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Reducing Gender Gap Boosts Sri Lankan Economy

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The World Bank Vice President for South Asia Region, Hartwig Schafer concluded his three-day visit to Sri Lanka on Friday with a commitment to work with public and private sectors to create the space for women to access work and remain at work. Evidence suggests that Sri Lankan women are excelling in higher education and outlive men, but they are not part of the workforce. This comes at great cost to economic growth.

During the visit the Vice President met with the President of Sri Lanka, HE Maithripala Sirisena, Prime Minister, Hon. Ranil Wickramasinghe, Minister of Finance, Hon. Mangala Samaraweera, State Minister of Finance, Hon. Eran Wickremaratne, the Mayor of Colombo, HW Rosy Senanayake and the Governor of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka, Indrajith Coomaraswamy. He also interacted with community groups, project officials, private sector, development partners, civil society groups and completed a field visit to learn about a planned project to mitigate flood risk in Colombo. He also launched the latest edition of the Sri Lanka Development Update (SLDU), a report on the key developments over the past six months in Sri Lanka’s economy, placed in a longer term global context. On the last day, he participated in an exhibition and awards ceremony for female photographers at the Colombo Municipal Council.

“Getting more women into jobs is not only a development imperative, but there’s also a strong business case” said Schafer highlighting Sri Lanka’s achievements in human capital development and economic growth amidst challenges and risks. “Sri Lanka specifically could grow its economy by as much as 20 percent in the long-run by closing the gender gap in the workforce” emphasized Schafer quoting data from an IMF study.

Schafer concluded his visit with a meeting with His Excellency, the President of Sri Lanka. The VP reaffirmed the World Bank’s commitment to continue the over Six-decade long partnership with the country.

Earlier, Schafer visited a future project site along the Kelaniya river, the third largest river basin in Sri Lanka providing around 80 percent of drinking water to residents of Colombo. Schafer met with the project officials and communities to understand the current challenges due to changing weather patterns, flash floods and loss of life and livelihoods. Around 740,000 people are at risk of a 5 year flood with around $240 million flood related losses estimated. He observed the potential investments that could mitigate flood risk as well as improve the quality of drinking water and quality of life alongside the river.

During meetings with the Prime Minister, Minister of Finance and the Central Bank Governor, Schafer discussed the Government of Sri Lanka’s reform agenda. Schafer congratulated the Government’s achievements in reforms and moving up to the top 100 rank in the Doing Business index. Inland revenue act, the fuel pricing formula, national audit act and the active liability management act were among the noteworthy reform achievements. They also discussed the remaining challenges of stabilizing financial system, risk management and building fiscal resilience.

The State Minister of Finance and the Mayor of Colombo engaged in conversations around increasing women’s participation in the workforce on the sidelines of two events; the launch of the SLDU and an event to award women photographers, which was a part of a year-long partnership campaign to press for progress in reforms to increase women’s participation in the workforce. The World Bank will continue to work with both public and private sector partners through its operations in Sri Lanka to press for progress to create the space for women to get into work and remain at work.

Background: IBRD and IDA portfolio commitments currently total US$ 1728.5 million (as of January 2019) with 14 operations under implementation. Currently, nearly 60 percent of commitments comprised lending in the sustainable development cluster (urban, climate resilience, agriculture, environment and water) and another 36 percent in human development (education, health and social protection). Sri Lanka graduated from IDA at the end of IDA17 and currently receives transitional financing from IDA18 (FY18-20) amounting to US$407 million.

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Development

Conflict Affected Families in Armenia to Receive World Bank Support

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A Grant Agreement for the “Support to Conflict Affected Families” project was signed today by Sylvie Bossoutrot, World Bank Country Manager for Armenia, and Atom Janjughazyan, Acting Minister of Finance of Armenia. Funds for the project are provided by the multi-donor State and Peacebuilding Fund (SPF), through a one-year grant of $3.72 million.

The Government of Armenia has developed a broader social protection response package with support from development partners and non-governmental organizations. This project will be implemented by the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs of Armenia, through its subordinated agency — the Unified Social Service — and aims to improve the resilience of conflict affected people and reduce the financial burden of host families, with a particular focus on women and vulnerable members of the population.

“We are pleased to sign this timely Agreement supported by the State and Peacebuilding Fund Grant,” said Sylvie Bossoutrot, World Bank Country Manager for Armenia. “This project is of extreme importance and the assistance granted to displaced individuals and their host families will help to improve the resilience of families affected by the conflict.”

The proposed project will contribute to selected social protection and employment support programs, which are part of a larger support package targeting displaced people and their host families, from the Government of Armenia.

Specifically, the project aims to:

  • Reach around 11,530 displaced persons with a monthly cash benefit equal to the minimum wage (68,000 AMD) per adult/child for up to four months in Armenia.
  • Provide cash assistance/income support to 3,975 families in Armenia hosting displaced people to help meet basic consumption needs.
  • Temporarily subsidize an employment program for 936 displaced people who are looking to gain work experience in Armenia and facilitate their labor market participation and economic inclusion.
  • Support 115 displaced individuals through the public works program (cash-for-work).

“The project is designed to especially benefit women affected by the conflict,” said Maddalena Honorati, World Bank Task Team Leader. “According to a rapid multi-sector needs assessment conducted last December, women represent 70 percent of the adult displaced population. The cash transfers will help them meet their basic needs on a day-to-day basis. More importantly, the project will improve the resilience of the displaced families and promote social cohesion in their host communities.”

The State and Peacebuilding Fund is a global fund administered by the World Bank to finance critical development operations and analysis in situations of fragility, conflict, and violence (FCV). The SPF is kindly supported by Australia, Denmark, France, Germany, The Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, The United Kingdom, as well as the World Bank.

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Environment

Cut methane emissions to avert global temperature rise

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National governments are the main drivers of change to reduce harmful emissions. Unsplash/Daniel Moqvist

Methane emissions caused by human activity can be reduced by up to 45 per cent this decade, thus helping to keep global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius in line with the Paris Agreement on climate change, according to a UN-backed report published on Thursday. 

The Global Methane Assessment outlines the benefits of mitigating methane, a key ingredient in smog, which include preventing some 260,000 premature deaths and 775,000 asthma-related hospital visits annually, as well as 25 million tonnes in crop losses. 

The study is the work of the Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC), a global partnership of governments and non-State partners, and the UN Environment Programme (UNEP). 

‘Strongest lever’ 

“Cutting methane is the strongest lever we have to slow climate change over the next 25 years and complements necessary efforts to reduce carbon dioxide. The benefits to society, economies, and the environmental are numerous and far outweigh the cost”, said Inger Andersen, the UNEP Executive Director. 

Methane is an extremely powerful greenhouse gas, responsible for around 30 per cent of warming since the pre-industrial era. 

Most human-caused methane emissions come from three sectors: fossil fuels, such as oil and gas processing; landfills and waste; and agriculture, chiefly related to livestock. 

Emissions ever increasing 

The report underscores why international action is urgently needed as human-caused methane emissions are increasing faster than at any time since record keeping began in the 1980s. 

Even with the COVID-19 pandemic causing an economic slowdown in 2020, which prevented another record year for carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, data from the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) shows the amount of methane in the atmosphere reached record levels last year. 

The good news 

However, unlike CO2, which stays in the atmosphere for centuries, methane breaks down quickly and most is gone after a decade, meaning action can rapidly reduce the rate of global warming in the near-term. 

Methane accounts for nearly one-fifth of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to Rick Duke, Senior Advisor to John Kerry, the US Special Presidential Envoy on Climate Change.  

“The United States is committed to driving down methane emissions both at home and globally—through measures like research and development, standards to control fossil and landfill methane, and incentives to address agricultural methane”, he said. 

Solutions readily available 

The Assessment identifies readily available solutions that would reduce methane emissions by 30 per cent by 2030, mainly in the fossil fuel sector.  Most, or around 60 per cent, are low cost and half have “negative costs”, meaning companies will make money from taking action.  

So-called “mitigation potential” varies between countries and regions, according to the report. For example, whereas the largest potential in Europe and India is in the waste sector, in China it is from coal production and livestock, while in Africa it is from livestock followed by oil and gas.  

“But targeted measures alone are not enough”, the partners warned.  “Additional measures that do not specifically target methane, like a shift to renewable energy, residential and commercial energy efficiency, and a reduction in food loss and waste, can reduce methane emissions by a further 15 per cent by 2030.” 

Drew Shindell, a Professor of Climate Science at Duke University in the USA, who chaired the assessment for the CCAC, said urgent steps must be taken to reduce methane emissions this decade.    

“To achieve global climate goals, we must reduce methane emissions while also urgently reducing carbon dioxide emissions,” Dr Shindell said. “The good news is that most of the required actions bring not only climate benefits but also health and financial benefits, and all the technology needed is already available.”

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Human Rights

UN: Stop evictions in East Jerusalem neighbourhood immediately

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A little boy stands on the remains of his family's demolished home in the West Bank. (file photo) UNRWA/Lara Jonasdottir

The UN’s human rights office (OHCHR), on Friday, called on Israel to immediately halt all forced evictions, including those in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood of East Jerusalem, as well as to exercise maximum restraint in the use of force while ensuring safety and security there.

Eight Palestinian refugee families residing in Sheikh Jarrah are facing forced eviction due to a legal challenge by the Nahalat Shimon settler organization, with the risk “imminent” for four of the families, according to the office.

OHCHR spokesperson Rupert Colville said that the evictions, if ordered and implemented, would violate Israel’s obligations under international law.

“Given the disturbing scenes in Sheikh Jarrah over the past few days, we wish to emphasize that East Jerusalem remains part of the occupied Palestinian territory, in which International Humanitarian Law applies. The occupying Power must respect and cannot confiscate private property in occupied territory, and must respect, unless absolutely prevented, the laws in force in the country.”

He went on to note that Israel cannot impose its own set of laws in occupied territory, including East Jerusalem, to evict Palestinians from their homes.

On Thursday, Tor Wennesland, UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, also urged Israel to stop demolitions and evictions in the neighbourhood, in line with its obligations under international humanitarian law.

Prohibited under international law

“In addition, the Absentee Property Law and the Legal and Administrative Matters Law are applied in an inherently discriminatory manner, based solely on the nationality or origin of the owner”, OHCHR spokesperson Colville said.

“In practice, the implementation of these laws facilitates the transfer by Israel of its population into occupied East Jerusalem. The transfer of parts of an occupying Power’s civilian population into the territory that it occupies is prohibited under international humanitarian law and may amount to a war crime”, he added.

Violation of right to adequate housing

The OHCHR spokesperson also said that forced evictions could violate the rights to adequate housing and to privacy and other human rights of those who are evicted.

“Forced evictions are a key factor in creating a coercive environment that may lead to forcible transfer, which is prohibited by the Fourth Geneva Convention and is a grave breach of the Convention.”

Mr. Colville also called on Israel to respect freedom of expression and assembly, including of those who are protesting against the evictions, and to exercise maximum restraint in the use of force while ensuring safety and security in East Jerusalem.

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