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Jordan: US$200 million to improve digital services and access to jobs for youth

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The World Bank Group’s Board of Executive Directors approved today a US$200 million project to increase access for Jordanian youth to jobs and expand government digital services. The Youth, Technology and Jobs project will adopt an integrated approach that aims to capitalize on Jordan’s potential to grow its digital economy and absorb skilled labor to address two main challenges facing the country, economic growth and job creation.

The project will provide professional skills programs to 30,000 youth, a technology curriculum in public school grades 7 to 12, and work spaces in underserved communities. The project will also support access to markets for entrepreneurs and incentivize businesses to expand their operations in underserved communities. It will also improve access for youth to freelancing platforms and improve government digital services and digital payments. The project aims to generate 10,000 new income opportunities for youth in the coming five years, including women (30%) and Syrian refugees in freelance opportunities (15%). It  aims to digitize more than 80% of government payments and mobilize around US$20 million in new private sector investments in digital services.

Information technology activities achieved a growth of 11.64% between 2014 and 2018 in Jordan, where annual revenues increased by about US$300 million. Mobile and internet penetration rates reached 85% and 88.8% respectively in 2018. “The Jordanian digital sector shows promising growth potential,” said Mothanna Gharaibeh, Minister of Digital Economy and Entrepreneurship. “Jordan has embarked on a journey to position itself as a technology hub serving the globe. Key technology leaders from the US, Europe and Asia have selected Jordan for their technical service centers. It is imperative for the Government, private sector, academia and civil society to join efforts in promoting the development of technology talents and fostering the conditions for the expansion of the digital economy and digital government services. Investing in human capital will guarantee the most economic and social return for the Kingdom.”

The Youth, Technology and Jobs project contributes to the Skilling-Up Mashreq initiative launched by the World Bank in November 2018 to train at least 500,000 students, graduates, and workers in digital skills in Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq, as these countries pledged to overhaul regulations to rejuvenate their digital economies. The project is also aligned with Jordan’s National Employment TVET strategy, and Jordan’s National Strategy for Human Resource Development 2016–2025.

“This project’s design integrates some of the latest international lessons and innovations in digital government adapted to the Jordanian context,” said Saroj Kumar Jha, World Bank Mashreq Regional Director.  “A key lesson is pairing technology solutions with institutional reform, paving the way to create new jobs, increase efficiency and productivity, and improve public services delivery, accountability and transparency”.

Today, one in five jobs in the Arab world requires digital skills, which are not yet widely available. The future of work for youth, women and refugees in Jordan will be determined by their increased ability to supply the skills demanded in emerging sectors driven by automation and innovation.

“The project addresses constraints to both the supply and demand side by focusing on strengthening the supply of digital skills on one side, as well as on boosting the growth of the digital economy and hence jobs and income opportunities,” said Ali Abukumail, World Bank Senior Private Sector Specialist and Team Leader.

The Youth, Technology and Jobs project is financed through a US$163.1 million contribution from the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) and a US$36.9 million grant from the Global Concessional Financing Facility (GCFF). Launched in 2016, the GCFF provides concessional financing to middle income countries hosting large numbers of refugees at rates usually reserved for the poorest countries.

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COVID-19: The global food supply chain is holding up, for now

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The unfolding COVID-19 pandemic is so far having little impact on the global food supply chain, but that could change for the worse – and soon – if anxiety-driven panic by major food importers takes hold, the World Food Programme (WFP) warned on Friday.

In a new report, “COVID-19: Potential impact on the world’s poorest people: A WFP analysis of the economic and food security implications of the pandemic”, the UN agency said that global markets for basic cereals are well-supplied and prices generally low.

However, it said, given the highly globalized nature of food production and supply, commodities need to move from the world’s ‘breadbaskets’ to where they are consumed – and COVID-19-related containment measures are starting to make this more challenging.

“Disruptions are so far minimal; food supply is adequate, and markets are relatively stable,” said WFP Senior Spokesperson, Elizabeth Byrs, noting that global cereal stocks are at comfortable levels and the outlook for wheat and other staple crops is positive for the rest of this year.

“But we may soon expect to see disruptions in food supply chains”, she said, explaining that if big importers lose confidence in the reliable flow of basic food commodities, panic buying could ensue, driving prices up.

‘Behavioural change’ could rock markets

Elaborating, a seasoned grain market analyst at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), quoted anonymously in the report, said the problem is not supply, but “a behavioral change over food security”.

“What if bulk buyers think they can’t get wheat or rice shipments in May or June?  That is what could lead to a global food supply crisis,” the analyst said.

For low-income countries, the consequences could be devastating, with long-term repercussions, with coping strategies coming at the expense of such essential services as health and education.

It recalled that when a food price crisis struck in 2008, the world’s poorest households – which typically spend the largest share of income on food – suffered disproportionately.

Using the economic pillar of the Proteus food security index – and taking into account dependency on primary commodities such as fuel, ores and metals for export earnings – the report said that countries in Africa and the Middle East are most vulnerable.

Africa most vulnerable

Africa accounts for the majority of the almost 212 million people in the world who are chronically food insecure and the 95 million who live amidst acute food insecurity, the report noted.

Ms. Byrs added that labour shortages could disrupt the production and processing of labour-intensive crops in particularly, especially in vulnerable countries in sub-Saharan Africa.

Other potential sources of disruption include blockages along transport routes – a particular concern for fresh produce – and quarantine measures that could impede farmers’ access to markets, he explained.

Going forward, the WFP report said that it is essential to monitor food prices and markets, and to transparently disseminate information – thus helping to strengthen government policies while also averting public panic, and social unrest.

It added that in places where food insecurity is caused by restricted access, rather than lack of availability, cash-based transfers – which can often be made through contactless solutions – should be considered as a standard response.

“Planning in-kind food assistance is essential”, the report continued, noting that supply chain disruptions are likely to affect higher-value items first.  Such items involve more tiers of suppliers, human interaction and dependency on few suppliers – putting specialized nutritious food more at risk than staples.

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Refugees in Greece: MEPs demand solidarity, warn about impact of health crisis

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The EU and its member states must help Greece manage its borders, according to Civil Liberties MEPs, who warn about the risk of COVID-19 spreading in refugee camps.

MEPs stressed that the current pandemic is yet more evidence that no country can deal with certain challenges alone. They praised the commitment to relocate 1,600 unaccompanied minors from the Greek islands to other EU countries, but requested clarification about when precisely this will happen and about which member states will participate. Some requested that relocation should also apply to other vulnerable asylum-seekers and to families.

Critical situation in refugee camps

Many MEPs are worried about a possible outbreak of COVID-19 in the overcrowded hotspots on the Greek islands, given the already dire conditions in which people are living. Some suggested transferring people to the Greek mainland or using empty hotel rooms to ensure social distancing, while others opposed any additional relocation, to avoid creating problems of public order.

The discussion also touched upon the crisis that followed Turkey’s announcement one month ago that it would let people cross into EU territory. MEPs underlined that solidarity with frontline countries is key and that migration should not be used for political purposes. Several speakers also questioned the Greek authorities’ decision not to accept any asylum requests for a month and reiterated that, as signatories to the Geneva Convention, all member states must respect the right to seek international protection.

In a debate that you can watch again online, the Civil Liberties Committee assessed on Thursday the situation at Greece’s external borders with Greek Ministers for Migration and Asylum, Notis Mitarachi, and for Citizen Protection, Michalis Chrisochoidis. Commission Vice-President Margaritis Schinas, Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson, and the Croatian State Secretary for European and International Affairs, Terezija Gras, presented their views to MEPs, as did Frontex Executive Director, Fabrice Leggeri, and the Director of the EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA), Michael O’Flaherty.

MEPs call for solidarity and measures to prevent Covid19 crisis in refugee camps

The situation of refugees in Greece calls for a concerted EU response to avoid a Covid-19 outbreak, according to MEPs on the civil liberties committee.

As Europe grapples with the challenges of the coronavirus crisis, concern is also growing over the living conditions of asylum-seekers in camps on the Greek islands.

The situation at the Greek-Turkish border escalated at the beginning of March when Turkey opened its borders to asylum seekers and refugees by breaking the 2016 migration pact with the EU.

In a virtual meeting, the civil liberties committee discussed the current border situation and the need to avoid this humanitarian crisis turning into a public health issue with the Greek government. Representatives from the European Commission, Frontex and the EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency joined MEPs in stressing the importance of solidarity and the unity of the European Union to help mitigate the growing crisis.

Measures in place

Together with member states and EU agencies, the Commission has set up an emergency contingency plan, regularly monitors the situation and has adopted new measures.

Two rapid border interventions were launched, additional border guards have been deployed and Greece activated the Civil Protection Mechanism, resulting in more than 90,000 items of assistance to the camps being giving to Greece by EU countries.

All migrants arriving in the hotspots undergo a mandatory health check. Newly arrived and rescued people are kept in separate areas until their medical screening has been completed.

The Commission has allocated a budget of €350 million in continued support for Greece, where most of the refugees and migrants arrive, €50 million of which will be for medical care.

After receiving a health check, 1,600 unaccompanied minors currently staying in the hotspots on the islands will be relocated to other EU countries:, namelyGermany, France, Portugal, Finland, Lithuania, Croatia, Ireland and Luxembourg. Some will be travelling to Luxembourg next week.

With the support of the International Organization for Migration and Frontex, a voluntary scheme has been set up to encourage people to go back to their home countries.

More support needed

Notis Mitarachi, the Greek Minister for Migration and Asylum, said that many special measures had been taken to prevent a Covid-19 outbreak in the camps on the islands, but that more support was needed.

MEPs called for more support, accommodation facilities and medical equipment, extending relocations to families, extending existing asylum deadlines and considering doing interviews virtually.

The Commission has proposed an additional budget of €350 million for the construction of new camps on the mainland in Greece and new apartments, which will require approval from Parliament.

Margaritis Schinas, Commission Vice-President for Promoting the European way of life, said it was imortant to stick to our values and respect fundamental human rights and EU law. He added that the EU should also continue its work on the New Pact on Migration and Asylum, set to be presented in the coming months.

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World Bank’s $350M Grant for Bangladesh Will Help Rohingya and Local Communities

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The World Bank today approved $350 million in grant financing for three projects to help Bangladesh cope with one of the world’s largest forced exodus. These grants will help Bangladesh address the needs of the host communities and the displaced Rohingya in Cox’s Bazar district for health services, response to gender-based violence, social protection, basic services and infrastructure. 

“Bangladesh has shown great leadership by providing shelter to around 1.1 million Rohingya, which is about three times of the local population in Teknaf and Ukhia upazilas. Naturally, this has placed immense strain on existing infrastructure and social service delivery, and increased health and disaster risks,” said Mercy Tembon, World Bank Country Director for Bangladesh and Bhutan. “The three grants will cater to the needs of both the host and Rohingya communities. At the same time, they will strengthen the country’s service delivery capacity and increase resilience to natural disaster and climate change.”

The $150 million Health and Gender Support Project for Cox’s Bazar District will enable 3.6 million people in Cox’s Bazar including the Rohingya to have access to health, nutrition and family planning services as well as address gender-based violence through preventive and response services.

The infant mortality rate and prevalence of stunting in Cox’s Bazar is higher than national average. The project will renovate and upgrade health facilities in Cox’s Bazar, including District Sadar Hospital and the Mother and Child Welfare Center in the localities; and the Women Friendly Spaces inside the Rohingya camps. The project will also help fill in vacant positions of health professionals and ensure adequate medical supplies. Within the Rohingya camps, the project will also provide psychosocial counseling, immunization, Tuberculosis screening and treatment and nutrition services.  

The $100 million additional financing to the Emergency Multi-Sector Rohingya Crisis Response Project will scale up access to energy, water, sanitation and disaster-resilient infrastructures for the Rohingya and the surrounding host communities.

The project will benefit about 780,800 people, including 140,800 local people with better public infrastructure. This includes access to improved water sources for 365,800 people and better sanitation for 171,800 people. It will help build 40 multi-purpose disaster shelters, accessible to 81,000 people. The project will also support renewable energy systems  using solar photovoltaic nano-grid schemes to increase access to clean electricity and install  around 4,000 solar street lights, 975 lightning protection systems and build 250 km of climate resilient roads. It will also help government agencies to strengthen institutional systems and capacities to plan, coordinate and respond to crisis and emergencies.

The $100 million additional financing to the Safety Net Systems for the Poorest Project will help provide livelihoods and income support to poor and vulnerable households in the host communities using an existing national safety net program – Employment Generation Program for the Poorest; and scale-up social assistance coverage to the Rohingya under the Emergency Multi-Sector Rohingya Crisis Response Project. The additional financing will benefit 40,000 host community households and 85,000 Rohingya households.

With these three grants, the World Bank has provided a total of $480 million in grants to enable Bangladesh to deal with the displaced population inflow. Bangladesh currently has one of the largest IDA programs totaling $11.8 billion. Since Independence, the World Bank has committed more than $30 billion in grants, interest-free, and concessional credits to the country.

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