turbine installed in Europe would contribute €10m of economic activity.

Offshore wind energy is one of the most promising and cost-competitive source of power generation in Europe.

But present policies will not deliver these numbers – neither on volumes, nor on economic benefits. Higher goals are necessary but not sufficient.

Europe requires stronger delivery, monitoring, and enforcement mechanisms to make sure that 2030 is a stepping stone towards a climate-neutral energy system.

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Delta COVID Variant Reportedly Draws Biden’s Attention, Resources Away From Other Priorities

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Despite high overall rates of vaccinations in the US, more and more Americans are getting infected with the new, rapidly spreading ‘delta’ variant of the coronavirus, once again testing the limits of hospitals and reportedly sparking talks about new mask-up orders from authorities.

The rapidly increasing number of new COVID-19 cases in the US caused by the more infectious delta strain of the virus is frustrating the Biden administration, as the problem draws attention and resources away from other priorities that the White House would like to concentrate on, the Washington Post reported, citing several anonymous sources. Among the problems that the administration reportedly had to de-prioritise are Biden’s infrastructure initiatives, voting rights, an overhaul of policing, gun control and immigration.

The White House reportedly hoped that the pandemic would be gradually ebbing by this time, allowing it to focus more on other presidential plans. Instead, the Biden administration is growing “anxious” about the growing number of daily COVID-19 cases, the newspaper sources said. The White House press secretary indirectly confirmed that Biden is currently preoccupied with the pandemic the most.

“Getting the pandemic under control [and] protecting Americans from the spread of the virus has been [and] continues to be his number-one priority. It will continue to be his priority moving forward. There’s no question,” Press Secretary Jen Psaki said on 22 July.

The administration had reportedly expected new outbreaks in the country, but not as many as they’re seeing. Current analytical models predict anything between a few thousand new cases and 200,000 new infected daily, the Washington Post reported. Washington also fears that daily deaths might reach over 700 per day, up from the current average of 250. However, the White House doesn’t expect the pandemic numbers to return to their 2020 peak levels.

At the same time, the Biden administration is trying to find scapegoats to blame for the current shortcomings in fighting the coronavirus pandemic in the country. Namely, Biden  last week accused the social media platform of failing to combat the spread of disinformation on COVID-19 and thus “killing people”. The statement raised many eyebrows since many platforms mark COVID-related posts and insert links to reliable sources of information regarding the disease and the vaccination efforts aimed at fighting it. The White House also hinted that the Republican-controlled states became the main sources of new COVID cases, while often underperforming in terms of vaccination rates.



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Sierra Leone abolishes death penalty | Global development

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Sierra Leone has become the latest African state to abolish the death penalty after MPs voted unanimously to abandon the punishment.

On Friday the west African state became the 23rd country on the continent to end capital punishment, which is largely a legacy of colonial legal codes. In April, Malawi ruled that the death penalty was unconstitutional, while Chad abolished it in 2020. In 2019, the African human rights court ruled that mandatory imposition of the death penalty by Tanzania was “patently unfair”.

Of those countries that retain the death penalty on their statute books, 17 are abolitionist in practice, according to Amnesty International.

A de facto moratorium on the use of the death penalty has existed in Sierra Leone since 1998, after the country controversially executed 24 soldiers for their alleged involvement in a coup attempt the year before.

Under Sierra Leone’s 1991 constitution, the death penalty could be prescribed for murder, aggravated robbery, mutiny and treason.

Last year, Sierra Leone handed down 39 death sentences, compared with 21 in 2019, according to Amnesty, and 94 people were on death row in the country at the end of last year.

Rhiannon Davis, director of the women’s rights group AdvocAid, said: “It’s a huge step forward for this fundamental human right in Sierra Leone.

“This government, and previous governments, haven’t chosen to [put convicts to death since 1998], but the next government might have taken a different view,” she said.

“They [prisoners] spend their life on death row, which in effect is a form of torture as you have been given a death sentence that will not be carried out because of the moratorium, but you constantly have this threat over you as there’s nothing in law to stop that sentence being carried out.”

Davis said the abolition would be particularly beneficial to women and girls accused of murdering an abuser.

“Previously, the death penalty was mandatory in Sierra Leone, meaning a judge could not take into account any mitigating circumstances, such as gender-based violence,” she said.

Umaru Napoleon Koroma, deputy minister of justice, who has been involved in the abolition efforts, said sentencing people on death row to “life imprisonment with the possibility of them reforming is the way to go”.

Across sub-Saharan Africa last year Amnesty researchers recorded a 36% drop in executions compared with 2019 – from 25 to 16. Executions were carried out in Botswana, Somalia and South Sudan.

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