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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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Energy News

ADB Supports 275 MW Power Plant to Boost Energy Access in Sumatra, Indonesia

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The Asian Development Bank (ADB) today signed a private sector financing package to support the construction of a 275-megawatt combined-cycle gas turbine power plant in Riau province in central Sumatra, Indonesia, to help secure the country’s energy future and provide communities with more affordable and reliable electricity.

The financing consists of a $70 million A loan from ADB’s ordinary capital resources and $82 million B loan from Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation and MUFG Bank, with ADB providing a partial risk guarantee (PRG) to the participating commercial banks. The International Finance Corporation (IFC) will provide $50 million for the Riau Natural Gas Power Project in the first-ever cofinancing of an infrastructure project by ADB and IFC in Indonesia.

ADB will also administer a $20 million loan from the Leading Asia’s Private Sector Infrastructure Fund (LEAP), supported by the Japan International Cooperation Agency. Established in March 2016, LEAP’s mandate is to help fill financing gaps and increase access to finance for ADB-supported infrastructure projects in Asia and the Pacific.

“ADB’s involvement in the project has helped secure long-term commercial bank financing necessary for any large-scale infrastructure investment, which has remained a challenge in Indonesia,” said Infrastructure Finance Division Director for Southeast Asia, East Asia, and the Pacific at ADB’s Private Sector Operations Department Mr. Jackie B. Surtani. “ADB’s role as a lender and provider of PRG to the project’s B loan lenders will enable the project to mobilize a significant amount of long-term debt.”

The project is being implemented through PT. Medco Ratch Power Riau, a special purpose vehicle partially owned by PT. Medco Power Indonesia, a leading developer and operator of small and medium-sized independent power producers (IPP) in the country, and Ratchaburi Electricity Generating Holding Public Company Limited, Thailand’s largest IPP.

“ADB’s role was key in getting this transaction closed from the negotiation stage of the power purchase agreement to the structuring of the financing package,” said PT. Medco Power Indonesia Chief Executive Officer Mr. Eka Satria.

The plant is expected to provide stable and reliable power to the domestic grid, amounting to about 1,445 gigawatt-hour annually. The use of combined-cycle gas-fired power generation will improve the environmental sustainability of the current energy mix in Sumatra by displacing diesel and coal as fuels for electricity generation.

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Environment

Education critical to ensure future of forests, and reverse their destruction

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The UN drew attention to the vital role that forests play in addressing some of the world’s greatest environmental challenges on Thursday, and the importance of tackling the issues that threaten them, such as deforestation, and land degradation.

The UN drew attention to the vital role that forests play in addressing some of the world’s greatest environmental challenges on Thursday, and the importance of tackling the issues that threaten them, such as deforestation, and land degradation.

Marking the 2019 International Day of Forests, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) launched new forestry education initiatives aimed at raising awareness amongst young people about their sustainable use and conservation, and some of the major challenges related to forestry education.

Despite the well documented and important role that forests play in keeping the environment healthy and helping to address global challenges such as climate change through the capture of greenhouse gases, many people have little knowledge of the many ways that forests support human life, or the grave dangers many forests face.

As more and more people move to cities, becoming oblivious to the plight of rural areas, says the FAO, this problem is growing.

In a statement, José Graziano da Silva, FAO’s Director-General, said that “education is a critical step to safeguarding natural resources for future generations. It is essential for children to learn about forests at an early age.”Education, however, can challenge and reverse this situation. The FAO has identified deficiencies in the way that forest-related issues are taught, describing forestry education as generally “inadequate,” and failing to address emerging challenges. The opportunities to study forestry at all levels, the Organization says, are few and far between.

As part of the global celebrations marking the day, the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) held a special event at UN Headquarters in New York on Thursday, featuring remarks by senior UN and government officials, as well as a panel discussion and general discussion by Member States and UN bodies.

Opening the event, Mr. Hossein Moeini Meybodi, Senior Forest Policy Officer at the UN Forum on Forests, was positive about the effect that education, awareness raising measures and improved forestry management can have on the future of forests: “It is our sincere hope that by sharing positive messages on solutions that exist for forests, and the communities that they support, we can learn from each other and together create a greener, more sustainable world for future generations.”

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Human Rights

UNESCO research on AI’s implications on human rights

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“Artificial Intelligence (AI) is increasingly becoming the veiled decision-maker of our times.  AI has profound implications on human rights ranging from freedom of expression, privacy, to right to equality and participation; a human rights based approach must be mainstreamed to guide the development AI through inclusive multi-stakeholder participation,” said UNESCO programme specialist Xianhong Hu, when she spoke at the 40th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council last week.

She was presenting the summary findings of UNESCO’s new report Steering AI for Knowledge Societies: A ROAM Perspective, during the panel discussion on Human Rights in the Era of Artificial Intelligence: Exploring the AI development from UNESCO’s prism of Internet Universality, this report shows these principles are intended for all interested stakeholders and AI development should align with human Rights, Openness, Accessibility and Multi-stakeholder governance.

This ROAM approach can serve to guide the ensemble of values, norms, policies, regulations, codes and ethics that govern the development and use of AI – a theme that was echoed by a number of delegates in the room.

“The complexity of AI calls for an interdisciplinary, comprehensive, global and multi-stakeholder reflection on the opportunities and challenges that come with such advanced ICTs,” stated Abdulaziz Almuzaini, Director of the UNESCO Geneva Liaison Office.

UNESCO’s ROAM framework was highly commended by delegates, professionals and academic representatives present during the panel session. “We appreciate our cooperation with UNESCO. AI is transforming our lives, the use of AI in the exploitation of big data is essential. These are all areas we need to protect human rights,” said Omar Zniber, Permanent Representative of Morocco. H.E. Zniber elaborated that AI-generated content sometimes boosts “fake news” and blurs the lines for accountability of produced content. Moreover, AI’s consequences will be felt strongly the Global South, where the potential for digital divide are stronger.

Further insight was provided by Francois Gave, Deputy Permanent Representative of France, regarding France’s position on AI and technology. Stating that AI has been placed on the G7 agenda, he noted that democracy itself could be at stake in the grander scheme of human rights, because some people do not realise that their information is being gathered and retained. At the level of the European Union, many principles surrounding human rights and data privacy exist. However, he held that “now is the time to take things further and work together.”

Dr. Eileen Donahoe, Executive Director, Stanford Global Digital Policy Incubator, moderated the session and pointed that the implication of AI for human rights are vast and multilayered. She believes the existing universal human rights framework including UNESCO’s ROAM principles, can serve as a primary guide for technologist and for policy-makers to help ensure that AI development is beneficial for humanity.

The UNESCO summary report also reveals that privacy is often infringed when AI involves opaque data collection, de-anonymization, third-party data-sharing, and the tracking and profiling of individuals.

 “Increasing Information personalization and content moderation by AI enhance users’ access to information, but at the same time can narrow down the scope of Information and the pluralism of ideas to which they are exposed. Particularly, when Internet intermediaries are pressured to use AI to combat hate speech and disinformation, this can risk removing legitimate content and thus undermine the free flow of information”, stressed UNESCO’s Hu in her presentation.

Vidushi Marda, Legal Scholar from Article 19, stressed that some people may be “forsaken” with the development of AI. She held that the unintended consequences of AI are not being considered as much as they ought to be.

Coining AI as a “trend” word, Jovan Kurbalija, Executive Director and Co-Lead of the United Nations Secretary General High Level Panel on Digital Cooperation, emphasised that using AI in local scenarios is of utmost importance. In addition to the protection of human rights, “human happiness and appreciation” must also be considered.

UNESCO’s new summary report is about ongoing research and  the final publication will elaborate key options for actions for different stakeholders as well as overarching options for shaping the future of AI development. The preliminary brochure is online at https://en.unesco.org/sites/default/files/unesco-steering_ai_for_knowledge_societies.pdf as well as on UNESCO’s webpage dedicated to Artificial Intelligence https://en.unesco.org/artificial-intelligence.

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