GenMark ePlex® RP2 Panel Predicted to Detect Known SARS-CoV-2 Variants Currently in Circulation Based on in silico Analysis

CARLSBAD, Calif., Feb. 22, 2021 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — GenMark Diagnostics, Inc. (NASDAQ: GNMK), a leading provider of automated, multiplex molecular diagnostic testing systems, today announced that its ePlex Respiratory Pathogen Panel 2 (RP2) is predicted to detect known SARS–CoV–2 variants currently in circulation.

As the COVID–19 pandemic continues to evolve, GenMark is routinely monitoring publicly available databases for new SARS–CoV–2 strains and variants and conducting bioinformatic analyses to determine if the mutations present in the viral genome would impact detection of these variants on the ePlex RP2 Panel. The recently identified SARS–CoV–2 variant strains include multiple mutations with the majority occurring in the spike protein, or S gene region and additional mutations found in the nucleoprotein region, or N gene. The ePlex RP2 Panel targets two unique regions of the N gene; the currently identified N gene mutations for the variants listed above are found outside of the sequence region targeted by the SARS–CoV–2 assays on the ePlex RP2 Panel and therefore the following variant strains currently in circulation are predicted to be detected based on the in silico analysis: B.1.1.7 (UK), B.1.351 (South Africa) , P.1 (Brazil), COH.20G/677H and COH.20G/501Y (Ohio, USA) and B.1.429 (California, USA). GenMark will continue to update the list of variants detected by the ePlex RP2 Panel. For the most up–to date information on the SARS–CoV–2 variants detected, please visit: https://gnmk.info/SARSCoV2–Variants

The U.S. ranks 43rd in the world in sequencing of positive SARS–CoV–2 viral samples. To address this challenge, the Tracking COVID Variants Act was recently introduced with a goal to significantly boost funding and support for advanced molecular detection technologies at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to provide robust genetic surveillance and sequencing activities for SARS–CoV–2 variants. GenMark joined with other members of the American Society for Microbiolgy Corporate Council in supporting this important effort to boost our nation's genomic surveillance and sequencing capacity by signing a stakeholder letter, expressing support for the bill. Specifically, the proposed bill authorizes up to $1.75 billion in emergency supplemental funding for the CDC. For more information on this important initiative: https://asm.org/Articles/Policy/2021/Feb–21/ASM–Hails–Congressional–Proposal–of–1–75–Billion–f

About the ePlex RP2 Panel

The ePlex RP2 Panel provides results for more than 20 viruses and bacteria that cause common and often serious respiratory infections, including COVID–19, flu, bronchitis, pneumonia and the common cold. With less than one minute of laboratory hands–on time and a total run time of less than two hours, the ePlex RP2 Panel is easy to use, rapid, and can be run in a broad array of hospital and reference lab settings.

The ePlex RP2 Panel helps address the double burden of this respiratory illness season by quickly identifying or ruling out the responsible pathogen(s) to enable proper treatment, potentially minimizing unnecessary use of antibiotics, which can save lives and reduce antibiotic resistance. Syndromic panels, like the ePlex RP2 Panel, allow clinicians to get the answers they need across a broad set of pathogens, enabling appropriate triage and treatment of hospitalized and critically ill patients from a single swab.

The EUA–authorized and CE–Marked ePlex RP2 Panel runs on GenMark's ePlex instrument, which is FDA cleared and CE–Marked for use with the company's ePlex RP Panel and Blood Culture Identification (BCID) Panels (Gram–positive, Gram–negative and Fungal pathogens).

About GenMark Diagnostics
GenMark Diagnostics (NASDAQ: GNMK) is a leading provider of multiplex molecular diagnostic solutions designed to enhance patient care, improve key quality metrics, and reduce the total cost–of–care. Utilizing GenMark's proprietary eSensor detection technology, GenMark's eSensor XT–8 and ePlex systems are designed to support a broad range of molecular diagnostic tests with compact, easy–to–use workstations and self–contained, disposable test cartridges. GenMark's ePlex: The True Sample–to–Answer Solution is designed to optimize laboratory efficiency and address a broad range of infectious disease testing needs, including respiratory, bloodstream, and gastrointestinal infections. For more information, visit www.genmarkdx.com.

Forward Looking Statements
This press release includes forward–looking statements regarding events, trends and business prospects, which may affect our future operating results and financial position. Such statements are subject to risks and uncertainties that could cause our actual results and financial position to differ materially. Some of these risks and uncertainties include, but are not limited to, our ability to detect all current and future circulating SARS–CoV–2 variant strains, the continued progression of the associated public health emergency, our ability to satisfy the supply demands of our customers, and other risks and uncertainties described under the “Risk Factors” in our public filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission. We assume no responsibility to update or revise any forward–looking statements to reflect events, trends or circumstances after the date they are made.

Investor Relations Contact
Leigh Salvo
(415) 937–5404
ir@genmarkdx.com


Sustainable Energy Key to COVID-19 Recovery in Asia and the Pacific

By Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana
BANGKOK, Thailand, Feb 22 2021 – The past year is one that few of us will forget. While the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic have played out unevenly across Asia and the Pacific, the region has been spared many of the worst effects seen in other parts of the world. The pandemic has reminded us that a reliable and uninterrupted energy supply is critical to managing this crisis.

Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana

Beyond ensuring that hospitals and healthcare facilities continue to function, energy supports the systems and coping mechanisms we rely on to work remotely, undertake distance learning and communicate essential health information. Importantly, energy will also underpin cold chains and logistics to ensure that billions of vaccines make their way to the people who need them most.

The good news is our region’s energy systems have continued to function throughout the pandemic. A new report Shaping a sustainable energy future in Asia and the Pacific: A greener, more resilient and inclusive energy system released today by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) shows the energy demand reductions have mainly impacted fossil fuels and depressed oil and gas prices. Renewable energy development in countries across the region, such as China and India, has continued at a healthy pace throughout 2020.

As the Asia-Pacific region transitions its energy system to clean, efficient and low carbon technologies, the emergence of the pandemic raises some fundamental questions. How can a transformed energy system help ensure our resilience to future crises such as COVID-19? As we recover from this pandemic, can we launch a “green recovery” that simultaneously rebuilds our economies and puts us on track to meet global climate and sustainability goals?

A clean and sustainable energy is central to a recovery from COVID-19 pandemic. By emphasizing the importance of the SDGs as a guiding framework for recovering better together, we must focus on two critical aspcets:

First, by making meaningful progress on the SDGs, we can address many of the systemic issues that made societies more vulnerable to COVID-19 in the first place – health, decent work, poverty and inequalities, to name a few.

Second, by directing stimulus spending to investments that support the achievement of the SDGs, we can build back better. If countries focus their stimulus efforts on the industries of the past such as fossil fuels, we risk not creating the jobs we need, or moving in the right direction to achieve the global goals that are critical to future generations. The energy sector offers multiple opportunities to align stimulus with the clean industries of the future.

The evidence shows that renewable energy and energy efficiency projects create more jobs for the same investment as fossil fuel projects. By increasing expenditure on clean cooking and electricity access, we can enhance economic activity in rural areas and bring modern infrastructure that can make these communities more resilient and inclusive, particularly for the wellbeing of women and children.

Additionally, investing in low-carbon infrastructure and technologies can create a basis for the more ambitious climate pledges we need to reach the Paris Agreement targets of a 2-degree global warming limit. On this note, several countries have announced carbon neutrality, demonstrating a long-term vision and commitment to an accelerated transformation to sustainable energy. Phasing out the use of coal from power generation portfolios by substituting with renewables, ending fossil fuel subsidies, and implementing carbon pricing are some of the steps we can take.

The COVID-19 crisis has forced us to change many aspects of our lives to keep ourselves and our societies safe. It has shown that we are more adaptive and resilient than we may have believed. Nevertheless, we should not waste the opportunities this crisis presents for transformative change. It should not deflect us from the urgent task of making modern energy available to all and decarbonizing the region’s energy system through a transition to sustainable energy. Instead, it should provide us with a renewed sense of urgency.

We must harness the capacity of sustainable energy to rebuild our societies and economies while protecting the environment in the pursuit of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana is Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Secretary of ESCAP

 


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The Boon and Bane of LDC Graduation: The Bangladesh Experience

By Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury
SINGAPORE, Feb 22 2021 – Bangladeshis at the present time share a modicum of justifiable pride in the fact that the world merits this country worth watching in terms of its economic potentials. To my mind , we have reached this stage for the following reasons: First, effective utilization of early foreign assistance; second a steady ,albeit sustained, move away from a near -socialistic to an open and liberal economy; third , a shift from agriculture to manufacturing as land-space shrank to accommodate urbanization; fourth , an unleashing of remarkable entrepreneurial spirit among private sector captains of industry, as evidenced in the Ready Made Garments industry: fifth, the prevalence of a vibrant civil society intellectually aiding the social transformation with its focus on health, education, and gender issues: and finally ,a long period of political stability notwithstanding the traditional predilections of Bengali socio-political activism.

Dr. Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury

The philosophical underpinning behind the concept of ‘Least Developed Countries’ (LDCs) devised at the UN in the 1960s was to identify a set of States whose impediment to development was structural, and not due to their own faults. Hence the idea that the global trading system needed to be adjusted by providing these nations ‘special and differential treatment’, such as entailed in non-reciprocal preferential market access. This would, hopefully, create for them a level playing field. Bangladesh joined the Group in 1975, immediately following its UN membership. The conditions for joining the list of LDCs or graduating from it , are determined by the Committee for Development Policy (CDP) based on certain criteria. Out of original 48 six countries have already graduated: Botswana, Cape Verde, Maldives, Samoa, Equatorial Guinea, and Vanuatu. Nepal and Bangladesh are in the cusp of graduation.

Graduation is for Bangladesh a mix of boon and bane. It is a boon because it is an acknowledgment of progress, a major milestone in the nation’s development journey. It would improve the country’s global image which should give it better credit ratings. This would allow it to borrow more cheaply on the world market. It is a bane because it would ultimately lose all the preferences accorded to LDCs in global trade such as under the European Union’s Everything but Arms (EBA) initiative. However, Bangladesh has not quite optimized on those advantages.

Incidentally, as chair of the WTO Committee of Trade and Development, as also of the LDC Group in Geneva in the late 1990s and early 2000, and also as Special Advisor to Secretary General Rubens Ricupero of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), I was involved with the related deliberations with the European Union. Bangladesh has always played a leadership role on behalf of the LDCs in all multilateral negotiations, both at the WTO in Geneva and at the United Nations in New York. Sometimes these involved not only tough deliberations with developed countries and ‘economies in transition’ (former socialist countries) , but also with developing member-States of the Group of 77 (because it entailed the sharing of the cake).Bangladesh’s graduation will in many ways deprive the LDCs of this capacity. Across the diplomatic scene, Bangladesh could also depend on the support of fellow-LDCs on a broad range of issues. I would gratefully recall the contribution in this regard of the so-called “Utstein Sisters” of Europe (named after a venue in Northern Europe where they met), five women Development Cooperation Ministers, including Evelyn Herfkens of the Netherlands and Claire Short of the UK. They were ardent advocates of LDC aspirations, and were instrumental, among other things, in the WTO’s acceptance, unlike in the case its predecessor, the General Agreement on Trade and Tariff (GATT), of the broad principle that trade is a key tool of development.

Following graduation, Bangladesh will need to negotiate a continuation of international support measures to render the graduation process smooth and sustainable. If needs be, even after the grace period of quota-free duty- free market access vis-à-vis Europe till 2029. Though in Brussels the EU could cut Bangladesh some slack because of its performance, at the WTO, Bangladesh, will be well advised to attempt a norm setting exercise with regard to graduating countries with the new Director General, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who is empathetic, as well as with the membership. This will take some skillful diplomacy. But I would like to strongly underscore that negotiations are but the tip of the ice- berg. The main challenge would lie in tackling the fundamentals beneath. For instance, in addressing domestically the 27 requirements, including corruption, non-compliances, and other inadequacies, across the governance spectrum to achieve GSP -plus status. Also, to derive other global market benefits.

Comparative advantages would have to be transformed into competitive advantage. Low-wages will tend to perpetuate poverty. So wage-rise, an essential tool for poverty mitigation, would need to be carefully calibrated with the increase in productivity. Economy should diversify, particularly into services, which do not face goods tariff and hence less affected by loss of preferences. The Internet sector, on which the government is prudently laser-focused, can help Bangladesh leapfrog into economic modernity. The pharmaceutical industry should seriously reflect on how to navigate WTO regulations on Trade in Intellectual Property, or TRIPS. Mutually rewarding arrangements with other Asian economic powerhouses are called for. For instance, Free Trade Agreement with a country like Singapore could, and I use the word ‘could’ advisedly, unlock potentials, but that would require further serious study and examination.

Throughout my negotiating career I had felt that preferences tend only to prolong pain. There are no such things as friends in the marketplace. The sooner we start to confront the real world of competition the better off we are. Indeed, if we can play our cards right, the graduation could be our ‘’break-out” moment to reflect on reforms, on raising productivity and on boosting growth. Efforts must be directed towards moving up the value chain by attracting quality FDI. From my current perch in the corporate sector in Singapore, I see Vietnam as an example worthy of emulation.

So, to conclude, graduation is inevitable if progress is the goal, as it must be, and indeed desirable, just as, in our individual lives, coming of age, that is of turning 21, is. Readiness is key. From what I see, there is nothing like the last minute in speeding up requisite preparations. Doubtless, there is much work to be done. But we must bear in mind that if there is a hill to climb, waiting will not make it any smaller!

Dr Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury is the Honorary Fellow at the Institute of South Asia Studies, NUS. He is a former Foreign Advisor (Foreign Minister) of Bangladesh and President & Distinguished Fellow of Cosmos Foundation. The views addressed in the article are his own. He can be reached at: isasiac@nus.edu.sg

 


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Coup in Spain, Yesterday and Today

Coup in Spain: Lieutenant Colonel Antonio Tejero, moments after breaking into the Chamber of Deputies, on the afternoon of February 23, 1981, which began a coup in Spain, with the seizure of Parliament and armed uprisings in several cities. Its failure ended up consolidating the recently restored democracy. Credit: RTVE.

Lieutenant Colonel Antonio Tejero, moments after breaking into the Chamber of Deputies, on the afternoon of February 23, 1981, which began a coup in Spain, with the seizure of Parliament and armed uprisings in several cities. Its failure ended up consolidating the recently restored democracy. Credit: RTVE.

By Joaquín Roy
MIAMI, Feb 22 2021 – Forty years ago, on February 23, 1981 (later known as 23-F), in the middle of the afternoon in a cold Madrid atmosphere, the most serious attack against the reborn Spanish democracy took place. An armed contingent of more than 200 Civil Guard agents invaded the Congress of Deputies and threatened the dissolution of the government and the establishment of a dictatorship.

Under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Antonio Tejero, wielding a regulation pistol, the invaders interrupted the voting process for the new President of the Council of Ministers, Leopoldo Calvo Sotelo, who was to succeed Adolfo Suárez, who had resigned a few days earlier. Tejero claimed that his action was endorsed by King Juan Carlos I.

The dramatic incident had been inaugurated by the firing of machine-gun bursts by the invaders towards the roof of the building, while the parliamentarians were ordered to lie on the ground under their seats. Only three deputies stood upright: President Suárez, Communist leader Santiago Carrillo, and the outgoing vice president of the government and Minister of Defense, General Manuel Gutiérrez Mellado.

Joaquín Roy

Suárez, who had been the architect of the recovery of democracy in 1978 with the approval of the new Constitution together with King Juan Carlos, had ended up exhausted in an environment full of confrontations caused mainly by the harassment that the terrorist group ETA had been imposing in the political environment through attacks against police, civilians and military.

The serious event was resolved after intense hours of action when King Juan Carlos issued a statement on television in which, in clear terms, he remembered the coup plotters and their possible collaborators as Head of State about their obligations.

The previous context of the serious events was full of danger signals that were confirmed. Among the details that led the King to make the drastic decision, the environment of his family stands out, it was overpopulated with historical errors that were paid dearly. That panorama extended as much in time as in space.

In the first place, the most remote antecedent was the mistake made by Juan Carlos’ own grandfather, Alfonso XIII, when in the twenties of the previous century, he was pressured by the military and ended up accepting the role of General Primo de Rivera in 1923.

A few years until 1930 were enough for his influence to be exhausted and the evolution of national politics to testify to the triumph of the left in the important cities in the municipal elections of 1931. The Second Spanish Republic survived until the coup General Franco’s military force that unleashed the Civil War of 1936-39, and the subsequent establishment of the Franco dictatorship until 1975.

Juan Carlos also had the latent impact of such a political error on his wife’s own family, Queen Sofía. Her brother, King Constantine of Greece, could not resist the pressure of the military, to whom he handed over the initiative to power in 1967. Later this decision meant the end of the Greek monarchy and the establishment of a republican regime in 1973.

The atmosphere that presided over Madrid that fatal 23 February insisted on the memory of the monarchical errors of the past. Therefore, avoiding the jerky decisions of the past prevented the repetition of historical tragedies.

Today’s circumstances, given the apparent survival of certain social and political instability, in the midst of an economic-pandemic crisis, advise an analysis of the feasibility of a serious and drastic resolution of political discrepancies. It is convenient, therefore, to meditate on attempts of indiscipline in certain military sectors, as they have been expressed in manifestos issued by sectors of military leaders under the retirement statute.

A serene analysis of these incidents generates deserves an evaluation as they consider themselves limited to those sectors led by a nostalgic minority. In contrast, the professionalism of the sectors that have served in the last decades in peace missions, development aid, and even assistance in the fight against the pandemic, are claimed. But that does not totally eliminate the latent threat of discontent, accompanied by the poor performance of political parties when faced with new dangers.

With some concern, therefore, one must observe the deterioration in the exercise of the once important position of the Popular Party, whose advantage on the national stage has been notably eroded. In addition to the fact that the PP has practically disappeared from the Catalan scene, the failure of the centrist parties (UCD was the best example of the transition) that could act as hinges in the manner of liberal-centrist formations in some European countries, like UK and Germany.

The knockout given to Ciudadanos (which aspired to be a supermodern UCD), coupled with the stratospheric rise of ultra right-wing VOX, should be placed into the center of the meditation on the instability of the political fabric.

It must also occupy a prime place in speculation about the threat of a coup, hard or soft, or simply expendable concern. The 23-F anniversary is a good occasion to detect the latent presence of Tejero on the congressional floor or consider that the removal of Franco’s body from the Valley of the Fallen means something permanent.

 

Joaquín Roy is Jean Monnet Professor and Director of the European Union Center at the University of Miami

 

A Moral Obligation to Protect the Planet

By Ramu Damodaran
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 22 2021 – Legends are the lodestars of history, the marriage of Sir Dorabji Tata with Meherbai on Valentine’s Day of 1898 among the most lyrical of them. Two years later, he gifted her the Jubilee Diamond, the sixth largest diamond in the world, twice as large as the Kohinoor.

Less than fifty months later, Tata Steel, the business in which he played so pivotal a role, was enveloped in a financial crisis; Dorabji and Meherbai pledged the whole of their wealth, including the Diamond, to the Imperial Bank, to make it possible for wages to be paid and not a job sacrificed.

Tata Steel returned to profitability within a quarter century, Meherbai and Dorabji died soon after, bequeathing their wealth to the Sir Dorabji Tata Charitable Trust – including the Diamond which was sold in 1937, yielding funds to create institutions such as the Tata Memorial Hospital, the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research and the Tata Institute of Social Sciences.

That history came to mind this past Sunday – February 14 – when I opened a carefully wrapped package with my address on it in Russy Sumariwalla’s gentle hand. It was a publication I had not come across earlier, the FEZANA Journal, its cover pictured above, produced by the Federation of Zoroastrian Associations of North America.

As its editor-in-chief, Dr. Dolly Dastoor, notes in her editorial, “FEZANA through its members, young and old, has been supporting the SDGs much before the pandemic started,” a pandemic which, in the phrase of FEZANA President Arzan Sam Wadia, “hit the pause button on our planet.”

The wealth of reading in this issue included a reflective piece by Narges Kakalia on the Cyrus Cylinder and its “glimmers of universality”, notably its injunction that slavery “should be exterminated the world over”, glimmers that brighten each day with our global interdependence on the SDGs reaffirmed.

Interdependence also in a relatively unexpected area, faith. One of the articles brings together three authors, Joshua Basofin of the Parliament of World’s Religions, David Hales, a former Chair of the World Heritage Convention and Michael Terrin, an Oblate of St Benedict.

It notes that “nearly every religious, indigenous, and spiritual tradition teaches a moral obligation to protect the planet“, an obligation which they can help exercise in practice as faith based organizations “control 8% of the habitable land surface of Earth, 5% of all commercial forests, 50% of schools worldwide and 10% of the world’s financial institutions.”

The journal made engrossing reading in the middle of a month which began with World Interfaith Harmony Week. A quick search on the agile website of the Yearbook of the United Nations suggests the General Assembly resolution which established the Day is the only one in the 75 years of United Nations history that makes a direct reference to “God” in the paragraph where it “encourages all States to support, on a voluntary basis, the spread of the message of interfaith harmony and goodwill in the world’s churches, mosques, synagogues, temples and other places of worship during that week, based on love of God and love of one’s neighbour or on love of the good and love of one’s neighbour, each according to their own religious traditions or convictions.”

There is also a reference in a 1966 judgment by the International Court of Justice, in a case challenging South Africa’s occupation of present-day Namibia, with a twist in its tail that “all mankind are children of God, and, consequently, brothers and sisters, notwithstanding their natural and social differences, namely man and woman, husband and wife, master and slave, etc.”

George Macaulay Trevelyan, the historian, whose birthday fell last Tuesday, once cautioned “never tell a young person that anything cannot be done. God may have been waiting centuries for someone ignorant enough of the impossible to do that very thing.”

The FEZANA Journal carried a story about a young girl in Lahore, Pakistan, “a tinkerer by nature, she often got up to her elbows in grease as she absorbed herself in the mechanics of bike repair.”

Some forty years later, and five years ago last week, Nergis Mavalvala “was among the team of scientists whom, for the first time, observed ripples in the fabric of spacetime called gravitational waves.”

She has since been appointed Dean of the School of Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the first woman to hold the post.

The institutions Dorabji and Meherbai Tata’s bequests helped found continue to engage the young in adventures of discovery; at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research scientists have noted “what we experience as a child often has a lasting impression on our behaviour throughout the course of our life.

Stressful and adverse experience during early life of an individual can often lead to a lasting vulnerability towards developing psychiatric disorders in adult life, a question particularly pertinent to the current times when depression has emerged as one of the greatest challenges to global health.

In a recent study, the Vaidya lab has tested the idea via switching on the signalling pathway that leads to overactivation of excitatory neurons within the forebrain, using genetically engineered mice.”

And the Tata Institute of Social Sciences is working with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Maharashtra state government in India on an “Inclusive Disaster Preparedness and Risk Reduction Programme” in the district of Bhiwandi, focusing specifically on people with disabilities (PWD), it is the first of its kind, mainstreaming pre-disaster vulnerability reduction programme, designed to mainstream disability in disaster management, train and sensitize professionals on disability and emergency response and establish a resource centre providing advisory and informational services for PWD.

The Foundation for Ecological Security, supported by Tata Trusts, aims to create sustainable livelihoods for 38 million rural poor by strengthening local governance and conserving 30 million acres of Commons in India totalling to a fifth of India’s total Commons land.

An indicator of how directly this is related to faith came to mind as I read the “Final Report of the Independent Review on the Economics of Biodiversity” published earlier this month by the government of the United Kingdom; it says “Our economies, livelihoods and well-being all depend on our most precious asset: Nature.

We are part of Nature, not separate from it. We rely on Nature to provide us with food, water and shelter; regulate our climate and disease; maintain nutrient cycles and oxygen production; and provide us with spiritual fulfilment and opportunities for recreation and recuperation, which can enhance our health and well-being. We also use the planet as a sink for our waste products, such as carbon dioxide, plastics and other forms of waste, including pollution.”

Nature and spiritual fulfilment have been at the heart of many festivities around the world last week: the start of the Lunar new year in Asia, the Carnival in Brazil and the Caribbean, Basant Panchami, the celebration of spring, in India which coincides with tribute to Saraswati, the goddess of knowledge, and her injunction to cultivate an organized, clutter free mind, much like the SDG tree on the FEZANA Journal cover, or the language tree devised by the German linguist August Schleicher, whose birth bicentennial falls today, a model, as Wikipedia the Wise informs us, that “as with species, each language is assumed to have evolved from a single parent or “mother” language, with languages that share a common ancestor belonging to the same language family.”

Could that symbol, the tree, not work for faith as well , its many sturdy branches unfurling from an integral and common whole, each branch sustaining, and being sustained by, the leaves and shoots that from its recesses thrive?

Beethoven, whose 250th birth anniversary we have just celebrated, signed his manuscripts with the letters SDG, standing for Soli Deo Gloria, or “Glory to God Alone”. His momentous music was nurtured in an age where faith had begun to assimilate reason, manifest often in challenges to those who sought to represent the divine rather than divinity itself.

As Eamon Duffy writes in this week’s “The New York Review of Books”, the European reformation owed much to “the burgeoning of charismatic spiritual and apocalyptic movements that seemed to threaten the stability of the institutional Church, and the mounting theological and political challenges to the centralizing authority of the papacy.”

And, writing in the “New Theatre Quarterly” in 2009, Katie Normington, a scholar in the field of drama, and the just appointed Vice Chancellor of De Montfort University in the United Kingdom, UNAI’s hub on SDG 16, observed that “in being treated as religious dramas rather than community plays – plays which evolved from the Church service rather than from a street procession – the sense of communitas disappeared from the staging, and the division of actor and audience space became very apparent.

There are no easy answers: as Dario Fo’s versions suggest, to emphasize the subversive voices of the citizens within the plays seems equally alien in late twentieth-century Britain. If political theatre is an endangered species (or an outdated beast, if that’s how you see it), then Mitchell’s production would seem to suggest that the most we can hope for is an altruistic individualism.”

My college lecturer in history, Dr. “Eric” Kapadia, a gentle and noble Zoroastrian himself, was fond of quoting the Tony Judt axiom that “geography is full of maps, history is full of chaps.” In elaborating the thought, he elevated it from glib to the “glimmer” we spoke of earlier, of the individual’s formidable role, a role far more defined than circumstance, in shaping her own history and, all too often, the histories of those around her.

“Altruistic individualism”, in Dr. Normington’s elegant phrase, allows a shaping that cares, a shaping within a community, whether of faith, geography or vocation, but a shape that draws its imagination and malleability from the reason and conviction, the “dignity and worth” of the individual within whose altruism it has tenancy.

 


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Is This The End of Myanmar’s Quasi-Democracy?

By Sania Farooqui
NEW DELHI, India, Feb 22 2021 – On February 1st, 2021 the military of Myanmar overthrew the country’s democratic government in a coup d’etat followed by arresting more than 40 government officials including Aung San Suu Kyi. The military declared a year-long state of emergency under the rule of it’s Commander-in-Chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing. Troops took over the streets, a night-time curfew has been put into force. Tens of thousands of protestors have taken to the streets across Myanmar, in what is seen as the biggest street protests in more than a decade. The anti-coup demonstrators are undeterred by police attacks and increasing violence from the security forces.

Yasmin Ullah

According to this list, the military has arrested multiple members of civil society, including activists, writers, musicians, filmmakers. Monitoring group Assistance Association for Political Prisoners said “more than 384 people have been detained, in a wave of mostly night-time arrests”.

The first known casualty of the coup, Mya Thwe Thwe Khaing died on February 9 when a police officer opened fire with live ammunition, hitting her in the head while she was protesting in Naypyidaw. Two more protestors were killed in the city of Mandalay, marking Myanmmar’s bloodiest day since the military seized power. Myanmar’s minority community fears renewed violence after the military coup.

United Nations Secretary General António Guterres condemned the use of deadly violence in Myanmar, “The use of lethal force, intimidation & harassment against peaceful demonstrators is unacceptable. Everyone has a right to peaceful assembly. I call on all parties to respect election results and return to civilian rule,” António Guterres said.

The military in Myanmar alleges that the recent landslide election win by Aung San Suu Kyi was marred by fraud. Following the coup, the military has already announced replacements for a number of ministers.

Witnesses in Mandalay reported seeing soldiers from the 33rd Light Infantry Division, which led the deadly campaign against Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine state in 2017. The United Nations Special Rapporteur, Tom Andrews said, “The 33rd Light Infantry Division was reportedly involved in the lethal attacks in Mandalay today – the same division responsible for mass atrocity crimes against the Rohingya in 2017. A dangerous escalation by the junta in what appears to be a war against the people of Myanmar.”

“The very idea of Aung San Suu Kyi taking the trip to Hague at the end of 2019 to defend the actions of the military spoke volume about who she is as a person, and where she stands in her understanding of how democratic transition in Myanmar should progress,” says Yasmin Ullah, a Rohingya Social Justice Activist to IPS News.

“We have had three coups so far since 1962, and that memory still lives very deeply with a lot of Myanmar citizens. The pain and hurt that comes with it still reminds them of the glory that the country could never actually achieve.

“We have lived under a military regime for decades, without unifying, without taking to the streets, and making it known to the world that we reject this unconstitutional ceasing of power. The citizens are out on the streets because they will not have another chance at this, people are done with the fact that they will have to live under a culture of impunity where the military is untouched,” says Yasmin.

Following the coup in Myanmar, Washington has imposed sanctions on the military, urging other U.N members to follow suit. The UK too announced asset freezes and travel bans on three generals in Myanmar and is also going to be putting in place new measures to prevent UK aid. Singapore warned that there will be “serious adverse consequences” for Myanmar if the situation there continues to escalate. The European Union’s foreign affairs chief Joseph Borrell urged the military and “all security forces in Myanmar to immediately stop violence against civilians.”

Rights group Human Rights Watch in its report, Myanmar, Sanctions, and Human Rights said, “it supports the use of certain types of sanctions – including targeted sanctions and travel bans, and restrictions on military, trade, financial, economic, and other relations – as a means to condemn situations involving grave widespread human rights abuses or humanitarian law violations, to assert pressure to end those abuses, to hold those responsible to account, and as a means to deter other parties from becoming complicit in abuses.”

“We are calling on the United Nations Security Council to impose a global arms embargo. Separately, the UN General Assembly can also endorse individual governments or regional organizations imposing unilateral sanctions on Myanmar’s military, something the General Assembly has done in the past (e.g., during South Africa during apartheid.), the report stated.

International rights defenders have expressed concerns over grave human rights violations in Myanmar following the Feb. 1 military coup. “What we are witnessing in Myanmar didn’t just suddenly happen. You cannot leave the perpetrators of grave crimes under international law on the loose and then act surprised when they trample human rights again,” said Amnesty International’s Deputy Director of Advocacy Sherine Tadros.

“It was already ingrained in us Rohingyas to be intimidated, to fear the military, to fear authority, because that has always been the tactics used on us. The same kind of tactics we see now – the psychological warfare, night raids, shooting of people, arbitrary arrest, restrictions of movements – all of the things that the protestors are dealing with right now have been used on every single ethinic community and the Rohingyas,” says Yasmin.

It’s been thirty-three years since the uprising in 1988 in Myanmar against the military dictatorship, also known as the 8-8-88 Movement. The armed forces continued to rule until 2011, when a new government began a return to civilian rule. The military’s current threat to revoke the constitution only revealed the fact that it is willing to overturn any political – democratic system when its interests are threatened.

“Without a real change and reform within Myanmar to the very foundation to rip off the military power because they have infested different parts of the country that makes Myanmar what it is, without doing that there is no democracy that could take place,” says Yasmin.

The author is a journalist and filmmaker based out of New Delhi. She hosts a weekly online show called The Sania Farooqui Show where Muslim women from around the world are invited to share their views.

 


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Q&A: UN Environment Assembly Kicks Off With a Call to Make Peace with Nature

Joyce Msuya, the Deputy Executive Director for the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), says environmental issues are development issues and therefore are everybody’s issues. Credit: Isaiah Esipisu/IPS

Joyce Msuya, the Deputy Executive Director for the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), says environmental issues are development issues and therefore are everybody’s issues. Credit: Isaiah Esipisu/IPS

By Isaiah Esipisu
NAIROBI, Feb 22 2021 – Its time for the world to radically change our ways if we are to make peace with the planet and create the environmental conditions so that all of humanity can thrive, delegates attending the Fifth Session of the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA-5) heard this morning.

The assembly, world’s top environmental decision-making body attended by government leaders, businesses, civil society and environmental activists, met virtually today under a theme “Strengthening Actions for Nature to Achieve the Sustainable Development Goals”. It concludes Feb. 23.

Ahead of the assembly, IPS interviewed Joyce Msuya, the Deputy Executive Director for the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), to find out what to expect from the two-day event.

Excerpts of the interview follow:

Inter Press Service (IPS): What outcome should African countries expect from the fifth session of the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA)?

Joyce Msuya (JM): UNEA is the highest international authority on environmental issues, and is focusing on nature and Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).

In terms of African countries, I will put three things on the table.  One is Action. Science has already spoken. Climate change is an issue, and biodiversity loss is happening at a faster rate than ever before, and lastly, pollution, especially plastic pollution is a big problem. So what we need is to bring the African voices and leadership to UNEA, to collectively see what African countries plan to do in terms of actions in delivering around these three planetary crises.

The second thing is partnerships. Environmental issues are development issues and they are everybody’s issues. Citizens can make little changes in their households, communities can make little changes for example on waste management, and those who live around the oceans can take care of the blue economy. So we need to see how the governments work together with the private sector, indigenous communities, with the youth and even children to address the environmental changes.

The third issue is the support to the UNEP. UNEP is the only United Nations largest entity located in the Southern Hemisphere. So this is the time it needs to be supported not just by the government of Kenya, but by African governments.

IPS: How is the COVID-19 situation going to affect these outcomes?

JM: COVID-19 has already impacted and is still going to impact the meeting in three ways. The pandemic has actually shown us the interconnectedness of environment as well as of human health. Last June for example, UNEP released a study on zoonotics to show the connection between nature and viruses.

In terms of the impact on the meeting, this is the first virtual meeting with over 100 countries participating online. This virtual connectivity was driven by COVID-19.

Thirdly, because of the virtual connectivity, countries and member states that are not represented in Nairobi will be able to join through internet connectivity. So the inclusive multilateralism will also be showcased as part of the meeting. 

IPS: What informed the choice of UNEA-5’s theme, ‘Strengthening Actions for Nature to achieve the 2020 agenda on SDGs’?

JM: The design and the agreement of the theme was grounded on a consultative process. For example in Africa, there was the African ministerial meeting looking at environmental issues. The theme was proposed for member states consideration and so they debated for its relevance, it’s implication for different countries and they collectively decided on this theme. It is a timely theme for the nature, but also for the SDGs. We are nine years away for the 2030 deadline for the SDGs.

As the UN Secretary General has already said, this is the UN decade for action when it comes to agenda 2030.

IPS: The UN Secretary General has also said that this is the year he is pushing for commitments from all member states for zero emissions by 2050, and the COP is the most appropriate forum where this should materialize. What does the UNEP want to see in terms of commitments?

JM: We work under various teams under the Secretary General and what he said is actually what has been guiding our work. We work very closely with the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) on the upcoming Conference of Parties (COP) on climate change and we are providing science to help the discussions. As well, we should not forget about the COP on biodiversity, which will be hosted by China because nature and climate change go hand in hand.

In addition, we are providing science to inform for example businesses. Recently we launched the Global Environmental Outlook for Business to provide data and science to help businesses understand what role they can play in reducing the impact of climate change.

IPS: In many African countries, people have invaded wetlands with buildings being constructed in such areas especially in urban areas to accommodate the surging population. Is this a concern to you? If so, how can it be addressed?

JM: In UNEP we believe that wetlands are important in maintaining micro-climates in the areas where they occur, as well as releasing moisture into the atmosphere through evaporation.

At the global level we advocate for the preservation of the wetlands. We have worked with a number of countries in sharing experiences that are working very well on preservation of wetlands  from one country to another. Our science also helps inform how wetlands can be preserved and in Kenya here for example, we work with the government at their request to provide technical assistance and science to support their efforts in protecting the wetlands.

Overall in many African countries, we are starting a discussion with ministries of environment where we are advocating for the preservation of wetlands.

IPS: What kind of policies do we need to put in place to reverse the biodiversity loss across the world?

JM: One of the places where UNEP has been working with the Biodiversity Secretariat is on the post 2020 Biodiversity Framework. Parties, member states and the environment community have been looking at the lessons learned from previous studies. And now there is a new biodiversity framework that will be discussed at the COP.

So, one, is providing substantive support to the work of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). The second, for example in Kenya, we are working with the Ministry of Interior on tree planting. The government has set out a goal of planting millions of trees over the next two years, and through our Africa department. We are supporting those efforts. We have had some of our staff members join hands with local communities to plant trees.

Then third area is on partnerships. Trees are important not only for the environment, but also for the agriculture sector. So we are joining hands with other parts of the UN to advocate and support tree planting.

IPS: How has COVID-19 and subsequent lockdowns impacted on climate action globally?

JM: That is a very interesting question. From the time the pandemic came in place almost a year ago, a number of countries shut down including offices and economic activities. What anecdotal evidence seems to suggest is that air pollution has been addressed. This is because there were no many cars in the streets, and there was no much pollution into the air.

However, we should not forget that the pandemic is still a humanitarian problem and a crisis because people have lost jobs and many more have lost lives. We have been working with the World Health Organisation for example to try and understand the link between nature and health.

We are also mindful that this is also an economic problem, and we are seeing a number of countries now rebuilding their economies.

But the post COVID-19 era provides us with an opportunity for a green reconstruction of our economies. So the pandemic has been a reflecting time, but it has also shown that UNEP, member states and multilateralism can still function virtually.

SACRED FUTURES – The NESFAS Story

By External Source
Feb 22 2021 (IPS-Partners)

Here is a glance at our journey as a non-profit organisation, like all successful endeavors strong relationships stem from time, effort and patience.

Credit: NESFAS

The Last of the Kharia Speakers

By Mintu Deshwara and Pinaki Roy
Feb 22 2021 (IPS-Partners)

Since her husband Abrahm Soreng died two years ago, 70-year-old Veronica Kerketa doesn’t get the chance to talk in her mother tongue at home. None of her children or grandchildren speak the Kharia language.

In her village, under Bormachhara tea garden area of Moulvibazar’s Sreemangal upazila, only one other person — her younger sister, 65-year-old Christina Kerketa — speaks Kharia.

“Except for the two of us, the nearest person who knows this language, Jaharlal Pandey Induar, lives three kilometres away from our village,” said Veronica.

“I talk with my sister or sometimes talk with him in this language when we meet.”

She added, “Nobody else from my own family speaks this language now. So, I need to talk in Sadri or Bangla with them.”

The use of Sadri is largely prevalent across the various ethnic communities in the tea gardens.

“After our death, nobody will speak this language [Kharia]. I tried to teach the language to the younger people but they do not show interest and laugh at me when I speak in Kharia,” said Veronica.

Jaharlal Pandey Induar, 65, of Sreemangal’s Mangrabasti, said that as a tea workers’ family, they are always under financial stress. “We do not have enough time to give for our own language.”

He said, “I still can’t speak Kharia fluently, as I have mostly used Sadri for a long time now.”

Dayaram Kharia, 60, also from Mangrabasti, said 110 Kharia families live in the village.

“There is no one in our village who can speak our own language fluently — there are only five people who know a few words of Kharia.”

In Krishnanchura village of Habiganj’s Chunarughat, of 41 Kharia families living in the village, only four old women can speak a few words in the language when they meet each other, said 45-year-old Manik Kharia.

Rajshahi University student Simon Kerketa, 23, from the Bormabosti area of Sreemangal upazila, said at least six members of his father’s family still know Kharia.

“But I myself can’t speak the language,” he said.

A DYING LANGUAGE

Mashrur Imtiaz, assistant professor in the department of linguistics at the University of Dhaka, who conducted a survey on the language in 2018, found less than 20 people in Sylhet speak Kharia.

“Only 10 to 12 people from their community know this language. And a few others know some Kharia words and some stories and rituals. But they cannot really make sentences or continue a conversation,” he said.

“There is no written form of this language in Bangladesh. I wanted to work on their grammar but did not get adequate people who speak the language.”

Kharia, a language belonging to the Munda branch of the Austro-Asiatic language family, is one of Bangladesh’s endangered languages, he said.

George Abraham Grierson’s “Linguistic Survey of India”, published in 1928, described Kharia then as a “dying” language, noted Mashrur.

Kharia people, who live in various tea gardens in Sylhet, were enlisted in the government’s updated list of 50 small ethnic communities, which was made in 2019.

Before this, they were not even recognised as a separate ethnic group in Bangladesh.

Pius Nanuar, a Kharia social activist, who conducted a study on the Kharia population in early 2020, told this correspondent they found around 5,700 Kharia people in 41 villages in Sylhet division.

“New generations do not talk in this language — they hardly know one or two words. This language is going to be lost from our country very soon as only 12 people from the community can speak the language,” he said.

Pius, who knows a little bit of Kharia, said he learned it from his grandmother when he was a school student in the ’90s.

His grandmother used to take classes informally every evening, telling stories of Kharia heroes, myths, riddles, rhymes, singalongs, harvest stories, Karam (a harvest festival) and other festivals, hunting, and folk traditions.

“In our boyhood, a good number of Kharia children at least learnt a few Kharia words and came into connection with our Kharia roots and culture. But after her death, that effort was lost,” he said.

In 2017, an initiative was taken to teach the language to the younger generation through a youth organisation called “Beer Telenga Kharia Language Learning Centre”, Pius said.

But it was a failed effort to save the Kharia language and culture in his community.

“Kharias in Bangladesh do not have our own alphabet. Kharias in India too use Roman and Latin alphabets,” Pius added.

According to the website Omniglot, an encyclopedia of writing systems and languages, Kharia is spoken in the Simdega and Gumla districts of Jharkhand state, in the Surguja and Raigarh districts of Chhattisgarh, and in the Sundargarh district of Odisha in India.

There are about 256 speakers of Kharia in the Mechi and Kosi zones of Nepal along the border with India.

Kharia is written also with Devanagari, Odia and Bangla alphabets, according to the website.

NOT JUST A LANGUAGE LOST

The majority of Kharia people in Moulvibazar, Habiganj and Sylhet districts are descendants of people who were brought to the plantations from various parts of India by the British colonists around a century and a half ago, according to the Society for Environment and Human Development (SEHD).

In 2016, SEHD identified 658 Kharia households in 16 tea estates in Sylhet division.

Not just Kharia, even the more commonly spoken ethnic languages are in danger of disappearing.

Pranesh Goala, chairman of Kalighat Union Parishad in Sreemangal, said those who still speak Sadri also mix in Bangla and Hindi words while speaking.

AFM Zakaria, professor in the anthropology department of Shahjalal University of Science and Technology, told The Daily Star losing a language means closing the entrance to a civilisation, to a storehouse of cultural resources.

Sukra Kharia, 65, a younger brother of 70-year-old Gopia Kharia, a freedom fighter from Nalua tea garden in Habigang’s Chunarughat upazila, said as Bangladeshis, they are proud to be part of the country’s history and culture.

At least six Kharia people participated in the Liberation War in 1971.

“But it is very sorrowful to say we are waiting to see the death of our own language,” he said.

In the month of February, Pius Nanuar said, Kharia children pay homage to those who sacrificed their lives for the Bangla language but will never know how to speak the Kharia language, their own mother tongue.

Director General of the International Mother Language Institute Prof Dr Jinnat Imtiaz Ali told The Daily Star it is difficult to preserve a language spoken by less than 20,000 or 30,000 people.

“Finding the source of the language then becomes very difficult. We do not know then what exactly the oral form of the language was.”

“However,” he added, “we have formed a committee to compile the grammar in a dictionary to save endangered languages. We have started work.”