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The Real Story

The Real Story

Global experts and decision makers discuss, debate and analyse a key news story.


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Qatar?s World Cup gamble

The Gulf state of Qatar is currently hosting the most expensive Fifa World Cup ever having spent an estimated $220 billion on the event. Seven of the eight stadiums have been built from scratch with new railways, motorways and dozens of new hotels also adding to the cost. It?s the first time the tournament has been hosted in the Middle East, a source of pride to many. But human rights groups say thousands of migrant workers have died during construction of venues and associated infrastructure - a claim the Qataris reject. Campaigners say not enough is being done to support gay people in a country where homosexuality remains illegal. But many across the Middle East believe the criticisms are unfair and that rich, Western nations are insulting a history-making event. So once the football is done, what will be the legacy of Qatar 2022 for the country, the region, its Western allies and the world? Ritula Shah is joined by a panel of expert guests. James Lynch - A former diplomat based in Qatar and a founding director of FairSquare Research and Projects, which works to prevent human rights abuses. Alistair Burt ? UK Minister of State for the Middle East 2017-2019. Also featuring ? Dr Nayef bin Nahar - Director of the Ibn Khaldon Center for Humanities and Social Sciences at Qatar University, based in Doha. Dr Nasser Mohamed - A gay Qatari, now living in the United States. Producers: Ellen Otzen and Paul Schuster.
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Is India ready to become the world's most populous country?

This month the world population reached 8 billion people - and India is leading the charge. It's set to overtake China as most populous country in the world next year. India is currently home to more than 1.39 billion people. By April, the UN says it will hit 1.42 billion. What?s caused this rapid population growth, what does it mean for India, its economy and its neighbours? The growth has already put an enormous amount of pressure on India?s resources and economic stability. The country is on the frontline of climate change and is struggling with extreme weather events 80% of the year. Should the Indian government be doing more to slow population growth or is in fact an opportunity for economic development? Ritula Shah is joined by a panel of experts. Poonam Muttreja - executive director of Population Foundation of India (PFI). Colette Rose - sociologist and researcher at the Berlin Institute for Population and Development. Dr Shatakshee Dongde - associate professor at the School of Economics, Georgia Institute of Technology. Also featuring : Shaina NC (Shaina Nana Chudasama) - Indian BJP government spokesperson. Producers: Ellen Otzen and Rumella Dasgupta (Photo :People walk through a congested road of a wholesale market in the old quarters of Delhi, India; Credit: EPA/RAJAT GUPTA)
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War and starvation - Ethiopia?s Tigray conflict

After two years of civil war, Ethiopia and Tigray have agreed to terms for a peace deal which stipulates that both parties will begin to lay down their arms The plan is to create a humanitarian corridor to Tigray which will offer food relief to more than 6million civilians in Tigray who have been under blockade by government forces for most of the conflict. The war in Africa's second-most populous country has seen abuses documented on both sides, with millions of people displaced and many near famine. Several sticking points remain. Will the Eritrean forces - who have fought alongside Ethiopian troops and have their own territorial claims - also lay down their arms? Without sustained attention from US, African and other donor nations, could the cease-fire quickly fall apart again? Can famine in Tigray be avoided? Chris Morris is joined by a panel of expert guests. Alex Rondos - Former European Union?s Special Representative to the Horn of Africa. Tsedale Lemma - Ethiopian journalist and founder of the Addis Standard publications. Alex De Waal - Author and Executive Director of the World Peace Foundation. Also featuring: Getachew Reda - Spokesperson for the Tigray People's Liberation Front Producers: Ellen Otzen and Rumella Dasgupta (Photo: Internally displaced women and children in Ethiopia; Credit: Photo by EDUARDO SOTERAS/AFP via Getty Images)
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Russia, France and the battle for influence in West Africa

President Macron this week announced that France's anti-jihadist military mission in the Sahel region of Africa has ended. The departure of troops from the former colonial power and the end of Operation Barkhane comes at a challenging time for the region which is in the grips of a security crisis fuelled by Islamist extremists. Both Mali and Burkina Faso face jihadist insurgencies and the countries have seen a combined four coups d?état since 2020. Mali's ruling junta, which has been in power since 2020, has brought in Russian operatives it says are military trainers, but western nations describe as mercenaries from the pro-Kremlin Wagner Group. Could Russia become the new big player in West Africa? Paul Henley is joined by a panel of expert guests. Jean-Hervé Jezequel - Project Director for the Sahel at the International Crisis Group. Niagalé Bagayoko - Chair of the African Security Sector Network, a think tank based in Ghana. Paul Melly - Journalist and Consulting Fellow in the Africa Programme at the Chatham House think tank. Also featuring: Yéah Samaké - A Malian politician and the country?s former ambassador to India. Sergei Markov - A former member of the Russian parliament for Vladimir Putin's United Russia party and former adviser to the Kremlin. Producers: Ellen Otzen and Paul Schuster.
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Daunting challenges for UN climate conference

Delegates are gathering in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, for the COP27 UN climate change conference beginning on Sunday 6 November. But a lot has changed in the 12 months since attendees of the COP26 meeting in Glasgow promised bold action to tackle global warming. Russia invaded Ukraine sparking global inflation and rising energy prices. Relations between the United States and China have continued to sour. And extreme weather events have caused thousands of deaths across the planet. Last week a UN report concluded there?s no longer any "credible pathway" to keeping the rise in global temperatures below the key threshold of 1.5C and that the world will warm by around 2.8C this century if current policies remain in place. So, what?s on the agenda at COP27? Can the conference come up with solutions to the growing number of challenges posed by climate change? And how can we judge whether the meeting will be a success or a failure? Ritula Shah is joined by a panel of expert guests. Mohamed Nasheed - Former President of the Maldives, now an ambassador for the Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF). Dr Jessica Omukuti - Research Fellow on net zero emissions, climate finance and climate justice at the University of Oxford. Nick Robins - Professor in Practice for Sustainable Finance at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics (LSE). Also featuring ... Dr Michael E. Mann - Professor of Earth & Environmental Science at the University of Pennsylvania and author of 'The New Climate War: the fight to take back our planet'. Dr Michal Meidan - Director of the Gas Research Programme at the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies think tank. Producers: Paul Schuster and Ellen Otzen.
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Why the US midterm elections matter

The United States will hold midterm elections on 8 November, votes that could have a major impact on the remaining two years of the Biden presidency. Join The Real Story and our US Public Radio partners in Michigan, Arizona and California as we delve into some of the key issues driving this year's race - the cost of living, abortion rights and perceived threats to democracy. Ritula Shah is joined by Rick Pluta, Senior Capitol Correspondent at Michigan Public Radio Network MPRN, Ben Giles, Senior Editor KJZZ Phoenix 91.5FM and Marisa Lagos, Political Correspondent for KQED in California. Producers: Ellen Otzen and Paul Schuster
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What caused the turmoil in British politics?

After the resignation of Liz Truss the UK will soon have its third prime minister this year. Britain has long been considered a politically stable nation. So has something changed? The governing Conservative Party is divided on many issues, including the country?s future direction post-Brexit. The opposition Labour Party has also struggled to accommodate different views on economic and social policy. Meanwhile the two-party system is being challenged by shifting demographics, a rural-urban divide and strengthening support for Scottish nationalists. So what lies at the heart of the turmoil in the British political system and where does it go from here? Ritula Shah is joined by a panel of expert guests. Professor Tim Bale - Professor of Politics at Queen Mary University of London and author of the upcoming book The Conservative Party After Brexit: Turmoil and Transformation. Polly Toynbee - Guardian columnist and co-author of The Lost Decade: 2010?2020, and What Lies Ahead for Britain. Sir John Curtice - Professor of Politics at the University of Strathclyde and a leading expert on public opinion. Also featuring: David Blunkett (Lord Blunkett) - Former UK Home Secretary in Tony Blair's Labour government. Producers: Paul Schuster and Ellen Otzen.
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What is economic growth and why does it matter?

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has this week downgraded its forecast for global growth warning ?the worst is yet to come and, for many people 2023 will feel like a recession?. The fallout from Russia?s invasion of Ukraine has increased inflation, forced central banks to raise interest rates and exacerbated the cost of living crisis. Britain?s new Prime Minister Liz Truss says her economic priority is ?growth, growth and growth?. But the IMF says that while the tax cuts her government has announced may boost growth in the short term they?ll likely "complicate the fight" against soaring prices. So, what is the best way of boosting economic growth? Can it be done without increasing inequality and harming the planet? And is growth always good for you and your quality of life, whether you live in a rich country or a poor one? Ritula Shah is joined by a panel of expert guests. Vicky Pryce - Economist and former director general for economics at the UK government?s Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. Desmond Lachman - South African born economist, former deputy director in the International Monetary Fund?s (IMF) Policy Development and Review Department, now a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). David Pilling - Africa editor for the FT and author of The Growth Delusion: Wealth, Poverty, and the Well-Being of Nations. Producers: Ellen Otzen and Paul Schuster.
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Xi Jinping?s plan for China

This month China?s President Xi Jinping is expected to secure a further five years as the country?s leader after the Communist Party abolished two-term limits. It opens the door to Xi continuing to rule for the rest of his life. His time in power has seen the country take a more confrontational approach to many of its neighbours as well as to the West. China?s GDP continues to grow and living standards for most citizens have risen, but some fear the ?economic miracle? of recent decades may be coming to an end and that rising tensions over Taiwan and Hong Kong could lead to conflict. So, who is Xi Jinping? What makes him tick? And what are his plans for the future of China? Ritula Shah is joined by a panel of expert guests. Daniel R. Russel - Former US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs (2013 - 2017), currently Vice President for International Security and Diplomacy at the Asia Society Policy Institute (ASPI), New York Lucy Hornby - visiting scholar at the Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies at Harvard University, formerly of Reuters and the FT Steve Tsang - Director of the China Institute at SOAS, The University of London Also featuring: Victor Gao - Vice President of the Center for China and Globalization, a think tank based in Beijing Producers: Paul Schuster and Ellen Otzen
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What should we make of Russia?s nuclear threats?

The US has warned Russia of ?catastrophic consequences? if it uses nuclear weapons in its war against Ukraine. The statement comes after Russian President Vladimir Putin insisted he?d use ?all the means at our disposal to protect Russia and our people?, adding this is ?not a bluff?. The threat of escalation feels more acute after Moscow reported four self-styled referendums held in Russian-held regions of Ukraine showed near universal public support for joining Russia. So, if Ukraine continues to try to wrest back full control of the regions, is it possible the Kremlin could respond with the use of small ?tactical? nuclear weapons? Ritula Shah is joined by a panel of expert guests. Producers: Paul Schuster and Ellen Otzen.
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What next for the Commonwealth?

The Queen was seen as a unifying force in the Commonwealth. With her death, will the organisation re-invent itself for the next generation, or fade away? Questions are being asked about whether the Commonwealth is a neo-colonial project and what it can actually do for its members. Others argue that while the Commonwealth has its roots in empire, it is a crucial forum for smaller countries to amplify their voice and work with more powerful allies. We'll look at what the Commonwealth is for and what challenges lie ahead for King Charles III as he takes the helm. What would change if the organisation ceased to exist and what does it mean for Britain's place in the world? Ritula Shah is joined by a panel of expert guests. Producers: Ellen Otzen and Zak Brophy
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Boris Johnson is out, Liz Truss is in

Liz Truss has taken over as leader of Britain?s Conservative Party and has therefore also become Prime Minister. She won the internal party race to succeed Boris Johnson by promising that she?ll cut taxes and deliver economic growth. But the country is facing strong economic headwinds with soaring energy prices, relatively low productivity and the highest inflation rate of any G7 nation. Post-Brexit trade frictions between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK remain a sore point among Tory MPs, a result of the deal struck with the European Union aimed at avoiding a hard border between The Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. Does Liz Truss have the political skills and policies needed to reverse a sharp decline in support for the Conservative Party? And what will facing a new PM mean for the country?s opposition Labour Party? Ritula Shah is joined by a panel of expert guests. Producers: Ellen Otzen and Paul Schuster.
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Are sanctions on Russia working?

It?s been six months since the West imposed an array of sanctions on Russia after its invasion of Ukraine. Around half of Russia?s $640 billion worth of foreign exchange and gold reserves have been frozen, major Russian banks have been barred from the international financial messaging system Swift, the selling of key technology to the country has been prohibited, and the assets of some wealthy individuals have been seized. But Europe is still buying large amounts of Russian gas, a commodity it depends on to keep its citizens warm and its industries running. So, what are the main aims of the sanctions regime? Are the measures working or is Russia finding new ways around restrictions? And what does the future hold for an economy that?s increasingly cut off from major world markets? Ritula Shah is joined by a panel of expert guests. Producers: Rozita Riazati and Paul Schuster.
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Nasa's plan to go back to the Moon

Nasa's first step in their plan to send humans back to the surface of the Moon is fast approaching. The programme, called Artemis, is costing tens of billions of dollars and will begin with Artemis I, scheduled to launch on 29 August. The uncrewed mission will send the Orion spacecraft to orbit the Moon. Subsequent missions in the coming years aim to return humans to the Moon?s surface for the first time in over 50 years and will include a woman and a person of colour. Nasa sees a return to the Moon as a way to prepare for a mission to Mars. But what exactly are they hoping to learn and what difference will any of it make to all of us back here on Earth? Paul Henley is joined by a panel of expert guests. Producers: Paul Schuster and Ellen Otzen.
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Salman Rushdie and the fatwa

The Indian-born British writer Salman Rushdie was recently stabbed on stage at an event in New York state more than three decades after Iran issued a fatwa calling for his assassination. He is currently recovering in hospital. The novelist spent years in hiding after his fourth novel, The Satanic Verses, prompted accusations of blasphemy. So why did a novel provoke such an strong reaction? Ritula Shah looks back at the story of the author, the book and the fatwa.
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Is the US getting serious about climate change?

This week the US Senate passed the biggest package of climate change measures in American history. The Inflation Reduction Act, which is expected to be passed by the House and signed into law by President Biden, includes $369bn in funding for climate and clean energy policies. Its backers hope it will reduce the country?s greenhouse gas emissions by 40% by 2030 compared to 2005 levels. But the bill had no Republican support in the Senate, raising doubts about just how long-lasting its impacts might be. So, is the US getting serious about climate change? And why do the political divisions about what to do about it run so deep? Paul Henley is joined by a panel of guests. Producers: Paul Schuster and Ellen Otzen.
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Italy?s right-wing nationalists on the rise

Italians go to the polls on 25 September after the collapse of the country?s 69th government in just 77 years. Polls suggest a conservative coalition - likely led by the right wing nationalist Brothers of Italy party - may form the next government. Critics accuse Brothers of Italy (Fratelli d?Italia) of having fascist roots, a claim it rejects. The beating to death of Ogorchukwu Alika, a Nigerian street trader in Italy last week, has shone a spotlight on growing anti-migrant rhetoric from a number of the country?s right-wing parties. So, is Italy about to elect a hard-right government? If Brothers of Italy leader Giorgia Meloni does become the country?s next Prime Minister what kind of leader will she be? And how could a more nationalist government impact Italy?s relationships with the EU, Nato and the US? Ritula Shah is joined by a panel of expert guests. Producers: Paul Schuster and Ellen Otzen.
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Bolsonaro v Lula: The race to lead Brazil

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro this week officially launched his campaign for a second term in office. The election in October will likely come down to a race between the right-wing populist leader and his main left-wing rival Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. Lula has been president before but was barred from running in 2018 due to corruption convictions that have since been overturned by the courts. The incumbent is behind in the polls as the country is buffeted by global economic headwinds exacerbated by the Covid pandemic, which saw Brazil experience one of the highest rates of deaths in the world. So, which issues will decide the election and what impact will the result have on Brazil and the world? Ritula Shah is joined by a panel of expert guests. Producers: Ellen Otzen and Paul Schuster
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Can our cities survive climate change?

Europe was this week hit by an extreme heatwave exacerbating drought conditions and sparking wildfires in France, Spain, Italy, Greece and Portugal. The UK also broke its record temperature exceeding 40C. All this just weeks after flooding caused widespread disruption in Sydney, Australia. Scientists agree that reducing greenhouse gas emissions is key to limiting the severity of climate change. But the planet has already warmed by 1.1C above pre-industrial levels and temperatures are expected to continue rising. More than half of the world?s population live in cities and that figure is expected to rise to 68% by 2050. Extreme heat, droughts, wildfires, storm surges and flooding - both inland and along coastlines - will increasingly cause damage and deaths. So, how can we make cities more resilient to the inevitable impacts of a warming planet? What obstacles are preventing greater action? And will the rich world protect itself while poorer communities are left to fend for themselves? Ritula Shah is joined by a panel of expert guests. Producers: Paul Schuster and Zak Brophy.
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A new phase in the Covid pandemic

After two-and-a-half years of Covid rampaging across the planet, causing millions of deaths and transforming billions of lives, everyone is keen to move on. But this week the head of the World Health Organization warned the public that the pandemic is ?nowhere near over? and that with cases rising 30% over the past fortnight we must collectively ?push back?. This assessment comes after many governments have pulled back on testing and removed restrictions such as the requirement to wear masks in certain public spaces. England?s former Deputy Chief Medical Officer says the lethality of Covid-19 is now getting closer to that of the seasonal flu, so how should we adapt to the next phase of the pandemic? Vaccines have prevented many people from getting seriously ill and dying, but only in countries with ready access to jabs and high vaccination rates. The UN estimates roughly 72% of people in high income countries have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, but the figure for low-incomes nations is roughly 18%. How much progress has been made in the fight against Covid-19 and what will the next phase of the pandemic look like? Paul Henley is joined by a panel of expert guests. Producers: Ellen Otzen and Paul Schuster.
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How the Supreme Court is reshaping the US

Abortion, environmental protections and gun ownership rights are among the controversial topics the US Supreme Court has ruled on over recent weeks. The highest court in the land has the final say on interpreting laws and deciding what?s constitutional and what isn?t. Now - with a clear conservative majority at the helm - the court?s move to overturn the landmark 1973 ruling guaranteeing abortion rights across the country (Roe v. Wade) signals it?s willing to re-visit previous judgments many had considered ?settled law?. Campaigners fear past decisions on other subjects, such as gay marriage, the right to contraception and even the way elections are run, may now also be overturned. So, what is the role of the Supreme Court within the United States? system of government and is it changing? How will its rulings impact politics federally and in individual states? And is the system set up by America?s founding fathers working as designed, or is political polarisation undermining the very principles it was built around? Paul Henley is joined by a panel of expert guests. Producers: Paul Schuster and Zak Brophy.
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Afghanistan's challenges after US withdrawal

A 5.9 magnitude earthquake last week in Afghanistan destroyed hundreds of homes and left around 1,000 people dead - including at least 155 children. The country, now ruled by the Taliban, was already struggling to feed and provide health services to its people just 10 months after the United States and its allies completed their hasty withdrawal. The UN says millions are going hungry and the hospital system is on the brink of collapse. Meanwhile the Taliban are subject to global sanctions and Afghan central bank reserves remain frozen after the fall of the Western-backed government. The Taliban?s decision in March to bar teenage girls from schools has divided opinion in the group and created headaches for organisations keen to work more closely with the Afghan government in order to improve the lives of citizens. So, is it possible to help the people of Afghanistan without helping the Taliban? Or is that approach wrong and should donors and governments just work alongside them? Owen Bennett-Jones is joined by a panel of expert guests. Producers: Ellen Otzen and Paul Schuster.
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From rebel to president: Colombia?s new leftist leader

Colombia this week elected a former rebel as its first left-wing president. Gustavo Petro?s win on Sunday represents a rejection of the establishment in a country facing strong economic headwinds, high levels of inequality, and continuing gang violence fuelled by the cocaine trade. Mr Petro and his running mate Francia Márquez - who will become the country?s first black vice-president - plan to reform taxes, phase out new oil exploration projects, and rethink the war on drugs. Colombia has long been a close partner to the United States in the region, recently designated by Washington as ?a major non-NATO ally?. The new leadership team in Bogotá want to take a fresh look at trade relations with both the US and Venezuela. So, who is Gustavo Petro and what does he stand for? What will his historic win mean for Colombia?s place in the region and the world? And can the new president deliver on his promise of sweeping change without control of the country?s congress? Ritula Shah is joined by a panel of expert guests. Ritula Shah with a panel of guests. Producers: Rozita Riazati and Paul Schuster.
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The repatriation of precious artefacts

The King of Belgium this month handed back a Congolese mask, one of about 84,000 artefacts taken during the colonial-era which the country has agreed to return. In 2018 a report commissioned by the French government recommended the return of thousands of African artworks taken from the continent during colonial rule. This week the director of the V&A museum in London, Tristram Hunt, told The Real Story that he?d like to see a review of decades-old UK laws which prohibit historical pieces being returned to their countries of origin. The clamour for the return of objects which may have been taken, stolen or bought during the colonial era is growing louder. The people and communities who want them back say it's about preserving their cultural identities. So, is it time for some of the planet?s biggest and most visited museums to repatriate many more of the items they?ve acquired from around the world? And how can the educational value of so-called ?encyclopaedic museums? continue to educate millions if the number of artefacts they have on display is diminished? Ritula Shah is joined by a panel of expert guests. Producers: Paul Schuster and Ellen Otzen.
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The rocky road ahead for Boris Johnson

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson this week narrowly survived a confidence vote within his own party, but more than 40% of Conservative Members of Parliament thought he should go. His premiership has come under pressure after investigations into parties in Downing Street during pandemic lockdowns concluded he broke the rules he introduced. His government was elected in December 2019 with a large mandate to ?get Brexit done? and his supporters insist that only he can hold the party together and deliver victory in the next election. But given the large number of Tory MPs who now think he?s an electoral liability rather than an asset, will Mr Johnson be able to survive and govern? And what will Boris Johnson staying on in Number 10 mean for the UK and its place in the world? Presenter: Ritula Shah Producer: Ellen Otzen and Paul Schuster
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China v the West in the Pacific

China?s foreign minister Wang Yi this week held a meeting with 10 Pacific nations aiming to reach agreement on a region-wide trade and security pact. Consensus wasn?t reached but bilateral deals ? like the one China?s already signed with Solomon Islands ? are under discussion. The United States and regional allies, led by Australia, see the idea of greater security cooperation between China and Pacific island countries as a threat to Western security. Beijing says it?s offering help in the areas of policing, infrastructure, trade and resilience from disaster. Fiji?s Prime Minister, who's one of those who hosted Mr Wang this week, called on China to increase its efforts to tackle climate change, an existential threat to many of the nations meeting this week. So, what do Pacific states want from their partnerships with China and the West? And could the Pacific quickly become a new front line in growing tensions between East and West? Ritula Shah is joined by a panel of expert guests. Producers: Paul Schuster and Ellen Otzen.
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How do we stop high inflation?

Business leaders meeting this week at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, have warned that high levels of inflation are likely to cause a global recession, or worse. Financier George Soros told the annual gathering that ongoing coronavirus lockdowns in China mean ?global inflation is liable to turn into global depression?. Meanwhile the head of the World Bank, David Malpass, told a business event in the US that given the rising cost of energy, food and fertiliser prompted by Russia?s invasion of Ukraine, it?s now difficult to ?see how we avoid a recession?. Government and central bank spending aimed at cushioning the economic shock of the pandemic is also being blamed for the rising cost of goods and services. So, why have authorities so far failed to get rising inflation under control? If increased spending is contributing to prices going up, what can officials do to cushion the economic impact on the poorest without making things worse? And is another recession likely and perhaps even necessary? Ritula Shah is joined by a panel of expert guests. Producers: Ellen Otzen and Paul Schuster.
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What is the 'Great Replacement' conspiracy theory?

The suspect in Saturday?s killing of ten people at a Buffalo supermarket allegedly wrote a document endorsing the Great Replacement Theory. It?s a racist far-right conspiracy theory that falsely states there?s a secret plan to replace white people through increased immigration and other means. In the United States some politicians and mainstream media figures like Tucker Carlson of Fox News are accused of pushing a version of the theory when they insist Democratic Party immigration policies have the same aim. In Europe too, fears that white, Christian culture is being undermined have been stoked by far-right politicians across the continent. So how has Great Replacement Theory evolved? Is the basic philosophy behind it going mainstream? And what can and should be done to address the fears of people concerned about demographic change? Ritula Shah is joined by a panel of expert guests. Producers: Paul Schuster and Ellen Otzen.
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North Korea spooks its neighbours

This week as North Korea continued to test new ballistic missile technology, a new president took charge in South Korea promising to take a harder line with the north. Yoon Suk-yeol used his inaugural speech to call on Kim Jong-un to pursue a genuine path to rid his country of nuclear weapons. If he does, Mr Yoon promised he'd present an "audacious plan" to boost the impoverished North?s economy. Meanwhile in Japan, former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is calling for his country to re-think its post-WW2 ban on nuclear weapons. As the only nation to have suffered a nuclear attack, public opinion strongly supports laws prohibiting nuclear weapons on Japanese soil. But some analysts now believe the increased military threat from North Korea and China - including the testing of hypersonic missiles that in theory will be harder to intercept - mean that not only should Japan begin permanently hosting American nuclear warheads, it should even consider developing an nuclear deterrent of its own. Ritula Shah is joined by a panel of expert guests. Producers: Ellen Otzen and Paul Schuster.
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Ukraine war impact on climate pledges

The war in Ukraine has prompted a global reordering of energy markets as Europe looks to replace gas and oil imports from Russia. A few days after Russia invaded Ukraine in February, the UN issued a dire warning about the devastating consequences of climate change. The war has complicated the picture further. So, will events in Ukraine derail the green energy transition countries signed up to at COP26 just six months ago? Some African countries would like to step in as Europe scrambles for alternative sources of energy. But much of the energy they'd provide is carbon based. So, are these just short term setbacks that could be overshadowed by a longer term move away from cheap Russian energy supplies? And what happens to climate change cooperation if the war is driving a wedge between the West and Russia? Ritula Shah and a panel of guests discuss how Russia's war in Ukraine will impact efforts to fight climate change.
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Sweden?s hardening stance on immigration

Sweden has experienced days of violent protests against a far-right group. Danish-Swedish politician Rasmus Paludan?s anti-Islam party Hard Line says it will burn copies of the Quran as part of a tour of cities with large immigrant populations. Sweden has traditionally welcomed refugees, taking in Jews during WW2, Iranians fleeing the revolution, and a large number of people from the former Yugoslavia. But is that approach changing? Per capita Sweden accepted more refugees from the war in Syria than any other EU country. But after the arrival of more than 160,000 refugees in 2015 alone, government policy began to evolve ? seeing the introduction of border checks, a reduction in access to permanent residency, and more stringent rules around family reunions. Voters increasingly complain that core government services like health and education are struggling to cope and many migrants still find it hard to secure jobs. The far-right party Sweden Democrats has seen a surge in support and is now the third most popular party nationally. So is Sweden changing? Ritula Shah is joined by a panel of expert guests. Producers: Ellen Otzen and Paul Schuster.
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The appeal of the French far-right

This week the first round of the presidential election in France has shone a spotlight on the tectonic shifts taking place in the nation?s politics. President Emmanuel Macron, who shocked the world five years ago by winning the presidency as an outsider, has firmly established his party as the only centrist force - peeling off support from the traditional left and right. His main challenger, Marine Le Pen of National Rally, has proved the enduring appeal of the far-right by once again receiving the second highest number of votes. They will face each other in a run-off on 24th April. Analysts believe Ms Le Pen would have performed even better had she not faced stiff competition from another far-right figure, former TV personality Eric Zemmour. So what's behind the popularity of right-wing politics in France? Are policies that used to be confined to the more extreme ends of the political spectrum now becoming commonplace? And what might a far-right president mean for France?s place in Europe and the world? Ritula Shah is joined by a panel of experts. Producers: Junaid Ahmed and Paul Schuster.
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Are workers back in the driving seat?

Workers at an Amazon warehouse in New York have successfully set up Amazon's first ever union in the country. Staff at dozens of other US locations are said to be interested in unionising as well. There are signs workers are now increasingly in the driving seat. The pandemic has galvanised American employees with a tightening labour market providing them with more leverage. An increasing number of workers around the world are drawn to new, more flexible ways of working. But campaigners argue that while gig workers enjoy greater control over the hours they put in, the conditions and benefits they receive make them second-class citizens. And while many high-skilled staff have used the pandemic to demand greater flexibility to work from home or work over fewer days, that?s a benefit many in lower-paid professions have been denied. So as the world emerges from the economic upheavals caused by Covid-19, are workers better off? Ritula Shah is joined by a panel of expert guests. Producers: Natalia Rolleston and Paul Schuster.
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Israel's Arab allies

History was made this week when, for the first time, the foreign ministers of the UAE, Morocco, Egypt and Bahrain travelled to Israel on an official visit. For decades Arab leaders have criticised Israel for its occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, which appeared to rule out closer ties. But not anymore. After the meeting Emirati Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan told his Israeli counterpart, Yair Lapid, ?you are not only a partner, you are a friend,? adding that the countries have lost decades that could have been utilised, ?knowing each other better, of working together, and of changing the narrative that many generations of Israelis and Arabs have been living.? The United States has spent recent years working to improve relations between its Israeli and Arab partners, an effort that burst into the public consciousness with the signing of the Abraham Accords under Donald Trump. The new allies share a distrust of Iran and a desire for greater economic ties across the region. But the Palestinian leadership has criticised the rapprochement, describing it as ?a free reward for Israel?. So what?s been the benefit of the Abraham Accords? Will a new Iran nuclear deal push the parties even closer? What kind of support will these countries require from the United States at a time when US interest in the region is declining? And how many of the government-to-government ties are being translated into people-to-people contacts? Julian Marshall is joined by a panel of experts. Producers Paul Schuster and Junaid Ahmed.
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Who are Russia?s friends?

In the wake of Russia?s invasion of Ukraine 141 of the UN?s 193 member states voted to condemn the action. But the Kremlin isn?t without its allies. Four nations voted with Russia against the resolution (Belarus, North Korea, Syria and Eritrea) and another 35 abstained. China is the most prominent of these, but India also sat out the vote. The world?s largest democracy has not only failed to criticise the invasion but has also shied away from introducing sanctions. That?s prompted President Biden to describe Delhi?s response to the war raging in Europe as ?somewhat shaky?. But India isn?t alone. Israel too is hoping to stay neutral; it says so that it can facilitate talks between Moscow and Kyiv ? with Foreign Minister Yair Lapid insisting ?the way to stop the war is to negotiate?. So how much are current relationships based on ties dating back to the Cold War? How many countries still need Russia to maintain their own security and energy supplies? And can these partnerships survive in the face of harsh Western sanctions? Ritula Shah is joined by a panel of experts. Producers: Junaid Ahmed and Paul Schuster.
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War in Ukraine transforms Germany

Within days of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Germany announced a number of significant changes to its economic and security policies. Chancellor Olaf Scholz described it as a Zeitenwende ? or watershed ? moment for Europe. The country would remove a self-imposed restraint on its armed forces - in place since the Second World War - and invest billions of dollars upgrading its military hardware. The government pledged to increase its defence spending to two percent of GDP making it the biggest military power in Europe. It also broke with tradition and began to supply arms to Ukraine and deploy troops on Nato's eastern flank. There is a shift in Germany's energy policy too. The country is heavily dependent on Russian oil, gas, and coal; but it has begun to cut these ties starting with the cancellation of Nord Stream 2 pipeline. Analysts say regardless of the outcome, the war in Ukraine will bring about profound and long-lasting changes to Germany and its place in Europe. So how significant is Germany's plan to re-arm its military? Ritula Shah is joined by a panel of experts. Producers: Paul Schuster and Junaid Ahmed.
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Can Russia?s economy survive?

Just two weeks after Russia?s full-scale invasion of Ukraine the conflict has already begun reshaping the world. The bombardment of Ukrainian cities has led to the deaths of thousands of civilians and forced millions to flee the country. But the war has also completely upended the global economy. Russia is paying the heaviest economic price, as it grapples with Western-led sanctions on its banks, major industries and individuals associated with President Vladimir Putin. There are growing fears in Moscow that basic supplies of essentials like food and medicines may be disrupted. But attempts to cut Russia off from the global economy are impacting nations and industries across the planet. Oil and gas prices are up, as are the cost of key commodities such as wheat. Global supply chains have already been disrupted by the pandemic and now the war in Ukraine - and the inflation it?s causing - is adding to the woes of some of the poorest people on Earth. So how long can the Kremlin hold out? As the threat of Russia defaulting on its debts increases, what does the future hold for the country?s economy and its workforce? And how high a price will we all pay as a result of the conflict now playing out in Eastern Europe? Ritula Shah is joined by a panel of experts. Producers: Junaid Ahmed and Paul Schuster.
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Europe's energy future beyond Russia

The war in Ukraine has cast a spotlight on Europe's energy dependency on Russia. Nearly half of Europe?s gas, along with petroleum and coal, come from the Russian Federation. But with no resolution to the war in sight, there is concern that Moscow will reduce its gas supply in retaliation to the tough sanctions imposed by the EU. Countries like Germany, Austria and Bulgaria would face severe economic consequences. Gas prices are already at record high and any supply shortage will have a direct impact on households and businesses. Despite the uncertainties, the president of the European Parliament has called for an accelerated transition to greener energy as an alternative to the bloc's reliance on Russian gas. The EU wants to shore up strategic fuel reserves, build more Liquid Natural Gas terminals and streamline its power grids. So how did Europe become so dependent on Russia and what are its options as it tries to build a new energy network? Join Ritula Shah and a panel of experts as they discuss energy security in Europe away from Russia.
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The global debt crisis

This month the G20 came under criticism for failing to deliver a promised $100bn of additional funds to poorer countries to help with the economic fallout of the pandemic. Many of these countries suffered a significant financial crunch as their exports dropped while the price of imports went up. The World Bank says the recession of 2020 led to the largest single-year surge in global debt in decades. The Bank says the debt burden of 70 low income countries has risen by more than 12 percent. Countries that are considered middle-income and have relatively stable economies have also been hit. Last month Sri Lanka appealed to China, one of its biggest creditors, to reschedule its debts. Its foreign reserve shortage has led to a sharp reduction of oil imports, resulting in regular power cuts and further undermining economic activity. So how did the pandemic worsen the debt crisis? How much of the problem can be blamed on long-term economic mismanagement and corruption? And what should be the role of creditors like China, which has been criticised for the way it negotiates debt relief. Join Ritula Shah is joined by a panel of experts. Producers: Paul Schuster and Junaid Ahmed
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Why is China supporting Russia on Nato?

This month President Putin of Russia was the star guest at the opening of the Winter Olympics in Beijing. But his trip to China was not just about showing support for the host country. He and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping issued an unexpectedly long statement pledging friendship with 'no limits' and no 'forbidden areas of co-operation'. Beijing and Moscow have maintained a stable relationship since the 2000s, a far cry from the bitter days of the Sino-Soviet split during the Cold War. China has increased its gas imports from Russia and Russia has in turn allowed more Belt and Road investments in its territory. The two conduct joint military exercises, co-operate in exploring Arctic sea routes, and support each other on the world stage. Now, breaking with its previous ambiguity, China has expressed support for Russia's concerns over the potential future expansion of Nato, giving Moscow a significant boost in its border standoff with Ukraine. Russia meanwhile backs China's claims over Taiwan. Even though no formal alliance has been announced, experts see the new Sino-Russia pact as a clear challenge to the United States. So how important is the agreement between Russia and China and what are the countries' longer term goals? Does Russia risk being dominated by China, which is soon to become the biggest economy in the world? And how will the evolving relationship between the two powers impact the future of the democracy-based world order envisioned by President Biden? Ritula Shah is joined by a panel of experts. Producers: Junaid Ahmed and Paul Schuster
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France's place in the world

This week the French president Emmanuel Macron travelled thousands of kilometres across Europe in a diplomatic effort to avert an escalation of the war in Ukraine. He met Presidents Putin and Zelensky in Moscow and Kyiv, as well as German and Polish leaders in Berlin. Diplomats say Mr Macron has made himself a key interlocutor between the EU and the US on one side and Russia on the other. The crisis in Ukraine has galvanised France's alliance with the United States which was at a low point just months ago when Paris lost a lucrative Australian submarine contract to Washington and London. But at home - where the president is facing re-election, there?s scepticism over France?s close alliance with America. So what are President Macron's foreign policy goals? As the EU?s only nuclear-armed state, what role should France play in representing Europe?s broader interests on the world stage? And will Mr Macron?s diplomatic achievements improve his chances of winning a second term in April? Ritula Shah is joined by a panel of experts. Producers: Junaid Ahmed and Paul Schuster.
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China?s zero-Covid conundrum

As the Beijing Winter Olympics get underway in China this week the host city has reported its highest number of new Covid-19 cases in more than a year. The authorities have put in place a strict 'closed loop bubble?, isolating more than 60,000 athletes, officials and service providers from the rest of the country. China's firm approach to quashing transmission of the virus has been in place ever since the first outbreak in Wuhan. Detection of the virus typically prompts mass testing and can even result in entire cities being placed into snap lockdowns. Only essential travellers are allowed to enter the country and even then only after weeks of strict quarantine. Only a few thousand Chinese citizens are said to have died of Covid-19, a fraction of the number of lives lost in many other nations. But a recent report from the IMF has warned of an economic slowdown in China, blamed in part on the country?s zero-Covid policy. The approach has been welcomed by most citizens, but could public attitudes change if more of the country is forced to stay at home in order to combat outbreaks? Can China follow in the footsteps of other countries that have transitioned towards 'living with the virus'? And will the country have to wait for the next generation of vaccines before opening up? Ritula Shah is joined by a panel of experts. Producers: Paul Schuster and Junaid Ahmed.
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Why Putin has his sights on Ukraine

Growing fears of a Russian invasion of Ukraine have prompted the US and UK to pull the families of staff at their embassies in Kyiv out of the country. Moscow?s forces have been amassing on Ukraine?s border for months prompting fears of a major escalation in a war that?s been underway since Russia?s annexation of the Crimean Peninsula in 2014. Vladimir Putin says the Russian and Ukrainian populations are 'one people' and has blamed Nato?s expansion east for rising tensions. Joe Biden has warned Russia that an invasion of Ukraine would result in severe consequences for the Kremlin. So how likely is full-scale war? What is President Putin's strategy? And what is the likely end-game? Ritula Shah is joined by a panel of experts. Producers: Junaid Ahmed and Paul Schuster.
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The future of the BBC

The British Broadcasting Corporation is the world?s oldest and largest public service broadcaster. But as it prepares to mark its 100th birthday the organisation finds itself at a crossroads. The UK government has begun a review of the BBC?s long term funding structure with an aim of ending its dependency on television licence fees ? effectively a tax on British owners of TV sets. The broadcaster's Director General Tim Davie says services and shows will have to be cut as a result of a funding gap arising from the latest licence fee deal. There are other challenges too. Young people are consuming less BBC content than their parents, preferring to rely on an array of different sources for their news and entertainment. So what should be the role of public service broadcasters in a world where information is curated by search engines and consumers gravitate towards streaming giants such as Netflix and Amazon Prime for their entertainment? Ritula Shah is joined by a panel of experts. Producers: Junaid Ahmed and Paul Schuster.
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Climate change: A risk to food security?

While agriculture remains one of the biggest contributors to climate change, it is also most exposed to its adverse effects. Scientists say that extreme weather events will become more frequent and more intense as global temperatures continue to rise. In 2021, harsh winters, unseasonably warm summers, and sudden changes in rainfall affected food production around the globe - from the farmlands of Europe to the grasslands of Africa. There has been a jump in the prices of essential commodities like wheat and maize and traders are braced for more fluctuations. Climate risk is not only affecting farmers and their livelihoods, it is also exposing more people to food shortages. So what are the most pressing dangers and how can we protect our food supply from extreme weather events? Paul Henley is joined by a panel of experts. Producers: Junaid Ahmed and Ellen Otzen
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The Beijing Winter Olympics: High stakes for China

The Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics will begin in 4 weeks? time with more than 2,000 athletes from across the globe expected to take part. Officials have set up a bubble to keep arriving athletes and officials separate from the general population, all part of attempts to prevent coronavirus infections. Some health officials fear the increased transmissibility of the Omicron variant will pose a severe challenge to organisers and athletes can expect to face tougher restrictions compared to last year's summer Olympics in Tokyo. The games are also the subject of a diplomatic boycott by the United States and some of its allies. The White House says it wants to send a clear message that it disapproves of China's human rights record, including its treatment of Uighur Muslims and a crackdown on dissents in Hong Kong. China described the move as an attempt to politicise sport. So what will success look like for the Beijing Olympics? How effective will the Covid protocols be? And how much of an impact will the diplomatic boycott have on the event?s credibility? Paul Henley is joined by a panel of experts. Producers: Junaid Ahmed and Paul Schuster.
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Do digital currencies need policing?

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has warned that the stability of some countries? financial systems could soon be at risk because of unregulated crypto assets. Cryptocurrencies and other digital financial products created using blockchain technology are proliferating. They?re largely free from the controls of governments and central banks, but also free from any significant regulation. The IMF believes ?comprehensive, consistent and coordinated? global regulation of the sector is now needed to prevent contagion if major crypto assets begin to collapse. Myanmar?s opposition-led shadow government this week announced that it will accept Tether, a so-called stablecoin, claiming to be pegged to the US dollar, as an official currency - a way of bypassing the control of the country?s military rulers. Meanwhile, across the border in China, authorities are cracking down on crypto and pushing ahead with plans for the country?s own Central Bank Digital Currency (CBDC) which critics fear could mark the beginning of the end of anonymous transactions. So, is global finance undergoing a transformation? And are more stringent rules of the road necessary to protect consumers and avoid economic calamity? Ritula Shah is joined by a panel of experts. Producers: Zak Brophy and Paul Schuster.
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What's going wrong in the Balkans?

It?s been more than two decades since the war in Bosnia ended. It remains one of the darkest chapters in modern European history and cost over 100,000 lives. Since the Dayton Agreement was reached in 1995 a fragile peace has held, but last month the international community's chief representative there - Christian Schmidt - warned that conflict might return and the country is in danger of breaking up. Bosnia-Herzegovina's senior ethnic Serb politician, Milorad Dodik, has threatened to pull the territory he governs inside Bosnia out of state-level institutions including the army. The issue that drove so much of the war - Serb nationalism - now appears to be on the rise across the Western Balkans. Serbia has deployed armoured vehicles and aeroplanes along its border with Kosovo and is accused of stoking religious tensions in neighbouring Montenegro. So how dangerous is this moment in Balkans history? Are the EU and the US doing enough to diffuse tensions? And how much of the blame can be laid at the feet of Serbia?s ally Russia? Ritula Shah is joined by a panel of experts. Producers: Junaid Ahmed and Paul Schuster.
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Omicron: Did Africa get a raw deal?

The emergence of the Omicron variant has once again highlighted the difficulty in preventing the pandemic from spreading across the globe. Health experts have long argued that regions like southern Africa, where the variant was first detected, are prone to dangerous mutations of the virus when large groups of people are left unvaccinated. Only a tenth of Africa's billion plus population have received their first dose and the continent is yet to create its own Covid vaccines. African nations are reliant on vaccines from the international alliance Covax but the supply is far less than what's required. Meanwhile many on the continent have opted to pursue traditional remedies, with some denying the existence of the virus altogether. So what's the road ahead for Africa as it tries to overcome the pandemic? What sort of public engagement is required to reduce vaccine hesitancy? And how is the fight against Covid made more difficult by other health emergencies? Ritula Shah is joined by a panel of experts. Producers: Paul Schuster and Junaid Ahmed.
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Hunger in Afghanistan: Time to work with the Taliban?

It has been 100 days since the Taliban returned to power in Afghanistan and the country is on the brink of a humanitarian crisis. More than half of the country?s 39 million people face acute food insecurity as prices skyrocket. Severe drought, the pandemic and the damage caused by decades of war have all helped to bring the economy to its knees. With winter approaching the World Food Programme has warned that Afghans are at risk of being isolated from life-saving assistance. Previously international aid represented around 40% of the country?s GDP, but since the Taliban takeover the World Bank, the IMF, and the United States have cut off access to more than $9.5 billion in foreign reserves and loans. With the banking system frozen, aid organisations are struggling to pay their staff on the ground and calls for the United States and its allies to ease sanctions are growing. The international community is now asking itself whether it is possible to prevent the Afghan people from starving while at the same time minimising any benefits to a repressive Taliban leadership. Ritula Shah is joined by a panel of experts. Producers: Junaid Ahmed, Paul Schuster and Marie Sina.
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