WELLINGTON - A continent two-thirds the size of Australia has been found beneath the south-west Pacific Ocean, scientists reported in the journal of the Geological Society of America.
The land mass of 4.5 million square kilometers (1.74 million square miles) is 94 percent underwater and only its highest points - New Zealand and New Caldeonia - poke above the surface.
"It's rather frustrating for us geologists with the oceans being there," said Nick Mortimer, a geologist at GNS Science in Dunedin, New Zealand.
"If we could pull the plug on the oceans it would be clear to everyone we have mountain chains and a big high-standing continent above the ocean crust."
Mortimer was lead author of the paper titled "Zealandia: Earth's hidden continent" which says the new discoveries prove what had long been suspected.
"Since about the 1920s, from time to time in geology papers people used the word 'continental' to describe various parts of New Zealand and the Catham Islands and New Caledionia," Mortimer said.
"The difference now is that we feel we've gathered enough information to change 'continental' to the noun, 'continent'."
Mortimer said geologists early in the previous century had found granite from sub-antarctic islands near New Zealand and metaphormic rocks on New Caledonia that were indicative of continental geology.
If the recent discovery is accepted by the scientific community, cartographers will probably have to add an eighth continent to future maps and atlases.
"The paper we've written unashamedly sticks to empirical observations and descriptions," Mortimer said. "The litmus test will really be if 'Zealandia' appears in maps and atlases in five or 10 year's time.""Zealandia" is believed to have broken away from Australia about 80 million years ago and sank beneath the sea as part of the break up of the super-continent known as Gondwanaland.


LONDON - Sussex-based IosBio has found a way to turn injected vaccines into tablets and signed a deal with California's ImmunityBio

Putting Covid vaccines into pills could soon move from dream to reality after a Sussex-based biotech signed an agreement with a US pharmaceutical company to test the technology in clinical trials.

Burgess Hill-based IosBio has found a way to turn injected vaccines into orally administered tablets. The technology is now being used by ImmunityBio, a Californian company developing a vaccine against Covid after signing a licensing agreement with iosBio.

Clinical trials in monkeys have shown the oral vaccine made using iosBio technology to be highly effective, while the jab version is already in phase two/three trials.

The oral vaccine will begin clinical trials on Americans this month and ImmunityBio is applying for regulatory approval to run trials in the UK.

IosBio’s technology is called OraPro. It engineers vaccines into pills that can withstand temperatures of up to 50C, allowing them to pass through the stomach and be directly absorbed into the mucous membranes.

“You catch Covid in your mucosal cells,” said Wayne Channing, chief executive of iosBio. “But with jabs you get injected into the arm which goes into the muscles and blood cells. Our tablets go straight into mucosal cells to illicit mucosal immunity so we hit the virus where it is.

“When you catch this virus you breath it in or swallow it and 80pc of your immune system cells are mucosal so we are addressing that directly. I think this will be a new paradigm in vaccination.”

Under the terms of the licensing agreement, ImmunityBio has exclusive rights to OraPro. In return, IosBio will get royalties on global sales of the approved vaccine.

“The results from the non-human primate trial were outstanding for oral and I think oral is the right strategy,” Mr Channing added.

“Patrick Soon-Shiong, the chief executive of ImmunityBio, called me and said he had woken up at 3am and thought, this should be an oral vaccine.”

THE HAGUE - The United Kingdom (UK) is among the preferred destination countries for irregular migrants travelling to Europe with the help of migrant smuggling networks.

These irregular migrants travel to the UK either directly from non-EU countries or indirectly as part of secondary movements via the EU. Organised crime groups active in this filed have been using various modi operandi to cross the English Channel. For many years, the smuggling of irregular migrants on lorries from Belgium, France and the Netherlands was the most common modus operandi. The use of small boats and other types of maritime vessels only occurred occasionally.

What is happening?

A first sharp increase was recorded in October 2018, and since 2019, the number of incidents involving migrant smuggling in small boats (rigid inflatable boats or rigid hull inflatable boats) across the English Channel has been increasing. This trend has continued and the number of incidents has further significantly increased throughout
2020. In 2020, it was the main modus operandi employed by migrant smuggling networks offering smuggling services from the EU to the UK and more commonly encountered than the facilitation in lorries or other vehicles using the Channel Tunnel1

Where it is happening?

Most departures took place from the north of France, in areas close to Calais and Dunkirk and, to a much lesser extent, from the Belgian coast. From January to mid-December 2020, law enforcement authorities of concerned countries registered more than 1 300 incidents involving more than 15 000 irregular migrants crossing the English Channel in small boats

Why is this happening?

A number of factors have prompted the increasing use of small boats to transport irregular migrants from continental Europe to the
UK. At the end of February 2020, more systematic customs controls were introduced in the Channel Tunnel between Calais and Dover
(UK) as the UK entered the transition period as part of its withdrawal from the EU. Measures implemented to prevent the spread of
COVID-19 affected the dynamics of regular movements. These factors and the existing 65km of fence securing the main roads towards
between Calais and the Channel Tunnel have made migrant smuggling in lorries, previously the most common modus operandi in
this region, increasingly more difficult to organise and less profitable for migrant smugglers. In addition, recent tragedies linked to
migrant smuggling in confined compartments may deter migrant smugglers from employing this modus operandi. Migrant smugglers
and organised crime groups have once again shown flexibility and adaptability by using small boats instead of lorries. Furthermore,
favourable weather conditions during the year, simple practical implementation and a high success rate made this modus operandi
even more appealing for organised crime groups.

What is the involvement of organised crime groups?

Several organised crime groups are involved in providing cheap rubber boats and engines. They have primarily been operating from Belgium, France, Germany, the Netherlands and the UK.
Inflatable boats and engines were often purchased in Germany and the Netherlands and then transported to departure points along the French and Belgian coast. In parallel, organised crime groups have been recruiting irregular migrants for Channel crossings. There were also cases of mass departures involving several boats departing simultaneously. Recorded prices for smuggling in a small boat have been changing in 2020 with facilitators responding to increased demand. In one investigation criminals were charging a smuggling fee of €3 000 per person.

Other types of vessels used to cross the English Channel

Small boats are not the only type of vessel used by facilitators to smuggle irregular migrants across the Channel to the UK. Registered sailing vessels and motor yachts are also used to transport irregular migrants under the guise of leisure trips, departing from Belgium or the Netherlands3. This modus operandi is less visible than departures with small boats since it involves legitimate, registered vessels.


The trend of facilitation of irregular migrants in small boats across the English Channel has continued in January 20214 . Successful crossings, attempted crossings or discovery of nautical equipment for crossing have been regularly recorded.5


1- This intelligence notification is based on information available at Europol’s European Migrant Smuggling Centre and provided by EU Member States and the United
2- Contribution from an EU Member State: includes successful crossings, attempted crossings or discovery of nautical equipment for crossing.
3- Reuters (2020) ‘UK arrests 72 people on fishing boat in people-smuggling investigation’, 18 November (https://uk.reuters.com/article/uk-britain-crime-smuggling/ukarrests-72-people-on-fishing-boat-in-people-smuggling-investigation-idUKKBN27Y2PC).
4- Contribution from an EU Member State.
5- Contribution from an EU Member State.


SAN FRANSISCO - The attack on the US Capitol was incited and planned over Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other digital media platforms, and it is a warning to Europe.

Unfortunately, the recently proposed policies by EU Commission vice president Margrethe Vestager and the European Commission, called the Digital Services Act (DSA) and Digital Markets Act (DMA), are poorly equipped to deal with the extreme toxicities of the digital media platform business model.

These interventions, like many of the previous ones from Vestager, are narrowly framed in terms of their impact on competition and consumers.

But most of the worst atrocities of the Big Tech Media business model cannot be dealt with through a competition frame.

The commission's proposals not only lack regulatory strength, but also a broader vision for how the digital platforms should work.

My contacts in Silicon Valley are rolling their eyes because they believe DSA/DMA will change so little.

Since the birth of the digital media platforms 15 years ago, democracies around the world have been subjected to a grand experiment: can a nation's news and information infrastructure, which is the lifeblood of any democracy, be dependent on digital technologies that allow a global free speech zone of unlimited audience size, combined with algorithmic (non-human) curation of massive volumes of mis/disinformation that can be spread with unprecedented ease and reach?

The evidence has become frighteningly clear that this experiment has veered off course, like a Frankenstein monster marauding across the landscape.

Facebook is no longer simply a "social networking" website – it is the largest media giant in the history of the world, a combination publisher and broadcaster with approximately 2.6 billion regular users and billions more on the Facebook-owned WhatsApp and Instagram.

A mere 100 pieces of Covid-19 misinformation on Facebook were shared 1.7 million times and had 117 million views – that's far more viewers than the New York Times, Washington Post, Bild, Daily Mail, Le Monde, ARD, BBC and CNN combined.

The Facebook/Google/Twitter media empires have been used by bad actors for disinformation campaigns in over 70 countries to undermine elections, even helping elect a quasi-dictator in the Philippines; and to widely amplify and even livestream child abusers, pornographers and the Christchurch mass murderer.

How can we unite to take action on climate change when a majority of YouTube climate change videos denies the science, and 70 percent of what YouTube's two billion users watch comes from its sensation-driven recommendation algorithm?

The commission doesn't seem to recognise how the competition frame utterly fails to address these abuses. So what alternative approach should the EU take?

Reclaiming the promise of the internet

These Silicon Valley platforms are creating the new 21st century infrastructure of the digital age, requiring a whole new business model.

The EU should treat these companies more like investor-owned utilities, as Europe and the US previously did with telephone, railroad and power companies (Mark Zuckerberg himself has suggested such an approach).

As utilities, they would be guided by a digital license – just like traditional brick-and-mortar companies must apply for various licenses and permits -- that defines the rules and regulations of the business model.

Along those lines, the EU should realign its digital media market according to a fiduciary 'duty of care' obligation, a kind of Hippocratic oath and precautionary principle that entails a legal responsibility to 'first, do no harm.'

British authorities have been trying to erect the foundations of this approach.

For example, these companies never asked for permission to start sucking up our private data, or to track our physical locations or mass collect every "like," "share" and "follow" into psychographic profiles of each user.

They started this massive data grab secretly, forging their destructive brand of "surveillance capitalism."

Now that we know, should the EU continue to allow this? Shouldn't the default regulation require platforms to obtain users' permission to collect any of our personal data, i.e. opt-in rather than opt-out?

The DSA gets it backwards, providing only a vague "opt out" right.

The new model also should encourage competition by limiting the mega-scale audience size of these digital media giants.

And it should restrain the use of specific 'engagement' techniques, such as hyper-targeting of content, automated recommendations, addictive behavioural nudges (like autoplay and pop-up screens) and filter bubbles that allow manipulation.

These frequent outrages against our democracies and humanity are supposedly the price we must pay for being able to post our summer vacation and new puppy pics to our "friends," or for political dissidents and whistleblowers to alert the world to their just causes.

Those are all important uses, but the price paid is very high.

With so much at stake, it's not clear why the European Commission continues to rely on the small hammer of a narrow "competition" frame.

The challenge now is to establish sensible guardrails for this 21st century digital infrastructure, so that we can harness the good that these technologies provide, and greatly mitigate the dangerous impacts.

The Author

Steven Hill is the former policy director at the Center for Humane Technology and author of seven books, including Raw Deal: How the Uber Economy and Runaway Capitalism Are Screwing American Workers and The Startup Illusion: How the Internet Economy Threatens Our Welfare.




BRUSSELS - In a democracy, trust is never a given, warn MEPs. After a transformative year, Europe needs an open debate on what comes next, or we risk losing the public.

It was the year a pandemic kept us all at home, and the EU set up an unprecedented bond programme to deal with the economic fallout.

When authoritarian tendencies in Europe thundered on, and anti-democratic spoilers both within and outside the EU actively promoted mistrust in public policies. When one of Europe's biggest members left for good, and one of the world's leading democracies often seemed to have lost the plot.

We are all happy to leave 2020 behind, but we would be irresponsible not to draw conclusions from its malice. The world is a different place, and politics will need to change to cope with that fact.

One person who understands is president-elect Joe Biden. Not only will he reach out to democratic unbelievers in his own country to heal the wounds of past years.

He has also promised to bring the world's democracies together to update their narrative, and to lay out a shared agenda to breathe new life into it.

Fighting corruption, defending human rights, tackling authoritarianism and the fundamental problems underlying its attractions... these are no longer issues one country can deal with on its own. They are world-wide problems, and the democratic world should come together more effectively to find solutions.

In Europe too, democracy needs a shot up the arm.

The EU has already adapted to some of the issues it faced.

It now plays a decisive and delicate role in tackling health crises, for instance through negotiating vaccine purchases on behalf of national governments.

It took up another major role in financing the recovery, which means member states link up to borrow and spend a staggering €700bn on top of the normal EU budget together. With that power comes great responsibility.

On the other hand, the EU has shown traditional weakness in other fields, such as belated sanctions on Belarus' election thuggery and a bewildering naivety towards China.

The final compromise on the rule of law guarantee for recovery fund projects also left much to be desired. Weakness too carries obligations.

None of these can go without democratic oversight and public legitimation. When policies take a leap forward, democratic politics need to be adapted accordingly.

Already after the last European elections, the EU promised a public consultation on the state of our shared politics.

A Conference on the Future would be set up to make the debate on the bigger picture more interactive: what do we want and need to do together, as Europeans, and how do we best make that happen?

Those are not questions Brussels can answer on its own.

So a two-year debate would be organised as broadly as possible, in time for the EU leaders present and future to draw conclusions before the next elections to the European Parliament in 2024.

Ursula von der Leyen promised it, the European Council supported it, the European Parliament was enthusiastic to go ahead.... and then, nothing.

This week (15 January), the European Parliament's opinion on the Conference is one year old.

Ever since then, Council and Commission have been stalling. Do they fear a genuine public debate would come up with conclusions they wouldn't like?

Or do they fear a truly European debate would draw lessons they cannot control?

Whatever the reason their fear, as always in politics, is a really bad counsel. Because when powerful politicians shy away from public scrutiny, the public loses trust.

This is a crucial time for EU politics. Momentous decisions are being taken, and we stand behind them whole heartedly. But in a democracy you cannot wield and expand power without active engagement of the public.

No more excuses, no more delays: the Conference on the Future of Europe needs to start now.


MEPs Gabriele Bischoff (S&D), Damian Boeselager (Greens), Pascal Durand (Renew), Daniel Freund (Greens), Danuta Huebner (EPP), Domenec Ruiz Devesa (S&D), Paulo Rangel (EPP), Helmut Scholz (GUE/NGL), Guy Verhofstadt (Renew).


By Tom Nicholds, this article was first published by the Atlantic on 30 December 2020.

WASHINGTON - Donald Trump is intent on creating as much chaos as possible on his way out of the White House. Could that include saddling Joe Biden with another war in the Middle East?

We already know that Trump is thinking about attacking Iran. In mid-November, after he lost the presidential election, Trump asked for military options against Iranian nuclear facilities, a reckless idea that was derailed by top aides. Since then, the United States has sent B-52 bombers on missions in the Persian Gulf three times, including a 30-hour round trip from North Dakota to the Gulf on December 29.

B-52 flights are a traditional American method of demonstrating resolve, a way to signal to an enemy that the United States is engaged and alert for trouble. (Whether such flights do any good is questionable, but American administrations of both parties use them.) These recent bomber missions are ostensibly an effort to deter Iran from carrying out attacks on U.S. or allied forces as the anniversary of the Iranian terror chieftain Qasem Soleimani’s killing approaches on January 3.

Iran is almost certainly planning retaliation for Soleimani’s death, and both Trump and Biden have a duty to be vigilant about possible revenge, a real danger that deserves serious attention. Even if Iran forgoes action before January, the regime in Tehran is an ongoing threat to peace and stability in the region, a problem that Trump did not invent and that Biden will inherit.

As he has done with most things, however, Trump took a bad situation and made it worse. Killing Soleimani was the right move, for example, but the clumsiness and confusion that followed—including Trump threatening to engage in war crimes by destroying Iranian cultural sites—created a moral and political void in which Iran was able to take the initiative and retaliate against U.S. bases in Iraq without further consequences.

And whatever the flaws of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action—and I was one of the critics who had serious problems with the Iran deal—it at least temporarily stabilized the Iranian nuclear problem. The JCPOA was imperfect, but it was the only game in town, and Trump dumping it gave the Iranians the out they needed to go right back to their previous mischief.

Now Trump’s defense officials are making noises—while Trump himself is silent—about deterrence. But repeated bomber flights and stories about strikes on Iranian nuclear facilities, particularly when they’re coming from a claque of mostly unqualified officials in an acting capacity who will not be around to fulfill these vague threats, are not much of a deterrent in the waning days of an administration that refuses to cooperate on basic matters of national defense with its successor.

Instead, Trump might be planning a final grand distraction before he is forced to relinquish his office.

The question is not whether Trump has the power to do any of this. He holds the authority of Article II of the Constitution until noon on January 20. As unsettling as it may be to realize this, Trump—like any American president—can launch anything, from a reconnaissance mission to a nuclear strike, even as Biden is standing on the steps of the Capitol waiting to be sworn in. Whether U.S. military leaders, including the head of the U.S. Strategic Command, would promptly execute orders they thought unwise or possibly illegal is another matter, but the authority of the president of the United States is not limited by losing an election.

Rather, the question is why Trump would ignite a war with Iran at the last minute, and what to look for if he has made such a decision.

The obvious reason Donald Trump does anything is because he thinks it will benefit Donald Trump.

At the least, it is one last chance for Trump to role-play the only part of the job he has ever liked: the strutting commander in chief. If Trump decides on war, he will issue orders, and there will be a great deal of saluting and generous use of the word sir, all of which (if we are to judge from his rants at rallies) he finds irresistible. From the border wall to the COVID-19 crisis, Trump’s fallback position when he is flummoxed by the complexity of governing is to call in the military and issue orders that cannot be countermanded by another branch of the government or by his own bureaucracy.

War with Iran could also be a way of making one more last-ditch argument for staying in power, but launching a war, of course, will not keep Trump in office. He may not realize this; he did not understand that his own vice president has the constitutional duty to count Electoral College votes. And someone in the current chaotic scrum may well have convinced Trump that some double-secret codicil of the Constitution will allow him to remain president.

But a war with the mullahs—the devout wish of Iran hawks like Michael Flynn, who supported Trump from the start and who now has his ear as the White House melts down in these final days—would more likely be a final punishment that Trump could inflict on the American people for rejecting him, and a massive act of sabotage against Biden for defeating him.

American citizens and their elected officials may not be able to stop Trump from issuing orders, but they can be watchful for the traditional signs of a country about to go to war.

These are the same things that observers such as journalists and foreign-intelligence analysts would also watch for, including the sudden congregation of national-security officials at the Pentagon and the White House, a heightened state of alert, an increase in the “force protection condition” at U.S. bases, and the movement of large assets into the region. (The carrier Nimitz returned to the Persian Gulf in November, but a Navy spokesperson says this was not in response to any “specific” threats, a careful use of language that does not rule anything in or out.)

Trump was never much interested in the business of governing, and once he lost the election, he completely gave up on the job of being president. He is now fully in survival mode, and this is why he should not get the benefit of the doubt we might give to other presidents who have exercised their powers until their last days in office. If we must go into another conflict in the Middle East, Trump must stand before the American people and Congress—now—and explain himself, instead of surprising us all with the ultimate act of political arson in his final minutes in an office he never wanted and of which he was never worthy.



By Omar H. Rahman, Brookings Doha Center, December 23, 2020

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is entering a new stage. A viable diplomatic process for resolving “final-status” issues has been non-existent for several years. The Palestinian national movement is feeble and fractured, leaving it ill-equipped to face down persistent challenges and unable to exert leverage in pursuit of its goals. Israel is rapidly consolidating decades of illegal settlement activity through legislative and institutional means, positioning itself to formally incorporate vast swathes of the West Bank into the state through de jure annexation.

This latter process, in particular, has come at the direct expense of establishing an independent State of Palestine and leaves millions of Palestinians stranded under Israeli sovereignty without political rights or a horizon for achieving them in the future. Absent any intention of integrating these stateless Palestinians into its citizenry, Israel is formalizing a “two-tier system of disparate political, legal, social, cultural and economic rights based on ethnicity and nationality,” which a group of leading United Nations (U.N.) human rights experts recently characterized as “a 21st century apartheid,” and what others have simply termed a “one-state reality.”
In this context, the road to a negotiated settlement of the conflict has be- come impossible to envision without dramatic changes to each side’s internal socio-political dynamics, the gross imbalance of power between them, and the approach of the international community. Perhaps as important is the need for a thorough reassessment of the appropriate conceptual framework to resolve the conflict. For more than three decades, the international community has remained wedded to the paradigm of partition into two independent states, or the “two-state solution.” This despite the growing divergence between the objective of establishing a separate Palestinian state and the reality of gradual Israeli annexation on the ground, as well as eroding public support on both sides and the increasing struggle of advocates to defend the solution’s viability.
While interest in alternative frameworks has grown in recent years, there is still a significant shortfall in the examination and development of the various modalities, not to mention a lack of political traction or broad-based mobilization on behalf of any particular option. It is clear that alternatives to classic partition need to be studied with more frequency and in greater depth in order to widen the range of options available to policymakers and civil actors in the years ahead.

This paper presents an exploration of one such alternative: the hybrid model of confederation. The intention of this paper is to think beyond the classic two-state model for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and to present ideas for how policymakers and civil actors can apply a confederal framework in the future. Given the already entrenched one-state reality, the emancipation of Palestinians through enfranchisement in a single democratic state is the most conceptually straightforward alternative to decades of failed attempts at implementing partition. Striving for the more complex model of confederation may appear unnecessarily burdensome.

However, confederation is more responsive to the realities often overlooked by one-state proponents. More so, it does not preclude a single democratic state from emerging in the long run, should such a state be recognized as feasible and beneficial. Confederation has the potential to serve as a workable and mutually appealing model of governance that liberates Palestinians from the current reality of interminable oppression, halts further settler colonialism, preserves self- determination and national expression for both sides, and addresses Israeli and Palestinian aspirations and grievances in a harmonizing and practical manner. In doing so, the confederal approach envisions a resolution to the conflict that prevents, or at least limits, further conflict down the road.

By providing pathways toward open or soft borders, permanent residency status, and aspects of shared sovereignty, a confederal system of governance expands opportunities beyond those envisioned under the classic two-state formula, in ways that could minimize zero-sum competition over the most intractable areas of conflict and resolve the security/sovereignty dilemma. The confederal system will necessarily be complex and able to withstand a considerable amount of stress and recurring tensions.

It will also demand huge conceptual and practical leaps in order to rearrange hard-to-dislodge systems of privilege. Breaking the deadlock that has prevented a resolution up to this point will require marshalling unprecedented levels of external and internal pressure, coupled with a clearly articulated alternative that is acceptable to a majority of Israelis and Palestinians. While many will surely cast doubt on the feasibility of confederation, the same could once be said for the two-state solution, which came to a hold a monopoly over peacemaking efforts.

At present, the inequitable one-state reality being imposed by Israel is deeply disturbing and harmful. It also fails to offer any resolution to the underlying conflict. While that is likely cause for more instability in the near future, it also presents an opportunity to reassess how Israelis and Palestinians may one day live more equitably in a land they share. At this juncture, the development of that framework is urgently needed.


NEW YORK - Addressing the UN Security Council on Monday, the UN envoy for the Middle East Peace Process urged Israelis, Palestinians, regional States and the broader international community to “take practical steps to enable the parties to re-engage” in the peace process.

“The Middle East Quartet – alongside Arab partners – and Israeli and Palestinian leaders, must work together to return to the path of meaningful negotiations”, Nickolay Mladenov told the ambassadors in his final briefing as Special Coordinator.  

A historic struggle

“Israelis and Palestinians, Jews and Arabs have lived with conflict for too long”, said the UN envoy. “Loss and displacement are part of the personal history of every single household” for generations.

He painted a picture of Palestinians being “upended from their homes” and forced to seek refuge across the region while “Jews have been upended from across the region” and forced to seek refuge in Israel.

Mr. Mladenov reminded that the conflict is not only over land or history, “it is a conflict over the very right of two nations to co-exist”.

Financial shortfall

A disruption of vital services in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) is hanging in the balance as the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) faces a funding gap of $88 million, which includes some $22 million to pay salaries of nearly 30,000 frontline education, health, social and other workers directly assisting Palestine refugees.  

“The Agency is not only a lifeline for millions of Palestine refugees, and fully engaged in the fight against COVID-19, but is also critical for regional stability”, said Mr. Mladenov. “Sufficient funding is essential for the Agency’s continuity, and I renew my appeal for support”.

Meanwhile, last week the Palestinian Prime Minister and the Acting OPT Humanitarian Coordinator launched a 2021 Humanitarian Response Plan, which includes a $417 million appeal to help 1.8 million vulnerable people over the coming year.  

“The latest humanitarian needs assessment found that 2.45 million Palestinians — some 47 per cent of the population currently need aid”, he said.  

Settlements must cease

Israeli settlement-related developments continue, with expansions in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, Mr. Mladenov added, saying they entrench Israel’s occupation and undermine the prospect of a two-State solution.  

“The advancement of all settlement activity must cease immediately”, he spelled out, underscoring that they constitute “a flagrant violation” of UN resolutions and international law.

The Special Coordinator also called “deeply concerning”, the continued demolition and seizure of Palestinian humanitarian projects and schools.

“I call on Israeli authorities to end the demolition of Palestinian property and the displacement and eviction of Palestinians”, he said.  

Peace achievable  

In closing, he recounted that every Palestinian he met believed that negotiations were “only a façade” for more land grabs while every Israeli believed they would lead to more “violence and terror”.  

 “The world cannot leave the situation unattended”, said the Special Coordinator, pointing to UN resolutions, bilateral agreements and the Middle East Quartet’s efforts, all aimed at resolving the conflict.

“No one in the international community questions the foundation that any resolution…must be based on two States” and that requires “engagement between the parties and not through violence”, he stressed.

Both sides must “look inward” both in coordination and independently “to protect the goal of sustainable peace”.  

“I firmly believe that the goal of a just and lasting peace between the Israeli and Palestinian people remains achievable through negotiations and can be mediated between the Middle East Quartet and the Arab partners”, the Special Coordinator said.

Mr. Mladenov informed that in January, Tor Wennesland would take over the mission and called his successor “one of the most capable diplomats I have ever worked with”.  

“I wish him every success in the years ahead and hope that you will extend to him your full support, as you have done to me”, concluded the outgoing UN envoy.


BRUSSELS - Russia is the dominant power in the Mediterranean Sea. Turkey is a rising one, and the West's "golden days" in the region are long gone, according to Italy's former military chief.

"Russia is the pre-eminent naval power in the Mediterranean ... [and] it has earned this role in the field," admiral (retired) Luigi Binelli Mantelli, who was head of Italy's armed forces from 2013 to 2015, told EUobserver in an interview.

Russian conventional firepower included two modern frigates, two submarines, and a destroyer, most of them with land-attack missile systems, permanently stationed in the western Mediterranean, he said.

It was seeking a naval base in Libya and had an "advanced" one in Syria, he added.

It can link its Mediterranean fleet with Black and Caspian Seas units, he noted.

And it can back its fleet with air power from Russia or "forward-deployed aircraft in other countries, such as Syria," Binelli Mantelli said.

The Kremlin also had the political edge, he said.

"In recent years, Russia has displayed a level of assertiveness that recalls the US during the golden days," Binelli Mantelli said, referring to the end of the Cold War, some 30 years ago.

"[Russian president Vladimir] Putin's decisiveness is evident, in terms of both freedom of action at the political and military level, and his ability to create relationships ... with countries in the area," Binelli Mantelli, who was speaking in a purely personal capacity, said.

One of these countries was Turkey, with which Russia is carving up the South Caucasus.

Turkey was also a rising Mediterranean force, the Italian admiral noted.

"It's on its way to acquiring a significant power-projection capability with the new amphibious-assault ship Anadolu, [which] can be configured as a light aircraft carrier," he said, referring to a Turkish-built vessel.

If it put vertical take-off and landing F-35 jets on board, Turkey would "gain additional regional relevance," he added.

And Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan also had an edge, Binelli Mantelli said.

His recent war with Azerbaijan to reconquer the Nagorno-Karabakh region from Armenia "provided Erdoğan with an additional strategic testbed for demonstrating his political assertiveness," Binelli Mantelli said.

The South Caucasus peace deal, brokered, last week, by Russia, cemented Putin's role as "primary arbiter" of events, the Italian admiral said.

It came after Putin and Erdoğan helped each other to become "absolute masters of the scene" in conflicts in Libya and Syria.

And it came after Turkish warships intimidated French and Greek ones in other disputes in recent months.

Erdoğan's game

Turkey has been a Nato member since 1952 and, for Binelli Mantelli, it was out of the question that Putin could ever peel away Erdoğan from the Western alliance.

"I am definitely against the idea that Turkey could break away from Nato. I don't see any interest for Ankara to do so," Binelli Mantelli said.

"In the first place, for the free access to intelligence available to Nato nations", which helped Turkey in multiple theatres, he said.

But, for Binelli Mantelli, Erdoğan was, nevertheless, "playing the 'one foot in both shoes' game" with Putin to advance Turkish ambition.

And their games had "destabilised" the status quo.

Russia and Turkey had pushed out "traditional peace-providers, such as the US, Nato, or any other European actor with interests in those countries [Libya and Syria]," Binelli Mantelli said.

"In this sense, I see Nato's relevance being put seriously at stake [in the Mediterranean]," he said.

Part of the change was due to US redeployments, he noted.

"Nowadays, US Sixth Fleet consistency and engagement [in the Mediterranean] is nothing compared to what it was before the collapse of the USSR," Binelli Mantelli said.

The fact the US recently moved warships from Italy to Spain was "emblematic" of a "swing of US interests from the Mediterranean to the African seas," he added.

The French "Force de dissuasion" was still "a significant naval power", the Italian admiral noted.

But the Italian navy was starved of funds, due to Italy's "sea-blindness", he said.

'Sad spectacle'

And even if the French "Force de Frappe" was to be reckoned with on paper, "what matters, anyhow, is the willingness to act", Binelli Mantelli said.

"As I said before: It's a matter of lack of [Western] assertiveness," he said.

Nato, in recent years, had deployed new forces in the Baltic Sea region, but it was "no longer the deterring organisation able and eager to show its muscles in the Mediterranean arena, as it did in the good old times," he added.

Recalling Nato drills such as "Dragon Hammer", in the early 1990s, which involved aircraft carriers and amphibious landings in Turkey to repel potential Russian invasion, Binelli Mantelli said Western powers had drifted "far away" from their former superiority.

"The Western bloc, with Europe leading this unfortunate enterprise ... is becoming less and less credible in its willingness to commit, on the field, rather than through endless diplomatic talks, to international stability [in Europe's southern neighbourhood]," he said.

It was a "sad spectacle", the admiral noted.

"Nato is too much land-centric, forgetting that only great maritime powers have influenced the world throughout history," he said.



North Africa

WASHINGTON - The text of the following Chair’s Summary was released by the Governments of the United States of America and the Kingdom of Morocco after virtual ministerial conference in support of the Autonomy Initiative under Morocco’s sovereignty over Western Sahara.

1. At the invitation of the Kingdom of Morocco and the United States of America, the Ministerial Conference in support of the Autonomy Initiative under Morocco’s sovereignty was held virtually on January 15, 2021.

2. Forty countries participated in the Conference, among which 27 were represented at the ministerial level.

3. The Conference participants expressed strong support for Morocco’s autonomy initiative as the only basis for a just and lasting solution to this regional dispute.

4. The Co-Chairs recalled the Proclamation of the United States of America of December 10, 2020, entitled “Recognizing the Sovereignty of the Kingdom of Morocco over Western Sahara,” which reaffirmed support for Morocco’s serious, credible, and realistic autonomy proposal as the only basis for a just and lasting solution to the dispute over the Western Sahara territory. The Proclamation also urged the parties to engage in discussions in coordination with the United Nations without delay.

5. Co-Chairs also underlined that the U.S. Presidential Proclamation provides guidance for efforts to advance the UN-exclusive political process aimed at reaching a lasting political solution, with the autonomy initiative as the only realistic basis for such a solution. This Proclamation will strengthen the international consensus in support of the UN-exclusive political process.

6. The Conference highlighted the decision of twenty United Nations Member States to open Consulates General in the Moroccan cities of Laâyoune and Dakhla, considering that such steps will promote economic and business opportunities for the region, strengthen the vocation of the Sahara region as an economic hub for the entire continent and advance progress towards reaching a long-awaited final political solution to this protracted dispute.

7. Participants welcomed the development endeavors launched in the region including in the framework of Morocco’s “New Development Model for the Southern Provinces” initiative.

8. Participants committed to continue their advocacy for a solution, using Morocco’s autonomy plan as the sole framework for resolving the Western Sahara dispute.


International Crisis Group, 24 December 2020

This Briefing Note provides up-to-the-minute analysis of attempts to end Libya’s almost decade-long civil war through talks focused on reunifying the country’s government, oil-based economy and security forces. It is the second in a series of twice-monthly updates.


Foreign Actors Drive Military Build-up amid Deadlocked Political Talks

A tenuous ceasefire continues to hold in Libya between forces allied to the Tripoli-based government and their rivals in the east. Yet there is reason to worry that the five-month hiatus in the conflict could end abruptly. The 23 October ceasefire agreement silenced the guns but otherwise is a dead letter: both sides have backtracked on fulfilling its terms and instead continue to build up their military forces. Another concern is the failure to find a political way forward. The UN’s attempt to revive dialogue and appoint a new Presidency Council and prime minister to head a unity government has floundered. The prospects of uniting the country under a single government equipped with an electoral roadmap are thus highly uncertain. Fortunately, despite these red flags, there appears to be little appetite among Libyan factions and their foreign backers to restart the war.

The Ceasefire Terms Go Unfulfilled

The October ceasefire agreement, which was signed by pro-Tripoli representatives and delegates of the Libyan National Army led by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, established that Libyan rival forces would withdraw immediately from the front lines and freeze foreign military training agreements. It also stipulated that all foreign fighters supporting the two military coalitions would leave the country by late January. Yet neither side appears keen to implement its commitments and both seem determined to dig in further.

Diplomatic sources and online reports indicate that Turkey sent several sea and air shipments of military equipment to its Tripoli-based allies throughout November and December. Satellite imagery published on 10 December suggests that Ankara has also continued to reinforce its presence at al-Wutiya, an air base close to the Tunisian border where Turkish officers have been operating since mid-2020. Some foreign analysts speculate that Turkey is installing new aerial defence systems there in preparation for deploying fighter jets. Officials in Ankara have not commented on the matter, nor have UN officials.

If the analysts’ conjecture is correct, however, such a deployment could rapidly escalate tensions between Turkey and its regional foes Egypt and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Western diplomats suspect one of these two countries carried out an airstrike (or at the very least, called on one of their other allies to do so) on Turkish positions in al-Wutiya in July 2020, in another manifestation of the years-long feud between Cairo and Abu Dhabi, on one side, and Ankara and Doha, on the other. Qatar reportedly bankrolls Turkey’s operation in Libya.

Haftar-held positions in central and southern Libya also have received military reinforcements. Pro-Haftar sources confirmed to Crisis Group that foreign partners are slowly seeking to strengthen the field marshal’s camp’s hold on the areas, though they refused to specify the countries involved. They added, however, that the Libyan National Army is enlisting numerous new recruits from the south, including non-Libyans. Russian private military contractors appear to have increased their presence at two air bases, al-Gardabiya and al-Jufra, in central Libya, and also appear to be moving equipment from there to Brak al-Shati, another Haftar-controlled base further south.

At the same time, diplomatic sources talk of continued Emirati military supplies to Haftar’s rear base in eastern Libya. It is unclear if Russia and the UAE are coordinating their movements and supplies. A recent Pentagon report suggests that the UAE is providing financing for Russian private contractors in Libya, a claim that both Abu Dhabi and Moscow have denied.

In light of these reports, the two Libyan sides have traded accusations of violating the ceasefire terms. On 7 December, the Tripoli-based government accused Haftar-led forces of attempting to take over a military base in the southern desert town of Obari. Tribal representatives in Obari, who are not aligned with either side, promptly clarified that the matter was based on a misunderstanding. But in the following weeks, officials in Tripoli continued to alert foreign diplomats to what they said was a military build-up in the south. The anti-Tripoli camp has officially denied it is mobilising in the south and instead accused Tripoli, in a 7 December statement, of dispatching “militias, weapons and military equipment toward the front lines west of Sirte and Jufra”.

Turkey has also been the target of accusations. On 9 December, the Haftar-led coalition blamed Ankara for “undermining Libyan sovereignty and its resources” by “dispatching military equipment through an uninterrupted air bridge and transporting mercenaries and foreign fighters to fight the Libyan people”. A few days earlier, naval vessels loyal to Haftar stopped a Turkish cargo ship off the eastern Libyan coast. This incident prompted the Turkish foreign ministry to warn that targeting Turkish interests in Libya will have “grave consequences” and that Haftar’s forces will be viewed as “legitimate targets”. The Libyan National Army released the ship on 10 December, having found no weapons on board.

An earlier incident may have fuelled the Haftar camp’s distrust of Turkey: on 24 November, a German vessel operating under the umbrella of the EU’s Operation Irini, which is tasked with monitoring violations of the UN arms embargo on Libya, had interdicted another Turkish vessel heading to Libya and suspected of carrying military equipment. German marines boarded the ship but had to abort the mission after Ankara intervened diplomatically to prevent the inspection. Under international law, the Irini mission requires tacit consent from a vessel’s flag state before it can board the ship for inspections.

The UN considers Turkey’s dispatch of military equipment a violation of the arms embargo, but Turkey rejects this, arguing instead that its military support to the Tripoli authorities is legitimate because it is part of a bilateral agreement between two sovereign governments, signed in late 2019 and ratified by the Turkish parliament in early 2020.

On this basis, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan submitted to parliament a decree to extend Ankara’s direct military support to the Tripoli government, which it approved on 22 December. This decree also renews the deployment of Turkish troops to Libya for another eighteen months, starting from 2 January 2021. UN and Western officials say this is a violation of both the arms embargo and the October ceasefire provisions, but Ankara has held firm in its own interpretation that its actions in the Tripoli-based government’s support are legitimate.

Russia also appears eager to consolidate its role in the conflict. In the past, Moscow has denied sponsoring the presence of Russian private contractors or backing any side in the conflict. In early December, however, a number of Western diplomats claimed that Russian officials had become much more straightforward behind closed doors in laying out the Kremlin’s interest in preserving its influence in Libya. These reports chime with remarks from within pro-Haftar ranks, where Russia’s apparent unwillingness to cooperate in facilitating the withdrawal of private military contractors has created some unease.

It remains unclear why pro-Haftar officers would want to cut back on Russian support, given how reliant they have become on these private military contractors to counterbalance Turkish support to their foes in Tripoli. Interpretations abound, ranging from financial disagreements between Benghazi and Moscow, to an alleged nationalist revival among Libyan military officers, including Haftar-led ones, that would have led them to seek to cut back on Russian support as long as Turkey also pulled its officers and allied Syrian fighters out of Libya.

Sources close to the Libyan National Army say officers in that camp had calculated that the October ceasefire agreement would force Russia to order the military contractors’ withdrawal, a move they claim they supported if carried out simultaneously with a Turkish withdrawal from Tripoli. But with the latter not occurring, and with Haftar’s Russian allies simultaneously becoming more entrenched, the Libyan National Army appears to have few options but to work with what it apparently has come to consider uncomfortable but necessary allies.

Overall, the failure to implement the ceasefire agreement, the military build-up and the inflammatory statements, as well as Turkish and Russian entrenchment, suggest that the conflict could resume, rather than wind down via a political process. Nonetheless, three elements mitigate the immediate risk of a flare-up. First, while keen to consolidate their influence, foreign actors have so far not signalled a desire to ignite a new round of hostilities. Secondly, there is no popular support for a new war, either in Tripoli or the east. Thirdly, there are ongoing steps to resolve the long-running dispute between Qatar and its Gulf neighbours; progress on this front could calm the proxy war in Libya. That said, the longer the ceasefire terms go unfulfilled and the military build-up continues, the higher the risk that a provocation could prompt a return to fighting.

The Political Deadlock Continues

Stalled political negotiations contribute to the grim outlook. UN-convened talks that were designed to lead to the appointment of a new interim government are on life support. The 75 participants in the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum have been unable to agree on how to select a new three-person Presidency Council and prime minister to run Libya until fresh elections scheduled for December 2021. After weeks of deliberations, they narrowed a list of twelve different voting mechanism proposals down to two options. But when 23 of the 75 delegates boycotted the final session, which was meant to take place in mid-December, the proceedings hit a dead end.

Despite this failure, the UN decided to start preparations for the December 2021 elections. It established a Legal Drafting Committee, a group of eighteen Libyans drawn from the dialogue forum tasked with forging consensus on a legal electoral framework with the help of UN advisers. The absence of a functioning parliament and disputes over the constitutional framework for elections have blocked progress on this matter for years. The committee is supposed to complete its work within 60 days of its creation if parliament, which has been split in two for the past six years, fails to carry out the task, as is likely.

Regardless, the path to elections remains fraught. The decision to move forward with election preparations has given rise to another set of problems that could bog down discussions. First, dialogue forum members who support the appointment of an interim government oppose proceeding with election preparations as long as there is no progress on that front, seeing the two as a single package. Secondly, longstanding disputes over whether a referendum on an existing draft constitution is a precondition for staging elections, in addition to other controversies related to the constitutional framework, are likely to slow down the legal committee’s work.

Progress on the Economy

The past month saw positive breakthroughs on the economic front. On 16 December, five of the Central Bank’s seven board members held their first meeting in five years. Since the 2014 political crisis, the board has been divided between supporters of the Tripoli-based governor (part of the internationally recognised government) and partisans of his pro-eastern deputy. The absence of a functioning board entrusted with overseeing the bank’s work, approving monetary policy and making top appointments at the bank’s subsidiaries has exacerbated Libya’s economic woes. Individuals involved in the process have expressed confidence that the board will hold consultations to deal with a range of pending issues. If the board does meet, it would bode well for the chances of the bank’s reunification.

A second breakthrough came when the board agreed to devalue the Libyan dinar, fixing a new official exchange rate of 4.48 dinars to the U.S. dollar, starting from early January. The aim is to unify Libya’s multiple exchange rate systems. For the past three years, Libya has had: an official rate, used mainly by the government, of 1.4 dinars to the dollar; a commercial rate of 4.9 dinars to the dollar for private businesses able to secure a letter of credit, which only the Central Bank can approve; and black-market rates ranging from 6 to 8 dinars to the dollar for small businesses unable to get a letter of credit. The board agreed on the reform following considerable public pressure. Government officials also argued that the existing system provided loopholes to a handful of exchange rate differential profiteers, while most Libyans had to rely on the unfavourable black-market rates.

Although the new rate was a positive step, some entrepreneurs have expressed concern that the measure will fall short of improving access to foreign exchange. It is far from certain that the Central Bank will make hard currency available as long as a dispute over oil revenues management remains unresolved; such revenues provide almost all of the country’s foreign exchange reserves. At a 14-15 December UN-brokered meeting in Geneva, officials from the Tripoli-based government, National Oil Corporation and the Central Bank’s two rival branches, as well as Libyan financial experts, met with U.S., Egyptian, UN and European Union diplomats and World Bank officials to discuss pending banking and budgetary issues. They touched only marginally on the dispute over the allocation of oil revenues and took no decision on this issue. Oil revenues thus remain sitting in a blocked National Oil Corporation account for the time being.


Yasmina Abouzzohour, Brookings Doha Center, December 23, 2020

Editor's Note:

Morocco’s experience in addressing the economic fallout from COVID-19 illustrates many of the economic challenges that middle-income countries are facing and the fiscal limitations they confront, says Yasmina Abouzzhour. This piece was originally published by the Moroccan Institute of Policy Analysis.


Middle-income countries within and beyond the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) adopted strong security responses early on, which helped in mitigating the public health threat at the onset of the coronavirus outbreak. However, confronted with heightened economic hardship, these countries gradually relaxed precautionary measures and must now control the epidemiological situation, while attempting to rebuild their economies and provide social welfare to their citizens. Morocco’s experience in addressing the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic illustrates many of the economic challenges that middle-income countries are facing, and the fiscal limitations they confront that wealthier countries do not have to bear.

Currently one of the MENA’s most impacted countries by the coronavirus pandemic in terms of contaminations and deaths, Morocco had initially successfully controlled the outbreak between March and May 2020 after declaring a national health emergency, closing its borders, and calling for mandatory confinement (see Figure 1). However, the state’s priorities shifted as the pandemic, and the associated lockdown strategy, resulted in economic loss. As a result, Moroccan decision-makers relaxed precautionary measures in June 20 in favour of relaunching the economy and alleviating the financial burdens of citizens and businesses (see Figure 2).

How did the Moroccan regime address the massive economic impact of the global pandemic, what were the strengths and weakness of its strategy, and what challenges will it face when attempting to recover the economy following what will likely be a deep recession?

COVID-19’s economic impact on Morocco

Morocco’s macroeconomic balances were predictably negatively impacted by the containment measures and reduced global demand resulting from the pandemic, as well as by a harsh drought and a drop in major exports. Indeed, the trade deficit has widened by 23.8 percent in the first quarter of 2020; while economic growth receded by 1.1 percent in the first quarter of 2020, and 1.8 percent in the second quarter. Because of a breakdown in their supply chains and the disruption of tourism, most major export sectors have been impacted (automotive, aeronautics, textile etc.); in fact, exports dropped by 19.7 percent between January and April, 2020. Imports, on the other hand, are expected to increase. The kingdom is expected to conclude 2020 with an economic contraction of 6.6 percent.

Furthermore, the pandemic, and associated lockdown measures, led to a significant increase in unemployment and underemployment. In fact, national unemployment rates, which are projected to reach their highest levels since 2001, increased from 9.1 percent in 2019 to 13 percent in 2020. In urban areas, the unemployment rate reached 15.6 percent in the second quarter of 2020 (compared to 13.1 percent in 2019); in rural areas, it increased from 3.4 percent in 2019 to 7.2 percent in 2020. For young people aged 24 to 35 years specifically, this number reached a record-high of 22.6 percent.

In terms of numbers of jobs lost, this translates to an estimated 581,000 jobs lost year-on-year during the third quarter of 2020, most of which were in rural areas. In the informal sector, which accounted for an estimated 20 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), around five million workers became unemployed since the start of the pandemic. In addition, working hours decreased on average from 46 to 22 hours per week (i.e., 265 million less weekly working hours in the second quarter of 2020 compared to the same timeframe in 2019).

Companies were also harshly affected by the pandemic; 142,000 companies (i.e., 57 percent of those registered) declared suspending operations (135,000 temporarily and 6,300 altogether); 72 percent of these were micro-sized. Significantly, one of the worst-hit sectors, tourism, is also one of the sectors Morocco’s economy depends on the most, and is projected to account for 6.4 percent of GDP. This sector may see up to $14 billion in losses between 2020 and 2022. The percentage of companies that suspended activities in the closely related hospitality sector reached 89 percent.

Alleviating economic pressures

Similar to other middle-income countries, Morocco’s COVID-19 economic strategy aimed to support economically vulnerable citizens and businesses (through aid, repayment plans, and loan packages), increase healthcare spending, and ensure liquidity provision. However, fiscal limitations meant that relief packages were smaller than in wealthier countries (see Figure 3). Despite these limitations, significant steps were taken, starting with the creation of a taskforce to help the Ministry of Economy and Finance monitor the economic impact of the pandemic. The regime also created an emergency fund in mid-March to help with COVID-related expenses; this fund raised the equivalent of $3.2 billion as of end of April 2020.

Furthermore, after a national lockdown was implemented in March, the government pledged stipends for all workers who lost jobs or working hours due to the pandemic. Formal sector employees would receive the equivalent of $220 per month, and those in the informal sector would receive between $90 to 134 per month, depending on family size. However, there were notable issues surrounding these stipends. First, distributing the pledged aid to all affected employees across the country did not happen in a regular and consistent manner; delays and missed payments took place.[1] Second, while helpful, the amount of aid provided was not sufficient to cover the basic needs of many people (rent, subsistence, etc.).

Businesses also received help; the central bank reduced the benchmark lending rate, increased refinancing operations for small businesses, and expanded the range of collateral to include public and private debt instruments. Furthermore, small businesses received tax deferments, while both small and medium businesses were entitled to three-month loan repayment suspensions and interest free loans. Indeed, as of May 2020, 9,000 loans (the equivalent of $370 million) were given to companies with a turnover below $50 million, though the newly founded guarantee program Damane Oxygene. Self-employed individuals affected by the COVID-19 crisis benefitted from interest-free loans of up to $1,500.

Economic Recovery Outlook

Resource-poor Morocco’s fiscal realities limit and complicate the regime’s response to the massive economic consequences of the global pandemic. Indeed, beyond the far-reaching impacts of COVID-19, the kingdom’s already frail economy was further harmed by a draught and a major drop in exports in 2020. In light of this, any economic recovery strategy will be undermined by Morocco’s underlying lack of resources; the regime does not have the wealth or solid economic structures required to deal with the pandemic.

The Central Bank has concluded that the outlook for Morocco’s economic development in 2021 and 2022 is uncertain. However, the last quarter of 2020 has been marked by government level discussions about how economic recovery might be approached in the near future. In October, the king announced a roadmap to revive the country’s economy with the help of a major universal social security project which will reform public establishments.[1] Another main focus will be determining how to revive and prioritize key sectors that were harshly affected in 2020, such as tourism, transport, hospitality, and the private sector.

Several major challenges remain. First, since Morocco’s main trading partner, the European Union, is likely to face a recession, trade is unlikely to bounce back immediately. Second, while reducing the national unemployment rate in 2021 is necessary, this is something the regime has struggled with for decades and is unlikely to solve in the near future. Finally, banking on the tourism sector to accelerate economic recovery will lead to disappointing results. Given travel difficulties associated with the global pandemic, international tourism will continue to plummet, while domestic tourism will be limited due to citizens’ economic hardship.

In the short-term, as COVID-19 cases continue to rise, and as the Moroccan regime attempts to strike a balance between recovering the economy and saving lives, Morocco is banking on Chinese laboratory Sinopharm’s vaccine to pave the way for economic recovery. In the meantime, the regime must invest more in reforming the social coverage system as it does not have enough resources to deal with the economic fallout of such crises. Indeed, the economic management of the crisis has shown that there are difficulties linked to the narrowness of the tax base which jeopardizes the state’s budgetary margins and its ability to adopt countercyclical policies.


By Dr Tarik Oumazzane, Global Politics, December 23, 2020.


American recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over its Sahara and the normalisation of relations between Morocco and Israel could have lasting benefits for the cause of peace in North Africa and the Middle East.

For North Africa, the Sahara dispute between Morocco and the Algerian backed Polisario has dragged on for 45 years, making it one of the world’s oldest conflicts, perpetuating a status quo that undermines regional economic development and political cooperation between North African actors. During discussions of a potential referendum about the disputed territory’s status in 1991, neither Morocco nor Polisario could agree on who was entitled to vote, rendering a plebiscite almost impossible to implement. More recently, Polisario’s blockade of Guerguerat, the only border crossing between Morocco and Mauritania caused a Moroccan military intervention in order to maintain the security of trade and people. In response, Polisario declared the 29-year UN supervised ceasefire was over, and resumed its armed struggle.

These developments pose major security threats to both North Africa and the Sahel regions including a potential armed conflict between Morocco and Algeria, the threat of extremism that tends to flourish in conflict zones, the further destabilisation of Libya and the potential increased influence of extremist groups located in northern Mali.

To what extent will American recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over the Sahara mitigate tensions in North Africa? Before answering this question, it is important to highlight that Washington’s new policy complements a growing international trend. Several African, Middle Eastern and Caribbean countries have already opened consulates in the Sahara to demonstrate political support for Morocco. However, the significance of the American recognition lies in its status in the world, in the UN Security Council, within NATO and in its diverse and international alliance system. The United States can potentially play a large role in resolving the Sahara dispute.

The American administration now considers Morocco’s autonomy plan as “serious, credible and realistic” and it is the only proposal on the negotiating table. This may well push both Algeria and Polisario to reconsider it.

The opening of an American consulate in Dakhla will attract foreign direct investment (FDI), and thereby open the possibility of a new push for economic development. This ought to provide an incentive for the Polisario to give up their armed struggle and participate in the economic development of the Sahara under Moroccan sovereignty. These new political economy incentives may be the key to resolving the Sahara dispute once and for all.

The implications of this potential resolution for the region are significant. The dispute has been a break on economic development for 45 years and a peace deal could provide Polisario with a real opportunity to participate in local governance. Health, education and employment should become a greater priority than an arms race between Morocco and Algeria. If investment is encouraged, the Sahara could become a regional economic hub. Morocco and Algeria can also potentially open their borders (closed since 1994) and revive The Maghreb Union with a potential integration with other African regions such as ECOWAS.

With regard to the wider Middle East, Morocco’s decision to normalise its relationship with Israel is by no means the first in the region. Egypt was indeed the forerunner when Sadat secured a peace agreement, part of the Camp David Accords in 1978. Jordan and Israel signed a peace treaty in 1994. Palestinians and Israelis signed the Oslo Accords in 1993 and 1995. In 1999, Mauritania and Israel established full diplomatic relations (although these have been frozen since 2009). More recently, Israel, the UAE, Bahrain and Sudan signed the Abraham Accords. Yet, Morocco has a unique position to play a pivotal role in the peace process in the Middle East.

Morocco has a profound and ancient Jewish connection. Moroccan Jewry’s origins date back more than 2,500 years. In the medieval age, following the Spanish Inquisition and the 1492 Alhambra Decree, Sephardic Jews were forced to flee to Morocco, where they were welcomed and integrated into Moroccan society. In the 1940s there were between 250,000 to 350,000 Jews living in Morocco as part of the largest Jewish community in the Muslim world.

At the peak of the Nazi regime in Europe and in North Africa, Sultan Mohammed V of Morocco resisted Nazi pressure for the deportation of Jews, considering them full Moroccan citizens. Morocco became a refuge and a transit destination for European Jews escaping the fascist regime in Europe. After the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948, a large number of Moroccan Jews chose to migrate to the new state but have retained their Moroccan traditions and ties to their ancestral country, Morocco. Israelis of Moroccan origin number approximately one million and many of them have risen to prominence in politics.

It is this profound and ancient Jewish connection which Morocco brings to the table. Morocco can mobilise Moroccan Jews in Israel to bridge the gaps between Palestinians and Israelis. More than that, the Moroccan King’s status as a descendant of the Prophet Mohammed, his title of Amir al-Mu’minin -Commander of the Faithful-, his position as the Head of Al-Quds ‘Jerusalem’ Committee and his good relations with the Palestinian National Authority reinforce his legitimacy as a peace broker in the Middle East.

The opportunities of economic development, political cooperation and the promotion of peace in the Middle East and North Africa are rare. American recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over its Sahara and the normalisation of relations between Morocco and Israel could promote a type of peace that goes beyond the absence of war to the presence of conditions for political cooperation and economic development between several Middle Eastern and North African actors.

About the author

Dr Tarik Oumazzane is a Lecturer in History and International Relations at the University of Nottingham, United Kingdom. He specialises in Middle East / North Africa Studies.


Research Papers & Reports

GLASGOW, SCOTLAND - Scientists have solved a key parasitic puzzle, revealing the unique and complex structures toxoplasmosis and malaria parasites make in order to survive in different hosts.

The new study, led by the University of Glasgow in collaboration with the University of Stockholm, and published in Nature Communications, details how certain parasites can create unique cellular structures to control how they create energy and thus survive in different hosts.

Malaria and toxoplasmosis, both potentially deadly diseases, are caused by similar parasites which organise themselves to exploit their host’s energy resources in order to infect and transmit to new hosts. However, until now, scientists didn’t fully understand the detailed mechanisms behind this process.

In this new research, researchers have solved a parasitic puzzle at the heart of how these deadly pathogens are able to survive in different hosts in order for them to transmit onwards.

Toxoplasmosis is a disease caused by the Toxoplasma parasite, and thought to be carried by an estimate 33% of the global population in its dormant state. However, in those with weakened immune systems this parasite can ‘wake up’ and cause complications such as stroke and brain damage. Malaria, a mosquito-borne infectious disease, currently affects over 200 million people, and kills nearly half a million people – mostly children – every year.

In order to survive these parasites rely on resources available in their host – for toxoplasmosis it is animals and humans, while for malaria this includes also insects. This means that in order to survive, to infect the host and to transmit between hosts, these parasites have to be flexible in how they create energy based on what is available to them.

Scientists studied a vital energy-producing machine within the parasite called ATPsynthase. In addition to making energy, ATPsynthase machines can also come together into large structures that together shape the mitochondrial membrane, controlling the rate of energy production, and key to its survival. Researchers found that, in these parasites, the ATPsynthase machines were able to make complex and unique pentagonal pyramid structures, unlike anything produced by the same systems in their human host.

Dr Lilach Sheiner, on the lead authors of the study from the University of Glasgow, said: “We have made major progress in understanding how the parasites which cause toxoplasmosis and malaria can adapt the way they make energy to the environment they experience in their host. This is critical for the parasite’s ability to disseminate in different tissues and to transmit between hosts.

“In addition to understanding better how these parasites manage to survive and maintain flexibility while navigating different host environments, these findings have importance in terms of generating knowledge that can inform drug discovery. Our structure can now be used for "digitally" screening for parasite-specific inhibitors – a promising strategy because it is so different to the human structure.”

Toxoplasmosis is generally transmitted through undercooked meat, soil, or from contact with cat faeces. Although it is estimated that 33% of the population in the UK carry a dormant form of the parasite, symptoms of infection in healthy adults generally go unnoticed.

However, toxoplasmosis can be dangerous to unborn children and in people with compromised immune systems, such as patients with AIDS. When the Toxoplasma ‘wakes up’ in people with compromised immune systems it can cause stroke, and in infants it can cause severe brain damage.

Malaria is caused by the related parasite, Plasmodium, which infects humans through the bite of a mosquito. The parasite then grows in the liver and in red blood cells in our blood. Parasites can also change in the blood to take on a male and female form, which can re-infect mosquitoes when they bite and suck blood from infected people.

The paper, ‘ATP synthase hexamer assemblies shape cristae of Toxoplasma mitochondria’ is published in Nature Communications. The work was funded by Swedish Foundation for Strategic Research, Ragnar Söderberg Foundation, Swedish Research Council, Cancerfonden, European Research Council, Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation, The BBSRC, and A Wellcome Investigator award (217173/Z/19/Z). Dr Lilach Sheiner is a Royal Society of Edinburgh Personal Research Fellow. A link to the paper can be found here https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-020-20381-z


GENEVA - Though countries have made progress in planning for climate change adaptation, there are significant financing shortfalls in getting them to the stage where they provide real protection against droughts, floods and rising sea levels, a new UN environment report has found.

According to the 2020 Adaptation Gap Report, released on Thursday by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), as temperatures rise and climate change impacts intensify, nations must urgently step up action to adapt to the new climate reality or face serious costs, damages and losses.

“The hard truth is that climate change is upon us,” Inger Andersen, UNEP Executive Director, said in a news release announcing the findings.

“Its impacts will intensify and hit vulnerable countries and communities the hardest, even if we meet the Paris Agreement goals of holding global warming this century to well below 2 degrees Celsius and pursuing 1.5 degree Celsius.”

Global commitment needed

Annual adaptation costs in developing countries are estimated at $70 billion, but the figure could reach up to $300 billion in 2030, and $500 billion in 2050. Almost three-quarters of nations have some adaptation plans in place, but financing and implementation fall “far short” of what is needed, according to the UNEP report.

Stepping up public and private finance for adaptation is, therefore, urgently needed.

“As the Secretary-General has said, we need a global commitment to put half of all global climate finance towards adaptation in the next year … this will allow a huge step up in adaptation, in everything from early warning systems to resilient water resources to nature-based solutions,” Ms. Andersen added.

Adaptation is a key pillar of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. It aims to reduce countries’ and communities’ vulnerability to climate change by increasing their ability to absorb impacts.

Nature-based solutions

The UNEP report also underscored the importance of nature-based solutions as low-cost options that reduce climate risks, restore and protect biodiversity, and bring benefits for communities and economies.

Its analysis of four major climate and development funds: the Global Environment Facility (GEF), the Green Climate Fund (GCF), the Adaptation Fund, and the International Climate Initiative (IKI), suggested that support for green initiatives with some element of nature-based solutions has risen over the last two decades.

Cumulative investment for climate change mitigation and adaptation projects under the four funds stands at $94 billion. However, only $12 billion was spent on nature-based solutions, a tiny fraction of total adaptation and conservation finance, it added.

Cutting emissions will reduce costs

Cutting greenhouse gas emissions will reduce the impacts and costs associated with climate change, according to the report. Achieving the 2 degrees Celsius target of the Paris Agreement could limit losses in annual growth to up to 1.6 per cent, compared to 2.2 per cent for the 3 degrees Celsius trajectory.

UNEP urged all nations to pursue the efforts outlined in its December 2020 Emissions Gap Report, which called for a green pandemic recovery and updated Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) that include new net-zero commitments.

“However, the world must also plan for, finance and implement climate change adaptation to support those nations least responsible for climate change but most at risk,” the UN agency added.

“While the COVID-19 pandemic is expected to hit the ability of countries to adapt to climate change, investing in adaptation is a sound economic decision,” it said.



GENEVA - The COVID-19 pandemic was not the only long-term crisis the world will remember from 2020. In terms of climate change, the year was also one of the three warmest on record, and rivalled 2016 for the top spot, the UN weather agency said on Wednesday.

“The confirmation by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) that 2020 was one of the warmest years on record is yet another stark reminder of the relentless pace of climate change, which is destroying lives and livelihoods across our planet”, said Secretary-General António Guterres.

He pointed out that at 1.2 degrees of warming above pre-industrial levels, the world is already witnessing unprecedented weather extremes in every region and on every continent.

“We are headed for a catastrophic temperature rise of 3 to 5 degrees Celsius this century”, he warned. “Making peace with nature is the defining task of the 21st century. It must be the top priority for everyone, everywhere.” 

Powerful force

La Niña, which began in late last year, is expected to continue into the early-middle part of 2021. 

“The exceptional heat of 2020 is despite a La Niña event, which has a temporary cooling effect”, said WMO Secretary-General Prof. Petteri Taalas.

La Niña and El Niño effects on average global temperatures are typically strongest in the second year of the event.

“It is remarkable that temperatures in 2020 were virtually on a par with 2016, when we saw one of the strongest El Niño warming events on record”, he added. “This is a clear indication that the global signal from human-induced climate change is now as powerful as the force of nature”. 

The extent to which the continued cooling effects of La Niña this year may temporarily diminish the overall long-term warming trend remains to be seen. 

Following atypical patterns

WMO pointed to sustained heat and wildfires in Siberia, diminishing Arctic sea ice and record-breaking hurricanes in the Atlantic as being among the climate events that most stood out in 2020.

The UN weather agency also reminded that temperature is just one climate change indicator. Greenhouse gas concentrations, ocean heat content, global mean sea level, sea ice extent and extreme events are also factors.

Backed by science

WMO’s consolidated global temperature update incorporates information from five leading international sets of data.

It also uses datasets that combine millions of meteorological and marine observations, including from satellites, with models to produce a complete reanalysis of the atmosphere.

“The combination of observations with models makes it possible to estimate temperatures at any time and in any place across the globe, even in data-sparse areas such as the polar regions”, according to WMO. 

Looking to the future

The Paris Agreement aims to limit global warming to well below 2°C, preferably to 1.5°C degrees, compared to pre-industrial levels.

However, the global average temperature in 2020 had already approached the lower limit of the temperature increase that the Agreement seeks to avert.

Moreover, there is at least a one-in-five chance that the average global temperature will temporarily exceed 1.5 °C by 2024, according to WMO’s Global Annual to Decadal Climate Update, led by the United Kingdom’s Met Office.

The 2021 Met Office annual global temperature forecast also suggests that next year will again be one of the earth’s hottest years. 

Updating its provisional December report, WMO will issue its final publication in March, which will incorporate temperature figures, information on all leading climate indicators and selected climate impacts.

MONTREAL, CANADA - A new report from the UN’s air transportation agency confirms there was a “dramatic” fall in international air travel due to COVID-19, of around 60 per cent over the course of last year, to levels last seen in 2003.

The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) said on Friday, that as seating capacity fell by around 50 per cent last year, that left just 1.8 billion passengers taking flights through 2020, compared with around 4.5 billion in 2019.

That adds up to a staggering financial loss to the industry of around $370 billion, “with airports and air navigation services providers losing a further 115 billion and 13 billion, respectively”, said ICAO in a press statement.

Grounded in March

As the coronavirus began its global spread, the air industry came to a virtual standstill by the end of March. Following widespread national lockdowns, by April the overall number of passengers had fallen 92 per cent from 2019 levels, an average of the 98 per cent drop-off seen in international traffic and 87 per cent fall in domestic air travel.

There was a moderate rebound during the summer travel period, but recovery was short-lived. “Sectoral recovery became more vulnerable and volatile again during the last four months of 2020, indicating an overall double-dip recession for the year”, ICAO said.

Disparity at home and abroad

The report notes “a persistent disparity between domestic and international air travel impacts resulting from the more stringent international measures in force.”

Domestic travel proved more resilient and was the main driver of any glimmer of recovery to the industry, particularly in China and Russia, ICAO notes, where domestic passenger numbers have already returned to the pre-pandemic levels.

Overall, there was a 50 per cent drop in domestic passenger traffic globally, while international traffic fell by 74 per cent, or around 1.4 billion passengers.

The plunge in traffic, has put the entire industry’s financial liability into question said ICAO, and threatens the viability of millions of associated jobs around the world.

Tourism in crisis

It has also severely impacted global tourism, given that more than 50 per cent of international travellers used to reach their destinations by plane.

ICAO said that the regional breakdown in losses showed a $120 billion loss year-on-year in the Asia-Pacific region, $100 billion in Europe, $88 billion in North America, followed by $26 billion, $22 billion and $14 billion in Latin America and the Caribbean, the Middle East, and Africa, respectively.

The agency described the near term outlook as one of “prolonged depressed demand, with downside risks to global air travel recovery predominating in the first quarter of 2021, and likely to be subject to further deterioration.”

It does not expect any improvement until the second quarter of 2021, athough this will still be subject to the effectiveness of pandemic management and vaccination roll out across the world.

Best-case scenario

In the most optimistic scenario, said ICAO, by June of 2021 passenger numbers will be expected to recover globally to 71 per cent of their 2019 levels (or 53 per cent for international and 84 per cent for domestic flights). A more pessimistic scenario foresees only a 49 per cent recovery (26 per cent for international and 66 per cent for domestic).

ICAO will continue to provide recommendations and support for the aviation sector to weather the crisis. Its new Guidance on Economic and Financial Measures summarizes a range of measures that can be explored by States and the industry to ease the crisis, and strengthen the industry to withstand future shocks better.



BY MAJ. SCOTT D. ADAMSON, Defence One, DECEMBER 21, 2020

As the Pentagon removes more troops, consider what its modest investment has garnered.


The Defense Department’s coming near-total withdrawal of troops from Somalia follows its 2019 re-assessment of its force posture in Africa, aimed at shifting finite resources to great power competition. While it is appropriate to conduct such reviews and execute needed adjustments, America needs to recognize how its military presence in Africa helps protect the homeland from terrorism and compete with great powers such as Russia and China.

Africa is a vast continent comprising a land mass three times larger than that of America. It boasted eight of the 20 fastest growing economies in 2019. Under its surface, the continent holds 30 percent of the world’s unmined minerals, 8 percent of its oil, and 7 percent of its natural gas.

Yet many African countries face great challenges: climate change, desertification, food and water scarcity, poverty, unemployment, trafficking, and piracy. Often coupled with poor governance and security, these phenomena prove favorable for the recruitment and spread of terrorism by violent extremist groups.

Over the last decade, the frequency and distribution of violent attacks, and the number of terror organizations perpetrating them, have increased substantially. The Africa Center for Strategic Studies noted 3,471 violent events last year that contributed to the deaths of 10,460 African men, women, and children. Many of these events were perpetrated by Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, Boko Haram, Al Shabaab, and various regional affiliates.

Notably, each of these organizations is a part of, or pledged to, the terror networks of Al Qaeda or Islamic State, both of which, through fear underwritten by ruthless violence, seek to establish the caliphate and attack Western civilization – especially the United States. A report released last week by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies suggests that withdrawing U.S. forces from regions where Al Qaeda or Islamic State operate will not prevent these groups from pursuing their stated ends.

As Gen. Stephen Townsend, commander of U.S. Africa Command, put it, “a secure and stable Africa is an enduring American interest.” Through security cooperation and other related programs – like the African Partnership Flight and State Partnership Program – Washington can support Africa to prevent further atrocities wrought by terrorism. Doing so not only empowers countries like Niger and Somalia to develop the capability to undertake the burden themselves, but also reduces the risk that terror organizations export attacks to the U.S. homeland.

Further, these partnerships often afford America the access needed to kill top violent extremists. A U.S. airstrike earlier this year that resulted in the death of Yusuf Jiis, whom the U.S. identified as a “foundational member” of Al Shabaab, is a prime example. Targeting key Islamist militant leaders has likely helped depress Al Shabaab’s activity last year.

While U.S. security cooperation, and the force presence that comes with it, undoubtedly disrupts and degrades transnational terrorism, Washington must also acknowledge that the vital program helps to curb the growing influence of China and Russia.

China views Africa as key to its global ambitions. Through diplomatic overtures, peacekeeping contributions, and economic initiatives, Beijing has sought to deepen relations across the continent. The persistent engagement is paying off. China is now Africa’s chief bilateral trading partner, biggest infrastructure financier, and third largest arms supplier.

Further, the CCP operates a permanent military base in Djibouti and retains access to 41 other ports, many of which have the ability to serve dual-use functions. This not only allows China to secure its supply chain, but also affords Beijing the ability to contest others along critical sea lines of communication.

Moscow, though not as active in Africa as Beijing, also sees the continent as a top priority.

Over the last seven years, Russia has doubled its African access agreements, most recently obtaining approval by the Sudanese government to establish a naval base. This will help the Kremlin project power to the Indian Ocean and reinforce its position on NATO’s southern flank.

Security cooperation must be part of a whole-of-government approach to confront the competition playing out in Africa. It can help America secure the access needed to advance its national interests while also denying that same access to others. General Townsend highlighted this fact in testimony to the Senate Armed Forces Committee in January. He noted that China and Russia “do little to counter violent extremist groups” and that many African countries view the U.S. as a partner of choice. Yet the commander of U.S. Africa Command noted a message shared with him by an African leader: If America will not provide counterterrorism expertise and capability, “a drowning man will accept any hand.”

Some may argue that the United States needs to cut its presence in Africa in order to shift finite resources to competitions playing out in the Indo-Pacific and Europe. However, the combatant command’s posture is already an economy of force. It pales in comparison, for example, to the approximately 60,000 troops and tens of billions of dollars allocated to U.S. Central Command. At a cost of roughly 6,000 personnel and 0.3 percent of the defense budget, America can afford this investment.

The vital relationships and influence America garners through security cooperation comes at a discount to American taxpayers. Washington would be wise to bolster these efforts to confront the rise in terrorism and great power competition alongside our African partners.

Views expressed or implied in this commentary are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the U.S. Air Force or any other U.S. government agency.

Maj. Scott D. Adamson is a visiting military analyst with the Center on Military and Political Power (CMPP) at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), a nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.





NEW YORK — As we enter 2021, the world faces unprecedented humanitarian emergencies. More than 235 million people are currently in need of humanitarian aid and more than 80 million are displaced from their homes.

The main driver of these crises is conflict – and, in particular, long-running, protracted conflict situations. Many of these have been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic which risks reversing decades of hard-won progress to reduce poverty, hunger, disease and mortality rates.

However, in 2021 it's clear that we need to shine an even brighter spotlight on another phenomenon which is drastically worsening the situation for billions across the globe: climate change.

The IRC's Emergency Watchlist 2021 highlights the 20 countries at greatest risk of a major new, or significantly worsened, humanitarian crisis over the year ahead.

It finds that climate change is a threat multiplier.

It is increasing the frequency and severity of natural shocks such as earthquakes, droughts and flooding, while making populations more vulnerable to diseases like malaria and dengue.

It is exacerbating food insecurity, undermining livelihoods, displacing people from their homes, tipping vast regions of our planet into famine and – at times – sparking conflict over resources. It is also a driver of movement in its own right, whether through displacement or migration.

According to the UN, climate-related disasters have increased by more than 80 percent over the past four decades. This phenomenon will inevitably touch each of our lives, but its impacts are tragically unequal. People living in the world's least developed countries are ten times more likely to be affected by a climate disaster than those living in wealthy countries.

Given these inequalities, it's no surprise that many of the countries most vulnerable to climate change also feature on the IRC's Emergency Watchlist 2021.

Nowhere is climate change being felt harder than in the Sahel, which is heating more quickly than any other region on our planet.

Alarmingly, half of the countries on the Watchlist 2021 have at least a partial footprint on this large area in northern Africa: Ethiopia, Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Central African Republic, Chad, Cameroon, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, South Sudan and Sudan.

This part of the world has suffered from chronic food shortages due to recurrent droughts, unreliable rainfall, land degradation and desertification since the 1970s.

Today climate change continues to worsen hunger and malnutrition levels across the fragile region, increasing peoples' susceptibility to disease and epidemics and exacerbating the horrific economic and security crises they face.

In just three of these countries - Burkina Faso, Niger and Mali - 13.4 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance, marking an increase of nearly 60 percent over the past 12 months. More than 1.5 million people in this region are now internally displaced, marking an increase of 320 percent since the start of 2019.

As we enter a new decade, it's clear that these states will continue to face a perfect storm of conflict, COVID-19 and climate change.

As a leader on the global stage, the European Union has a key role to play in ensuring that populations in fragile and conflict affected states such as those in the Sahel are not left behind. Here are three steps they must take to prevent the region from spiraling even further into climate-related crisis.

Firstly, the EU and broader international community have far too often approached the Sahel with a military or migration lens, leading to overly-securitised responses. The EU must re-balance its investments in the Sahel region with greater prioritisation of humanitarian needs, including climate-related crises.

This will require an integrated response to these protracted crises.

In this context "integrated" means joining up short and longer term measures, linking economic and social measures, and local with regional action.

The EU can and must achieve this by increasing the availability of multi-annual, flexible humanitarian funding to prevent hunger and hardship in the short and medium term, while also strengthening climate adaptation and building resilience over the longer-term.

EU skewed priorities?

It's alarming that the EU is moving towards making development assistance – in the form of the new Neighbourhood, Development and International Cooperation Instrument (NDICI) - conditional on the cooperation of third countries with its own migration objectives. This risks skewing priorities and undermining progress.

Secondly, women and girls are disproportionately affected by food insecurity and climate chaos due to gender inequality - too often unable to access humanitarian assistance, legal and safe work, and education.

They also account for 80 percent of those displaced by climate change. However, women are absolutely integral to overcoming these crises in their roles as farmers, carers and activists.

Current EU funding and programme models must be adapted to better facilitate partnerships with local women-led organisations, helping them tear down the barriers they face in accessing essential resources, finances and leadership. A feminist approach is a necessity and a strategy not a slogan.

Thirdly, it's clear that the triple threat of conflict, climate and Covid-19 requires coordinated, international responses given the global nature of these challenges and the weak response capacity in many of the most affected states.

That means the EU and its member states must deploy their weighty influence to drive ambition in multilateral efforts to curb climate change including delivering on their pledges to cut carbon and encouraging other major emitters to adopt similarly ambitious targets ahead of COP26 next year.

They must also work multilaterally to strengthen local-level resilience to future climate shocks and ensure protections for those displaced or otherwise on the move as a result.

Climate-related disasters have cost 1.23 million lives and affected more than four million people over the past 20 years alone, say the UN.

Time is running out for billions more. As we enter a new decade, the international community has both a moral obligation and a strategic imperative to support the most vulnerable living through these crises.

David Miliband is president of the International Rescue Committee and a former British foreign secretary.



GENEVA - A second refugee camp has opened in Sudan for people fleeing violence in Ethiopia’s Tigray region carrying “little more than the clothes on their backs”, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), said on Tuesday.

Nearly 600 people have been taken to Tunaydbah camp in Sudan’s Gedaref State, according to the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, after nearly two months of ongoing conflict across the border in Ethiopia, between federal Government troops and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).

UNHCR spokesperson Andrej Mahecic said that it was impossible to gauge the level of fighting in northern Ethiopia amid continuing access restrictions.

No access

“Right now, we are unable to access the border from the Ethiopian side… As to the intensity of the fighting inside Tigray region, there’s nothing I can help you with at this stage,” he told journalists in Geneva during a regular briefing.

He added that those who had reached Sudan from Tigray told UN humanitarians that they had travelled for days.

“Latest arrivals tell of being caught in the conflict and being victims of various armed groups, facing perilous situations including looting of their houses, forceful recruitment of men and boys, sexual violence against women and girls,” Mr Mahecic said.

“Refugees are arriving with little more than the clothes on their backs, fatigued and in weak conditions… More than 30 per cent of them are estimated to be under 18 and five per cent over 60 years old.”

Registrations continue

The UN agency continues to register new refugee arrivals at the Sudanese-Ethiopian border, where around 800 people have crossed into eastern Sudan so far this year.

Since early November, more than 56,000 Ethiopian refugees have fled the country, UNHCR said.

It has already moved many thousands from Hamdayet and Abderafi border points to Um Rakuba camp, located some 70 kilometres away from the Ethiopian border.

Most of the refugees in the camp and those crossing into Sudan are desperate for food, shelter, clean water, sanitation and health care, the agency has said, noting that many are women and children.

In a statement, UNHCR explained that the decision was taken to set up the new camp at Tunaydbah some 136 kilometres from Gedaref town because Um Rakuba is approaching full capacity.

Safe haven

Upon arrival at the new site, hot meals are provided and 1,000 tents have already been set up by partners to offer shelter for up to 5,000 people. More tents are being pitched as the relocation is set to progress in the coming days and weeks, Mr. Mahecic said.

More than 20 humanitarian partners are working in Um Rakuba and another six are starting activities in Tunaydbah to assist and engage the refugee and host community, providing shelter, health, food and nutrition services.

Although the Government of Sudan continues to welcome refugees, UNHCR appealed for additional support to complement the authorities’ response.

“It is critical to further improve water and sanitation conditions in the refugee camps and reception areas, as well as to ramp up COVID-19 prevention measures, including isolation facilities,” the UN agency said.

At the end of 2020, $40 million was pledged for UNHCR’s regional response to the emergency in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, but this covers only 37 per cent of the financial requirements in Sudan, Ethiopia, and Djibouti.




JOHANNESBURG - The strain of coronavirus identified in South Africa just before Christmas may represent more of a threat than the one first detected in Kent earlier in December, Health Secretary Matt Hancock has warned.

“I’m incredibly worried about the South African variant,” Hancock told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Monday. “This is a very, very significant problem… even more of a problem than the UK new variant.”


How is it different from other Covid variants?

All viruses mutate as they spread from person to person, but most mutations don’t lead to any substantial changes in the virus. However, the one discovered in South Africa last month had “evolved more than normal”, says The Times. “Even more important, the changes almost all involved the spike protein, improving the virus’s ability to attach to human cells.”

Is it more infectious?

It does seem to be. “Preliminary studies suggest the variant is associated with a higher viral load, which may suggest potential for increased transmissibility,” according to the World Health Organization.

The new variant, known as 501.V2, has quickly replaced other mutations in many parts of South Africa, suggesting that it spreads more rapidly than they can.

Is it more deadly?

“At this stage there is no evidence that 501.V2 is associated with higher severity of infection,” says the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.

Scientists will not be able to give a definitive answer for some time, but hospital admission and mortality rates appear to be similar for all identified variants.

Will the vaccines still work against it?

“Several experts have said they expect vaccines - such as those from Pfizer and BioNTech, and the Oxford University/AstraZeneca - to protect against the new strains,” says CNBC.

But doubts have been raised by John Bell, regius professor of medicine at Oxford and a member of the UK’s Vaccine Task Force. “My gut feeling is the vaccine will be still effective against the Kent strain,” he told Times Radio. “I don’t know about the South African strain. There’s a big question mark about that.”

How long would it take to develop a new vaccine?

Bell had better news on that front. “It might take a month, or six weeks, to get a new vaccine, so everybody should stay calm,” he said.

“It’s going to be fine, but we’re now in a game of cat and mouse because these are not the only two variants we’re going to see. We’re going to see lots of variants.”