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DGI Brief - Sep 23, 2016

Good Friday to all. Today's top 5 global issues news are about #Syria #NorthKorea #Nigeria #PuertoRico and a #GoodStoryFriday about #Sweden:

- SYRIA: While US & Russia try to negotiate some semblance of a ceasefire, the Syrian military continues heavy bombardment of rebel-held east Aleppo for a 2nd day straight. Groups on the ground report unprecedented, indiscriminate bombing of residential areas & infrastructure as well as the Syrian Civil Defense centers, home to the award-winning rescue personnel known as the White Helmets. Syrian military sources say that a ground offensive is imminent. Why it matters: The intensity of violence & indiscriminate – even intentional – targeting of civilians & the humanitarian, medical & rescue groups by the Syrian regime cannot go on. Where is the credibility of the international community to stop these war crimes? We definitely have larger carrots & even larger sticks, why aren’t we using them? The diplomats continue to place blame on each other while hundreds are being buried under the ruble. Disgraceful.

- NORTH KOREA’s foreign minister delivered a defiant speech at the UN General Assembly today, vowing his country will strengthen its nuclear capabilities despite many UN Security Council resolutions on the issue. He also blamed the US for a ‘hostile policy’ against North Korea & saying “the US will have to face tremendous consequences beyond imagination”. Just few rooms away, the Security Council approved a resolution on a rapid global implementation of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, accord that bans tests of nuclear weapons. North Korea has conducted its 5th & most powerful nuclear test 2 weeks ago. Why it matters: North Korea continues to show it will not back down. Meanwhile, the Security Council resolution is a move lauded as an important reaffirmation against nuclear weapon test explosions, but also a mostly symbolic move. We have monitoring & implementation mechanisms set up globally, but the Comprehensive Test Ban Organization (CTBO) cannot do its job until the US, China, Egypt, India, Iran, Israel, North Korea & Pakistan ratify the CTB treaty. Russia & 35 other “nuclear capable” countries already did, surely the 8 – or at least 7 – remaining ones can too.

- NIGERIA’s health officials began vaccinating children against polio in the eastern state of Taraba as they travel through military checkpoints in an attempt to stop a recent outbreak. Up to 80 children are vaccinated daily at each checkpoint, with general cooperation by parents. Authorities insist that refusing the vaccination could result in being asked to leave the state. Why it matters: Nigeria was declared polio-free last year, but new cases were confirmed among refugees from areas recently liberated from the Islamic terrorist group Boko Haram, suggesting that the crippling disease may be raging in the areas under the group’s control. Given the inaccessibility of these areas, interventions at military checkpoints are the best possible option to curb the outbreak.

- Caused by a fire at the Electric Power Authority’s power plants, PUERTO RICO experienced a nation-wide blackout for 2 days. The aging infrastructure experiences frequent local power outages, but such a massive scale blackout that affected the entire island of 3.5 million shook all. The utility was able to restore power to 75% of homes & businesses today & hopes majority of Puerto Ricans will have electricity by Saturday. Why it matters: A prime example of what happens when investment into infrastructure is neglected. Puerto Rico already struggles with an economic crisis & the utility has a $9 billion debt, but without an update to the old equipment & grids, such events can become more frequent & hinder any development progress. Let’s not forget other potential effects like the Zika virus that plagues the island – mosquitos that carry Zika generally live indoors & do not like cold…& would thrive in conditions without electricity.

- #GoodStoryFriday SWEDEN will introduce a new measure offering tax breaks on repairs of consumer goods – from clothes, shoes, bicycles to home appliances like ovens, fridges & washing machines. The proposal will slash the VAT (tax) rate on repairs from 25% to 12% & allow people an income tax refund for repair labor costs. The aim is to reduce carbon emissions on goods produced outside of Sweden, grow the economy by stimulating the home-repairs service industry & tackle the “throwaway culture” of rapid consumerism. Why it matters: A fantastic initiative that, if approved by parliament, will become law on January 1, 2017. Sweden is a success story in cutting its carbon emissions by 23%, it generates over half of its electricity from renewable energy sources, but these are domestic emissions. These new measures will help to address carbon emissions tied to goods produced abroad by lowering consumption & stimulating the home-repair service sector. This is especially important for Sweden as it will be able to create much-needed jobs for the many new immigrants who lack formal education but do or can easily acquire repair skills.

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