The Asian Development Bank’s (ADB) Board of Directors has approved a $380 million loan to help the Philippine government strengthen the road network and spur economic development in Mindanao, the country’s second largest island with about 20 million people.
The Improving Growth Corridors in Mindanao Road Sector Project, ADB’s biggest infrastructure investment in the island region, seeks to improve about 280 kilometers (km) of national roads and bridges in Mindanao.
The project, which is also the first Mindanao-specific loan granted by ADB in 16 years, will help the transport system better deal with the effects of climate change through features such as elevated pavements, enhanced slope protection, and better drainage. It will benefit women by improving their access to basic infrastructure, social services, and economic or financial resources or opportunities. Communities will also benefit from road safety awareness campaigns to be conducted under the project. All project roads will be geotagged with information accessible on the Internet, so the public can monitor road investment projects throughout the project life cycle, including procurement and construction.
Additionally, the assistance will help finance the detailed design of 300 km of national highways in Mindanao, which will be constructed through other projects. Institutionally, it will help the Department of Public Works and Highways improve the long-term planning, fiscal accountability, and human resource management in the transport sector in Mindanao and the rest of the country.
The total project cost is estimated at $503 million, with the Government of the Philippines contributing $123 million.
“Improving roads in Mindanao will support the development of economic opportunities in areas such as agribusiness, ecotourism, and logistics, and improve access to markets, jobs, education, and health facilities,” said Jeffrey Miller, Principal Transport Specialist at ADB’s Southeast Asia Department.
Efficient road transport is crucial for the Philippines’ economic growth, but the sector has not kept up with population growth. About 23% of the national road network is in poor condition, due to various reasons including inadequate funding, lack of maintenance, and the impact of climate change, such as flooding.
Mindanao’s road network is less developed than the national average, with only 70% of the roads paved, compared with 82% in Luzon and 89% in the Visayas. Despite its rich natural resources, Mindanao also has the highest poverty incidence among the Philippines’ three island groups at 32%, largely because of civil conflict and low economic growth.
The “Build, Build, Build” program, the centerpiece of President Rodrigo Duterte’s 10-point Socioeconomic Agenda, aims to increase public investment and accelerate infrastructure delivery. Public spending on infrastructure is expected to reach 7.4% of the country’s gross domestic product by 2022, up from the 5.3% target in 2017.
ADB has been providing comprehensive support to the government to implement and manage sophisticated public works projects. The project will help link the island—economically and physically—to other parts of the Philippines and support the government’s effort to develop Mindanao’s economy, reduce poverty, and achieve high, inclusive, and sustainable growth. The project will also contribute to and benefit from the development of the Greater Sulu Sulawesi Corridor, which encompasses Mindanao, in the Brunei Darussalam-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines East Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Growth Area.
Priorities for improving diversity and inclusion in the energy sector
Prominent energy figures from around the world took part in a virtual dialogue last month on ways to accelerate progress on diversity and inclusion in energy. The event was co-hosted by Dr Fatih Birol, the IEA Executive Director; Ambassador Madeleine Chenette, the Permanent Representative of Canada to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD); and the Clean Energy, Education and Empowerment International Initiative (C3E International).
The C3E International Initiative, under the IEA Technology Collaboration Programme and the Clean Energy Ministerial, aims to enable greater gender diversity in clean energy professions, recognising that transitions to a clean energy future will need to harness all possible talent to succeed.
Participants from across the energy sector took part in the event on 2 December 2020 to share perspectives and insights on what really matters in the industry. Dr Birol emphasised that diversity and inclusion were priorities for his modernisation agenda for the IEA because “decision-making benefits from the strength of diverse perspectives.” He noted that the share of women in leadership positions at the IEA had grown from 16% in 2015 to 38% today. Dr Birol said he was “delighted that the virtual dialogue represented voices from across the IEA family, reflecting the ‘all fuels and all technologies’ approach of the Agency.”
Highlighting that women’s participation and representation in the energy sector is far below those in other comparable sectors, Ambassador Chenette set out the moral, political and strategic imperatives for accelerating progress. She emphasised that both high-level and personal leadership are critical for overcoming slow progress, and thanked Dr Birol for his leadership in emphasising the need to make economic recoveries from the Covid-19 crisis sustainable.
Empowering women in clean energy transitions is one way to help achieve sustainable recoveries, Ambassador Chenette said, calling for greater efforts to embrace the principle of “what gets meseaured, gets done.” She noted that “it is crucial that we all recognise the economic, environmental and social benefits that gender equality delivers.”
Elbia Gannoum, CEO of ABEEólica, the Brazilian wind energy association, said that “across the energy sector in Brazil, there is an urgency building – companies are searching for solutions on how to make the shift” to harness the benefits of diversity and inclusion. Due to the growing demand for resources and tools, Ms Gannoum announced the creation of the Energia da Transformação platform, which plans to boost inclusion and diversity through the Brazilian energy sector based on collaboration, knowledge sharing and raising awareness.
A data-driven approach is essential for accelerating progress across industry. Laura McGee, founder and CEO of Diversio, a Canada-based company that provides an intelligence platform to measure, track and improve diversity and inclusion, said that the “energy sector is in the middle of the pack compared to some sectors, and could achieve rapid progress by learning from other industries.” Data-driven diagnostics are critical for avoiding missteps and allocating resources to targeted pain points, she added.
Lyu Fang, a senior engineer at the Electrical Engineering Institute at the China Academy of Sciences, shared her personal journey from the start of her career in remote solar PV stations in China to eventually holding leadership positions in the country’s huge renewables industry. Today, Ms Fang is Secretary General for the PV Committee of the China Green Supply Chain Alliance and C3E International China Global Ambassador. She highlighted that China’s climate ambitions offer many growth opportunities in clean energy through “rising sun industries.” She said these should be harnessed to accelerate women’s participation and representation in energy.
Strengthening gender diversity in the energy industry requires unrelenting long-term efforts to boost inclusion. Joel Couse, Special Advisor to the IEA, highlighted that the energy industry faces challenges in finding and retaining talented staff in a competitive global market, including to seize the opportunities of clean energy transitions. On the supply side, boosting the number of women entering STEM programmes remains a priority for achieving gender-balanced recruitment. However, getting women into energy careers is not enough, he said, adding that the industry needs to be actively supporting women to progress past the experience hump before caring responsibilities limit their opportunities for certain types of operational jobs. A key challenge is shifting mind-sets and addressing harmful stereotypes about job roles and advancement opportunities that unnecessarily hold women and men back across the talent pipeline, Mr Couse said. Setting quantitative objectives and dates helps focus efforts to make progress.
Leading energy figures call for action
Mechthild Wörsdörfer, IEA Director of Sustainability, Technology and Outlooks who leads the Agency’s Gender Diversity Task Force, concluded the virtual dialogue, thanking the participants for driving change and reiterating that the IEA Gender Initiative is focussed on bringing data-driven solutions to the table.
In 2020, the IEA Gender Initiative started work on delivering the mandate set by Ministers from IEA Member Countries on equal opportunities in the energy sector. The Agency began by collecting better disaggregated data on gender and energy.
Strengthening collaboration is key, with the IEA and OECD working together to collect data on women in employment, entrepreneurship and decision‑making roles in the energy sector, and developing indicators on the gender of inventors of energy technologies, which will be published in 2021.
The initiative has determined that there is a lack of good and comparable data on gender trends in the energy sector, and also a strong need to improve methodologies, which is why the IEA accepted the role of Coordinator for C3E International’s knowledge and data collection work stream.
The IEA will also conduct a survey of members of the IEA Energy Business Council to develop a baseline on existing corporate practices. The findings and analysis from the survey will be shared in the coming months.
The Agency is also exploring how to integrate gender diversity into its regular analytical work, such as the World Energy Outlook, the measuring of energy efficiency, and through the Clean Energy Transitions Programme, which supports key partner countries in developing and implementing policies. This includes planning a policy package on implementing energy efficiency measures in India, which will impact a predominantly female workforce. The IEA is also prioritising new work on people-centred clean energy transitions, which will also include analysis on gender dimensions.
To share these learnings and insights, and to develop a mutual understanding of the evidence base and what works, the IEA will keep bringing together government, industry and civil society stakeholders to review data and analysis, and to identify priority actions.
Looking ahead, with the help of partners and governments within the IEA family and C3E International, the IEA Gender Initiative can help to mainstream diversity and inclusion in energy policy-making. The IEA Gender Initiative aims to develop a stronger understanding of gender balances throughout the energy sector and to shape the priorities for policy action in future decision-making. The initiative will deliver its first progress report in 2021.
‘Swift action’ needed in Tigray to save thousands at risk
Two months after conflict forced humanitarian workers to withdraw from the Tigray region of Ethiopia, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), on Tuesday, stressed the need for “swift action” to restore safe access to “save thousands of lives at risk”.
Granted one-time admittance by the Ethiopian authorities to conduct a needs assessment, UNHCR led the first humanitarian mission to Mai Aini and Adi Harush refugee camps since the start of the conflict in November and found Eritrean refugees in “desperate need” of supplies and services, agency spokesperson Babar Baloch told journalists at a regular press briefing in Geneva.
“The assessment, which concluded last week, found help is urgently needed for the tens of thousands of Eritrean refugees in northern Ethiopia”, he said.
Cut off from supplies and services for more than two months, Mr. Baloch explained that the refugees had run out of fuel for their water pumps, leaving them to fetch water from a nearby creek for washing, cooking and drinking – “resulting in diarrhea like illnesses”.
While the only assistance they had received since the start of the conflict was a one-time food distribution conducted by the World Food Programme (WFP) almost a month ago, he said that “plans are underway for a second distribution”.
Threat from ‘armed gangs’
The UN teams “thankfully” found that in both Mai Aini and Adi Harush camps, buildings and structures remain intact, including refugee homes, schools and clinics, “with little damage observed”, according to the UNHCR spokesperson.
However, refugees told UNHCR staff that while they were not impacted directly by the fighting, they were threatened and harassed by various armed groups.
“The refugees told us they continue to have safety concerns, reporting that armed gangs roam the camps at night stealing and looting”, Mr. Baloch said.
“UNHCR is working with the Government and partners to re-establish a regular presence at the camps and launch a response based on the information collected”, he said, adding that the UN agency has also called on the Government to strengthen security in both camps.
Further north in Tigray, the UN refugee agency has not, since November, been able to access the Shimelba and Hitsats refugee camps.
As highlighted in High Commissioner Filippo Grandi’s statement last week, UNHCR continues to receive a number of reports of significant damage to those camps and indications that many refugees have fled in search of safety and food.
“We remain deeply concerned about them”, said Mr. Baloch.
‘Restore safe access’
Meanwhile, some 5,000 Eritrean refugees have made their way to the town of Shire where they are living in “dire conditions”, said Mr. Baloch, painting a picture of many sleeping in an open field on the outskirts of the town, ‘with no water and no food”.
“UNHCR reiterates the UN wide call for full and unimpeded access to all refugees in the Tigray region and remains committed to work with the Ethiopian government to seek solutions together”, he stated.
The conflict between the Ethiopian Government and regional forces of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) began in early November, when the Prime Minister ordered a military offensive after rebels attacked a federal army base.
Government forces reported that the region had been secured at the end of November, but TPLF resistance has continued amid accusations of extrajudicial killings and rights abuses.
Israel: ‘Halt and reverse’ new settlement construction
Israel’s decision to advance plans for some 800 new settlement units, most of which are located deep inside the occupied West Bank, has sparked the concern of UN Secretary-General António Guterres.
In a statement issued on Monday by his spokesperson, Stephane Dujarric, the UN chief urged the Israeli Government to “halt and reverse such decisions”, calling them “a major obstacle to the achievement of the two-State solution, and a just, lasting and comprehensive peace”.
‘No legal validity’
Mr. Guterres reiterated that Israel’s establishing of settlements in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, “has no legal validity and constitutes a flagrant violation under international law”.
“Settlement expansion increases the risk of confrontation, further undermines the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination, and further erodes the possibility of ending the occupation and establishing a contiguous and viable sovereign Palestinian State, based on the pre-1967 lines”, he said.
Israel has given the green light to 780 new homes in West Bank settlements on Sunday in a move widely seen as being influenced by the imminent transfer of power in the United States.
Breaking with decades of US diplomacy, outgoing President Donald Trump, in 2019 unilaterally declared that the settlements no longer breached international law.
Against that backdrop, Israel has been increasing construction and either approved or made plans for more than 12,000 homes in 2020, according to news reports.
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