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ADB Approves $415 Million Loan to Improve Georgia’s North–South Road Corridor

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The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has approved a $415 million loan to Georgia to build a new highway as part of a wider government program to improve the country’s transport network and enhance Georgia as a regional trade and tourism hub.

The Kvesheti–Kobi Road Project is the first in a series of upgrades planned for the North–South Corridor, which is a vital transit route for Georgia, Armenia, and regional trading partners. The corridor also intersects with the East–West Highway to the north of Tbilisi, the capital, providing access to the shortest link connecting Central Asia with Europe and East Asia.

The 23-kilometer (km) bypass will be built between the towns of Kvesheti and Kobi and pass through the spectacular Caucasus Mountains in the country’s northeast. It will provide a safer and faster travel alternative for residents, tourists, and freights trucks who face worsening delays on the current road, especially on the Jvari Pass section, which is highly exposed to avalanches in winter.

The bypass will follow a new alignment through the Khada Valley and include engineering features such as Georgia’s longest tunnel (9 km) and its most advanced arch bridge spanning the Khadistskali River. The road will also provide a much-needed link to services and job opportunities for the valley’s remote communities.

Currently, the 3,500 vehicles that use the existing 35-km road each day face high accident risks as well as road closures of more than 40 days a year, mostly in winter. With traffic numbers expected to double over the next 10 years, building a shorter, safer, and faster road that is operational all year is a national priority.

“A high-quality road network is essential for the growth and development of Georgia, which is located at the center of transit and trade routes linking Europe and Asia,” said ADB Director General for Central and West Asia Mr. Werner Liepach. “The new bypass road will greatly improve the North–South Corridor and help enhance trade and regional connectivity, as well as increase the number of visitors in the region, which is home to world-class natural and cultural heritage assets.”

Total transit trade along the North–South Corridor in 2015 amounted to 1.3 million tons of freight, or 12% of Georgia’s total transit trade. Meanwhile, tourism accounts for around 7% of Georgia’s gross domestic product, with the North–South Corridor towns of Gudauri and Stepantsminda among the country’s prime destinations. By diverting freight trucks away from Gudauri via the bypass, the Kvesheti–Kobi Road Project will contribute vital infrastructure for Gudauri to become an internationally-recognized winter resort.  

The project is estimated to cost $558.6 million, with cofinancing of $60 million anticipated from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and $83.6 million from the Government of Georgia. The road has been designed to European standards and will be single lane each way plus an additional climbing lane uphill for heavy vehicles. To overcome difficult terrain challenges in the Caucasus Mountains, it will require 5 tunnels at a total length of 11 km and 6 bridges at a total length of 1.6 km.

During project preparation, the Roads Department of Georgia, ADB, and EBRD conducted extensive assessments and consultations with local communities, civil society organizations, and other project stakeholders. Every care has been taken to ensure the environmental and social impacts of the project are minimized and mitigated, including measures to protect the Khada Valley’s biodiversity and cultural heritage sites.

Informed by consultations with local residents, the bypass will be complemented by around 5 km of access roads to connect remote communities in the Khada Valley, which are currently snowbound during winter. The project will also establish a multipurpose visitor center as a hub for tourism activities and to enhance women’s access to economic opportunities.

“The bypass and connecting roads will provide these communities with year-round access to hospitals, schools, and other vital services,” said ADB Transport Specialist for Central and West Asia Mr. Kamel Bouhmad. “The visitor center will focus on community-based tourism to increase the benefits the road will bring.”

Road construction is expected to begin in 2020.

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Niger: World Bank Approves $250 Million to Boost Long-Term Growth

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The World Bank Board of Directors today approved a total amount of $250 million in International Development Association (IDA) credit and grant to help Niger develop its human capital and to mitigate the impact of the COVID-19.  

The Second Laying the Foundation for Inclusive Development Policy Financing (DPF) is the last operation in a programmatic series aimed at reducing gender gaps and providing cash transfers to households that are mostly affected by COVID-19. The program will also help expand access to electricity and potable water, improve debt management and transparency, and reduce fiscal risks. 

“The new program will help the Government pursue the reforms started to create enabling conditions for sustained and accelerated medium-term growth and tackle key structural challenges related to stark gender inequality and low access to key infrastructure,” said Joelle Dehasse, World Bank Country Manager for Niger. “This operation has been adjusted to reinforce actions that complement the government’s efforts to mitigate the impact of the CODIV-19 pandemic.”

In 2019, Niger’s economic performance remained robust, driven by strong performance in the primary and tertiary sectors. Real GDP growth was 5.8 percent, with 1.9 percent per capita growth. However, since March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic is straining the country’s economy, mainly due to increased spending on health and social assistance services for vulnerable households. The pandemic’s adverse impact on regional and international trade, and on foreign direct investments is also severely affecting the country’s economic and social development.

“The adoption of reforms through this DPF series will help improve the livelihoods of communities in these times of COVID-19 pandemic,” said Luc Razafimandimby World Bank’s Senior Economist and co-Task Team Leader for the project. “Beyond the much-needed quick fixes, the DPF maintains its core structure to protect the future, which will also sow the seeds of post COVID-19 recovery through mutually reinforcing measures.”  

The operation is a result of an extensive consultation process involving government officials, development partners, civil society, and other key partners. It is fully aligned with the Government’s strategy through the National Economic and Social Development Plan (2017-2021) and also with the World Bank Country Partnership for Niger (CPF 2018-2022).

* The World Bank’s International Development Association (IDA), established in 1960, helps the world’s poorest countries by providing grants and low to zero-interest loans for projects and programs that boost economic growth, reduce poverty, and improve poor people’s lives. IDA is one of the largest sources of assistance for the world’s 76 poorest countries, 39 of which are in Africa. Resources from IDA bring positive change to the 1.6 billion people who live in IDA countries. Since 1960, IDA has supported development work in 113 countries. Annual commitments have averaged about $21 billion over the last three years, with about 61 percent going to Africa.

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World Bank releases first comprehensive stock-taking of infrastructure services in Asia

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A new World Bank report presents data about infrastructure provision in three key sectors is Asia: road transport, electricity, and water and sanitation. As the first comprehensive, regional stock-taking of levels of supply, quality, and affordability of infrastructure services, Infrastructure in Asia underscores the need to better understand current levels of service delivery to facilitate governments’ infrastructure planning and financing. Well thought-out investment planning helps raise economic growth rates, increases competitiveness, offers new economic opportunities, and bolsters improvements in human capital.

Building a more extensive body of knowledge about the health of infrastructure provision worldwide is a priority for the World Bank. Infrastructure in Asia is the first step of a new research effort that will expand to other regions. The report is organized to provide regional overviews by sector, followed by country snapshots.

Over the past few decades, a large part of Asia (both East Asia and South Asia) has enjoyed strong economic growth and steady social development. Nevertheless, the region faces significant constraints in infrastructure investment. This is exacerbated by Covid-19 pandemic and the short-term challenges of a slowing global economy, higher borrowing costs, and geopolitical tensions. Longer-term, the region is highly susceptible to the effects of climate change, so infrastructure development must be sustainable and climate resilient.

Imad Fakhoury, Global Director for Infrastructure Finance, PPPs & Guarantees at the World Bank, underscored two crucial points in this context, “We must focus on smarter investments. This doesn’t necessarily mean spending more money, but harnessing technology, Infratech, and building efficiencies based on data so we can do more with less.”

He continued, “We also need better ‘infrastructure governance’—including strengthening policies, insitutions and investments, better planning, robust project preparation, investment prioritization, screening to decide whether to procure a project publicly or with private-sector support, and strong attention to resilience, quality, transparency and fiscal sustainability. This is crucial for accerating move towards resilient recovery stage as part of COVID-19 crisis response and rebuilding better.”

When it comes to building infrastructure that truly delivers economic and social impact, quality is as important as coverage. Governments worldwide and their development partners increasingly recognize the importance of resilience and quality in infrastructure service delivery. Infrastructure in Asia goes beyond appraising coverage levels to provide a set of key indicators that serve as proxies of multiple dimensions of infrastructure quality.

In addition to looking at the quality dimensions of infrastructure, the report’s signature contribution is its compliation of extensive and disparate information and data—otherwise time-intensive to gather and compare across sectors and countries—into a single volume.

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Global cooperation is our only choice against COVID-19

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WHO/PAHO recommendations have been instrumental in the Juarez Hospital in Mexico City. UN Mexico/Gabriela Ramirez

With more than 18.5 million cases of COVID-19 reported worldwide as of Thursday, and 700,000 deaths, the UN’s top health official again appealed to countries to unite in the fight against the disease

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) was addressing the Aspen Security Forum, which brings together top-level present and former government officials from the United States.

The Americas remain the current epicentre of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“For all our differences, we are one human race sharing the same planet and our security is interdependent – no country will be safe, until we’re all safe”, he told the virtual meeting.

“I urge all leaders to choose the path of cooperation and act now to end this pandemic! It’s not just the smart choice, it’s the right choice and it’s the only choice we have.”

Invest in preparedness

Tedros said the pandemic has “stress tested” the global political, economic, cultural and social infrastructure, pushing national health systems everywhere, to their limits.

“The world spends billions every year preparing for potential terrorist attacks but we’ve learned lessons the hard way that unless we invest in pandemic preparedness and the climate crisis, we leave ourselves open to enormous harm”, he said.

As no country can fight the virus alone, Tedros said “our best way forward is to stick with science, solutions and solidarity, and together we can overcome this pandemic.”

Against “vaccine nationalism”

During a question-and-answer session moderated by US network TV news host, Lester Holt, the WHO chief was asked about ensuring fair distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine when one is developed.

Tedros warned against “vaccine nationalism” in a globalized world.

In April, WHO and partners launched the ACT Accelerator to speed up development of vaccines and medicines against the disease, and to ensure that they will be available to people everywhere.

“But to make it happen, especially fair distribution, there should be a global consensus to make a vaccine, any product, a global public product. And this is a political choice, a political commitment, and we want political leaders to decide on this,” he said.

“What we’re saying is sharing vaccines, or sharing other tools, actually helps the world to recover together, and the economic recovery can be faster and the damage from COVID-19 could be less.”

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