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Sri Lanka secures $1bn credit line from India as IMF signals help | Business and Economy News

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Cash-strapped nation gets a lifeline from India to buy urgently needed food and medicine as the IMF confirms it will discuss a possible bailout.

Cash-strapped Sri Lanka has secured a $1bn credit line from India to buy urgently needed food and medicine, officials say, as the IMF confirms it will consider discussing a possible bailout.

The South Asian island nation is suffering its worst economic crisis since independence in 1948, with crippling shortages of essentials and fears it will default on its foreign debt or ask bondholders to take a “haircut” on repayments.

India and Sri Lanka formally entered into the credit agreement on Thursday during finance minister Basil Rajapaksa’s visit to New Delhi, treasury secretary Sajith Attygalle told reporters in Colombo on Friday.

“India stands with Sri Lanka,” Indian foreign minister S Jaishankar said on Twitter. “US$1 billion credit line signed for supply of essential commodities.”

The latest loan was on top of another $500m Indian credit line to help its island neighbour buy oil.

Meanwhile, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on Friday confirmed it was considering President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s surprise request made on Wednesday to discuss a bailout.

“We will discuss with the authorities how best we can assist Sri Lanka going forward,” IMF spokesman Gerry Rice said in a statement to reporters in the capital.

Rajapaksa’s announcement that he would go to the IMF – a U-turn from his previous position – increases the likelihood that Sri Lanka will seek to renegotiate some of its estimated $51bn in foreign debts.

Rice said the IMF had already highlighted the urgent need for Sri Lanka to implement a “credible and coherent strategy to restore macroeconomic stability and debt sustainability”.

Around $6.9bn of Colombo’s debt needs to be serviced this year. Its foreign currency reserves stood at about $2.3bn at the end of February.

Sri Lanka earlier this year asked one of its main creditors, China, to help put off debt payments, but there has been no official response yet from Beijing.





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Israel, Switzerland report first monkeypox cases as virus spreads | News

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The outbreak of monkeypox in countries where the virus is not endemic is highly unusual, according to scientists.

Israel and Switzerland have confirmed their first cases of monkeypox, joining several European and North American countries in detecting a disease that is endemic to parts of Africa.

In recent weeks, more than 100 confirmed or suspected cases of monkeypox have been detected in the UK, France, Germany, Belgium, Italy, Portugal, Spain and Sweden as well as in the US, Canada and Australia, raising fears the virus may be spreading.

The outbreak in countries where the virus is not endemic is highly unusual, according to scientists.

A spokesman for Tel Aviv’s Ichilov Hospital told AFP on Saturday that a 30-year-old man, who recently returned from western Europe with monkeypox symptoms, had tested positive for the virus.

The Israeli health ministry said on Friday that the man had been exposed to a person with monkeypox abroad and that he remained in isolation at Ichilov Hospital in mild condition.

Switzerland also confirmed its first detected case of monkeypox on Saturday, a person in the canton of Bern who contracted the virus through “close physical contact abroad”, the canton said in a statement.

The person consulted a doctor because they had a fever and a rash and felt poorly, the canton said, adding that the person was in isolation at home and the illness was developing in a “benign” way. A person they had been in contact with has been informed, the canton added

The virus, which causes distinctive pustules but is rarely fatal, is endemic to parts of central and west Africa. Symptoms include fever, muscle aches, swollen lymph nodes, chills, exhaustion and a chickenpox-like rash on the hands and face.

The virus can be transmitted through contact with skin lesions or droplets from a contaminated person, as well as through shared items such as bedding or towels.

Monkeypox usually clears up after two to four weeks, according to the World Health Organization, which is currently working on further guidance for countries on how to mitigate the spread of the disease.

David Heymann, chair of the WHO’s Strategic and Technical Advisory Group on Infectious Hazards with Pandemic and Epidemic Potential, said experts were likely to give more guidance to countries in the coming days in how to deal with monkeypox.

“What seems to be happening now is that it has got into the population as a sexual form, as a genital form, and is being spread as are sexually transmitted infections, which has amplified its transmission around the world,” Heymann told Reuters.

He said a WHO meeting on the issued was convened on Friday “because of the urgency of the situation”.

Health officials in several countries have warned that cases could rise further in Europe as major summer gatherings and festivals take place in the coming months.



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‘Perfect climate storm’: Pakistan reels from extreme heat | Climate Crisis News

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Lahore, Pakistan – In the capital of Pakistan’s largest province Punjab, residents such as Muhammad Junaid say the ongoing heatwave has felt “very sudden and unexpected”.

A tailor living in one of Lahore’s Katchi Abadis (shanty towns), Junaid told Al Jazeera the 40 degree Celsius (104 degree Fahrenheit) and above temperatures, combined with hours-long power shortages, have created an “unbearable” situation at home.

“We are eight people living in three rooms… The children get easily frustrated in this heat together with the load shedding [power outages]… Sometimes they can’t help but cry,” he said.

Since April, South Asian nations have been experiencing an unpredictable heatwave that has seen some areas touch 50°C (104°F).

“This is a freak weather phenomenon that has completely shaved off the spring season in Pakistan,” former climate change minister Malik Amin Aslam told Al Jazeera.

Speaking by phone from the capital Islamabad, Aslam said temperatures were “6-7° higher than normal at this time. What we see happening most definitely is due to climate change,” he added.

Lahore weather
A Lahore resident using a water tap to cool down amid an ongoing heatwave in many parts of Pakistan [Usaid Siddiqui/Al Jazeera]

Scientists have long warned the climate crisis will lead to more intense weather – including floods, droughts and heatwaves.

A UN agency reported earlier this week that key indicators of climate change – including greenhouse concentrations and ocean heat – had been higher compared with 2021.

“The global energy system is broken and bringing us ever closer to climate catastrophe,” the World Meteorological Organization said.

8th most affected country

According to the Global Climate Risk Index published by non-profit group Germanwatch, Pakistan is one of the most vulnerable nations in the world when it comes to the effects of climate change over the past two decades.

Between 2000 and 2019, the Germany-based organisation ranked Pakistan as the 8th most affected country. During this period, the sub-continent nation lost on average 500 lives annually as a result, or 10,000 over the course of the whole period, the group said.

One of the most alarming effects of the “torrid” heatwave is the accelerated melting of Pakistan’s glaciers in the north, according to Aslam.

Earlier this month, the Hassanabad bridge in the northern Hunza Valley was destroyed because of a glacial lake outburst flood at the Shisper Glacier – leading to flashfloods – and leaving tourists and locals stranded.

“Last year we [the previous government] had made special drainage channels around the glacier to let the drainage happen – but the lake burst was so huge it broke through it as well,” said Aslam.

Pakistan has more than 7,000 glaciers – one of the highest numbers in the world – many of them in the Himalayan region.

A University of Leeds study published in December found the ice from glaciers in the Himalayas was melting “at least 10 times higher than the average rate over past centuries” a result of human-induced climate change.

Moreover, the researchers reported the Himalayas, which also covers other countries in South Asia such as Nepal and India, had lost 40 percent of their ice over several hundred years.

“What Pakistan is experiencing is a perfect climate storm,” Aslam said. “It is very alarming and there is nothing we can do about this. The country cannot simply go out and turn off the greenhouse gases.”

Effect on crops

Experts have warned the unexpected heatwave is also affecting the agriculture sector in the country.

Amanullah Khan, head of the environment and climate change unit at the UN Development Programme in Pakistan, told Al Jazeera while the country’s crops are used to high temperatures, the issue was the heatwave arriving earlier than expected.

“It’s not as if the agriculture of this country has not seen temperatures of 41°C or 43°C – the problem is that crops need certain temperatures at a certain time of their growth,” he said from Islamabad.

“If the heat arrives earlier the usual, this will manifest in the country not producing good crops such as wheat,” Khan noted, adding Pakistan imported wheat last year, despite being a net exporter for many years. He cited climate change as one of the main reasons.

A vegetable vendor waits for customers
A vegetable vendor waits for customers to sell his produce in Lahore [Usaid Siddiqui/Al Jazeera]

Meanwhile, Pakistan’s mango harvest has also been affected, with some local experts claiming a drop of nearly 60 percent in production.

The patron-in-chief of the All Pakistan Fruit & Vegetable Exporters, Importers & Merchants Association Waheed Ahmed told Al Jazeera his group had reduced its export target by 25,000 tonnes this season, a 20 percent drop.

Speaking from Lahore, Ahmed added similar shortfalls can be expected later this year in the “production of green vegetables, sugarcane and other crops”.

Furthermore, Ahmed said continuing water shortages were further deepening food security in the country.

Earlier this month, Pakistan was ranked among the top 23 countries in the world by the UN facing drought emergencies over the past two years.

The report published by the UN Conven­tion to Combat Desertifica­tion said droughts – a result of low precipitation and exacerbated by higher than normal temperatures – were a major driver of “crop yield volatility”, leading to low yields and resulting in “substantial financial losses”.

‘No choice’

Junaid the tailor said unlike more affluent households, he and his family had few financial resources to mitigate the effects of the heatwave, made worse by the ongoing power outages in the province and elsewhere.

“We have no money to buy an air-conditioner. We rely on fans and cheap coolers … but when there is no electricity for several hours, we have nothing to stay cool with. We just have to live with it,” he lamented.

“We can’t afford a UPS [uninterruptible power supply] or generator as a backup when the load shedding starts.”

Muahmmad Zubair chopping ice to stay cool
Muhammad Zubair breaks up a block of ice to use for cooling purposes outside his tea stall in Lahore, Pakistan [Usaid Siddiqui/Al Jazeera]

A climate study published in February found in the 2010s exposure to heatwaves for the “poorest quarter of the world … was more than 40 greater than in the wealthiest quarter”, citing a lack of access to heat adaptation facilities such as air conditioning and the resources to run them.

“Adaptation measures, such as cooling centres … can lower a population’s heat exposure impact. However, a country’s ability to implement adaptation measures generally depends on its financial resources, governance, culture and knowledge. Poverty affects each,” the authors wrote for the media and research outlet The Conversation.

Nevertheless, for low-income labourers in Pakistan who work outdoors, the heatwave is a secondary concern.

“We have no choice but to continue working the same long hours no matter how hot it gets … to support our families,” Muhammad Zubair, a tea seller told Al Jazeera, adding his regular 10-12-hour workdays remain unchanged.

Arshad, a day labourer who makes between 500-1,200 rupees a day (US$2-$6) told Al Jazeera the government should ensure continuous employment for temporary workers like him.

The father of three said he had not found a paid job for nine consecutive days between April and May, all the while sitting outside for eight or nine hours at a busy intersection in Lahore, hoping someone would hire him.

“The heat is bad but it will always be there… It can’t stop us from trying not to go hungry.”





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Wimbledon’s Russia, Belarus ban on collision course with ATP, WTA | Tennis News

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Wimbledon stripped of ranking points by sport’s main tours in a move that threatens to reduce Grand Slam to exhibition status.

The world’s most prestigious tennis tournament is on a collision course with the sport’s global governing bodies after Wimbledon had its ranking points stripped by the ATP and WTA tours over excluding players from Russia and Belarus.

According to the International Tennis Federation (ITF), the women’s and men’s professional tennis tours will not award ranking points for Wimbledon this year because of the All England Club’s ban on players from Russia and Belarus over the invasion of Ukraine, an unprecedented move that stands as a significant rebuke of the sport’s oldest Grand Slam tournament.

The WTA and ATP announced their decisions on Friday night, two days before the start of the French Open – and a little more than a month before play begins at Wimbledon on June 27.

The All England Club (AELTC) said in April it would not allow Russians or Belarusians to compete, which drew immediate criticism from the WTA and the ATP, along with some prominent players, such as defending champion Novak Djokovic. It will bear watching how this whole episode affects the relationships among the various entities that have a say in the way tennis is run.

“The ability for players of any nationality to enter tournaments based on merit, and without discrimination, is fundamental to our tour,” the ATP said in a statement. “The decision by Wimbledon to ban Russian and Belarusian players from competing in the UK this summer undermines this principle and the integrity of the ATP ranking system.”

Saying it made this move “with great regret and reluctance,” the ATP added: “Our rules and agreements exist in order to protect the rights of players as a whole. Unilateral decisions of this nature, if unaddressed, set a damaging precedent for the rest of the tour. Discrimination by individual tournaments is simply not viable on a tour that operates in more than 30 countries.”

The AELTC on Friday said it was considering its options and was in discussions with its Grand Slam colleagues.

“We remain unwilling to accept success or participation at Wimbledon being used to benefit the propaganda machine of the Russian regime,” the AELTC said in a statement.

“We therefore wish to state our deep disappointment at the decisions taken by the ATP, WTA and ITF in removing ranking points for The Championships.

“We believe these decisions to be disproportionate in the context of the exceptional and extreme circumstances of this situation and the position we found ourselves in, and damaging to all players who compete on Tour.”

Ranking integrity

WTA chief Steve Simon said the tour believes athletes participating in an individual sport “should not be penalised or prevented from competing solely because of their nationalities or the decisions made by the governments of their countries.”

“The recent decisions made by the All England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC) and the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) to ban athletes from competing in the upcoming UK grass court events violate that fundamental principle,” Simon said.

“As a result of the AELTC’s position that it will not honour its obligation to use the WTA Rankings for entry into Wimbledon and proceed with a partial field not based on merit, the WTA has made the difficult decision to not award WTA ranking points for this year’s Wimbledon Championships.”

Russian tennis star Daniil Medvedev
Russia’s Daniil Medvedev in action during his third-round match against Croatia’s Marin Cilic at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club in July 2021 [File: Peter Nicholls/Reuters]

Ban slammed

Wimbledon’s ban on Russian and Belarusian competitors has been slammed by top players such as 21-times Grand Slam champion Rafael Nadal who labelled it unfair, while world number one Novak Djokovic said he did not support the decision.

The ban has ruled out a swath of top players, including men’s world number two Daniil Medvedev and last year’s women’s semi-finalist Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus as well as two-time major winner Victoria Azarenka.

Medvedev, speaking in Paris before the ATP decision was announced, said he would not resort to legal action against Wimbledon but admitted “there are a lot of mistakes” behind the controversial decision.

“If I can’t play, I’m not going to go to court for this one,” 26-year-old Medvedev said.

The ban has been widely condemned especially as Russian and Belarusian players are still allowed to compete at other tournaments including the second Grand Slam of the season at the French Open which starts in Paris on Sunday.

“It’s unfair for my Russian colleagues,” said Spanish star Nadal, a two-time Wimbledon winner, when the sanction was announced. “It’s not their fault what’s happening with the war.”



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