Hard Numbers: Haitian hospitals at risk, US cash for ASEAN, Dutch pension fund dumps fossil fuels, Biden freezes US aid to Sudan – GZERO Media

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500: Fuel shortages in conflict-ridden Haiti are putting many hospital patients at risk. If fuel isn’t delivered ASAP, UNICEF says around 500 people – including children and COVID patients – are at very high risk of deterioration. Supplies and deliveries have been disrupted for weeks because of heightened gang activity in the country.
102 million: US President Joe Biden has pledged $102 million to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, and will address the group at a summit later this week. The funds will go to climate initiatives, education and health projects, and are part of Washington’s efforts to build a bulwark against China in the region.
15 billion: Ahead of COP26, Dutch pension fund ABP said it will divest $15 billion from fossil fuel companies by 2023, a massive commitment from one of the world’s largest pension funds. Multinational corporations like Fidelity International, an asset manager, have also made more ambitious climate pledges in the lead-up to the global climate summit.
We’ve seen an incredible number of crises arise and persist over the past year – ranging from the global to the deeply personal. Nonprofit organizations have been a lifeline to some of our most vulnerable communities, engaging with complex needs and working to make a difference. But nonprofits themselves are increasingly at risk due to a worldwide rise in cybercrime. While this impacts all sectors and organizations, nonprofits are often perceived as vulnerable because they may not have adequate resources to safeguard the data they need to operate – impacting everyone from donors to program participants to volunteers.
In response, Microsoft is launching the Security Program for Nonprofits – a set of security offerings, built to complement Microsoft’s security suite, to provide proactive monitoring and notification in the case of a nation-state attack, assess organizational and infrastructure risk to help organizations enhance their security posture based on their environment, and streamline security training for IT professionals and end-users. To read more about Microsoft’s commitment to nonprofits, visit Microsoft on the Issues.
Right now, only one region of the world is reporting an increase in new daily COVID cases. Here’s a hint: it’s one of the places where vaccines are, for the most part, easiest to get.
It’s Europe. According to the World Health Organization, the region last week notched a 7 percent uptick in new daily infections, the third week in a row that infections rose there.
Much of that comes from Central and Eastern Europe, which is currently mired in its worst COVID outbreak to date. Home to just four percent of the world’s population, the former Eastern Bloc is now racking up 20 percent of all new cases each day.
Russia, Ukraine and Bulgaria have in the past three days all reported their highest daily numbers of infections and deaths since the start of the pandemic.
Romania, where funeral parlors are now running out of coffins, leads the world with 22 daily COVID deaths per million people, followed closely by neighboring Bulgaria and eleven other Eastern European countries in a row.
Governments in the region, once hailed for their early action to “flatten the curve,” are yet again imposing fresh restrictions on businesses, schools, and entertainment venues. Latvia recently went back to an almost full lockdown. Russia has ordered most businesses and schools to close for a full week beginning October 30, with some regions of the country starting already.
Part of the story is that vaccination rates throughout the region are still low. While three-quarters of all EU adults are fully vaccinated, those numbers fall off a cliff as you move eastward. In Romania it’s barely 36 percent, while Bulgaria’s mark is still below 25 percent. In Russia, which developed one of the earliest COVID vaccines, Sputnik V, just 32 percent of the population has been fully immunized. In Ukraine, it’s 16 percent.
And it’s not because there aren’t enough jabs in stock. Despite early hiccups with securing vaccines, the EU now has more than it needs. Russia now makes its own supply in large quantities. Ukraine is a partial exception here, as the country’s fractious politics have hampered its ability to buy and distribute shots.
But the region’s problem isn’t supply, it’s demand — or, more specifically, it’s vaccine hesitancy.

EU surveys find that rates of vaccine hesitancy are much higher in Eastern Europe. A recent EU poll found that just 31 percent of Bulgarians were keen to get the shot, and fewer than half of Slovaks, Croatians, and Latvians were with them. Other countries like Romania are in the 50s, but that’s far off the overall EU mark of 59 percent, or the Western European countries which are almost all above 70. Surveyed separately, Russia had one of the highest rates of vaccine skepticism in the world, as does Ukraine.
Why is this happening? Not coincidentally, public trust in government is also markedly lower in Eastern Europe, where democracies are in general younger and less well established, than in Western Europe.

It’s hard to draw a direct link between trust in government and willingness to take a vaccine — but in countries where people generally don’t believe what their governments tell them, it’s harder for those governments to convince people that vaccines are safe and important.

Moreover, political turmoil in some of the worst-hit places isn’t helping: Romania’s government collapsed after a no-confidence vote earlier this month, and Bulgaria is heading next month into its third election of the year, in a vote where new coronavirus restrictions are shaping up to be a salient issue.
Upshot: Unlike in earlier waves of the pandemic, most of Eastern Europe has the tools to grapple more successfully with COVID-19. But political bickering, weak trust in government, and high skepticism about the jabs are proving to be an endemic condition of their own.
Australia’s underwhelming climate pledge: After waffling on whether he’d attend COP26, Prime Minister Scott Morrison now says Australia will achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050. But there’s a catch: the scheme would not involve overhauling the country’s lucrative fossil fuel sector. The PM also stopped short of making ambitious targets by 2030, one of the key objectives of COP26. Australia is one of the world’s top coal-producing countries and has one of the biggest carbon footprints per capita, but its government has long dragged its feet on climate change — mainly because fossil fuel exports are a boon for the economy. “We won’t be lectured by others who do not understand Australia,” Morrison said in response to criticism about his government’s weaker-than-hoped-for pledges. While the US has pledged to halve its carbon output by 2030, and the EU says it will reduce greenhouse gas emissions 55 percent from 1990 levels by 2030, Australia is aiming for a mere 26 percent cut on 2005 emissions in that period.

Sisi lifts four-year state of emergency in Egypt: You might be surprised to learn that a state of emergency has been in place in Egypt since 2017, allowing the authorities to make arbitrary arrests and search people’s homes without a warrant. Freedom of the press and assembly have also been curtailed. Now, strongman President Abdul Fattah el-Sisi, who led the overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood government in 2013, has lifted the measure put in place after a series of Islamic State attacks on mosques and Coptic churches killed hundreds of Egyptians. El-Sisi, a security hawk, said that he made the move because Egypt had become an “oasis of security and stability in the region.” Egypt has long been battling an Islamist insurgency in the northern Sinai Peninsula that has at times spread to other parts of the country. Though the Egyptian military has made massive gains there recently, dramatically improving the security situation, some violence persists.
US defends Taiwan at the UN: US Secretary of State Tony Blinken on Tuesday demanded Taiwan be allowed “meaningful participation” at UN agencies, just as China, which sees the island as part of the mainland, celebrated 50 years of membership at the UN. Washington says China’s exclusion of Taiwan undermines UN bodies like the World Health Organization, which kept the island out of its COVID information loop due to strong pressure from Beijing. But Xi Jinping is as likely to tolerate Taiwan acting independently at the UN as he is to restore democracy to Hong Hong or play nice with the Uyghurs in Xinjiang. Still, the Americans know that Taiwan is such a sensitive issue for China and that any gesture of US support is sure to rile up Xi (perhaps that’s the point). This also comes just days after Biden blurted out that America would defend Taiwan from a Chinese attack, reversing more than four decades of US “strategic ambiguity” on the issue: recognize the mainland yet also promise to help Taiwan defend itself.
“The people are stronger,” pro-democracy demonstrators chanted as news broke that the Sudanese military had staged a coup Monday, overthrowing the joint civilian-military government and dashing hopes of democracy in the war-torn country.

The backstory. In 2019, Omar al-Bashir – a despot who ruled Sudan with an iron fist for 30 years – was deposed after a months-long popular uprising.
Al-Bashir was a bad guy: he cozied up to terrorists like Osama bin Laden and dropped barrel bombs on his own people. He also embezzled truckloads of money from oil production while millions of Sudanese went hungry, and oversaw a genocide in the Darfur region that left 300,000 people dead and displaced 1.6 million.
When some of al-Bashir’s allies flipped in 2019, a bloody power struggle ensued (hundreds of pro-democracy demonstrators were killed) before a transitional government – made up of six civilians and five military personnel – was appointed for a three-year transition period, at which time democratic elections were to be held. Since then, the very tenuous government has remained mostly intact despite ongoing violence and ethnic clashes.
However, things got particularly heated in recent weeks, as a November 17 deadline loomed for the civilian wing to take control of the government’s decision-making body. (Per the power-sharing agreement, the military’s representatives had mostly been calling the shots.)
Clashes broke out on the streets between pro-democracy activists and military loyalists, before the government’s military wing took charge this week, declaring a state of emergency and seizing power. Civilian leaders and ministers – including Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdak, an economist who previously worked at the UN – have been arrested.
What does this mean for Sudan? At a basic level, it makes the prospect of democracy more illusory. The likelihood of fresh elections going ahead next year as planned is slim given that the military personnel who staged the coup are former allies of al-Bashir who built a career on quashing dissent.
What’s more, there was also hope that when the civilian wing took over, al-Bashir would be handed over to the International Criminal Court at The Hague to face charges over his government’s brutality in Darfur (2003-2009). But because al-Bashir’s extradition and testimony would expose crimes committed by some of the generals, that’s likely to be a moot point, too – at least for now.
Moreover, if the takeover stands, it’ll be a massive economic blow for Sudan, which has been trying to revive economic ties with the international community after years of sanctions and isolation. In late 2020, the US removed Sudan from its state sponsors of terrorism list, restoring Khartoum’s access to global financial markets and international aid. This paved the way for crucial debt relief from institutions like the IMF, so the transitional military-civilian government in Khartoum could access the cheap international credit it needs to address the country’s deep economic crisis. This is all at stake now.
Who cares what’s happening in Sudan? Well, several countries are surely keeping a close eye on unfolding events.
Egypt has been trying to improve cross-border relations with Sudan in recent years, after the two countries had long been locked in a border dispute over access to the mineral-rich Halayeb triangle. More recently, Cairo and Khartoum have joined forces against Ethiopia amid a messy dispute over water access in the Nile. Though Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is no democracy warrior, he is hardly interested in seeing more instability and chaos on Egypt’s southern border.
Meanwhile, Turkey – which backs Ethiopia in the water dispute – has been pushing to play a larger political and economic role in Africa, and to build a port off Sudan’s Red Sea coast that would be a hub for Muslim pilgrims crossing the Red Sea to Mecca.
Additionally, Gulf states like the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia have capitalized on the ousting of al-Bashir to bring Sudan under their sphere of influence. In exchange for certain concessions (like tempering ties with the Gulf states’ nemeses in Qatar and Iran), the Saudis and Emiratis have lushed Khartoum with cash. (Though the Saudis have backed off a bit, the Emirates have continued to act as a key powerbroker in Sudan.)
What happens now? The signs are ominous: Khartoum’s airport is closed, and the internet has been shut down. Meanwhile, coup leader Gen. Abdel Fattah Burhan said that elections could take place in July 2023, but trust is low and fears are high of a return to civil war.
After a very rocky start, the EU stepped up its COVID vaccination game in the spring, and by the end of summer had vaccinated more people per capita than the US. Close to 80 percent of EU residents are now fully vaccinated, yet inoculation levels have either plateaued or remain low where people don’t trust the government, the vaccine — or both. This is leading to a third wave of the pandemic mainly in Eastern Europe, and as a result Europe is the only continent where COVID cases are now rising. We compare how much people in the EU trust their government with their willingness to get vaccinated.
Ian Bremmer shares his insights on global politics this week with a look at Sudan’s military coup, China’s efforts to join the CPTPP, and the UK’s Brexit-induced disruptions.
The coup has taken over in Sudan. What’s happening there?
Well, there are coups and attempted coups in Sudan all the time. In this case, the military taking out a transitional civilian government, which is problematic for a couple of reasons. One, because they’re not going to allow investigations to proceed. And with a lot of the generals taking over, being with corruption charges against them. And secondly, because the money that they desperately need from the IMF international aid and other sources not coming because they’ve gotten rid of the economic comparative technocrats, including the Prime Minister, an economist himself. There’s going to be need to back down and at least compromise at some point because they’re desperate to have international support, but first, they want to ensure that they’re all staying in power. And that is unfortunate for the people of Sudan. And if it mattered to the United States and Europe, they’d be making headlines, but it really doesn’t. It’s like Egypt and Ethiopia and the Emirates are the key players here and you’re not going to see many headlines.
Following China’s application to join the TPP, what does it mean for the agreement and how does it influence the United States?
The interesting thing about the CPTPP, the Comprehensive Partnership, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or whatever we call it now, it is the most important high-level, high-standard multilateral trade deal in the world. And the two most important economies globally aren’t a part of it. China, because they won’t be let in, because they don’t actually have the standards, the trade standards, the transparency, the rule of law, the lack of state control over the economy to be allowed in. And the United States, because free trade and multilateral trade deals can’t get support in Congress from either the Democrats or the Republicans. That’s what’s really interesting about this. The fact that they want to join does show that they want to be seen by countries in Asia as an economic solution and partner, especially as the United States is continued to be seen, if anything, only more strongly as the principal military and national security partner. But ultimately, this is about when the Americans and Chinese can’t get it done, other countries can. Not the worst thing in the world always, we’re seeing some of that on climate too, by the way.
Is Brexit still a mess in Europe?
Well, the interesting thing here is I’d say, no, not really. It’s really a mess in the UK. The UK is having an enormous problem. They can’t get truck drivers. And so, you’ve got all of these good shortages and price inflation that’s worse because of Brexit. And they’re saying, “Oh, we’ll let in immigrants from other countries near term because we just desperately need the labor.” Well, yeah, if you were still in the EU, this wouldn’t be such a problem for you, but you voted for Brexit. Meanwhile, I was just talking to the German government last week. I did a brief for a lot of the new leaders that are coming in and the traffic light coalition. And this was an entire day of meetings with different policy analysts and leaders around the world. And the UK Brexit literally was not brought up once. They have other challenges right now. And as a consequence, ultimately, this is a bigger problem for the UK, which has a lot less influence and a lot more difficulty in terms of disruptions to their economy.
Sort of, but governments haven’t lost all control yet. On the one hand, The Atlantic CEO Nicholas Thompson says that governments can still push tech companies for transparency in their algorithms, while Microsoft has partnered with the US government to together fight hackers “so the company is seen as a champion for freedom and democracy.” On the other, over time Thompson expects tech firms in the US and China to gradually become more powerful as the state becomes less powerful toward them. Watch his interview with Ian Bremmer on the latest episode of GZERO World.
Watch this episode of GZERO World with Ian Bremmer: Big Tech: Global sovereignty, unintended consequences
As COP26 nears, the need for real climate action has never been more urgent. There are reasons for hope, but many scientists believe the ambitious goal of net zero emissions by 2050 is unattainable without immediate and significant change. Governments, financial institutions, and private sector companies alike have all recognized the need for a multistakeholder approach to solving this crisis of a lifetime.
Watch Climate Crisis: Is net zero really possible?a one-hour virtual livestream, hosted by GZERO Media and Microsoft as part of the Global Stage series, to hear scientists, corporate leaders and policymakers debate this question and offer critical perspectives on the way forward. Live on Tuesday, November 2nd at 11am ET, we’ll break down what “net zero” means, take stock of where the world is on the path to carbon neutrality, and discuss critical steps needed to make real progress.
Speakers include:
Tuesday, November 2, 2021
11 am ET / 8 am PT
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