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ADB to Help Drive Modernization in First Loan for Sri Lanka’s Railway Sector

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The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has approved a $160 million loan to modernize the operations and improve the efficiency of Sri Lanka Railways, the country’s railway operator, by upgrading its infrastructure and technical capacity. This is ADB’s first loan in Sri Lanka’s railway sector.

“There is a need to improve public transportation in Sri Lanka to serve a growing population, expected to reach 25 million by 2050,” said ADB Transport Specialist Mr. Johan Georget. “An improved railway system will help promote the development of services and industries across Sri Lanka, as well as put the railway as a viable transportation mode of choice for the people. This is particularly the case in suburban Colombo, where the impacts of traffic congestion are strongly felt by all road commuters as vehicle numbers have doubled between 2008 and 2018, while rail commuters often face overcrowded trains.”

Sri Lanka Railways moves 136.7 million passengers and 2 million tons of goods annually. However, the market share of the railway sector has progressively declined over the years, while the country’s railway infrastructure is overdue for significant upgrades and modernization. The network’s signaling and telecommunication systems are outdated, and the paper tickets are manually printed for all ticket classes and station pairs. Sri Lanka Railways owns 250 diesel locomotives and multiple units, but only about three-quarters of them are operational and half of the fleet is more than 30 years old.

The Railway Efficiency Improvement Project will finance the modernization of the country’s railway system in several aspects to improve the operations, maintenance, safety, skills development, and technical capacity of Sri Lanka Railways. The project will provide a modern multichannel—paper, mobile, and smart card—ticketing system, and will also install a state-of-the-art telecommunications system, which will replace the original system installed in 1985, and allow for two-way communications with train drivers and reduce train delays. The project will also finance a new operations headquarters and train control center, provide infrastructure and equipment for the maintenance of track and rolling stock, and improve railway safety. The technical training center of Sri Lanka Railways will be upgraded and new courses will be developed to provide future graduates with knowledge of modern railway technologies.

The project will also strengthen the capacity and readiness for future railway projects. This will include a detailed study for the Kandy suburban railway network; a study on transit-oriented development and land value capture; the preparation of a railway asset inventory and a land management strategy; and the modernization of the information technology and maintenance capacity of Sri Lanka Railways.

The total cost of the project is $192 million, with the Government of Sri Lanka providing $32 million. The expected project completion date is the end of 2024.

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Human Rights

Famine risk spikes amid conflict, COVID-19 and funding gaps

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Mobile health clinics are distributing nutritional supplements to children in Yemen. WFP/Saleh Bin Haiyan

The impact of conflicts old and new, climate shocks and COVID-19, in addition to a lack of funding, have left millions more on the verge of famine than six months ago, the World Food Programme (WFP) said on Friday.

In an appeal for $5 billion “to avoid famine” and support the “biggest operation in its history”, WFP spokesperson Phiri Tomson said that millions of refugees faced “uncertainty and hunger” as the impact of the pandemic on emergency aid budgets became clearer.

“The number of people teetering on the brink of famine has risen from 34 million projected at the beginning of the year, to 41 million projected as of June”, he said. “Without immediate emergency food assistance, they too face starvation, as the slightest shock will push them over the cliff into famine conditions.”

From bad to worse

According to the latest IPC food insecurity assessments – which humanitarians use to assess needs on a scale of one to five – the 41 million “are people who are in IPC phase 4 – emergency”, the WFP spokesperson explained.

New refugee influxes linked to conflict and drought have increased needs for people in “IPC phase 5 – catastrophe” and “that number stands at 584,000 people”, Mr. Phiri continued. “These are people in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, Madagascar, particularly the southern part; South Sudan, especially as we are now at the height of the lean season in that country, and Yemen.”

‘Brutal choices’

Launching its Global Operational Response Plan, the UN agency highlighted operations in no less than eight countries and regions where it has had to make “brutal choices” because of significant funding shortfalls.

In practice, this has meant reduced rations “across east and southern Africa, as well as the Middle East…among some of the world’s most vulnerable people who rely on WFP to survive”, said Mr. Phiri.

“In some cases it’s 40 per cent, in some cases it’s 25 per cent, in some cases it’s 60 per cent…The fact is, the assistance we provide is a basic need, the assistance we provide is just enough to help people get by.”

West and Central Africa in crisis

For many vulnerable aid recipients in West and Central Africa, the COVID-19 pandemic has left them without the opportunity to work to supplement their rations and unable to pay for increasingly expensive staple foods. “Countries like Chad, Niger and Burkina, Mauritania; these are all countries of concern, including Sierra Leone as well,” said Mr. Phiri, after a warning by the UN agency that the world was no longer moving towards Zero Hunger.

“Progress has stalled, reversed, and today, more than 270 million people are estimated to be acutely food insecure or at high risk in 2021,” it said in a statement.

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Human Rights

Forced displacement at record level, despite COVID shutdowns

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Congolese asylum-seekers line up to undergo security and health screening in Zombo, near the border between Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. © UNHCR/Rocco Nuri

The number of people fleeing wars, violence, persecution, and human rights violations, rose last year to nearly 82.4 million people, a further four percent increase on top of the already record-high of 79.5 million, recorded at the end of 2019.

According to the UN Refugee Agency flagship Global Trends Report published on Friday, the restrictive COVID-19 pandemic did not slow forced displacement around the world, and instead could have left thousands of refugees and asylum seekers stranded and vulnerable.

The new ‘one percent’

Despite COVID-related movement restrictions and pleas from the international community for a concerted global ceasefire, displacement continued to occur – and to grow. As a result, more than one percent of the world’s population – or 1 in 95 people – is now forcibly displaced. This compares with 1 in 159 in 2010.

The agency explains that while the full impact of the pandemic on wider cross-border migration and displacement globally is not yet clear, data shows that arrivals of new refugees and asylum-seekers were sharply down in most regions – about 1.5 million fewer people than would have been expected in non-COVID circumstances, reflecting how many of those seeking international protection in 2020 became stranded.

New and old crises

According to UNHCR, several crises – some new, some longstanding and some resurfacing after years – forced 11.2 million people to flee in 2020, compared to 11.0 million in 2019.

The figure includes people displaced for the first time as well as people displaced repeatedly, both within and beyond countries’ borders.

By the end of 2020, there were 20.7 million refugees under UNHCR’s mandate. Another 48 million people were internally displaced (IDPs) within their own countries.

Driven mostly by crises in Ethiopia, Sudan, Sahel countries, Mozambique, Yemen, Afghanistan and Colombia, the number of internally displaced people rose by more than 2.3 million.

When considering only international displacement situations, Syria topped the list with 6.8 million people, followed by Venezuela with 4.9 million. Afghanistan and South Sudan came next, with 2.8 and 2.2 million respectively.

Turkey continued to host the largest number of refugees with just under 4 million, most of whom were Syrian refugees (92%). Colombia followed, hosting over 1.7 million displaced Venezuelans.

Germany hosted the third-largest population – almost 1.5 million, with Syrian refugees and asylum-seekers as the largest group (44%). Pakistan and Uganda completed the top-5 hosting countries, with about 1.4 million each.

The COVID-19 crisis also hit the forcibly displaced hard, who faced increased food and economic insecurity as well as challenges to access health and protection services.

At the peak of the last year, over 160 countries had closed their borders, with 99 States making no exception for people seeking protection.

According to UNHCR, the dynamics of poverty, food insecurity, climate change, conflict and displacement are increasingly interconnected and mutually reinforcing, driving more and more people to search for safety and security.

A call to end the suffering

UNHCR is urging world leaders to step up their efforts to foster peace, stability and cooperation in order to halt and begin reversing nearly a decade-long trend of surging displacement driven by violence and persecution.

“Behind each number is a person forced from their home and a story of displacement, dispossession and suffering. They merit our attention and support not just with humanitarian aid, but in finding solutions to their plight”, reminded the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi.

In a statement, Mr. Grandi underscored that while the 1951 Refugee Convention and the Global Compact on Refugees provide the legal framework and tools to respond to displacement, a much greater political will is needed to address conflicts and persecution that force people to flee.

“The tragedy of so many children being born into exile should be reason enough to make far greater efforts to prevent and end conflict and violence,” he added.

Girls and boys under the age of 18 account for 42 percent of all forcibly displaced. They are particularly vulnerable, especially when crises continue for years.

New UNHCR estimates show that almost one million children were born as refugees between 2018 and 2020. Many of them may remain refugees for years to come.

Low rate of return

The agency emphasized that over the course of 2020, some 3.2 million internally displaced and just 251,000 refugees returned to their homes –a 40 and 21 percent drop, respectively, compared to 2019. Another 33,800 refugees were naturalized by their countries of asylum.

Refugee resettlement registered a drastic plunge with just 34,400 refugees resettled, the lowest level in 20 years – a consequence of a reduced number of resettlement places and COVID-19.

“Solutions require global leaders and those with influence to put aside their differences, end an egoistic approach to politics, and instead focus on preventing and solving conflict and ensuring respect for human rights,” urged Grandi.

The UN Refugee agency reminded that 2020 is the ninth year of uninterrupted rise in forced displacement worldwide. There are twice as many forcibly displaced people than in 2011 when the total was just under 40 million.

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Development

Financing to Support Reforms for Inclusive Growth and Development

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The World Bank approved the second in a series of three single-tranche Inclusive Growth Development Policy Operations (IGDPO) to support key reforms for enabling inclusive growth in Liberia.  The financing, amounting to $40 million, comes in the form of an International Development Association (IDA) concessional credit of $20 million and an IDA grant of $20 million to be disbursed as budget support. The underlying reforms being supported seek to remove distortions in selected sectors, strengthen public sector transparency, and promote economic and social inclusion.

“The continued implementation of critical policy reforms in sectors such as energy and agriculture helps create a conducive environment for transformative investments being made in these sectors by the Government, with support from development partners,” said Dr. Khwima Nthara, World Bank Liberia Country Manager.  

Building on reforms supported under the first reform program approved last year, the key reforms under this second program are expected to help increase agriculture productivity by promoting farmers’ access to certified seeds; reduce power theft and commercial losses at the Liberia Electricity Corporation (LEC) by making electricity affordable for the small consumers with the reduction in electricity tariffs for poor households from $0.385/kWh to $0.22/kWh in May 2021; streamline and increase the transparency of tax waivers and in turn, improve revenues to enhance the provision of public services, especially for poor households; strengthen the oversight and transparency of State-owned Enterprises (SOEs); promote financial inclusion through the amendment of the Payments Act and introduction of digital credit; and finally, create an efficient, transparent and sustainable Social Safety Net System.  

“Strengthening Domestic Revenue Mobilization, through reduction of duty waivers and tax holidays, is critical to expanding fiscal space for increased public investment that is domestically financed,” said Mamadou Ndione, World Bank Senior Economist and Task Team Leader of the IGDPO program.

The reform programs being supported are aligned with the Liberia’s Pro-poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development and the World Bank’s Country Partnership Framework.

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