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World Bank Helps Bangladesh Modernize Cash Transfer Programs for Poor

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The government of Bangladesh today signed a $300 million financing agreement with the World Bank to improve the transparency and efficiency of its major cash transfer programs for the poorest and vulnerable, including the elderly, widows, and people with disabilities.

The Cash Transfer Modernization Project will help the Department of Social Services (DSS) modernize the country’s four major social protection programs using cash transfers by improving beneficiary targeting, program administration, and benefit payments. The programs are: the Old Age Allowance, Allowances for the Widow, Deserted and Destitute Women, Allowances for the Financially Insolvent Disabled, and Stipends for Disabled Students. These programs collectively reach more than six and a half million of the country’s poorest people.

An efficient, automated and transparent social protection service delivery system is critical to build resilience and create opportunities for the poorest people,” said Qimiao Fan, World Bank Country Director for Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal. “The World Bank is helping the government build common digital platforms to better administer safety net programs. This will help reduce administrative costs and errors by identifying the most vulnerable people with greater accuracy and transferring cash in a timely manner.”

In fiscal year 2018, Bangladesh spent about $5.8 billion on social protection, or about 2 percent of its Gross Domestic Product, and improving the efficiency of these programs will help Bangladesh to use public resources more effectively.

The DSS has already started digitizing beneficiary records of its cash transfer programs, and the project will help further strengthen case management and payment processes. To accurately identify recipients of cash transfers, the project will help integrate DSS’s management information system with the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics’ National Household Database. For more secure and accessible payments to beneficiaries, the system will be linked to the Finance Division’s centralized payment platform, and use a network of banking agents, among others. Such actions—utilizing existing or emerging systems—will help further develop an integrated social protection service delivery system in the country.

The government is committed to develop a digitized modern social protection service delivery system,” said Mahmuda Begum, Additional Secretary, Economic Relations Division. “This project is a critical step forward towards this vision and aligned with the National Social Security Strategy, 2015.

The agreement was signed at the Economic Relations Division by Mahmuda Begum and Qimiao Fan on behalf of the Government of Bangladesh and the World Bank, respectively.

The credit is provided by the International Development Association, the World Bank’s concessional lending arm, which provides grants or zero-interest loans.  The credit has a 38-year term, including a six-year grace period, and a service charge of 0.75 percent.

The World Bank was among the first development partners to support Bangladesh following its independence. The World Bank has since committed more than $29 billion in grants and interest-free credits to the country. Bangladesh currently has the largest IDA program totaling $11.3 billion.

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Russia Says Pollution in Arctic Tundra is Not Above Limit

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Recent studies of water and soil have shown that the oil pollution level at the Arctic Ambarnaya River, located near the thermal power plant in Norilsk where a massive fuel spill occurred in late May, have not exceed the maximum permissible values, said local authorities in russian Krasnoyarsk region.

“Over 600 water and soil samples were studied. According to the latest data, oil pollution at the mouth of the Ambarnaya River does not exceed threshold limit value. Nevertheless, the work has not been stopped,” Yuri Lapshin, the head of the Krasnoyarsk regional government, said during a session in the local parliament on Thursday, adding that now “the key phase in the aftermath of the accident ends.”

Earlier in June, scientists linked what happened in the Russian Arctic with global warming.

Much of Siberia had high temperatures this year that were beyond unseasonably warm. From January through May, the average temperature in north-central Siberia has been about 8 degrees Celsius (14 degrees Fahrenheit) above average, according to the climate science non-profit Berkeley Earth.

Siberia is in the Guinness Book of World Records for its extreme temperatures. It’s a place where the thermometer has swung 106 degrees Celsius (190 degrees Fahrenheit), from a low of minus 68 degrees Celsius (minus 90 Fahrenheit) to now 38 degrees Celsius (100.4 Fahrenheit).

The increasing temperatures in Siberia have been linked to prolonged wildfires that grow more severe every year, and the thawing of the permafrost is a huge problem because buildings and pipelines are built on them. Thawing permafrost also releases more heat-trapping gas and dries out the soil, which increases wildfires, said Vladimir Romanovsky, who studies permafrost at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

The warming climate in Siberia will cause permafrost to melt, which may cause the destruction of cities in this region, writes the Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet, citing climatologist Johan Kuylenstierna.

According to climatologists, such hot weather in Siberia is a link in the overall chain and calls for tracking the overall trend. If permafrost begins to melt faster, it will hit the infrastructure hard. The soil will become unstable and it will affect cities and dams (Siberia), he said. Recall earlier, BNN Bloomberg reported that a fuel leak due to damage to a reservoir in Norilsk was caused by melting permafrost in the Arctic region.

It was also claimed that the infrastructure of the region is collapsing in this regard, and the accident is likely to damage permafrost in the region in the long term.

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ADB Strengthens Partnership with WHO to Help Asia and the Pacific Combat COVID-19

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The Asian Development Bank (ADB) today strengthened its partnership with the World Health Organization (WHO), recognizing that increased collaboration is helping to expand critical health care across Asia and the Pacific and contain the spread and impact of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

During a conference call with WHO Regional Directors Dr. Takeshi Kasai and Dr. Poonam Khetrapal Singh, ADB President Masatsugu Asakawa said the partnership based on a memorandum of understanding signed in 2018 had helped to address the region’s health security risks and strengthen health systems, which have been stretched since the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I very much appreciate the close collaboration with the WHO regarding COVID-19. I found that the regular exchange of views and the latest information on the evolution of the pandemic provided by WHO have been invaluable to ADB’s operations,” said Mr. Asakawa. “ADB has incorporated inputs and advice from the WHO to ensure our support is fully responsive to the needs of our developing members. As countries implement these projects and ADB continues to expand technical and financing assistance, we look forward to continued collaboration to help guide our response to, and the region’s recovery from, COVID-19.”

ADB announced on 13 April a comprehensive support package of $20 billion to help developing members address the impacts of COVID-19. ADB and the WHO are finalizing an administrative arrangement (AA) to govern financial, reporting, and implementation mechanisms related to their joint response to COVID-19, as well as projects to support recovery from the crisis. The first AA between ADB and the WHO will cover South Asia before expanding to Central Asia, East Asia, the Pacific, and Southeast Asia.

ADB is also working with the WHO and the Japanese Ministry of Finance to convene a virtual Joint Finance and Health Ministers Meeting on COVID-19 and Universal Health Coverage in Asia and the Pacific during the second stage of ADB’s Annual Meeting in September.

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From Relief to Recovery: PNG’s Economy in the Time of COVID-19

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Papua New Guinea’s economy has been hit hard by the COVID-19 crisis due to weaker demand and less favorable terms of trade, according to the latest World Bank economic update for the country.

From Relief to Recovery, the World Bank’s Economic Update for Papua New Guinea for July 2020 projects that the country will experience an economic contraction in 2020, with pandemic-related global and national movement restrictions weakening external and domestic demand and affecting commodity prices. These impacts are also expected to lead to wider financing gaps for the government and the central bank, and higher unemployment and poverty than previously anticipated in early 2020.

It is estimated that PNG’s real GDP will shrink by 1.3 percent in 2020, the current account surplus will narrow to about 15 percent of GDP, and the fiscal deficit will reach 6.4 percent of GDP.

In response to the COVID-19 crisis, the PNG government has mobilized domestic resources and is engaging development partners and the private sector for additional support for the people and the economy of PNG.

“The World Bank welcomes the swift actions by the PNG authorities to manage the COVID-19 shock by protecting the lives of the people of PNG and supporting livelihoods of vulnerable households and small businesses,” said Michel Kerf, World Bank Country Director for Papua New Guinea and the Pacific. “While the focus of the authorities is currently on crisis mitigation, it is important to also look beyond the current year to a more robust and resilient recovery over the medium term.”

The report emphasizes that a COVID-19-related revenue shortfall, increased emergency health spending and an economic support package have created an unanticipated fiscal gap of over US$400 million (1.8 percent of GDP) in 2020. The capital budget is expected to be hit harder than the recurrent budget and the government will have to trim non-essential spending.

In addition to the economic analysis, the report contains an additional section dedicated to physical infrastructure development in PNG.

The section recommends that the government’s pre-COVID-19 infrastructure investment plans should be amended amid the current crisis, which may result in the government having to resume its “Connect PNG” infrastructure development program once the pandemic is over while keeping the overall fiscal framework under control.

It also highlights the importance of more equitable access to quality infrastructure once the country moves to the recovery and resilience phase of COVID-19 response as well as the need to improve the balance between infrastructure investment and maintenance with greater emphasis needed on the latter.

The report concludes that PNG can significantly improve its infrastructure situation by strengthening policy design, investment planning, and coordination among agencies and with development partners. However, it will be vital for the government to set the stage for more sustainable and inclusive development by strengthening macroeconomic management and accelerating structural reforms while protecting the vulnerable.

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