UNDP Saudi Arabia launches accelerator lab

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Layan Al-Saud, Head of Solutions Mapping, UNDP Saudi Arabia and Adam Bouloukos, Resident Representative of UNDP Saudi Arabia, at the Saudi Accelerator Lab launch on Wednesday at at the UN house in Riyadh. (AN photo by Ali Al-Dahri)
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Attendees of the launch of Accelerator Lab conference are representatives of government, private sector, United Nations, non-profit sector, and academia. (AN photo by Ali Al-Dahri)
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Adam Bouloukos, Resident Representative of UNDP Saudi Arabia, at the Saudi Accelerator Lab launch on Wednesday at at the UN house in Riyadh. (AN photo by Ali Al-Dahri)
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Updated 19 November 2021

UNDP Saudi Arabia launches accelerator lab

  • Innovation needed to respond to government’s changes, says UNDP official

RIYADH: An accelerator lab to find solutions to modern-day challenges was launched by the UN Development Programme in Riyadh on Wednesday.

Adam Bouloukos, who is the UNDP’s resident representative in the Kingdom, said the accelerator lab was launched because ideas and innovation were needed to respond to the government’s changes and its new agenda.

“The nature of our work here is at a quite high policy level, which is part of the reason we launched this accelerator lab, because we need better ideas, more creative ideas, and innovation to respond to the government’s changes and its new agenda,” he told Arab News. “We have in our team three experts. We're looking at different elements of research analysis and experimentation to help us better formulate projects and programs with the goal. All of our projects are in partnership with the government and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. This program is unusual in UNDP because it's a large learning network.”

He said the accelerator lab initiative was in 91 locations and supported 115 countries, with the aim of finding solutions to developmental challenges and responding to them rapidly and at scale.

The Saudi Accelerator Lab has three core members: Layan Al-Saud, who is the head of solutions mapping, Saud Al-Fassam, head of exploration, and Abdulrahman Al-Ghamdi, who is head of experimentation.

Al-Saud’s role is to immerse deeply in communities, identify local solutions, and bridge bottom-up solutions with policy design. Al-Fassam’s responsibility is to shed light on emerging trends, use data science to identify patterns, and make a case for change. Al-Ghamdi's job is to build portfolios of social or environmental solutions, strengthen solutions, and learn through experimentation.

Al-Saud said that Saudi Arabia was still missing a sense of real community engagement. “Sometimes we tend to think that we always want to get something from a global best practice, rather than looking at what the local solutions are and how we can work on that to amplify it. So, one size does not fit all in terms of innovation.  

“What we are trying to do is to hear more from our global counterparts around what they're doing and gain inspiration from that, but not copy-paste what's happening. We tried to see locally what the issues are and work on that as well.”

Bouloukos said the initiative was coming to Saudi Arabia at the right time.

“Look at what's happening in Saudi Arabia, the place is booming with ideas. Some of that is politically driven in the sense that you have strong leadership, but you also have the opening of the country generally, tourism, young people with a voice, a growing civil society, nonprofit sector, and academic institutions.

“I feel like I'm here at the right moment, where the changes are becoming very tangible, and I’m happy to contribute. I can only do this and support the government if I have innovative ideas and creative opportunities.”


Fearing torture, ex-PM Khan's aide files petition for medical examination

Updated 9 min 38 sec ago

Fearing torture, ex-PM Khan's aide files petition for medical examination

  • Chaudhry Fawad Hussain urges court to take notice of violation of his constitutional rights
  • Hussain was arrested last week on charges of threatening members of Pakistan's election regulator

ISLAMABAD: Former prime minister Imran Khan's aide, Chaudhry Fawad Hussain, on Sunday submitted a plea before an Islamabad judicial magistrate for his medical examination to be conducted, fearing he may be subjected to torture in police custody.

Hussain, who served as information minister in former PM Khan's cabinet, was arrested on Wednesday from Lahore and brought to Islamabad. A sedition case was registered against Hussain after a case was registered against him by the Election Commission of Pakistan's (ECP) secretary, who said Hussain had threatened members of the commission and their families. 

On Saturday, an Islamabad local court remanded Hussain for two days in police custody. Hussain and Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party have denied allegations he threatened ECP's members. The party and its chairman have repeatedly raised concerns Hussain's constitutional rights are being violated by authorities. 

“It is feared that the applicant may be subjected to mental and physical torture,” Hussain's petition read. “It is important to conduct the medical examination of the applicant to protect his legal and constitutional rights," it added. 

The petition said police were not conducting Hussain's medical examination which was against the court's directives, adding that they were also in violation of his constitutional rights. 

The petition alleged that Islamabad police had subjected two PTI senior leaders, Senator Azam Swati and Dr. Shahbaz Gill, to torture during custody. Islamabad police has rejected the allegations.  “The police might do the same as they did in the past, and this is why they are not conducting my medical,” the petition said. 

It also requested the court to direct police “to immediately conduct the applicant’s medical examination and submit a report in the court.” 

The former information minister is scheduled to be produced before the judicial magistrate in Islamabad tomorrow, Monday, after the expiry of his two-day physical remand. The investigators argued before the court that they wanted to have a photogrammetry test of the accused conducted. They also demanded his laptop and cell phone be recovered for forensic analysis. 


Central bank rejects claim capping dollar price caused $3 billion losses in exports, remittances

Updated 28 min 46 sec ago

Central bank rejects claim capping dollar price caused $3 billion losses in exports, remittances

  • State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) says rising inflation, global economic slowdown behind dwindling remittances, exports
  • SBP says devastating floods last year and ensuing supply disruptions also contributed to decline in Pakistan's exports

ISLAMABAD: The State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) on Sunday rejected media reports which stated that capping the price of the US dollar caused the country losses worth $3 billion in exports and remittances, saying that a decline in both was due to "exogenous factors."

In a major sign that it was willing to swallow the bitter pill and agree to the International Monetary Fund's (IMF) tough conditionalities, Pakistan's foreign exchange companies last week removed the cap on the US dollar. The price of the rupee, as a result, fell to a 24-year-low against the greenback, compounding problems for the South Asian country. 

Local media reports had claimed that capping the price of the US dollar had dealt Pakistan losses of $3 billion in exports and remittances as people preferred to send remittances to Pakistan via illegal channels, which offered a better rate. 

In a press release, the SBP rejected the reports, describing them as "incorrect." It added that Pakistan's exports were facing headwinds due to moderating demand in international markets as the country's trading partners go through a period of monetary tightening. 

"For instance, US Federal Funds rate has surged from 0.25 percent in March 2022 to 4.5 percent to date; suggesting a noticeable global monetary tightening," the SBP said. 

The central bank said inflation has been "significantly higher" in developed countries, eroding people's purchasing power. The SBP also said that devastating floods last year and ensuing supply disruptions are also to blame for Pakistan's dwindling exports. 

"In this backdrop, linking decline in exports to relatively stable exchange rate is not appropriate," it added. 

It said workers' remittances were gradually "tapering off" from the all-time high figure of $3.1 billion in April 2022 due to Eid-related flows.  

"This decline is primarily attributed to global economic slowdown as higher inflation in developed countries has led to higher cost of living abroad, thus reducing the surplus funds that could be sent back to homeland as remittances," the central bank added.

Pakistan's foreign reserves have dipped to an alarming eight-year low of $3.6 billion, barely enough to cover three weeks of imports. Islamabad hopes the resumption of the IMF's stalled loan program would help unlock inflows from allies and multilateral organizations.


At least 50 killed in twin transport mishaps in Pakistan 

Updated 8 min 1 sec ago

At least 50 killed in twin transport mishaps in Pakistan 

  • A passenger bus fell into a ravine and caught fire in Balochistan’s Bela area, killing at least 40 people 
  • In second mishap, 10 children were killed after their ferry capsized in country’s northwest on Sunday 

KARACHI: At least 50 people were killed in two separate transport tragedies in Pakistan on Sunday, officials said, renewing a debate about poor transport safety protocols in the South Asian country.  

In the first incident, a passenger bus fell into a ravine and later caught fire in the Bela area of Pakistan’s southwestern Balochistan province, where road accidents claim thousands of lives annually.   

Balochistan, a mountainous, desert region bordering Afghanistan and Iran, is Pakistan’s largest but most impoverished province, with a staggering 40,000-km network of road infrastructure.   

According to the motorway police, 6,000 to 8,000 people die each year in accidents across the Balochistan province, mainly on single-lane roads that have infamously come to be known as “killer highways.”   

“A bus going from Quetta to Karachi plunged into a ravine and caught fire at around 3 a.m.,” Hamza Anjum Nadeem, the Bela assistant commissioner, told Arab News. “At least 39 bodies have been recovered and a search for others is underway.”  

Anjum later confirmed the death of another passenger, taking the count to 40. Of these, 38 dead bodies were being moved to the southern port city of Karachi, 177 km away from Bela, for medico-legal formalities, Karachi Police Surgeon Dr. Summaiya Syed told Arab News.  

Balochistan is the epicenter of the $64 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, a road and infrastructure development plan, which aims to ultimately provide the shortest route for Chinese cargo headed for the Middle East, Africa and Central Asia. 

Major roads are slated for construction under the CPEC, including the road from Balochistan’s Khuzdar district to the Chinese-funded, deep-water port of Gwadar. But for now, the absence of dual carriageways, inadequate training of drivers, and a lack of highway patrols mean thousands continue to die on these roads each year.

In another incident, 10 children died when their boat capsized in Tanda Dam lake near Kohat in the country’s northwest, according to police.  

All of the dead recovered so far were aged between 7 and 14 years, local police official Mir Rauf told the AFP news agency. Rauf said 11 children had been rescued from the water, with six in critical condition. The boat was carrying between 25 and 30 students on a day trip from a local madrassa when it overturned.  

“A rescue operation is underway,” Rauf said. Mass drownings are common in Pakistan when aged and overloaded vessels lose their stability and pitch passengers into the water. In July, 18 women drowned when an overcrowded boat carrying a wedding party across the Indus river in Punjab province capsized.  

The South Asian country also has poor road safety controls, and thousands of lives are lost to road crashes each year, particularly in the southwestern Balochistan province.  

According to the National Road Safety Strategy 2018-2030, a report administered by the Asian Development Bank that cited police data, 6,548 people died at the scene of an accident on Pakistan’s roads in 2016. Of these, 355 fatalities happened on national highways and 6,003 on provincial roads.  

At least seven people were killed and 15 others were injured after a passenger bus collided with a truck in Balochistan’s Killa Saifullah district this month. In June last year, 22 people were killed when a passenger bus veered off a narrow road and fell into a ravine in the same district.


Pakistan’s president, PM express sorrow after 50 die in twin transport mishaps

Updated 29 January 2023

Pakistan’s president, PM express sorrow after 50 die in twin transport mishaps

  • A passenger bus fell into a ravine and caught fire in Balochistan's Bela area, killing at least 40 people
  • In second mishap, 10 children were killed after their ferry capsized in country's northwest on Sunday

KARACHI: Pakistan's President Dr. Arif Alvi and Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif in separate statements on Sunday expressed “deep grief and sorrow” over two transport tragedies that left at least 50 people dead and renewed the debate about transport safety protocols in the South Asian country.

In the first incident, a passenger bus fell into a ravine and later caught fire in the Bela area of Pakistan's southwestern Balochistan province, where road accidents claim thousands of lives annually.  At least 40 people were killed in the accident. 

In another incident, 10 children, aged between seven to 14 years, died when their boat capsized in Tanda Dam lake near Kohat in the country's northwest, according to police.  The boat was carrying between 25 and 30 students on a day trip from a local madrassa when it overturned.

“The president has stressed authorities take practical steps to avert the occurrence of such incidents in the future,” the state-owned Associated Press of Pakistan (APP) reported, citing a statement from the president’s secretariat said.

“The prime minister has directed [authorities concerned] to ensure the provision of all available medical facilities to the injured,” the Prime Minister’s House said in a statement according to the APP. 

Balochistan, a mountainous, desert region bordering Afghanistan and Iran, is Pakistan’s largest but most impoverished province, with a staggering 40,000-kilometer network of road infrastructure.  

According to the Motorway police, 6,000 to 8,000 people die each year in accidents across the Balochistan province, mainly on single-lane roads that have infamously come to be known as "killer highways."  

“A bus going from Quetta to Karachi plunged into a ravine and caught fire at around 3 am,” Hamza Anjum Nadeem, the Bela assistant commissioner, told Arab News. "At least 39 bodies have been recovered and search for others is underway."  

Anjum later confirmed the death of another passenger, taking the count to 40.

Of these, 38 dead bodies were being moved to the southern port city of Karachi, 177 kilometers away from Bela, for medico-legal formalities, Karachi Police Surgeon Dr. Summaiya Syed told Arab News.

Balochistan is the epicenter of the $64 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a road and infrastructure development plan, which aims to ultimately provide the shortest route for Chinese cargo headed for the Middle East, Africa, and Central Asia.  

Major roads are slated for construction under the CPEC, including the road from Balochistan’s Khuzdar district to the Chinese-funded, deepwater port of Gwadar. But for now, the absence of dual carriageways, inadequate training of drivers, and a lack of highway patrol mean thousands continue to die on these roads each year.  

Like road accidents, mass drownings are also common in Pakistan when aged and overloaded vessels lose their stability and pitch passengers into the water.

In July, 18 women drowned when an overcrowded boat carrying a wedding party across the Indus river in Punjab province capsized.

The South Asian country also has poor road safety controls and thousands of lives are lost to road crashes each year, particularly in the southwestern Balochistan province.

According to the National Road Safety Strategy 2018-2030, a report administered by the Asian Development Bank that cited police data, 6,548 people died at the scene of an accident on Pakistan’s roads in 2016. Of these, 355 fatalities happened on national highways and 6,003 on provincial roads.  

At least seven people were killed, and 15 others were injured after a passenger bus collided with a truck in Balochistan's Killa Saifullah district this month.    

In June last year, 22 people were killed when a passenger bus veered off a narrow road and fell into a ravine in the same district.


Djokovic wins Australian Open to equal Nadal’s Grand Slam record

Updated 29 January 2023

Djokovic wins Australian Open to equal Nadal’s Grand Slam record

  • Djokovic defeated the Greek third seed Tsitsipas 6-3, 7-6 (7/4), 7-6 (7/5) at the Rod Laver Arena
  • The Serb’s dominant win drew him level with Nadal on a record 22 Slams, two clear of now-retired Roger Federer

MELBOURNE: An emotional Novak Djokovic called it “the biggest victory in my life” after sweeping past Stefanos Tsitsipas to win a 10th Australian Open title and equal Rafael Nadal’s 22 Grand Slam crowns on Sunday.
The Serb will return to world number one as he overcame a hamstring injury and off-court drama to defeat the Greek third seed 6-3, 7-6 (7/4), 7-6 (7/5) on Rod Laver Arena.
The 35-year-old climbed to his player’s box afterwards to embrace his mother and broke down in uncontrollable tears, collapsing to the ground sobbing.
His father Srdjan was again missing after he sparked controversy by posing with a fan carrying a Russian flag featuring Vladimir Putin’s face following his son’s quarter-final win.
The emphatic victory over Tsitsipas capped a remarkable return for Djokovic to Melbourne Park, having missed last year’s tournament when he was deported over his Covid vaccination stance.
“I have to say this has been one of the most challenging tournaments I’ve ever played considering the circumstances, not playing last year, coming back this year,” he said, wearing a jacket with 22 emblazoned on it.
“I want to thank all the people that made me feel welcome, comfortable, to be in Melbourne.
“I try to pinch myself and really live through these moments, it’s a long journey,” added Djokovic, who was more emotional than usual.
“Only my team and family know what we have been through in the last four or five weeks and this is why I’d probably say this is the biggest victory in my life considering the circumstances.”
There had been an air of inevitability about Djokovic triumphing once more.
After his three-year ban from Australia was lifted, he won the lead-up Adelaide International before reinforcing his status as an all-time great in Melbourne.
His dominant win drew him level with Nadal on a record 22 Slams, two clear of now-retired Roger Federer.
The Spanish great made a second-round exit with a hip injury, one of a series of shocks which upended the men’s and women’s draws during the first major of the year.
“I guess we always find the A-game on the Slams,” Djokovic said of equalling his old rival Nadal. “This is what I feel both Nadal and myself probably still fight for.
“It is still what motivates us the most, winning the biggest titles in our sport and trying to keep up with the young guns.
“Tennis is in good hands,” he added. “But we’re still not going anywhere.”
Nadal and Djokovic have won 16 of the last 19 Slams.
The 36-year-old Spaniard though is set to slide down the rankings when they are released on Monday, in contrast to Djokovic.
The Serb will dethrone Spanish teenager Carlos Alcaraz and return to the top for the first time since June. Tsitsipas will climb one place to three.
Both men were back on a court that helped them rise to stardom.
Djokovic won his first Grand Slam in 2008 on Rod Laver Arena while Tsitsipas burst on the scene in 2019 when he stunned defending champion Federer in the last 16.
Moving freely with only minimal strapping on his troublesome left hamstring, Djokovic opened with a comfortable hold after being greeted by huge cheers.
He worked two break points on Tsitsipas’s opening serve, to no avail, but kept probing and the Greek handed him a break for 3-1 with a careless double fault.
Tsitsipas, 24, in only his second Grand Slam final to Djokovic’s 33rd, appeared nervous, losing the first set.
But he battled back into contention in a much closer second set as his confidence grew, earning his first break point — and set point — when Djokovic blasted a backhand wide.
But the Serb clung on to keep the set on serve and it went to a tiebreak, where his greater experience roared to the fore.
Against the odds, Tsitsipas broke for the first time on Djokovic’s opening serve in set three, only to relinquish the advantage immediately after a gripping rally.
It again went to a tiebreak, where Djokovic once again raised a level.
“I’ve had the privilege to play a lot of difficult, high-intensity matches, but I would like to say one more time Novak brings the best out in me,” said Tsitsipas, who is still yet to win a major.
“He’s the greatest that has ever held a tennis racquet, for sure.
“I don’t think there’s any reason for me to be affected by today’s loss,” he added.
“It is a step forward. I’m looking forward to scoring more points during this season, making bigger results, fighting for bigger trophies.”