The World Bank’s Board of Executive Directors has approved a US$15 million Development Policy Operation for Solomon Islands that will seek to strengthen public financial management while enabling the government to meet the costs of COVID-19 preparedness. The operation will also support Solomon Islands’ businesses through promoting the establishment of a national independent commission against corruption.
The First Solomon Islands Transition to Sustainable Growth Development Policy Operation, the first of two planned operations over the next 18 months, will promote debt sustainability, strengthen cash and budget management, and support Solomon Islands’ transition away from an economic dependence on logging to a more sustainable growth model. The development policy operation will support reform efforts through technical assistance while providing direct financing to the budget.
The operation will support the introduction of a fairer and more efficient tax framework for Solomon Islands’ taxpayers and promote greater transparency and accountability through the introduction of anti-corruption legislation, including support for the establishment of the Solomon Islands Independent Commission Against Corruption. Lastly, it will improve the efficiency of electronic payments through the adoption of a national payments system under the oversight of the Central Bank of Solomon Islands.
This assistance, which was first planned before the COVID-19 pandemic, has been increased after a request from the government (from US$9.9 million to US$15 million) to better enable the government to meet the challenges of COVID-19’s anticipated impact on economic growth and government revenue.
“This support will assist in laying the foundations for more sustainable growth into the future for Solomon Islands and the reforms align closely with the Government’s National Development Strategy,” said Hon. Harry Kuma, Minister for Finance and Treasury. “The assistance is also very timely, as it will enable Solomon Islands to meet the challenge of critical revenue shortfalls and the increased spending that will be required to deal with the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Solomon Islands is expected to be one of the most effected Pacific economies from COVID-19. Travel restrictions, and demand shocks, particularly to logging, are predicted to lead to considerable reductions in GDP growth and tax revenue for the country.
This assistance is part of a wider budget support mechanism – the Core Economic Working Group – through which Australia, New Zealand, the Asian Development Bank, and the European Union all provide budget support.
“We are deeply committed to supporting Solomon Islands to build more inclusive and sustainable growth that ultimately benefits all Solomon Islanders. I’m proud that this assistance will support governance and institutions within the country while bringing well-coordinated budget assistance alongside our partners such as the Australian and New Zealand governments, the Asian Development Bank and the European Union. These efforts, over time and in conjunction with other reform measures underway, will build a foundation for longer term poverty reduction while fostering private sector growth and development.” said Michel Kerf, World Bank Country Director for Papua New Guinea and the Pacific Islands.
The majority of the assistance (US$11.84 million) is a direct grant for the country with the remainder of the operation financed through a credit from the International Development Association, the World Bank’s fund for the world’s poorest countries.
The World Bank works in partnership with 12 countries across the Pacific, supporting 84 projects totaling US$1.8 billion in commitments in sectors including agriculture, aviation and transport, climate resilience and adaptation, economic policy, education and employment, energy, fisheries, health, macroeconomic management, rural development, telecommunications and tourism. In Solomon Islands, this includes the landmark Tina River Hydropower Project, to which the World Bank is contributing $34 million, in addition to considerable technical guidance and support.
The World Bank Group, one of the largest sources of funding and knowledge for developing countries, is taking broad, fast action to help developing countries strengthen their pandemic response. We are increasing disease surveillance, improving public health interventions, and helping the private sector continue to operate and sustain jobs. Over the next 15 months, we will be deploying up to $160 billion in financial support to help countries protect the poor and vulnerable, support businesses, and bolster economic recovery, including $50 billion of new IDA resources in grants or on highly concessional terms.
More research needed into COVID-19 effects on children
More research is needed into factors that increase the risk of severe COVID-19 disease among children and adolescents, the head of the UN World Health Organization (WHO) has said, adding that while children may have largely been spared many of the most severe effects, they have suffered in other ways.
Joining the heads of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), at a press conference on Tuesday, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus outlined that since the start of the COVID pandemic, understanding its effects on children has been a priority.
“Nine months into the pandemic, many questions remain, but we are starting to have a clearer picture. We know that children and adolescents can be infected and can infect others”, he said.
“We know that this virus can kill children, but that children tend to have a milder infection and there are very few severe cases and deaths from COVID-19 among children and adolescents.”
According to WHO data, less than 10 per cent of reported cases and less than 0.2 per cent of deaths are in people under the age of 20. However, additional research is needed into the factors that put children and adolescents at an increased risk.
In addition, the potential long-term health effects in those who have been infected remains unknown.
Referring to closure of schools around the world, which has hit millions of children, impacting not only their education but also a range of other important services, the WHO Director-General said that the decision to close schools should be a last resort, temporary and only at a local level in areas with intense transmission.
Keeping classrooms open, ‘a job for all of us’
The time during which schools are closed should be used for putting in place measures to prevent and respond to transmission when schools reopen.
“Keeping children safe and at school is not a job for schools alone, or governments alone or families alone. It’s a job for all of us, working together,” added Mr. Tedros.
“With the right combination of measures, we can keep our kids safe and teach them that health and education are two of the most precious commodities in life,” he added.
Guidance on reopening schools, while keeping children and communities safe
Although children have largely been spared many of the most severe health effects of the virus, they have suffered in other ways, said Director-General Tedros, adding that closure of schools hit millions of children globally.
Given different situations among countries: some, where schools have opened and others, where they have not, UNESCO, UNICEF and WHO, issued updated guidance on school-related public health measures in the context of COVID-19.
Based on latest scientific evidence, the guidance provides practical advice for schools in areas with no cases, sporadic cases, clusters of cases or community transmission. They were developed with input from the Technical Advisory Group of Experts on Educational Institutions and COVID-19, established by the three UN agencies in June.
Schools provide critical, diverse services
Audrey Azoulay, UNESCO Director-General, also highlighted the importance of school, not only for teaching, but also for providing health, protection and – at times – nutrition services.
“The longer schools remain closed, the more damaging the consequences, especially for children from more disadvantaged backgrounds … therefore, supporting safe reopening of schools must be a priority for us all”, she said.
In addition to safely reopening schools, attention must focus on ensuring that no one is left behind, Ms. Azoulay added, cautioning that in some countries, children are missing from classes, amid fears that many – especially girls – may not ever return to schools.
Alongside, ensuring flow of information and adequate communication between teachers, school administrators and families; and defining new rules and protocols, including on roles of and trainings for teachers, managing school schedules, revising learning content, and providing remedial support for learning losses are equally important, she said.
“When we deal with education, the decisions we make today will impact tomorrow’s world,” said the UNESCO Director-General.
A global education emergency
However, with half the global student population still unable to return to schools, and almost a third of the world’s pupils unable to access remote learning, the situation is “nothing short of a global education emergency”, said Henrietta Fore, UNICEF Executive Director.
“We know that closing schools for prolonged periods of time can have devastating consequences for children,” she added, outlining their increased exposure risk of physical, sexual, or emotional violence.
The situation is even more concerning given the results from a recent UNICEF survey which found that almost a fourth of the 158 countries questioned, on their school reopening plans, had not set a date to allow schoolchildren back to the classrooms.
“For the most marginalized, missing out on school – even if only for a few weeks – can lead to negative outcomes that last a lifetime,” warned Ms. Fore.
She called on governments to prioritize reopening schools, when restrictions are lifted, and to focus on all the things that children need – learning, protection, and physical and mental health – and ensure the best interest of every child is put first.
And when governments decide to keep schools closed, they must scale up remote learning opportunities for all children, especially the most marginalized.
“Find innovative ways – including online, TV and radio – to keep children learning, no matter what”, stressed Ms. Fore.
World Bank Project to Boost Household Access to Affordable Energy
Today, the World Bank Board of Directors approved $150 million in financing to improve access to modern energy for households, enterprises, and public institutions in Rwanda and to enhance the efficiency of electricity services. $75 million will be provided as grant funding, and $75 will be provided as a loan.
Building on the achievement of previous World Bank support to the energy sector, the Rwanda Energy Access and Quality Improvement Project (EAQIP) will advance Rwanda’s progress towards achieving UN Sustainable Development Goal 7 (SDG7) to ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all, while also contributing to the country’s aim of reducing reliance on cooking fuel by 50%.
“The proposed project is well-timed to build on the World Bank’s decade-long support to the Government’s energy sector agenda. It will contribute directly to Rwanda’s push toward universal energy access by 2024 and universal access to clean cooking by 2030”, said Rolande Pryce, World Bank Country Manager for Rwanda. “We are honored to be a long-term partner in this journey.”
Rwanda EAQIP aims to improve electricity access by providing funding for the country’s ongoing program of expanding grid connections for residential, commercial, industrial, and public sector consumers, as well as by providing grants to reduce the costs of off-grid solar home systems. The project will also enhance the availability and efficiency of low-cost renewable energy by restoring capacity at the Ntaruka Hydro-Power Project, reducing voltage fluctuations on transmission lines, and supporting the national smart meter program.
The project includes the World Bank’s largest clean cooking operation in Africa, and the first project co-financed by the recently launched Clean Cooking Fund (CCF), hosted by the World Bank’s Energy Sector Management Assistance Program (ESMAP). The CCF will provide $20 million for clean cooking, with $10 million provided as a grant and $10million extended as a loan. The project targets 2.15 million people, leveraging an additional US$30 million in public and private sector investments. By incentivizing the private sector and improving the enabling environment, the project aims to develop a sustainable market for affordable clean cooking solutions in Rwanda.
The project is part of the Rwanda Universal Energy Access Program (RUEAP), which coordinates the efforts of development partners supporting the energy sector to contribute to the achievement of the targets set out in the National Strategy for Transformation (2017-24).
“The World Bank is proud to have led the RUEAP on behalf of the development partners, including the French Development Agency (co-financing the EAQIP). The World Bank looks forward to supporting the implementation of the ongoing program and expects to report positive outcomes in the lives of Rwandans” said Norah Kipwola, World Bank Senior Energy Specialist and the project Task Team Leader.
ILO: Developing countries should invest US$1.2 trillion to guarantee basic social protection
To guarantee at least basic income security and access to essential health care for all in 2020 alone, developing countries should invest approximately US$1.2 trillion – on average 3.8 per cent of their GDP – says a new ILO policy brief.
Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic the social protection financing gap has increased by approximately 30 per cent according to Financing gaps in social protection: Global estimate and strategies for developing countries in light of the COVID-19 crisis and beyond .
This is the result of the increased need for health-care services and income security for workers who lost their jobs during the lockdown and the reduction of GDP caused by the crisis.
The situation is particularly dire in low-income countries who would need to spend nearly 16 per cent of their GDP to close the gap – around US$80 billion
Regionally, the relative burden of closing the gap is particularly high in Central and Western Asia, Northern Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa (between 8 per cent and 9 per cent of their GDP).
Even before the COVID-19 crisis, the global community was failing to live up to the social protection legal and policy commitments it had made in the wake of the last global catastrophe – the 2008 financial crisis.
Currently, only 45 per cent of the global population is effectively covered by at least one social protection benefit. The remaining population – more than 4 billion people – is completely unprotected.
National and international measures to reduce the economic impact of the COVID-19 crisis have provided short-term financing assistance. Some countries have sought innovative sources to increase the fiscal space for extending social protection, like taxes on the trade of large tech companies, the unitary taxation of multinational companies, taxes on financial transactions or airline tickets. With austerity measures already emerging even with the crisis ongoing, these efforts are more pressing than ever, the study says.
“Low-income countries must invest approximately US$80 billion, nearly 16 per cent of their GDP, to guarantee at least basic income security and access to essential health care to all,” said Shahrashoub Razavi, Director of the ILO’s Social Protection Department. “Domestic resources are not nearly enough. Closing the annual financing gap requires international resources based on global solidarity.”
Mobilization at the international level should complement national efforts, says the ILO. International financial institutions and development cooperation agencies have already introduced several financial packages to help governments of developing countries tackle the various effects of the crisis but more resources are needed to close the financing gap, particularly in low-income countries.
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