Iran is still facing economic sanctions over its controversial nuclear programme, but the country has seen its influence and power grow, while its neighbours struggle to keep their states and stability.

For this finanical year starting March 15, Tehran has set aside a budget of $312bn, up six percent on last year. Defence expenditure is expected to rise by one-third to around $10bn, the bulk of which will go to the Elite Revolutionary Guards.

However, Iran's economy has shrunk 8.6 percent in the past two fiscal years; according to Iran's oil minister the fall in oil exports is costing his country $8bn a month.

Meanwhile, Iran is increasing its military presence in the Middle East, raising a lot of questions about its ambitions. So what is Iran's military reach?

In Iraq, the Quds Force is fighting alongside Shia Iraqi militias and the Iraqi Army, and 30,000 soldiers and advisors are reportedly operating in a number of Iraqi cities.

Across the border in Syria, Iran has supported the Syrian government. It is estimated up to 10,000 Iranian operatives are in Syria and that support has come with $15bn in finanical aid, according to Syria's minister of finance and economy, Ibrahim Miro.

Lebanon's group Hezbollah is backed by Iran; and in Yemen, Houthi fighters backed by Iran have taken over many cities, including the capital Sanaa.

Does Iran's rising power represent a threat to the stability of the region? How is Iran funding all these groups in Iraq, Syria and Yemen? And what are Iran's ambitions?

Renad Mansour, a scholar at the Carnegie Middle East Centre, talks to Counting the Cost about Iran's rising influence and its growing military presence in the Middle East.

Hong Kong's property lottery

Land is scarce in Hong Kong and it is tough to have your own house, so private developers are now eyeing the city's open spaces to meet the growing demand. 

The government is struggling to balance the pressing need for new homes with environmental concerns in a city which is facing a housing crisis.

What is the future for Hong Kong's people? And what is the environmental impact?

Rob McBride reports from Hong Kong. 

China's checkbook diplomacy

China is challenging the global political and economic order, as it has emerged as the world's second biggest economy, and is now backing a new development bank.

The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) will be based in Beijing, and it will come into existence at the end of March 2015. 

It was formed because China has long wanted more influence at the IMF, the World Bank and regional investment banks, but has been blocked by the US Congress. Now, some of Europe's biggest economies are among the nations defying the US to become founding members of the infrastructure bank.

The AIIB does not aim to be a direct competitor to the World Bank or Asia Development Bank. The World Bank for instance has a mandate to end extreme poverty by decreasing the number of people living on less than $1.25 a day, while the AIIB will focus on infrastructure.

So, is the Asian Bank a strategic alternative to the Western-backed financial institutions? Or part of a bigger strategy to reshape the global balance of power?
 
Professor Jeff Kingston, the director of Asian Studies at Temple University, talks to Counting the Cost, and Tom Ackerman reports on China's investments in the US.

Creating water from thin air

Water is essential for life, but millions of people across the globe do not have access to clean water.

Millions across live too far away from rivers and lakes, or have seen their water sources contaminated or simply disappear during prolonged drought.

But what if they could access clean water anytime, anywhere, out of thin air? That is the promise of Fresh Water, Carlos Blamey's invention, a machine that does just that by extracting moisture from the air.

Lucia Newman reports from Santiago.

Source: Al Jazeera