The Hotting-Up of the Sino-American Spat: Most Dangerous Side-Effect of Covid-19?

By Dr. Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury
Singapore, May 18 2020 – When the United States and China signed the First-Phase of their Trade Agreement in January this year, President Donald Trump called it a “momentous step”, and the world believed they had stepped back from a dangerous brink. But, alas, to cite an idiom that is so current today, it was but a ‘false positive’. As the globe reels from the surgoing COVID-19 pandemic, it is possible that the rapid deterioration of US-China relationship can become one of the worst side-effects of this raging virus.

Dr. Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury

In this election year, things had looked good for Trump in January. His domestic support base was solid. The economy was doing well, The Democrats were on a bit of a disarray. Trump had lowered the temperature in relations with North Korea. Now, with the deal with China, his re-election seemed a shoo-in. Then came the pandemic. The US economy took a nose-dive. Unemployment soared, Anxious to return to early normalcy, the While House took measures that deepened confusion. One way out for Trumps was to assume the role of a wartime-President. An enemy was needed. Initially, it was the ‘virus’, but it was too invisible’ to be useful. Something more tangible was required, China fitted the bill.

What made it easier was that as the pandemic spread many in the world did not see China as quite the Caesar’s wife. It was accused of concealing some critical early developments with regard to it. The pathogen first spread from Wuhan in China. The prevalent political system aided suppression of some facts. This was a cause for umbrage to many, including the Europeans who suffered greatly. But the Europeans had no reason to politicize it. To many analysts, Trump and his team did. It would help rally their cohorts. Furthermore, for a variety of reasons, China’s popularity in the US was low. And, of course, there could be nothing unfair in love and war.

So, Trump and the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo led a chorus of anti-Chinese tirade. They accused China of hiding the enormity of the virus threat. They also alleged, without seeing the need to produce evidence. that the pathogen originated in a Wuhan laboratory. The Chinese originally responded that these things were better left to scientists than to “Politicians who lie for their own domestic political ends”. Later they issued a lengthy rebuttal of what they said were “ preposterous allegations” by some leading US politicians. To make it appealing to ordinary Americans, the Chinese, rather adroitly began their briefings on the 30-page 11000-word article by invoking the American Republican hero, President Abraham Lincoln.

Lashing out at the World Health Organization which had been generous in its praise of China’s handling of the Corona crisis. Trump withdrew its funding calling it a “Puppet of China”. Thereafter, the US sent a missive to 60 countries asking for support for Taiwan’s participation in the organization, to broaden all efforts to fight the pandemic (Taiwan is being praised as a success-story in this regard). At the same time, the US stopped a draft-text from being voted upon in the United Nations Secretary Council calling for a ‘cease-fire’’ in various global conflicts to help troubled countries to better combat the COVID.

Because of the situation, China was running far behind the pace needed to meet the first year’s goal of purchase of American goods, which was to have been a US$ 77 billion increase over 2017 levels according to the January phase One deal. The Chinese asked for renegotiation. Trump has declared he was ‘not interested’. He accused his predecessors in the White House for alluring China to ‘take advantage of the US for many many years doubtless in livid rage at former President Barrack Obama’s recent criticism of his handling the current crisis. Not only that. There are now hints that Trump may default paying the US$ 1.08 trillion debt owed to China, and even seize the latter’s assets! Thus would have a huge impact on the global market economy and the US-China economic relations would lie in tatters!

On the military front the clouds are also darkening. A guided-missile American destroyer “USS Barry” passed through the Taiwan strait twice in April, Another US naval vessel, the “USS America recently conducted exercise in the East China Seas and the South China sea. In March, Trump signed into law the Taiwan Allies International Protection and Enhancement Initiative Act, following which the Chinese Media warned Taiwan against its allowing the US to town the island into a powder keg.

China has its own legislation about Taiwan. The anti-secession law passed by China’s Parliament in 2005 mandates Beijing to declare war if Taiwan formally declares independence. Taiwan therefore, maintains the most studious “red-line” on China’s foreign and security policy.

In all fairness, the US security establishment recognizes that. Hopefully, the US institutional mechanism can restrain the onslaught of a war for overt political gains of one segment of the polity that could devastate the entire nation. At the same time the Chinese would. it is assumed, have the good sense not to self-destruct themselves by initiating something drastic and foolish like seeking to attack Taiwan with the US engrossed in battling the virus. Both sides, the Americans and the Chinese, have recently been relentlessly citing the Greek historian Thucydides, who warned against miscalculations leading to when he observed “when Athens grew strong, there was great fear in Sparta”. Let us hope both sides, the Americans and the Chinese, pay heed to their own perceived forebodings!

Dr Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury is Principal Research Fellow at ISAS, National University of Singapore, former Foreign Advisor and President of Cosmos Foundation Bangladesh.

This story was originally published by Dhaka Courier.

 


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Coronavirus Leads to Nosedive in Remittances in Latin America

Remittances now account for an important portion of GDP in Latin America and the Caribbean and support millions of families, so the drop in this source of income is shaking the economies of many countries and deepening poverty in the region. CREDIT: World Bank

Remittances now account for an important portion of GDP in Latin America and the Caribbean and support millions of families, so the drop in this source of income is shaking the economies of many countries and deepening poverty in the region. CREDIT: World Bank

By Humberto Márquez
CARACAS, May 18 2020 – Remittances that support millions of households in Latin America and the Caribbean have plunged as family members lose jobs and income in their host countries, with entire families sliding back into poverty, as a result of the COVID-19 health crisis and global economic recession.

The region will receive a projected 77.5 billion dollars in remittances this year, 19.3 percent less than the 96 billion dollars it received in 2019, according to provisional forecasts by the World Bank.

The damage “can be understood from the angle of consumption. Six million households, of the 30 million that receive remittances, will not have them this year, and another eight million will lose at least one month of that income,” expert Manuel Orozco told IPS from Washington, D.C.

Remittances in the region average 212 dollars per month, according to studies by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB).

Remittances “represent 50 percent of the total income of the households that receive money from family members abroad, and increase their savings capacity to more than double that of the average population,” said Orozco, who heads the migration, remittances and development programme at the Inter-American Dialogue organisation.

“The projected fall, which would be the sharpest decline in recent history, is largely due to a fall in the wages and employment of migrant workers, who tend to be more vulnerable to loss of employment and wages during an economic crisis in a host country,” the World Bank stated in a report.

The cause of this was the shutdown of entire segments of economic activity in an attempt to curb the spread of the COVID-19 virus, which deprived migrants of their sources of employment and income, thus undermining their ability to send money back home to their families.

This is a global phenomenon, with remittances falling by at least 19.7 percent to 445 billion dollars in low- and middle-income countries as a whole: dropping by 23 percent in sub-Saharan Africa, 22 percent in South Asia, 19.6 percent in the Middle East and North Africa, and 13 percent in East Asia and the Pacific.

Remittances “are a vital source of income for developing countries,” World Bank Group President David Malpass said Apr. 22, noting their role in alleviating poverty, improving nutrition, increasing spending on education and reducing child labour in disadvantaged households.

Alicia Bárcena, executive secretary of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), listed the drop in remittances among the factors that will depress the region’s economy to an unprecedented level, -5.3 percent, with the risk of poverty climbing from 186 million to 214 million inhabitants: 33 percent of the total population.

An empty money transfer office in Las Vegas, Nevada, which is usually packed with migrants sending remittances home from the U.S. to their families in Central America. The city, dedicated to leisure and tourism, has been paralysed by the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving thousands of migrant workers without employment or income. CREDIT: Western Union - Remittances that support millions of households in Latin America and the Caribbean have plunged as family members lose jobs and income in their host countries

An empty money transfer office in Las Vegas, Nevada, which is usually packed with migrants sending remittances home from the U.S. to their families in Central America. The city, dedicated to leisure and tourism, has been paralysed by the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving thousands of migrant workers without employment or income. CREDIT: Western Union

Anxiety from the north

The countries that will be hardest hit are those of Central America and Haiti, according to Bárcena. Remittances make up between 30 and 39 percent of Haiti’s gross domestic product (GDP), and last year accounted for 21.8 percent of Honduras’ GDP, 21.2 percent of El Salvador’s and 13.8 percent of Guatemala’s.

“We’re talking about fragile states, with collapsed health systems, weak or corrupt governments, and budgets that were already insufficient to meet people’s needs and are worse off now,” Victoria Gass of the U.S. division of Oxfam’s anti-poverty coalition told IPS from New York.

Orozco stressed that it will affect the consumption capacity of 20 percent of Central Americans, who will be forced to use their savings, on average a quarter of all remittances, for immediate expenses such as buying food and medicine.

In El Salvador, for example, Gabriela Pleitez, 35, who lives in the capital, no longer receives the 200 dollars a month sent to her by her mother, a dental assistant, and her brother, a taxi driver, who live in Los Angeles, California and found themselves suddenly unemployed.

Gabriela completed the 400 dollars she needed to get by with unsteady work as a real estate agent or by selling clothes and beauty products. Now she takes in some money as an assistant at a stand that sells traditional foods.

“I don’t buy bread anymore, and I’m eating less. If you manage to get 10 dollars you have to think carefully what to spend it on. If I don’t pay the water bill, they will cut it off. My landlord won’t charge me rent for three months, in accordance with a government decree, but then he will want me to leave,” she told IPS.

Another Salvadoran, Rosa Ramírez, a 56-year-old mother and grandmother still in charge of an adult daughter and four children, said the pandemic dealt her small flower arrangement business a death blow. “The situation was difficult before, and now, with homes and businesses closed, I’m out of work,” the resident of Zacatecoluca, in the central department of La Paz, told IPS.

Young Latin Americans migrate in search of opportunities and older family members are dependent on their support through remittances to cover essential expenses such as food and medicine. CREDIT: IFAD - Remittances that support millions of households in Latin America and the Caribbean have plunged as family members lose jobs and income in their host countries

Young Latin Americans migrate in search of opportunities and older family members are dependent on their support through remittances to cover essential expenses such as food and medicine. CREDIT: IFAD

Her lifeline is her son Luis, 27, who found a job in 2018 as a carpenter in Stafford, Virginia, in the U.S. southeast, after fleeing from gangs who demanded he make payments to keep them from attacking his then three-year-old daughter.

Luis used to send her between 350 and 400 dollars a month “to pay bills, the rent, and medicine, because I’ve had high blood pressure for years and I can’t go without my medicine,” Rosa said. But now her son has only sent her half that because “he is working fewer hours, one day he gets a job and the next he doesn’t.”

Rosa’s daughter received a temporary 300 dollar aid package provided by the government for the most vulnerable, and was able to cover basic expenses. But Rosa is now anxious about how she will make ends meet. Her daughter, Gabriela, would like to emigrate to the United States, but she has been told that the legal process could take eight years.

Another hard-hit country is Mexico, where 42 percent of the population of 130 million lives in poverty. In 2019, 36 billion dollars in remittances came in, mostly from the 37 million people of Mexican origin living in the United States.

Seven million households received remittances in 2019, but this year 1.7 million of those households will not receive them, Orozco calculated, due to the wave of unemployment that is hitting the U.S.

Intra-regional migration in the South

South America has a more even spread of migration that provides it with remittances, between North America, Spain and other European countries, and the sub-region itself, greatly increased by the millions of Venezuelans who fled to neighbouring countries in the last six years due to the economic, political and humanitarian calamity in their country.

This is the case, for example, of 26-year-old Laura (who preferred not to give her last name), who works in a veterinary clinic in Lima, “which has practically been left without clients due to the lockdown ordered by the Peruvian government. My husband, who used to do various jobs, is not bringing in an income either,” she told IPS from the Peruvian capital.

Poverty in Latin America and the Caribbean will rise with the fall in economic activity, the largest seen in the region in almost a century, and this time there will be little relief from remittances because the COVID-19 pandemic has also sunk the economies of host countries. CREDIT: UNDP

Poverty in Latin America and the Caribbean will rise with the fall in economic activity, the largest seen in the region in almost a century, and this time there will be little relief from remittances because the COVID-19 pandemic has also sunk the economies of host countries. CREDIT: UNDP

Laura regularly sent 100 dollars a month to her mother, a widow raising two teenage children on the meager salary (equivalent to five dollars a month) of a school teacher in Barquisimeto, a city in central-western Venezuela.

With each remittance, her mother “could buy some medicine, some meat, milk and eggs to complete the CLAP (the acronym for the bag of basic foodstuffs that the government delivers monthly at subsidised prices to poor families), but now I can’t send her almost anything, we’re just trying to scrape by in Lima,” said Laura.

Of the Venezuelans working in Peru, 46 percent were street vendors, 15 percent were employed in shops and six percent worked in restaurants – activities that have all faced restrictions in the COVID-19 pandemic, according to research by Cécile Blouin of the Pontifical Catholic University in Lima.

In the last five years, 1.6 million Venezuelans have migrated to Colombia, 880,000 to Peru, 385,000 to Ecuador, 370,000 to Chile, 250,000 to Brazil and 145,000 to Argentina, according to a platform of United Nations agencies and NGOs monitoring the phenomenon.

The Venezuelan diaspora was added to more traditional migration flows, such as that of Paraguayans in Argentina: 550,000 migrants who sent home some 70 million dollars in 2019, a figure that was already declining due to exchange controls in Buenos Aires.

One third of the 1.3 billion dollars that Bolivia received in remittances in 2019 came from Bolivian migrants in Argentina, Brazil and Chile, but the figure has dropped since March with the measures put in place in the attempt to contain the spread of COVID-19.

In Peru, which has three million citizens living abroad, a quarter of the 3.3 billion dollars the country received in remittances in 2019 came from the 350,000 Peruvians living in Argentina and the 250,000 in Chile.

Until this global upheaval, remittances were counter-cyclical: workers sent more money to their families when their home countries were experiencing crisis and hardship, which this time they have not been able to do because the pandemic and recession have affected all countries.

But there is some hope for the future. According to the International Monetary Fund, after falling -3.0 percent in 2020, the world economy will grow 5.8 percent in 2021 (Latin America 3.4 percent) and remittances will also increase at a similar rate. In low- and middle-income countries they will total 470 billion dollars.

But for millions of Latin American families, like those of Gabriela and Rosa in El Salvador or Laura in Venezuela, that’s too long a wait.

With reporting from Edgardo Ayala in San Salvador.

Forced Marriage, Organ Trafficking Rife in Asia Pacific – Part 2

A trafficked survivor reunites with family in Vietnam. Courtesy: Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation

A trafficked survivor reunites with family in Vietnam. Courtesy: Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation

By Neena Bhandari
SYDNEY, Australia, May 18 2020 – A single mother, Mai (name changed) had the responsibility of providing for her young son and grandparents, who had brought her up in a poor rural province in southern Vietnam’s Mekong Delta. While she was looking for employment, somebody approached her on social media with an offer of a high-paying job in China. When she arrived in China, she was sold into a forced marriage.

For two months, Mai suffered violence and beatings from her ‘husband’, who kept her locked in the house. When she tried to fight back, the ‘husband’ sold her to another man seeking a wife. She was forced to have sex as the family wanted a child. When she became pregnant, she was given some freedom and allowed to work in a nearby shoe factory. Desperate to escape this forced marriage and modern slavery, she managed to connect online with a Vietnamese man, who referred her to Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation, an Australian charity working in Vietnam.

  • A forced marriage is when a person is married without freely and fully consenting because of either coercion, threat or deception.
  • The Asia Pacific region predominates in the numbers of victims of modern slavery. The region had 55 percent of the victims of forced marriage worldwide.
  • Sexual exploitation was also rife in the region with more than seven in 10 victims worldwide, according to the 2017 Global Estimates of Modern Slavery.

Mai is amongst a small number of fortunate women, who were able to seek help and be rescued. She returned to Vietnam in December 2018, and after the police were able to arrest her trafficker, she was reunited with her family.

“I have been able to rebuild my life with Blue Dragon’s support. Recently, I have completed hospitality training and have a part-time job in a city café. I can save some money to send to my grandparents, who are nurturing my children,” Mai told IPS through a social worker. 

Her experience resonates with many young Vietnamese women, who are tricked and trafficked into sexual slavery. Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation rescues 110 to 130 women each year. Its co-CEO Skye Maconachie told IPS, “Once rescued and returned to Vietnam, their family situation usually hasn’t changed and they are still impoverished and vulnerable to being re-trafficked or exploited. Our teams provide emotional, psychological, basic living and legal support as they work with each survivor to help them learn skills and get employment.”

While survivors seek normalcy on first returning home, Maconachie said, “It is not until later in their recovery that the trauma they have experienced emerges and impacts them with flashbacks, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, low self-esteem, fear and distrust.”

Nepali girls dancing. The Asia and Pacific region predominates in the numbers of victims of modern slavery. The region had 55 percent of the victims of forced marriage worldwide. Credit Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

Walk Free’s Senior Research Analyst, Elise Gordon told IPS, “Our research has indicated that traditional views of the role of women, girls and children could be contributing to increased vulnerability to forced and underage marriage, forced sexual exploitation, and commercial sexual exploitation of children in the Asia Pacific region.”

Trafficking contravenes fundamental human rights and freedoms. As Australian Red Cross’ National Coordinator for Trafficked People Program, Sally Chapman told IPS, “We are concerned that people who have been trafficked may be subject to various forms of physical, sexual and emotional violence. They are often afraid of arrest, detention and deportation; don’t trust authorities, and can also be discriminated against throughout any referral and support processes. The impact can be significant and include permanent control and/or monitoring of their movement, fear of physical retaliation, death, or reprisal against or harm to their loved ones.”

The Australian Red Cross last year provided assistance with essential items, such as food, toiletries and clothes while addressing accommodation, health and wellbeing needs to individuals identifying as being from 48 different countries.

Chapman cautioned, “During disasters and crises, people can be displaced from their homes, separated from their family members, school and employment can be interrupted, and systems of social support and law and order can break down. These factors can exacerbate the risk of trafficking, particularly for women and girls. The humanitarian impact of climate change and extreme weather events is likely to increase trafficking and forms of exploitation and slavery.”

The Australian Red Cross works to raise awareness in communities so that the general public, service providers and authorities can reduce risks; recognise the signs of exploitation, trafficking, slavery; be able to respond safely; and refer someone for help and support.  

  • The hidden nature of exploitation makes it difficult to ascertain the extent of victimisation in Australia, which is primarily a destination country for people trafficked from Asia, particularly Thailand, Korea, the Philippines, Malaysia and Pacific Island countries.
  • Recent research by the Australian Institute of Criminology (2019) estimated that only one in four victims are detected. This means that human trafficking and modern slavery victims in Australia ranged between 1,300 and 1,900 in 2015–2017.
  • Modern Slavery trends vary widely across the Asia Pacific region and men, women and children are exploited for various reasons – slavery, human trafficking, slavery-like practices such as servitude, forced labour, debt bondage, forced marriage or organ harvesting.

As Jenny Stanger, Executive Manager of the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney’s Anti-Slavery Taskforce told IPS, “Awareness about trafficking and slavery outside the sex industry has grown only in the last decade. Human trafficking for organ removal poses new challenges. There is a global shortage of organs and there are a lot of vulnerable people who might be willing to sell their organs. There is also mounting evidence that prisoners in China are forcibly having their organs harvested for profit”.

Global Financial Integrity (GFI) estimates that 10 percent of all organ transplants including lungs, heart and liver, are done via trafficked organs. The most prominent organ traded illicitly is the kidney. The World Health Organisation estimated that 10,000 kidneys are traded on the black market worldwide annually, or more than one every hour.

Stanger, who has worked as a case manager and advocate for survivors of trafficking and slavery for over two decades, relates the story of a Filipino woman, who was approached by an Australian couple visiting the Philippines. They were looking for a kidney donor and they offered the woman money and permanent residency in Australia if she were to donate a kidney to their dying family member. The woman was advised by her own community that this was a good opportunity for her, so she agreed.

After arriving in Australia, she was treated poorly and forced to clean and cook for the dying recipient and her husband. By chance the woman disclosed the complete nature of the arrangement to a health worker in the hospital where the transplant was to take place and that person contacted Stanger for assistance. The kidney transplant did not take place and the recipient eventually died.

“In the end, the government response to human trafficking recognised the Filipino woman as a human trafficking victim. She was able to stay in Australia after she chose to cooperate with the Australian Federal Police in an investigation that was unable to be prosecuted. This failure changed Australian law forever because, at the time, the Commonwealth Criminal Code did have an offence to adequately address organ trafficking.  A new ‘organ trafficking’ offence was enacted in 2013,” Stanger explained.

  • It is estimated that the illegal organ trade conservatively generates approximately $840 million to $1.7 billion annually, according to GFI, a Washington DC-based think tank, that provides analyses of illicit financial flows.
  • In 2015, Australia legislated to make clear that that slavery offences have universal jurisdiction; it amended the Criminal Code to increase the penalties for forced marriage from four years to seven years’ imprisonment for a base offence, and from seven to nine years’ imprisonment for an aggravated offence.
  • The ASEAN-Australia Counter-Trafficking Initiative, launched in August 2019 to fight human trafficking, modern slavery and forced labour, is a 10-year programme that will work to strengthen criminal justice responses and protect victim rights in the region.
  • The Global Sustainability Network ( GSN ), which actively supports the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goal 8 of decent work and economic growth, has focused much of its work on eliminating modern slavery.

“COVID 19 has demonstrated that when the whole world decides to take action to address a critical issue, change is possible. I hope that one day our leaders will truly recognise the tragedy of modern slavery and find the political will to make freedom from modern slavery a reality for everyone, ” Stanger added.

 

This is part of a series of features from across the globe on human trafficking. IPS coverage is supported by the Airways Aviation Group.

The Global Sustainability Network ( GSN ) is pursuing the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal number 8 with a special emphasis on Goal 8.7 which ‘takes immediate and effective measures to eradicate forced labour, end modern slavery and human trafficking and secure the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labour, including recruitment and use of child soldiers, and by 2025 end child labour in all its forms’.

The origins of the GSN come from the endeavours of the Joint Declaration of Religious Leaders signed on 2 December 2014. Religious leaders of various faiths, gathered to work together “to defend the dignity and freedom of the human being against the extreme forms of the globalisation of indifference, such us exploitation, forced labour, prostitution, human trafficking” and so forth.

 


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United States Leads the World in Covid-19 Deaths

By Joseph Chamie
NEW YORK, May 18 2020 – It’s an indisputable fact: the United States leads the world in the number of Covid-19 deaths. As of 15 May, three months after the country’s first confirmed coronavirus death, the US death toll from the pandemic has reached a remarkable 88,000 deaths. That rising figure is more than double the number of coronavirus deaths of the next highest country, the United Kingdom at 34,000 deaths.

The pandemic is still in its early stages and many fear the worst is yet to come. Today’s coronavirus mortality picture will no doubt change over time, continuing to evolve and remaining a long-term threat, as the coronavirus spreads death and suffering to populations across the planet.

Among the world’s ten most populous countries, representing 58 per cent of the world’s population, a strong correlation exists between population size and the total number of annual deaths from all causes.

China and India, for example, represent 18 percent of the world’s population and about 18 percent of the world’s total number of annual deaths. Similarly, the United States population is 4 percent of the world’s population and has about 5 percent of the world’s annual number of deaths

However, the distribution of deaths from the coronavirus pandemic differs greatly from the distribution of the world’s total annual deaths. Whereas the US accounts for 5 percent of the world’s number of annual deaths, the country now has 29 percent of the world’s total Covid-19 deaths. In contrast, China, which accounts for 18 percent of the world’s total number of annual deaths, now has about 2 percent of the world’s total Covid-19 deaths (Figure 1).

 

Source: United Nations Population Division for population size and annual numbers of deaths; Worldometer for Covid-19 deaths as of 15 May 2020.

Source: United Nations Population Division for population size and annual numbers of deaths; Worldometer for Covid-19 deaths as of 15 May 2020.

 

If Covid-19 deaths were distributed proportionate to a country’s share of world total annual deaths, a very different picture would emerge. The United States death toll from the pandemic would plummet to a fraction of its current level, from 88,000 to 15,000 and China’s coronavirus deaths would be many times larger than its current level, from 4,600 to 55,000.

If the coronavirus had first emerged in New York City rather than Wuhan, then perhaps one might expect the United States to have experienced a disproportionate share of all pandemic deaths. However, the virus first appeared in China and that country has a comparatively low number of Covid-19 deaths.

So what then is the likely explanation for why America leads the world in Covid-19 deaths?

The high numbers of American Covid-19 deaths appear basically to be the result of Washington’s peculiar response to the pandemic. That response differs markedly from those of countries that have achieved relatively low numbers and rates of coronavirus deaths

Some observers have chosen to dismiss this question at the outset by discrediting and denying the statistics relating to the pandemic. Those data, they maintain, are unreliable and should be ignored.

Cause of death data, they contend, are flawed with deaths, especially of the elderly, coming from other causes that are often attributed to Covid-19 and at other times Covid-19 deaths are mistakenly attributed to other deaths or missed entirely. Also, they believe that political considerations are greatly influencing the reported numbers of Covid-19 deaths.

Most observers recognize the statistical shortcomings of pandemic mortality data and believe that the reported numbers are likely to be undercounts of coronavirus deaths. However, they do not find the statistical limitations sufficiently compelling to explain away why the United States leads the world in coronavirus deaths.

The high numbers of American Covid-19 deaths appear basically to be the result of Washington’s peculiar response to the pandemic. That response differs markedly from those of countries that have achieved relatively low numbers and rates of coronavirus deaths.

At the start of the year, the Washington response began by dismissing early warnings, denials of likely trends and eschewing expert advice regarding the expected staggering consequences of a pandemic. It was followed by assurances by the American president that every thing was under control, the country was in far better shape than other countries, claims minimizing the impact of the coronavirus, including it is not as perilous as seasonal flu, predictions of an early resolution and a vaccine by the year’s end.

This initial phase of the White House response was later followed by the politicization of the pandemic and its reported consequences. Health, medical and mortality concerns and recommendations to address the pandemic became highly divisive partisan issues.

The pandemic turned to a political battle of “us vs. them”. Some declared that the pandemic was being used as a new hoax to bludgeon the president.

Angry protests, some armed military-style, and threats of violence erupted across the country against recommended pandemic mitigation guidelines, including shutdowns, shelter-in-place, quarantines, testing, social distancing and face masking. This was further complicated by rising distrust and growing resentment that were worsened by conflicting messages coming out of Washington and many state capitals.

When the global pandemic was declared on 11 March 2020, the number of American deaths was relatively small, slightly below 40. However, the number of Covid-19 deaths grew rapidly, reaching 4,000 by 30 March, 40,000 by 19 April and 80,000 by 9 May (Figure 2).

 

Estimated and projected total Covid-19 deaths in the United States: 2020 (as of 15 May 2020)

Source: Estimates from Worldometer and projections by author.

 

Further complicating matters, the 88,000 coronavirus deaths have been unevenly distributed across the American population. Covid-19 has disproportionately hit the poor, low-income workers, minority communities and elderly men.

Many have called for dramatic and speedy changes in the government’s strategies, programs, health infrastructure, finances, testing, contact tracing, case isolation and surveillance to confront the continuing spread of the coronavirus. In their view, the government’s policies and programs to confront the pandemic, which is considered far from contained, have been plagued by incompetence, callousness, duplicity, disorganization and unpreparedness.

Others consider the calls for changes in strategies and programs as unjustified attacks aimed at undermining the current Administration for purposes of political gain, especially with the presidential election on the horizon. Media and other inquiries questioning the merits of Washington’s response to the pandemic and challenging the president’s claims of achievements and successes are often viewed as nasty and reflections of personal contempt for the country’s head of state.

While America leads the world with Covid-19 deaths, it does not lead the world in the Covid-19 death rate. To date, approximately eight European countries have higher rates than the United States. For example, the coronavirus death rate of Italy and Spain is double the rate of the United States.

However, many countries have achieved Covid-19 fatality rates that are a fraction of America’s rate. In Germany and Japan, for example, the Covid-19 death rates per million population are 96 and 6, respectively, versus 268 in the United States. Other countries with low coronavirus death rates include: Australia, Austria, Denmark, Finland, Israel, Hungary, Mexico, Nigeria, Norway, Poland, Singapore and South Korea.

The total number of coronavirus deaths in the United States will soon hit 100,000, eventually exceeding 200,000 and is projected to reach more than 3,000 deaths each day by early June 2020. The American president has said that those numbers of death indicate that the government’s response to the pandemic has been successful and he’s done a good job.

As stated at the outset: America leads the world in Covid-19 deaths. Before continuing to advance unfounded, self-congratulatory claims, especially well before the pandemic’s spread is contained, the government in Washington may wish to review and consider adopting, as appropriate, some of the policies and programs of countries that have been considerably more successful than the United States in reducing the pandemic’s deadly toll.

In doing so, the Administration should rely more heavily on scientific advice and knowledge-based guidance from medical and public health experts as a foundation for the government’s overall pandemic policies. That reliance would greatly contribute to developing a vital strategy needed to avoid a feared calamitous resurgence of coronavirus deaths, suffering and grief in the coming months that would also in turn set back efforts for social and economic recovery.

 

Joseph Chamie is an independent consulting demographer and a former director of the United Nations Population Division.

 

LogicMonitor Adds Blue Turtle Technologies to Global Partner Network

SANTA BARBARA, Calif., May 18, 2020 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — LogicMonitor, the leading cloud–based IT infrastructure monitoring and intelligence platform for modern enterprises, today announced its partnership with Blue Turtle Technologies, South Africa's leading enterprise technology management company. Blue Turtle joins a select group of the world's best resellers, systems integrators, Managed Service Providers and technology integrators in the LogicMonitor Partner Network.

"We are delighted to welcome Blue Turtle onboard as a LogicMonitor reseller for the Sub–Saharan Africa region. Our decision to partner with Blue Turtle was driven by their world–class expertise in IT infrastructure and business service management," said Sanjay Gupta, Global Vice President of Channels & Alliances at LogicMonitor. "Our partners are absolutely essential to LogicMonitor's global expansion, and the combination of their local expertise and coverage alongside our market–leading cloud–based hybrid infrastructure monitoring intelligence platform will ensure Blue Turtle's continued success and growth."

Blue Turtle offers enterprise IT infrastructure and business service management solutions by leveraging best–in–class software products from leading international providers. This partnership reflects LogicMonitor's commitment to delivering the best platform to complement Blue Turtle's portfolio of services, addressing the booming $47 billion market for IT infrastructure products for the cloud.

"LogicMonitor's platform is the perfect tool for managing hybrid IT environments," says Andrew Parsons, Solution Specialist at Blue Turtle. "Its fully automated and full–stack solutions monitor every aspect of your infrastructure through a single platform, using simplified deployment and operation. With advanced correlation, behaviour–based monitoring and forecasting, the platform is not only a monitoring tool, but an optimisation one, too."

To capitalize on significant recurring revenue, LogicMonitor partners can build, integrate, resell and implement its cloud–based platform to effectively monitor hybrid IT environments with end–to–end visibility of applications and services. LogicMonitor's program delivers sales and marketing collaboration, training and certification programs, dedicated partner managers, competitive portfolio differentiation, accelerated onboarding and automated deal registration.

For more information about the LogicMonitor Partner Network or becoming a LogicMonitor partner, please visit www.logicmonitor.com/partners.

About LogicMonitor

Monitoring unlocks new pathways to growth. At LogicMonitor , we expand what's possible for businesses by advancing the technology behind them. LogicMonitor seamlessly monitors infrastructures, empowering companies to focus less on problem–solving and more on evolution. We help customers turn on a complete view in minutes, turn the dial from optimization to innovation and turn the corner from sight to vision. For more information, visit www.logicmonitor.com.

LogicMonitor Contact:
Anna Lindsey
LogicMonitor
Tel: (805) 323–3901
Email: anna.lindsey@logicmonitor.com

About Blue Turtle Technologies
Blue Turtle Technologies provides solutions for optimising, enhancing and leveraging existing IT investment, and supporting the cost–effective delivery of new technology initiatives. With experience from mainframe to desktop, Blue Turtle delivers solutions for the effective management of IT infrastructures employing innovative software products, backed by "best–practice' implementation services. Blue Turtle's strategy leverages "best–in–class' software products brought together from leading international and South African software providers to deliver compelling and cost–effective technology management solutions to customers. For more information, visit www.blueturtle.co.za or info@blueturtle.co.za.

Blue Turtle Contact:
Samantha Griffiths
(+27) 11 206 5600
samanthag@blueturtle.co.za

South Africa Must Respond – & Lead– on COVID-19 & SDGs

Secretary-General António Guterres poses for a group photo with the members of the Global Investors for Sustainable Development Alliance. Credit: Mark Garten / United Nations

By Leila Fourie and Fani Titi
JOHANNESBURG, South Africa, May 18 2020 – Sitting on the southern tip of Africa during a time of social distancing, while the entire planet fights Covid-19, we cannot help but reflect on how vulnerable our country is to this scourge.

The pandemic has highlighted the underlying inequalities in our society. More than half of South Africa’s population lack access to piped water in their homes – never mind electricity or safe sanitation. We lack adequate medical facilities and the basics required to fight a contagious disease of this magnitude.

Never has the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development been more relevant, more critical or more urgent.

The 2030 Agenda sets out a vision for a future for the planet and its people in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It matters to all spheres of society and requires inclusive and sustainable economic development.

This is vital for South Africa, which has one of the highest Gini coefficients in the world, severe poverty and rising unemployment. The COVID-19 lockdown exposes the deeply unequal nature of our society. A person from the affluent suburb of Sandton has very different health and livelihood challenges from one in the neighbouring, densely populated Alexandra township.

In this, we are not unique. Frankly, if the world had had a higher level of commitment to achieving the SDGs, this pandemic’s impact would not have been so severe. Investments in better health systems and reducing inequality would have helped tremendously in dealing with the pandemic and its socioeconomic consequences.

But there is hope. We see in public and private sector alike a renewed consciousness and a willingness to respond. This is the time for leaders to step up and take bold action.

South Africa is vulnerable as an emerging market with severe economic challenges, but is uniquely positioned to implement a sustainability-focused strategy, in a way that respects the dynamics and population demographics of the continent. We have deep and liquid capital markets that serve the domestic economy and the wider continent, as well as a strong and sophisticated financial services sector.

The government of South Africa has limited fiscal space so the financial and corporate sector have rallied to assist in putting together a responsive economic package. The urgency of the crisis has eliminated previous procedural hurdles and opened the way for strong collaborative approaches. This gives us hope for even greater partnerships post Covid-19.

We are proud of the leadership shown by South Africa’s President in responding to the pandemic. This is why we have both chosen to join the President in donating 30% of our salaries for three months to COVID-19 relief efforts.

The Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE) is the largest exchange in Africa and is critical in facilitating the functioning of the South African economy. Particularly in a crisis, the financial services industry and the exchanges are vital in directing financial flows to where they are needed most.

Investec plays an important role in funding a sustainable economy that is sensitive to the world’s limited natural resources, promotes carbon reduction and contributes positively to economic growth and social upliftment.

While we respond to COVID-19, we believe we also need to ensure that recovery in South Africa is lasting and resilient. That means major reorientation of investments and the global financial system to align with the SDGs. And the pace must greatly accelerate in order to deliver during the Decade of Action.
More than anything, South Africa needs a sustainable reset – one that takes into consideration the natural resources required to support a competitive economy, but also meets the short and long-term needs of society. Development must be economically, socially and environmentally responsive, ensuring that we leave a healthier planet for future generations.

For JSE and Investec, we believe a major shift in mind-set is required. Investment strategies and expectation of returns need to include sustainability-linked metrics.

Yes, the idea of sustainability has risen in importance, however it needs to move from a values-based metric to an outcomes-based imperative. In order to help achieve the 2030 goals, policy makers need to set up an enabling framework for related investment in the pressing issues covered by the SDGs.

The will is there. We have seen a steadily increasing demand for financial products and initiatives that prioritise transparency, good governance and ultimately, action. Investors not only want to see greater sophistication and flexibility from their investments, but they also want those investments to have an impact on creating a better world.

It is important for them that our actions and products align with our commitment to support the SDGs. To this end, the JSE, which pioneered the world’s first sustainability index in 2004, has been driving a number of projects which directly underpin responsible investment.

Instruments such as social bonds, aimed at improving social outcomes and based on partnerships, are critical in making the finances available to meet the many challenges arising from the Covid-19 pandemic.

This is one of the reasons we joined the UN’s Global Investors for Sustainable Development (GISD) Alliance – tasked with catalysing capital and skills to urgently fill the SDG financing gap. Traditional models will not meet the estimated $2.5 trillion investment needed over the next 10 years.

The coronavirus pandemic has not only demonstrated that cooperation is possible on a previously unimagined scale, but also highlighted the need for connection, even in a time of social distancing.

As part of the GISD Alliance, we are working with leaders across the world to help unlock capital flows that will explicitly support sustainable development.

Both Investec and the JSE have a long history of caring for the people of South Africa, supporting our communities and driving economic growth.

As CEOs – and as leaders, parents and grandparents – we are both personally committed to accelerating action on sustainable development and creating a better world for our grandchildren and their grandchildren.

We believe this kind of collaborative approach is needed around the world, to enable all citizens to live in society in a mutually beneficial way.

If we do not invest in the world that we want, the one we get will be worth infinitely less.

My Adherence My Fallacy: Stigma and Mental Health

Credit: Unsplash /Melanie Wasser

By Fairuz Ahmed
NEW YORK, May 18 2020 – The World Health Organization (2019) states that every 40 seconds someone dies by suicide. Annually, this represents over 800,000 people, more than the number of people who die in conflict and by homicide put together. Every suicide is a tragedy that has long-lasting effects on the people left behind and most cases stem from prolonged mental health issues and abuses that are not reported.

This is the story of Maria Gomez (56), an American citizen, born in Bangladesh, and of her daughter Mila Gomez (25), a mother and daughter duo, who work to raise awareness about mental health amongst young people and teens. Both are survivors of domestic abuse. Mila has also survived attempted suicide.

A PhD from an affluent family, Maria is a distinguished member of her community, having raised mental health awareness in underdeveloped areas of South Asia for the past 14 years. She shared her reasons for stepping into the philanthropic world of empowering women and youth.

Maria completed her education from Toronto, Canada, and after marriage moved back to Asia. She had bases in three different countries due to her work and for running the family business that she and her former husband inherited. She had to travel frequently for work and when she got pregnant her mother in law assured her that she will bear all responsibility for child care and she could go back to work as soon as she feels like. Maria went back to work after three months of childbirth and since then Mila was under the care of her mother in law and sister in law.

They used to live in a joint family of 15 members. Mila was the third child of the family and the first daughter. Maria became pregnant for the second time when Mila was 3 years old but she had a miscarriage and lost the child. The doctors told her that it will be difficult for her to bear any children further. Maria started to notice hostility towards her and verbal abuse from her husband and his family since the miscarriage. It grew worse day by day. As she travelled and spent most of her time in office she tried to cope by finding solace in her work.

For Mila things went from bad to worse. Her health started to deteriorate when she was 6 years old. Malnutrition, anxiety and constantly being sick were common factors. Maria explains to the IPS : “ I was going through the motions and was under the impression that she is a problem child and physically weak. Everyone around me told me that with age, things will get better. She is my first born and my family said that as a mother I am incompetent, and I should invest my time only in my career. As I was always tied up with work, I failed to see how things were at home, and how trauma bonded or bound Mila was at home.”

Maria went on to explain that since her childhood, Mila was shy in public and generally kept to herself. Her only form of expression was through drawings. She used to spend hours in her room scribbling and painting and used to have created vivid drawings of people and occurrences or events. Mila was 13 years old when her distress started to become visible. During her seventh grade, her classroom teacher reached out to Maria expressing concerns about her well-being. She showed Maria some pictures that Mila drew which depicted abuse and scenes where a child is being tortured. After that episode, Maria started to give more attention to Mila and took her to a few doctors and therapists to find the root cause of her stress.

Picture Courtesy: The UN

The family did not take her initiative well. Maria and Mila both had to face abuse at home and were threatened. They were forbidden from going to the doctors or for therapy accusing that will ruin the family reputation and that Mila had no mental issues. There have been periods where Mila was denied food if she behaved badly and was locked in her room for days. Maria later found out that Mila was abused verbally and physically on a regular basis by a some members of the family and all they wanted was to keep it a secret. A year later Mila tried to commit suicide by slashing her wrists and was admitted to the hospital. That incident made Maria evaluate her situation and compelled her to take a strong step for ensuring security for herself and for her daughter. She left the family home and traveled back to Canada and filed for divorce.

It has been 16 years since the divorce and Maria and Mila have been living happily away from all negativity. Mila’s health has gotten better with therapy and medication and since the last episodes of slashing her wrists, she did not have any relapse of suicide attempts.

Having faced the ordeal of dealing with an unsympathetic, abusive family, a child who needed support and care, and, dealing with societal pressure, Maria made it her motto of life to spread the word and mission to help others who go through similar situations. Maria founded an organization, working from grass root level to raise awareness of domestic abuse, mental health issues, and for providing youth with a safe space. So far her organization has helped many suicide attempt victims to get back on their feet. They have aided training for job readiness for youth who left their homes because of abuse and cruelty. (Due to the personal nature of the information, the name and location of the organization are being kept anonymous as per request of the interviewee).

Almost one million people die by suicide every year, and it is the third leading cause of death among young people aged 15 to 24. For Mila, extended abuse and subsequent anxiety and depression drove her to attempt suicide on multiple occasions. Sadly, reaching out for help, therapy or proper medical support is still taboo in many countries and societies.

Whilst a link between mental health and suicide is well-established in developed countries, as is the idea of traumatic life experiences, this awareness is still lacking in developing countries. The United Nations and its partners have often drawn attention to different aspects of mental health on the World Mental Health Day (celebrated annually on October 10), but it remains an exceptionally unexplored issue in parts of the world where gender, sexual-orientation and simply being a child, are part of a complex and rigid socio-cultural system that is often unshakeable.

Measures can be taken by individuals and society at large to prevent suicide and suicide attempts. But, without extensive education, resources to lift people out of social preconceptions, and the will of a society to help its constituents, stories like Maria’s and Mila’s will continue to emerge.