InnovaHealth Partners Invests in Koelis, a Leader in Prostate Cancer Diagnostics and Treatment

NEW YORK, Sept. 17, 2019 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Koelis SAS ("Koelis" or the "Company") and InnovaHealth Partners, LP ("InnovaHealth") jointly announced today along with Medevice Partners ("Medevice") that InnovaHealth has made a growth equity investment in Koelis and acquired a majority interest in the Company.

Koelis is a leadership innovator in the market for image–guided systems for prostate cancer diagnosis and treatment. The Company's products have regulatory clearances and have been commercialized in the US, Europe, and most Asian markets. The Koelis Trinity System offers market–leading features including "fusion" imaging, organ tracking, robotic assistance, and focal therapy. The Koelis system is an important new technology that enables urologists to more accurately diagnose prostate cancer and can offer patients less invasive, non–radical treatment choices. The Company is based in Grenoble, France and Boston, Massachusetts, USA, and has an office in Hong Kong.

Antoine Leroy, Koelis Chief Executive Officer, said, "We are very excited to be partnering with InnovaHealth, whose specialization in medical devices will substantially increase the value of our Company. InnovaHealth is the ideal partner to support our Company's global business growth given their proven track record of value creation within their portfolio. Their strategic relationships, global clinician network and capital will be instrumental in the years ahead."

Ccile Real, Medevice President & CEO, added, "As both a close operational and financial partner of Koelis since 2012, we share Antoine's excitement and welcome the InnovaHealth team as we all embark on the next phase of the Company's growth and value creation."

Mortimer "Tim" Berkowitz III, InnovaHealth President & CEO, said, "In transforming the way prostate cancer is diagnosed and treated, we see enormous potential to bring Koelis' differentiated technology to scale in a $2.5 billion global market where it addresses significant unmet clinical needs." U.S. based InnovaHealth is the leading specialist medical device growth private equity firm. The InnovaHealth team manages approximately $200 million and has over 100 years of experience investing in the global medical device market.

Digital Reasoning Announces Strategic Investment from SC Ventures Accelerating Global Expansion of AI Solutions for Communications Surveillance in New Geographies

NASHVILLE, Tenn., Sept. 17, 2019 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Digital Reasoning, a leader in Artificial Intelligence (AI) that understands human intentions and behaviors, today announced a strategic investment from SC Ventures, the innovation, ventures and fintech investments unit of Standard Chartered Bank, bringing its Series D–1 funding round total to $40 million. In addition to this investment, Digital Reasoning will partner with Standard Chartered Bank to expand its financial services product offerings in Communications Surveillance across Asia Pacific, the Middle East, and other international markets.

"Digital Reasoning is the leader in communications analytics, identifying and finding key risks and insights from human language and behavior. Doing this requires an increased understanding of diverse languages and contexts across numerous cultures," said Tim Estes, Founder and President of Digital Reasoning. "Standard Chartered is a leading global bank with a very diverse footprint. Through the partnership, we believe we can accelerate our solutions' applicability across Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. Together we will further democratize using AI to understand the languages in markets where these new solutions can be used for good."

The investment from SC Ventures will enable Digital Reasoning to continue its market leadership position in e–communications and Voice Surveillance for Compliance, as well as expand into other adjacent use cases within financial institutions globally. Additionally, it will support Digital Reasoning's efforts to broaden its pre–trained model catalog to support growth in financial markets across Asia, the Middle East, and Africa.

Alex Manson, Global Head of SC Ventures, said: "Fighting misconduct and unethical behavior in financial services is a non–negotiable commitment as a bank, a task rendered even more complex by our digitally connected financial system. Digital Reasoning is a leader in Conduct Surveillance and well–positioned to help our industry fulfill that commitment."

Digital Reasoning's Series D–1 funding round had a first close last year, led by BNP Paribas with participation from Barclays, Square Capital, Goldman Sachs, Nasdaq, Lemhi Ventures, HCA, and the Partnership Fund for New York City. Macquarie subsequently invested in this funding round, with SC Ventures now being the latest investor to contribute.

Media Contact
Randi Schochet | randi.schochet@digitalreasoning.com | +1 212–402–6113

About Digital Reasoning
Digital Reasoning is a global leader in Artificial Intelligence that understands human intentions and behaviors. Our award–winning AI platform automates key tasks and uncovers transformative insights across vast amounts of human communications for many of the world's leading financial services and healthcare organizations. For more information go to www.digitalreasoning.com and follow on Twitter at @dreasoning.

About SC Ventures

SC Ventures is Standard Chartered Bank's innovation, fintech investment and ventures unit. Focused on "rewiring the DNA in banking", SC Ventures aims to develop an innovation culture and mindset, deepen capabilities and experiment with new business models through an open platform and network of people and partnerships. It runs an eXellerator innovation lab network across Singapore, Shanghai, Hong Kong, London, Nairobi, and San Francisco.
For more information, please visit: http://scventures.io/

Asian & Arab Parliamentarians to Move Forward on Reproductive Health & Gender Empowerment

By Razeena Raheem
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 16 2019 – Over the years, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) has worked in tandem with legislators and parliamentarians to help implement the historic Programme of Action (PoA) adopted unanimously by over 20,000 UN delegates at a landmark International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo back in 1994.

The PoA included a commitment to reduce maternal and infant mortality, promote reproductive health and family planning, halt the spread of HIV/AIDS among women and children, and strengthen women’s empowerment and gender equality, among others.

But the successful implementation of the PoA was left primarily in the hands of parliamentarians, who were expected to initiate and pass legislation in their home countries, while their governments were mandated to fund and execute the proposed plans and laws.

Pointedly addressing legislators, UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Natalia Kanem says: “As parliamentarians, you have the power to transform the voices of your people into concrete action. You have the power to make a real difference. I appeal to you to protect the precious mandate that you share with UNFPA. Our women, girls and young people deserve no less.”

As UNFPA plans to commemorate the 25th anniversary of ICPD at an international conference (ICPD25) in Nairobi in November, the Asian Parliamentarians for Population and Development (APDA) will hold a meeting in Rabat, Morocco 18-20 September to review and assess ICPD25.

The subject: “Moving Forward the Unfinished Business of the ICPD”

The APDA, which is based in Japan, says the planned parliamentarian meeting aims to update and contribute to the realignment of Arab and Asian Parliamentarians with UNFPA’s strategic objectives of the ICPD25.

Additionally, it plans to promote synergetic partnership among parliamentarians, UNFPA, and other stakeholders and to help formulate Action Plans for parliamentarians to respond to the unique regional contexts to accelerate implementation of the ICPD PoA.

The Rabat meeting is organized by APDA. hosted by the House of Councilors of Morocco and The Forum of Arab Parliamentarians on Population and Development (FAPPD) and supported by the Japan Trust Fund (JTF), and the UNFPA in cooperation with the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF).

A quarter of a century after ICPD, the UNFPA points out that the world has seen “remarkable progress”, with a 25 per cent increase in global contraceptive prevalence rate around the world.

Adolescent births have declined steeply, and the global maternal mortality ratio has fallen.

“But progress has been slow and uneven, since hundreds of millions of women around the world are still not using modern contraceptives to prevent unwanted pregnancies, and global targets on reducing maternal deaths have not been met.”

In an appeal to parliamentarians, Dr Kanem said: “You have pushed your governments towards ambitious goals for the future, and you have held them accountable for promises made in the past. In the coming months we will need you to hold steadfast and ensure that the rights of women and girls, especially in the most vulnerable regions of the world, do not get swallowed up in the political turmoil that threatens to roll back the progress we have made.”

“Although much has been accomplished since the ICPD in 1994, much more has yet to be done. The achievement of the ICPD goals will depend on the political will to fill the gaps in laws, policies and funding. Only with the support of parliamentarians can we build this political will,” she declared.

In a concept note to delegates, APDA says the year 2019 is a milestone marking the 25th anniversary of both the ICPD and the International Conference of Parliamentarians on Population and Development (ICPPD), both organized in Cairo, Egypt.

The ICPPD, which was convened ahead of the ICPD and attended by approximately 300 parliamentarians from 117 countries had a profound influence and contributed to the ICPD Programme of Action.

Driven by the consensus of parliamentarians, the ICPPD merits positioning population issues at the center of sustainable development as reflected in the Preamble and Principles of the ICPD’s Programme of Action. This provided solid grounds for mutual reinforcement between ICPD and ICPPD.

The endorsement of the ICPD Programme of Action 25 years ago, came with reservations from some countries, due to cultural and religious reasons, the concept note said.

“This was basically on sexuality issues and empowerment of women. Nevertheless, one of its major outcomes was the universal access to Sexual and Reproductive Health and Reproductive Rights (RR), including determination of the number, timing and spacing of children; and the right to have access to SRH information and services, as a cornerstone of sustainable, inclusive, and equitable development where no one is left behind.”

The Rabat meeting is also aimed at updating and contributing to the realignment of Arab and Asian Parliamentarians with UNFPA’s strategic objectives of the ICPD25 and promote synergetic partnership among parliamentarians, UNFPA, and other stakeholders and to help formulate Action Plans for parliamentarians to respond to the unique regional contexts to accelerate the implementation of the ICPD Programme of Action.

Given the centrality of the ICPD Programme of Action to achieving the SDGs, and based on progress and achievements made by the Kingdom of Morocco with regard to SDGs, ranking highest among African countries with an implementation rate of 66.1%, a case study of Morocco will be presented at the meeting.

The study will address experience and lessons learned on how parliamentarians can create an enabling environment for achieving of the SDGs in their respective countries.

It is also hoped, says the concept note, that this project will play a catalyst role for promoting parliamentarians’ networking, which should serve the purpose of the JTF (Japan Trust Fund), and enhance sustained multi-stakeholder dialogue for generating synergies among parliamentarians to achieve optimal results.

The meeting in Morocco is also expected to adopt a set of Parliamentarians’ Recommendations for the ICPD+25

African Development Bank Plans for a Self-sufficient, Integrated and Industrialised Continent

Women rice farmers in a field, Accra, Ghana. Through the African Development Bank’s Feed Africa project, 19 million people were provided with improved agricultural technologies, and almost 1.54 billion dollars was approved in 2018 to transform agriculture on the continent. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

By Nalisha Adams and Busani Bafana
JOHANNESBURG, South Africa/BULAWAYO, Zimbabwe, Sep 16 2019 – Arama Sire Camara, a fruit and vegetable seller in the province of Kindia, some 135 km from the Guinean capital of Conakry, feels safer trading well into the night thanks to the Rural Electrification Project, financed by 21-million-dollar investment by the African Development Bank.

“With lighting on the road at night and illuminating our goods, it means we are safer, especially with all the cars on the road. You can work for longer after nightfall, and so we can make more of our products,” she says.

Shuaibu Yusuf, a farmer from Nigeria, can now not only afford to pay for the food for his family thanks to his high yields that are resultant of the high-quality fertiliser he is able to access through the AfDB programme, Feed Africa, but he can also pay his children’s educational costs and his family’s medical bills.

In South Africa’s Limpopo province, Sarina Malatji, now a 39-year-old mother of three, grew up in an area where access to education was limited. But thanks to investment from AfDB in the state power utility Eskom’s Medupi Leadership Initiative and the Eskom Contractors Academy, her life now is a far cry from her childhood. She is now the owner of her own cleaning business – Green Dot – which currently employs 115 people at the Medupi power plant, one of the largest energy projects in the country. She says the skills she learned through the leadership initiative helped her grown her business.

These are just the stories of a few people who have been the beneficiaries of investments made by the AfDB across the continent.

From supporting the construction of a 563 km power transmission line in Mozambique as part of a commitment to aid post cyclone Idai recovery through restoration of livelihoods and infrastructure; to singing a 28.8-million-dollar grant deal with Somalia for road and water projects; to signing a 4.8-million-dollar grant with the African Union for a continental free trade secretariat; and to committing to pool its resources with other stakeholders to counter food insecurity on the continent. This year has already seen the AfDB make a huge footprint in terms of development.

Last year, the bank’s Global Benchmark programme successfully launched two large global benchmark issuances in the dollar market of two billion dollars each and a 1.25 billion euro 10-year bond.

“Africa will develop not through aid but through the discipline of investments,” AfDB President Akinwumi Adesina said, noting that the bank and partners had launched the Africa Investment Forum in 2018, which raised 38.7 billion dollars in investment deals.

But as the AfDB wrapped up the 20th annual meeting of world’s leading financial institutions last week at the bank’s headquarters in Abidjan, Cote D’Ivoire, plans are underway for a renewed push for Africa’s development as the bank lobbies for a general capital increase from shareholders.

The bank is committed to assisting Africa tap into its potential to be a competitive global investment destination with Charles Boamah, senior Vice President of the bank, citing talks around the general capital increase, stating that “this is a pivotal year, a year in which very, very important decisions are being made about what kind of bank we want to have for the next 20 years.”

Earlier this year, Canada committed 1.1 billion dollars in temporary callable capital to support AfDB. Canada also urged other AAA-rated member countries to join Canada in providing support to the bank.

At the time Adesina welcomed the announcement saying it was a “huge boost”. He said that it would allow the bank to “strengthen its Triple A rating and increase lending to member countries while discussions are ongoing among all shareholders for a general capital increase.” Canada has been a member of the AfDB since 1983 and is the 4th-largest shareholder among the bank’s non-regional member countries.

Adesina was in Japan at the end of August to attend the Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD) where he told Japanese companies, “Africa presents a compelling return for investors”.

The AfDB is upbeat about Africa’s economic growth, which it has supported through various funding services availed to its 54 regional member countries.

In 2018, Africa recorded real GDP growth of 3.5 percent, the bank said in its 2018 annual report. This is a positive development for harnessing new investment on the continent.

The bank said 17 African countries achieved real GDP growth higher than 5 percent in 2018, and 21 countries showed growth between 3 and 5 percent. Only five African countries recorded a recession in 2018, down from eight in the two previous years. Six of the world’s 10-fastest growing economies are African nations, which include Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Libya, Rwanda, and Senegal.

According to the bank, some non-resource-rich countries had high growth rates in 2018, including Côte d’Ivoire (7.4 percent), Rwanda (7.2 percent), and Senegal (7 percent), supported by agricultural production, consumer demand, and public investment.

Economic fundamentals in most African countries continued to improve, the bank said, attributing this to fiscal consolidation and massive investments in infrastructure, major inroads in financial innovation, increased domestic demand, and substantial improvements in the investment climate.

Developing Africa

Convinced of Africa’s strong economic growth potential, the bank has continued to invest in various sectors. In 2018, the bank approved lending worth 9.95 billion dollars under its High 5s programmes — five programmes that focus on key sectors:

  • Light Up and Power Africa, approvals amounted to 1.9 billion dollars, 23 percent more than in  2017, with 447 MW in new total power capacity being installed—197 MW of it renewable. Close to 90 percent of bank lending was focused on investment in infrastructure.
  • Feed Africa, saw 19 million people provided with improved agricultural technologies, with 1,700 tons of agricultural inputs (fertilisers, seeds, etc) provided. Almost 1.54 billion dollars was approved in 2018 to transform agriculture on the continent.
  • Industrialise Africa saw 154,000 owner-operators and micro, small, and medium enterprises provided with access to financial services. Additional loans  supported  activities  across  a  wide  range of manufacturing and services in the private sector. 
  • Integrate Africa has seen about 14 million people gaining access to better transport services. The bank approved investments to the value of over one billion dollars, and to invested more than 20  million dollars over the past five years in trade agreement support and in cross-border transport, and energy soft infrastructure.
  • Improve the Quality of Life for the People of Africa, project saw 8 million people benefit from improved access to water and sanitation.

“By any measure, these numbers and impacts are impressive,” said Adesina. “But the needs in Africa are enormous. That is why the bank is engaged in discussions with its shareholders for a General Capital Increase to do much more for Africa—toward Agenda 2063.”

Risks remain

Despite Africa’s GDP growing by an estimated 3.5 percent in 2018, the continent’s economic growth is threatened by domestic risks such as climate change, security and migration concerns, increasing vulnerability to debt distress in some countries, and uncertainties associated with elections and political transitions, the bank said, recommending significant private sector investment and external funding  in regional infrastructure and financing.

On average, Africa’s fiscal deficit declined from 5.8 percent in 2017 to an estimated 4.5 percent in 2018, while inflation fell from 12.6 percent in 2017 to 10.9 percent in 2018. However, the bank lamented that these growth rates remained insufficient to address the persistent challenges of high unemployment, low agricultural productivity, inadequate infrastructure, and fiscal and current deficits as well as debt vulnerabilities.

Although tax revenues and spending efficiency have improved, domestic resource mobilisation has generally remained well short of potential, said the bank, noting that 16 African countries were classified as being in debt distress or at high risk of debt distress at the end of 2018. The bank urged the strengthening of the debt-investment links to ensure a high social return on debt-financed public investments.

“I am optimistic about Africa’s future. I am confident in our capacity as a Bank to make a greater impact on the lives of millions of people across this beloved continent we have been called to serve,” Adesina said, adding that, “We need universal access to electricity. We must help make Africa self-sufficient in food. We must fully integrate the continent. We must industrialise the continent. And we must improve the quality of life for the people of Africa.”

World’s Whale Population Struggles to Recover from Carnage Amid Serious Concerns

Dr Palitha Kohona is former Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka to the United Nations and Co-Chair, UN Working Group on Biological Diversity Beyond National Jurisdiction

By Dr Palitha Kohona
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka, Sep 16 2019 – Sri Lanka is endowed with an impressive and large concentration of whales off its shores and it is believed they are not a population that migrates seasonally. 26 species have been spotted in Sri Lankan waters, including the massive blue whales.

Large numbers, with their young, frolic off Galle and Mirissa along the southern coast, off Kalpitiya along the North Western coast and off Sri Lanka’s magnificent deep water natural habour, Trincomalee. One could almost guarantee multiple sightings of these whales, off Sri Lanka.

The Sri Lankan whale population may feed and produce offspring in the same area unlike all other baleen whale populations of the world. Strong upwelling ocean currents off the narrow continental shelf, the furious south west monsoon, and dozens of tropical rivers pouring nutriment rich fresh water in to the ocean, may produce adequate food for small fish to flourish for the whale population to sustain itself.

Today, the greatest threat to whales off Sri Lanka’s coast may arise from ship strikes. Ships traversing the busy east-west shipping lane just about 20 km to the south of Sri Lanka and those entering the new Hambanthota harbour which is a massive economic asset to the country are likely posing a threat to the giants of the deep.

HUMANS AND WHALES

Although whale numbers around the world appear to be recovering from the carnage that the European and American whalers and sealers inflicted on them, serious concerns remain. Mercilessly hunted for their blubber and other products, the population of these giants of the oceans declined precipitately for almost two centuries and extinction threatened.

Whales also beach themselves and die for reasons still not fully understood. And today, with the oceans crowded with large ships, ship strikes take their toll on these giants of the deep.

The biggest animal on earth, the blue whale, balaenoptera musculus, was a valuable commodity and a slow moving and easy target. The blubber of whales was a prized item then.

A single blue whale could provide about 50 tons of blubber that was used to produce cosmetics, soap, cooking oil and oil for lamps and wax for candles while the skin was converted to fine leather for corsets and umbrellas.

The blue whale population is estimated to have declined from 350,000 to roughly 7,000-15,000 before whale hunting was banned in 1986 by the International Whaling Commission established under the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling, 1946.

The humpback population was reduced by 98 percent during the same period. Australia banned whaling in 1978.

Credit: Dr Palitha Kohona

Sri Lanka, especially before independence, became an indirect accessory to the slaughter of whales as whaling ships called at Sri Lankan ports for water and supplies. An American consulate was established in Galle, Sri Lanka in 1857 mainly to serve the interests of U.S. whalers.

The belated awakening of the conscience and of the need to conserve nature for our own benefit forced the industrialised nations to put in place measures to protect these species. Like in many other instances, it was an afterthought and perhaps too late.

Once the damage had been done and the conscience pricked, as has happened time and time again in the all-conquering West, whaling nations met and concluded the International Whaling Convention 1946. Today whaling is banned except for scientific purposes.

Japan, Iceland and Norway continue to hunt whales under this exception despite the noisy protests of environmental NGOs, such as Greenpeace, Campaign Whale, Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society and Sea Shepherd.

Since 1978, it is likely that over 50,000 whales have been killed by these three nations, Norway may have taken 14,344 since 1986. Japan over 21,842. The total number of whales has increased very slowly since the ban.

DISTRIBUTION

Whales have not been known to harm humans, especially the mammoth blue whales. This is quite remarkable considering the immense size of these animals as well as the fairly recent history of humans engaging in a massive slaughter of this species wiping roughly 98%-99% of them off the face of the earth.

Still after what we humans have done to them, what remains today are “Remnant Island” sub-populations of blue whales scattered here and there across the globe, with each group mostly or totally separate genetically from all the others.

In Antarctica. Credit: Dr Palitha Kohona

The majority of pre-whaling blue whales lived in the Southern Ocean, with the extremely productive Antarctic waters and waters off sub Antarctic islands being the primary feeding grounds for most of them.

It is believed that whales live for 70-90 years, give birth to 22-25 foot calves weighing 3 – 5 tons each about once every 3-5 years, fatten those calves to the tune of 220 pounds each and every day with the world’s richest milk, nurse these calves for about seven months, feed year round, and most importantly enrich the oceanic waters they inhabit by stimulating oceanic primary production (phytoplankton) with their mineral rich large fecal plumes.

Blue whales are very adept at finding and gorging krill by the millions. They make the loudest sounds in the animal kingdom and communicate with one another over distances that defy belief, likely to be 1000 miles or greater!

The brains of whales, about 9 kg in weight, may be more complex than human brains in certain areas. Observing their behaviour and reading about them, one begins to wonder whether they are much more advanced than we think with our imagination crowded with religious and social indoctrination.

The southern right whale’s testes weigh a mind boggling one ton. Sadly, blue whales have not shown signs of major recovery since the era of whaling ended about a half century ago.

The primary reason for this is likely to be their propensity to be struck by transiting ships in their feeding grounds, which in most but not all parts of their range is a seasonal issue. They evolved for millions of years without a predator, being too big and fast for orcas to hunt.

This separates them evolutionarily from almost all the other large whale species. In some of the regions where ship strikes are halting their ability to recover from the era of whaling, geographical constraints (California and Chile) make it almost impossible to move the shipping lanes out of the way for the safety of the whales.

In these regions, if we alter the time of day the majority of ships transit to avoid the night time when sleeping blue whales are most vulnerable, we may be able to greatly minimize the number of ship strikes.

In other regions there are no geographical barriers (Sri Lanka, Australia), and the lanes and transiting ships can in theory be moved a bit further from the coasts out of the feeding grounds of the whales.

In these regions the blue whale ship strike problem may be more easily reduced or even eliminated. We need to study the economic impact of the shifting of the sea lanes carefully before taking any action.

In order for global shipping lanes or routes to be formally regulated or adjusted the country most concerned must be a member of the International Maritime Organisation based in London and formally request assistance from the Organisation. Sri Lanka is a member of the IMO.

If a shift in the timing of transiting ships or slowing them down is the goal, in order to minimize ship strikes of whales, this then involves the industry and the port, and becomes a safety issue for those whose role it is to ensure that there are no collisions near ports and arrivals and departures occur in a safe manner.

All these aspects need to be examined carefully, keeping in mind both conservation and economic imperatives, before a regulatory mechanism is formulated.

ECO TOURISM

In Sri Lanka, however, there are major constraints to regulating human activity affecting whales. While moving shipping lanes need to be assessed against the urgent need of the island nation to attract ships, especially to its new port of Hambantota which lies barely 20 km from the busy east-west shipping route, the needs of cargo shipping must be kept in focus.

Sri Lanka is dependent on its export and import trade and trans-shipment is becoming a major income earner. Adjusting shipping routes need to be examined cautiously. Similarly, a large fleet of fishing boats, providing employment to thousands, operates from a number of harbours along the coast and, given sufficient incentive, a fisherman will become a guide, albeit a poorly informed one, to tourists.

One sees the cowboy approach of certain fishermen on a regular basis and education and training becomes a high priority. With tourism, becoming a major component of the island’s economy any regulatory measures must of necessity be a compromise between economic demands and conservation.

Whales, blue whales in particular, are an asset for any nation to have in their coastal waters. They are the biggest animal on earth and this alone makes them a major tourist attraction.

WHALE WATCHING

The whale watching season in the south of Sri Lanka runs from November to April / May. In the North West, the best time is from July to September. During the rest of the year, the waters become too rough due to the Monsoon.

The best place to spot whales is in Mirissa, a small town on Sri Lanka’s south coast, popular for surfing and known for whale watching and also for observing thousands of dolphins.

At Kalpitiya, several whale species including, blue whales and minke whales can be seen. In the north east, off Trincomalee Bay, more whales can be observed. An official permit is required to get into the water to swim with the whales.

Whale watching in Sri Lanka could be a success story for Eco-tourism, if the government regulatory organs, along with the tourism industry, organize themselves to ensure the safety of whale watchers as well as the whales and to educate tourists of the amazing eco-system that surrounds Sri Lanka

Time to Put Data at the Heart of UN’s 2030 Agenda

By Fekitamoeloa Katoa ‘Utoikamanu, El Iza Mohamedou and Koffi Zougbede
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 16 2019 – The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development was adopted in 2015. At its core are 17 Sustainable Development Goals and 169 targets, all meant to guide efforts by all countries towards a more sustainable, prosperous and equal future.

Today, nearly a third of the way towards 2030, progress has been made by several countries in assessing and reporting on whether they are on track to meet those goals. But this stocktaking has uncovered another uncomfortable truth: for many countries, especially the most vulnerable, we simply do not know.

No least-developed country has a complete set of national statistics. The poorer a country is, the spottier its data is. If 22 least-developed countries in Sub-Saharan Africa cannot even measure their own poverty rates, how can we expect them to report on, say, disaggregated indicators such as SDG indicator 11.2.1—proportion of population that has convenient access to public transport, by sex, age and persons with disabilities if they could not generate an aggregated poverty headcount ratio?

Assessments of SDG progress are based on models, or on methodologies and data developed and maintained by dozens of different development agencies working in each country.

Created to support monitoring and evaluation of development interventions, these data are fragmented and limited in scope, painting only enough of the picture to show whether project goals have been met and the spending of donor funds justified.

As a result, there are thousands of different datasets, perhaps overlapping or conflicting, for each country, with no mechanism to collect or process them into an aggregate picture.

Moreover, by focusing on project-based data and working in silos, we compete with national statistical offices for scarce financial resources and other support and therefore limit their ability to develop robust national statistics to advance sustainable development.

This means governments often struggle to use data for the decisions where they are most needed. Poor national epidemiological surveillance systems, instigated in part by the lack of timely and accurate information, is one of the factors that contributed to the spread of Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia as well as its heavy human, social and economic costs.

In May 2018, the Review of Partnerships for Small Island Developing States (SIDS) pointed out that a lack of reliable data baselines, monitoring and documentation is hampering progress towards sustainable development in SIDS.

And, at the most recent High-Level Political Forum in July, African countries called for the creation of a solidarity fund for stronger statistics to strengthen their capacity to design and implement fact-based policies and better monitor their implementation.

Yes, data is central for policymaking and its value for sustainable development goes far beyond its current piecemeal implementation and low priority. It is multidisciplinary in nature, able to tell us many different stories about given economic, social and environment situations.

Take healthcare for example. Without an accurate population count, it is difficult to decide whether a hospital is needed in a given area. But what about transportation data, for instance? How easy is the hospital to access?

Moreover, what effect will seasonal weather have on demand (or illness rates, for that matter)? Then, if a new hospital does get built, the impact on health outcomes needs to be assessed and the investment evaluated. But how will this impact poverty or education rates in the surrounding area, for instance?

None of these questions can be answered with a limited set of project-level data. But by robbing poor countries of the ability to develop strong national statistical capacity and datasets, we deprive them of the tools and resources that they need to gain insights into their own development needs and make informed decisions.

It is not hard to see why national data and statistics have not gained the attention that they deserve. After all, building stable and robust national statistical systems which inform better governance, policymaking and development, is less tangible and visible than, say, physically building a school.

Yet data are an essential prerequisite to ensuring that other development interventions are appropriate. In this example, perhaps high poverty rates will tell us that prospective students are more likely to be working in the fields rather than attending classes and therefore other measures are required.

In 2017, only 0.35% (or USD 689 million) of official development assistance (ODA) went to creating the data required for sustainable development. Although this percentage has been increasing over the years, it is still around USD 200 million short of what is required.

It is time for a change, and the adoption of a global and integrated strategy for data is a good start. The 2017 Cape Town Global Action Plan for Sustainable Development Data focuses on making sure that data production is co-ordinated across a range of disciplines and emphasizes the significant role of official data to policymaking and setting development priorities.

A new global alliance for more and better financing for development data, as has been proposed by the Bern Network on Financing Data for Development, is another welcome measure. Recipient countries, donors and development agencies should come together and make the necessary investments in data.

Data is central precisely because it is multidisciplinary, but that, it seems, makes us forget its centrality.

The opinions expressed and arguments employed herein are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official views of the UN, PARIS21 or the OECD.

UNAIDS and WHO Africa Leaders Should Prioritize Women’s Health

Winnie Byanyima. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS.

By Ifeanyi Nsofor
ABUJA, Sep 13 2019 – Two African women were recently appointed to top global health positions: Winnie Byanyima as the Executive Director of UNAIDS and Dr. Matshidiso Moeti reappointed as the World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Director for Africa.

Already, Ms. Byanyima is focusing on human rights as a way to end the AIDS epidemic, and Dr. Moeti’s priorities include ensuring more Africans have universal health coverage, preventing and managing disease outbreaks and promoting good health.

In these powerful roles, they should also prioritize addressing issues uniquely affecting women — from HIV to childbirth to infectious diseases — because when women are healthy, the society progresses.

Further, the health of women is a measure of a society’s level of development. As a father to two daughters, I am rooting for Ms. Byanyima and Dr. Moeti to succeed and leave the world healthier than they met it. This is what they can do.

 

HIV

Too many women still die while trying to give life. Globally, an estimated 830 women die due to pregnancy or birth related complications daily. The burden is more in developing than developed countries – a ratio of 239 versus 12 per 100,000 live births respectively

Thirty-eight million people were living with HIV and 23 million had access to antiretroviral therapy according to UNAIDS 2018 global data , women are disproportionately affected by HIV. For instance, in sub-Saharan Africa, 80% of new infections among adolescents aged 15–19 years are in girls.

Globally, young women aged 15–24 years are twice as likely to be living with HIV than men. An additional crisis is how of the 1.3 million pregnant women who were living with HIV, only 82% received drugs that would prevent mother to child transmission of HIV. Thus, the cycle of having above 180,000 new HIV infections in children aged 0-14 years continues.

Ms. Byanyima’s major focus around HIV infections should be to ensure that women of reproductive age have access to the right information to prevent new HIV infections and not give birth to a HIV-infected baby.

There is a solution already — Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission of HIV (PMTCT) reduces this risk from 45% to 5%, it just needs to be applied more broadly. Further, there are lessons UNAIDS can learn and share from Cuba and Malaysia, countries that have eliminated mother to child transmission of HIV.

 

Childbirth

Too many women still die while trying to give life. Globally, an estimated 830 women die due to pregnancy or birth related complications daily. The burden is more in developing than developed countries – a ratio of 239 versus 12 per 100,000 live births respectively.

The Maternal Health task Force at the Chan Harvard School of Public Health reports a 2013 reviewwhich showed that 5% of pregnancy-related deaths globally and 25% of pregnancy-related deaths in sub-Saharan Africa are attributable to HIV and AIDS.

Research shows that use of community drug keepers can prevent excessive bleeding after birth, which is the commonest cause of birth-related deaths, by up to 83%, even with low skilled attendance at birth.

Consequently, community health workers should be used to improve maternal health because they live and work in communities and are trusted by the people. They can accompany pregnant women to health facilities for antenatal services/birth and provide other supports that would reduce the stress of pregnancy.

Despite the strategic position of community health workers in improving health, most of them are unpaid. Therefore, Ms. Byanyima and Dr. Moeti should ensure that community health workers, who are mostly women are henceforth paid for their services.

The important work they do across communities globally should no longer be considered as mere volunteerism and if it is paid, more people could undertake the job and save more lives at childbirth.

 

Infectious Disease

It is inevitable that infectious disease outbreaks will happen and that they will spread quickly. An infection which begins in a remote location can get to major capitals within 36 hours.

Sadly, there is no African country that is fully ready for epidemics, based on scoring on preventepdemics.org. Women are usually the caregivers when family members are sick and bear the brunt of infectious disease outbreaks.

Dr. Moeti should use her influence as the Head of WHO Africa Office to advocate to African leaders to ensure all countries on the continent conduct a joint external evaluation to document their levels of preparedness for epidemics and engage with legislatures to appropriate more funds to national public health institutes for epidemic preparedness.

WHO should work with national and sub-national ministries of health to educate communities about epidemics and their roles in detecting, preparing and responding to disease outbreaks.

Partnership between UNAIDS and WHO AFRO is imperative. Therefore, Ms. Byanyima and Dr. Moeti should work together to achieve these objectives. The global health community will continue to hold both accountable and demand for improved services for women.

 

Leaders Must Start Taking Science Seriously – U.N.

United Nations experts warned this week that world leaders attending this month’s United Nations General Assembly should listen harder to scientists if they want to tackle climate change and meet global anti-poverty targets. Pictured here is the 2017 damaged caused by Hurricane Irma on the British Virgin Islands. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

By James Reinl
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 13 2019 – World leaders attending this month’s United Nations General Assembly should listen harder to scientists if they want to tackle climate change and meet global anti-poverty targets, U.N. experts warned this week. 

Shantanu Mukherjee, from the U.N.’s Department of Economic and Social Affairs, said the presidents, prime ministers and princes coming to discuss development and global warming in New York must boost their efforts to avert global calamity.

Politicians must start “recognising the impact of science and policy and strengthening it among the people who are here so that it becomes a reliable basis for decision-making,” Mukherjee said in answer to a question from IPS.

“If there is a commitment among the leaders who come here, even some of them that they will take this seriously and use it to inform their policy, which we will support with scientific evidence, that would be great.”

Environmentalists have expressed fears of wavering commitments among leaders to limiting climate change, pointing to such skeptics as United States President Donald Trump and his Brazilian counterpart Jair Bolsonaro.

Mukherjee spoke with reporters in New York on Wednesday while releasing a report, called The Future is Now: Science for Achieving Sustainable Development, which warns of deepening inequalities and irreversible damage to ecosystems.  

The document says that mankind can still achieve the U.N.’s so-called Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) towards ending poverty and other targets, but not without boosting efforts to reduce waste, pollution and inequality.

Between 2017 and 2060, the annual global consumption of material goods is expected to climb from 89 Gigatons to 167 Gigatons, leading to more greenhouse gas emissions, mining and other resource extraction, researchers said.

Meanwhile, the global population is expected to reach 8.5 billion people by 2030, meaning more mouths to feed and greater demand on power stations, most of which still pump carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. 

Endah Murniningtyas, a former Indonesian minister who helped write the report, said producing enough food while keeping the global rise in temperatures below a benchmark figure of 2 degrees Celsius could prove impossible.

“This is not inevitable. We have the knowledge and the means already to change and ensure that all our wellness [is maintained] even as we scale back the adverse impacts,” of climate change,” Murniningtyas told reporters.

“Focus on the policy must be enabling equitable global access for food and maximising the nutritional value of produce while at the same time minimising the climate and environmental impact of production.”

The 250-page report was drafted by an independent group of 15 scientists. The document will be at the centre of high-level talks on the SDGs on Sept 24-25, when Trump, Bolsonaro and others are expected in New York.

Peter Messerli, director of the Centre for Development and Environment at the Bern University in Switzerland, said leaders must start changing how we design cities, harness energy and feed growing populations.

“All these systems are currently we can say to a certain degree dysfunctional, but they hold the promise that if we address those trade-offs, that way, they will really leverage transformation,” Messerli told reporters.

But the politicians attending a U.N. climate summit on Sept 23. and other high-level talks in New York will be swamped with other hot issues, said Messerli, with wars in Syria and Yemen high up the global agenda.

“We will not change the world. But we need to change their minds in this direction. Because if we change the minds, I think we can change the world,” Messerli, a co-author of the report, said in answer to a question from IPS. 

Bolsonaro and Trump are the first two leaders listed to speak at the start of the U.N.’s general debate on Sept. 24, followed shortly afterward by Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and others.

Swedish teen climate change activist Greta Thunberg last month sailed across the Atlantic Ocean aboard a carbon-neutral racing yacht bearing the slogan “unite behind the science” to attend the summit and put pressure on leaders.

Translating Ambition to Action: High Hopes for United Nations Action Week

Cameron Diver is Deputy Director-General, the Pacific Community (SPC)

By Cameron Diver
New Caledonia, Sep 13 2019 – In less than 10 days, countries from around the planet will come together in New York for the United Nations Secretary General’s Climate Action Summit. I look forward to representing the Pacific Community (SPC) at this important event, and throughout “Action Week” during the upcoming UN General Assembly.

Cameron Diver

The interconnections and synergies between major issues of global concern and the key role multilateralism and international cooperation can play in helping tackle these challenges are illustrated by the agenda of the week from 23 to 27 September. Underpinned by the Sustainable Development Goals, each of the high-level summits will focus on commitments to accelerate action across climate change, enhance efforts to secure healthy, peaceful and prosperous lives for all, mobilise sufficient financing to realise the 2030 Agenda and address the specific issues and vulnerabilities of small island developing states.

The week of summits kicks off with a focus on climate action. And this is, in my mind, highly appropriate. The multiplier effect of climate change undermines our efforts to achieve the sustainable development goals, it increases the challenges of biodiversity conservation and sustainable use, it intensifies competition and the potential for conflict around natural resources and it poses the single greatest existential threat to the lives and livelihoods of millions of people around the globe. From where I stand, the science on climate change is clear. To take only these examples, the IPCC Special Reports on the impacts of global warming of 1.5° above pre-industrial levels and climate change, desertification, land degradation, sustainable land management, food security and greenhouse gas fluxes in terrestrial ecosystems provide us with the most robust, high quality evidence base to understand the significant negative impact climate change is already having on our natural environment, on the wellbeing of people, ecosystems, flora and fauna and the massive and potentially irreversible consequences of inaction. As regards our ocean, the upcoming Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate is likely to confirm what the islands of the Blue Pacific continent, and others whose cultures, traditions and livelihoods are deeply attached to the ocean, have already sensed: the climate crisis is a real and present threat to ocean and coastal ecosystems and the human communities that depend on them.

The stakes are high, but where there is a threat there is also an opportunity. If we act now, there is still have time effectively to tackle the climate crisis! To put it simply: ambition without action is insufficient and simply not an option. SPC is committed to working with our Member States, international and regional partners to translate climate ambition into tangible climate action, for both mitigation and adaptation. The benefits could be huge, with the Global Commission on Adaptation estimating that investing $1.8 trillion in climate adaptation globally in just five areas from 2020 to 2030 could generate $7.1 trillion in total net benefits. We are also convinced that we must collectively harness the synergies between, for example, climate and the ocean, biodiversity, health, security, economic development, food systems, land use, gender and many other development areas to fully exploit the potential of the SDGs and ensure that future pathways to sustainable development are integrated, inclusive, nature-friendly, climate-informed and resilient. SPC is already implementing this approach with its Members and partners. One illustration is our EU funded PROTEGE project, whose intended outcomes include a transition to sustainable integrated agriculture and sound forestry resource management; sustainable fisheries and aquaculture management that is integrated in and adapted to island economies; sustainable integrated water resource management; and invasive alien species control, all against a backdrop of climate-change hazards that require ecosystem and biodiversity protection, resilience and restoration.

As was recently remarked to me at the Green Climate Fund Global Programming Conference in Korea: “we already know what we must do. We need to stop talking and start doing”. It is my sincere hope that “Action Week” in New York will indeed be a turning point for “doing”; a catalyst for firm, measurable commitments to tangible actions that match the level of ambition already expressed to address the climate crisis and the multiple development challenges that remain as we approach the final decade of the 2030 Agenda. If we do not translate ambition into action, we will fail ourselves, we will fail future generations and we will fail our planet. If, however, we take up the challenge and take sustained, coordinated and integrated action, we can win the battle against climate change, create new and innovative opportunities for development, deliver on the promise of the Global Goals and trace a positive pathway to new era of resilient and sustainable development. High hopes indeed…

AfDB ‘s Solar Project Aims at Making Africa a Renewable Power House

Credit: AfDB

By Razeena Raheem
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 13 2019 – When UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres launched the International Solar Alliance last October, he applauded the goal of mobilizing about $1 trillion dollars towards the deployment of some 1,000 gigawatts of solar energy by 2030.

“It is clear,” he said, “that we are witnessing a global renewable energy revolution.”

That revolution is also taking place under the leadership of the African Development Bank (AfDB) which has embarked on a highly ambitious solar project to make Africa a renewable power-house, titled “Desert to Power (DtP) Initiative”.

This project is expected to stretch across the Sahel region by tapping into the region’s abundant solar resource.

The Initiative aims to develop and provide 10 GW of solar energy by 2025 and supply 250 million people with green electricity including in some of the world’s poorest countries. At least 90 million people will be connected to electricity for the first time, lifting them out of energy poverty.

Currently, 64% of the Sahel’s population – covering Senegal, Nigeria, Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Chad, Sudan, Ethiopia, Djibouti and Eritrea – lives without electricity, a major barrier to development, with consequences for education, health and business.

The AfDB has rightly pointed out that lack of energy remains a significant impediment to Africa’s economic and social development.

Initiated back in 2017 by the AfDB, the DtP has been described “a big and bold ambition: to light up and power the Sahel by building electricity generation capacity of 10 GW through photovoltaic (PV) solar systems via public, private, grid and off-grid projects by 2025, and consequently transform the industry, agriculture and economic fabric of the entire region”

The Yeleen Rural Electrification Project, involving the production of off-grid energy in Burkina Faso, is the first venture under the DtP initiative.

A low-income Sahelian country, Burkina Faso has been negatively impacted by extreme climate variations such as declining rainfall, rising temperatures, floods and droughts. With installed capacity of 285 MW, about 3 million households in Burkina Faso are completely without power.

Of Burkina Faso’s 19 million population, 90% live in rural areas, where electricity access – mostly through diesel generators – stands at just 3%. Agriculture, the mainstay of Burkina Faso’s rural economy, is also the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

The project is financed through the Bank’s African Development Fund, in addition to co-financing mobilised by the Bank from the Green Climate Fund (GCF), and the European Union. The project will also leverage private sector investments through equity and debt raised from commercial banks.

It will harness solar energy to deliver access to more than 900,000 people in rural areas – nearly 5% of the country’s population, and is expected to result in an average annual CO2 emissions reduction of 15,500 tons.

Meanwhile, Guterres said that renewable energy accounted for some 70 per cent of net additions to global power capacity in 2017.

Solar energy is at the centre of this revolution, he declared

“We need to rapidly shift away from our dependence on fossil fuels,” he said. “We need to replace them with clean energy from water, wind and sun. We must halt deforestation, restore degraded forests and change the way we farm.”

The alternative to moving to green energy, he said, “is a dark and dangerous future”.

According to AfDB, energy poverty in Africa is estimated to cost the continent 2-4 % GDP annually. The details of the “Desert to Power Initiative” were outlined as part of the Paris Agreement climate change talks at COP24 in Katowice, Poland.

“Energy is the foundation of human living – our entire system depends on it. For Africa right now, providing and securing sustainable energy is in the backbone of its economic growth,” said Magdalena J. Seol in the AfDB’s Desert to Power Initiative.

“A lack of energy remains as a significant impediment to Africa’s economic and social development. The project will provide many benefits to local people. It will improve the affordability of electricity for low income households and enable people to transition away from unsafe and hazardous energy sources, such as kerosene, which carry health risks,” added Seol.

Construction of the project will also create jobs and help attract private sector involvement in renewable energy in the region.

Putting the problem in its right perspective, Guterres said in the past decade, prices for renewables have plummeted and investments are on the rise. “Today, a fifth of the world’s electricity is produced by renewable energy. We must build on this.”

He said the world is seeing a groundswell of climate action.

“It is clear that clean energy makes climate sense. But it also makes economic sense. Today it is the cheapest energy. And it will deliver significant health benefits. Air pollution affects nearly all of us, regardless of borders.”

The Secretary-General encouraged businesses, governments and civil society organizations to disclose climate risk, divest from fossil fuels and forge partnerships that will invest in low-emissions resilient infrastructure.

“We need to do this from the biggest cities to the smallest towns. The opportunities are tremendous.” He said some 75 per cent of the infrastructure needed by 2050 still remains to be built.

“How this is done will either lock us in to a high emission future or steer us towards truly sustainable low-emissions development. There is only one rational choice.”

According to AfDB, many women-led businesses currently face bigger barriers than men-led enterprises to accessing grid electricity – so the project has the potential to increase female participation in economic activities and decision-making processes.

The project has been launched in collaboration with the Green Climate Fund, a global pot of money created by the 194 countries who are party to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), to support developing countries adapt to and mitigate climate change. The program is designed to combine private sector capital with blended finance.

“If you look at the countries that this initiative supports, they’re the ones who are very much affected by the climate change and carbon emissions from other parts of the world,” said Seol.

“Given this, the investments will have a greater effect in these regions, which have a greater demand and market opportunity in the energy sector.”

“Women are usually disproportionately negatively affected by energy access issues. Providing a secure and sustainable electricity creates positive impact on gender issue as well.”

The African continent holds 15% of the world’s population, yet is poised to shoulder nearly 50% of the estimated global climate change adaptation costs, according to the Bank.

These costs are expected to cut across health, water supply, agriculture, and forestry, despite the continent’s minimal contribution to global emissions.

However, the International Renewable Energy Agency (IREA) estimates that Africa’s renewable energy potential could put it at the forefront of green energy production globally.

It is estimated to have an almost unlimited potential of solar capacity (10 TW), abundant hydro (350 GW), wind (110 GW), and geothermal energy sources (15 GW) – and a potential overall renewable energy capacity of 310 GW by 2030.

Other renewables projects in Africa include The Ouarzazate solar complex in Morocco, which is one of the largest concentrated solar plants in the world.

It has produced over 814 GWh of clean energy since 2016 and last year, the solar plant prevented 217,000 tons of CO2 being emitted. Until recently, Morocco sourced 95% of its energy needs from external sources.

In South Africa, the Bank and its partner, the Climate Investment Funds, have helped fund the Sere Wind Farm – 46 turbines supplying 100 MW to the national power grid and expected to save 6 million tonnes of greenhouse gases over its 20-year expected life span. It is supplying 124,000 homes.

COP24 is the 24th conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). This year countries are preparing to implement the Paris Agreement, which aims to limit the world’s global warming to no more than 2C.