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Extreme weather threatens already virus-stricken Asian and Pacific countries

Jack Burton

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Extreme weather threatens already virus-stricken Asian and Pacific countries | The Thaiger
PHOTO: Daily Sabah
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Experts are warning that South and Southeast Asian nations, from India to Indonesia, already slammed by Covid-19, could now face a looming weather crisis in coming months, from heat waves to monsoons and cyclones.

India, with a population of some 1.4 billion is currently under “lockdown,” with more than 12,000 confirmed cases (though due to low testing rates, the real number is likely to be much higher). The cyclone season there starts in two weeks. Kamal Kishore, a member of the country’s National Disaster Management Authority, says that even to attempt to maintain social distancing requirements, India would need to double the space available to shelter people from extreme weather.

That would mean schools and colleges, currently closed by the virus outbreak, as well as other buildings, would need to be turned into shelter sites.

May and June are the hottest months for India and Pakistan, and people without adequate access to cooling or sufficient water could face health risks, particularly during the lockdown period. An intense heat wave last May and June caused widespread deaths across India. Hospitals are already rapidly filling with Covid-19 patients this year.

“We really have to work doubly hard this year to make sure that we minimise the heat wave related burden on hospitals.”

In Thailand the wet season is about to begin whilst many regions in the central and north-east are currently drought stricken.

Extreme weather threatens already virus-stricken Asian and Pacific countries | News by The Thaiger

PHOTO: Reuters

Meanwhile after Cyclone Harold tore through the South Pacific islands last week, around 160,000 people in Vanuatu, are in need of assistance, according to Sanaka Samarasinha, UN resident coordinator in Fiji. The disaster forced the government to announce a second state of emergency on Saturday, after an earlier one banned mass gatherings over coronavirus fears.

“Crops have been all but destroyed. If a new season of crops isn’t quickly planted, we will be looking at food insecurity for quite some time.”

Vanuatu says it has no confirmed cases of the virus as of Wednesday this week.

The Philippines is dealing with more than 5,600 Covid-19 cases, the highest number in Southeast Asia, in addition to the thousands of people displaced by a volcanic eruption in January and last year’s cyclones. The Philippines’ monsoon season starts in May but most of the 20 or so storms the country sees each year come between June and August. The secretary-general of the Philippines Red Cross says the association is manning a 24 hour call centre on the coronavirus and distributing aid to disaster victims.

Experts say that as Asian and Pacific countries brace to handle the combination of extreme weather, it’s crucial that disaster response teams are provided with personal protective equipment and psychological support.

“Covid-19 is a crisis which is not going to dissipate in two or three weeks. It will take months, and those months will coincide with floods and cyclones and heat waves, so the demand on response forces will be huge.”

SOURCE: The Nation

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Jack Burton is an American writer, broadcaster, linguist and journalist who has lived in Asia since 1987. A native of the state of Georgia, he attended the The University of Georgia's Henry Grady School of Journalism, which hands out journalism's prestigious Peabody Awards. His works have appeared in The China Post, The South China Morning Post, The International Herald Tribune and many magazines throughout Asia and the world. He is fluent in Mandarin and has appeared on television and radio for decades in Taiwan, Mainland China, Hong Kong and Macau.

Economy

Vietnam’s booming manufacturing sector reduced to a trickle as world pandemic kills demand

The Thaiger

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Vietnam’s booming manufacturing sector reduced to a trickle as world pandemic kills demand | The Thaiger

Vietnamese finance officials are downgrading expectations for a recovery of the south east Asian nation’s economy in 2021. The normally fast-growing gross domestic product in 2020 has stalled due to a huge drop in local and global demand, and the absence of international tourism. The booming economy, growing at an average of 6% per year since 2012, will struggle to reach a growth rate of 2% this year.

Fuelled by manufactured exports, the Vietnam economy has dropped back to a trickle. The Asian Development Bank estimates that this year’s GDP growth could be as low as 1.8%. The Vietnamese factories, that usually crank out shoes, garments, furniture and cheap electronics, are seeing dropping demand as the world’s consumer confidence drops dramatically.

Stay-at-home rules in Europe and America are keeping are keeping people away from retail stores. And despite the acceleration of online retail, many of the consumers are emerging from the Covid Spring and Summer with vastly reduced spending power.

The headaches of 2020 are also challenging Vietnam to maintain its reputation as south east Asia’s manufacturing hotspot. Rising costs and xenophobic foreign policy have put China ‘on the nose’ with some governments, complicating factory work in China, whilst other south east Asian countries lack infrastructure and are incurring higher wage costs.

One Vietnamese factory operated by Taiwan-based Pou Chen Group, which produces footwear for top international brands, has laid off 150 workers earlier this year. There are hundreds more examples of the impact of falling demand in the bustling Vietnamese manufacturing economy.

Vietnam’s border closure is also preventing investors from making trips, setting up meetings and pushing projects forward. Those projects in turn create jobs, fostering Vietnam’s growing middle class. Tourism has also been badly affected by the restrictions on travel. “International tourism is dead,” says Jack Nguyen, a partner at Mazars in Ho Chi Minh City.

“Inbound tourism usually makes up 6% of the economy.”

“Things will only pick up only when the borders are open and there’s no quarantine requirements. Who knows when that’s going to be.”

A mid-year COVID-19 outbreak in the coastal resort city Danang followed by the start of the school year has reduced domestic travel, analysts say. Some of the country’s hotels are up for sale as a result.

“Recovery could take 4 years.”

The Vietnamese Ministry of Planning and Investment is now warning that global post-pandemic recovery could take as long as 4 years, perhaps more.

Not that foreign investors in the country are pulling out. Indeed, many are tainge a long-term view that Vietnam’s underlying strengths will outlive Covid-19. Vietnam reports just 1,069 coronavirus cases overall.

SOURCE: VOA News

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Thailand

Thai Health Minister accepts chairman role with WHO Regional Committee

Maya Taylor

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Thai Health Minister accepts chairman role with WHO Regional Committee | The Thaiger
PHOTO: Thai PBS World

Thailand’s Health Minister, Anutin Charnvirakul, has been appointed chair of the World Health Organisation’s Regional Committee for Southeast Asia. The colourful and controversial minister made the announcement at a press conference yesterday afternoon. He says 14 countries put his name forward for the role, which has a fixed term of 1 year, partly due to Thailand’s success in controlling the Covid-19 virus.

The committee is due to hold its first meeting today, where members are expected to discuss the Covid-19 situation in Southeast Asia and share tips and best practice ideas. Anutin says Southeast Asian nations are focused on the resumption of travel between their countries, adding that improving the Covid-19 situation across the region is critical in order to facilitate this.

Anutin is generally well-liked by the Thai public, although the same cannot be said for the country’s foreign population, many of whom were riled by what they saw as xenophobic comments made by him in the early weeks of the Covid outbreak, describing some foreigners as “dirty farang” for not accepting free masks as they were being handed out at a PR event at Siam BTS station in Bangkok in May this year.

SOURCE: The Pattaya News

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Business

Thailand planning land and rail passageway, bypassing congested Strait of Malacca

Maya Taylor

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Thailand planning land and rail passageway, bypassing congested Strait of Malacca | The Thaiger
PHOTO: Shutterstock / The Jakarta Post

Thailand hopes to shorten shipping time by bypassing the busy Strait of Malacca with a 100 kilometre highway and railway passageway. Discussions are underway to construct 2 deep seaports on both sides of the country’s southern coast, which would be linked via rail and highway.

The latest proposal replaces the Kra Canal plan, which was talked about for decades. That plan would have seen a canal crossing the skinniest point of the country, through the Isthmus of Kra just south of Phuket and Krabi, chopping around 1,200 kilometres off the shipping journey. However, it has now been dropped on environmental grounds.

The new project is expected to reduce shipping time by 2 days by bypassing the Strait of Malacca, which runs along Peninsular Malaysia’s south-west coast, before curving east past Singapore. The passageway is notoriously congested, as well as being susceptible to piracy. According to a report in the South China Morning Post, incidents of piracy increased from 8 in 2018 to 30 last year.

Thailand planning land and rail passageway, bypassing congested Strait of Malacca | News by The Thaiger

PHOTO: Encyclopedia of Earth

Currently, around a quarter of globally traded goods use the Strait of Malacca, with Thailand’s Transport Minister, Saksiam Chidchob, saying an alternative route is now a necessity.

“The Strait has become quite congested. Using an alternative route through Thailand would cut shipping time by more than 2 days, which is very valuable for businesses.”

The alternative route would see a 100 kilometre highway and rail passageway linking 2 seaports on either side of Thailand’s southern coast. It’s understood the government has set 75 million baht aside for a study into the building of the seaports, along with a further 90 million baht to look into the feasibility of highway and rail connections between the two.

If the project went ahead it would be a major blow to Singapore which has built its fortune on being the south east Asian shipping and trading hub at the turning point at the bottom of the Mallaca Strait.

SOURCE: South China Morning Post

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