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MENA: Global Action is Urgently Needed to Reverse Damaging Jumps in Extreme Poverty

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For the second time, the rate of extreme poverty in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region jumped again, nearly doubling between 2015 and 2018, according to a new World Bank report.

The World Bank’s biennial Poverty and Shared Prosperity report finds that the rate of extreme poverty in the MENA region rose from 3.8% in 2015 to 7.2% in 2018 — the latest year for which data is available. This followed another rise in poverty in the region from 2.3% to the levels in 2015. According to the report, the latest jump in poverty in MENA was driven largely by the effects of ongoing conflict in Syria and Yemen, but this does not fully account for the economic downturn in Lebanon.

These sobering new figures are a wakeup call for how significantly conflict, climate change, poor governance — and now the COVID-19 pandemic — combine to devastate lives, livelihoods, and region-wide prosperity,” said Ferid Belhaj, World Bank Vice President for the Middle East and North Africa. “We are continuing to help MENA countries stop the spread of the disease and protect and care for their people. At the same time, we are committed to helping the people of MENA build a new social contract, where transparency, governance, the rule of law and regional integration can alleviate poverty and give everyone, in every country, a chance to achieve their aspirations.

The report also estimates that the current poverty level in the MENA region is, depending on the scenario, up to 7.9%, as the disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic compounds the forces of conflict and climate change. As the pandemic intensifies the rise in poverty in the region, it threatens to push at least an additional 3 million people into extreme poverty. Recent projections indicate that, in the short run, the rise in poverty may be much worse — potentially even doubling, for certain countries, the number of poor.

The pandemic is creating a group of new poor who had previously been relatively spared: Those in urban areas and small and informal business owners are particularly impacted,” said Nadir Mohammed, the World Bank’s Regional Director for Equitable Growth, Finance, and Institutions for the Middle East and North Africa. “Unemployment, already exceptionally high before the COVID-19 pandemic, has worsened and reduced the already very limited job prospects for the region’s youth and women. Phone surveys show that families are depleting their savings and that food insecurity is on the rise.

The dual shocks of the pandemic and the collapse in oil prices have exacerbated MENA’s underlying structural issues and affected all aspects of MENA’s economies. The pandemic has deepened pre-existing inequalities in the region, exposing vulnerabilities in social, political, and economic systems, which are, in turn, amplifying the impacts of the pandemic itself. The expected costs are about 3.7% of the region’s 2019 GDP — roughly $100 billion.

The World Bank’s multi-phased response in MENA is aligned with the Bank’s global COVID response framework and regional strategy. Under the first phase, the Bank is supporting public health and emergency social assistance across the entire region to procure essential supplies, strengthen surveillance, and boost public health capacity. Across the region, the World Bank has provided almost $700 million in emergency support to help with the most urgent public health needs, including seven new operations and redirected funding from 10 existing projects.

The World Bank is also supporting individuals and helping countries expand social safety nets, including cash transfers for the most vulnerable, as well as supporting small businesses. This is critical, given the dual nature of MENA’s labor market, with many informal workers that have limited job security and social protection.

As part of an effort to facilitate economic recovery and longer-term sustainable development, the World Bank is supporting governments to expand the scope and targeting of cash transfer programs to direct funds to the most vulnerable households and those that may have lost their jobs or sources of income. World Bank teams are working with country authorities on the preparation of cash transfer programs in Lebanon, Morocco, Djibouti and Yemen. These programs are in addition to the Bank’s support for cash transfer programs during the past fiscal year in Egypt and Jordan.

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Citizens globally affirm belief in international cooperation

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The UN undertook a global crowdsourcing opinion campaign as part of its 75th anniversary celebrated in 2020. United Nations

People worldwide have overwhelmingly highlighted their faith in multilateralism to address global challenges, the results of a year-long survey by the United Nations have shown. 

The UN75 initiative was launched by Secretary-General António Guterres, in January last year, to understand the global public’s hopes and fears for the future, as well as their expectations and ideas for international cooperation, and for the UN in particular. More than 1.5 million people from 195 countries took part in the campaign through surveys and dialogues. 

“The UN75 global consultation showed that 97 per cent of respondents support international cooperation to tackle global challenges,” Mr. Guterres said on the results

“That represents a very strong commitment to multilateralism, and to the mission of the United Nations. Now it is up to us – Member States and the UN Secretariat – to meet the expectations of the people we serve,” he added. 

Unity across groups and regions 

Announcing the findings at the UN Office at Geneva on Friday, Fabrizio Hochschild, Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on the commemoration of UN’s 75th anniversary, said that together with UN75 conversations and surveys, innovative methodologies and artificial intelligence analysis were employed to gauge world opinion, including through traditional and social media. 

In addition, two independent surveys were commissioned around the same questions to have a “reality check”, and the results were striking, he continued. 

Unity, across generations, regions income groups, and levels of education, was one such striking result, Mr. Hochschild highlighted, explaining that opinions were united when it came to people’s hopes and fears for their future, and their expectations of international cooperation. 

In the immediate priorities post-COVID-19, the world is united in wanting much better access to affordable basic services, healthcare, quality education, water and sanitation, and related is the world seeks much greater solidarity with the hardest hit communities and places, he added. 

Launched to mark the Organization’s 75th anniversary, the exercise was the UN’s most ambitious effort to date to gather input from the global public, and the largest survey on priorities for recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Short-term challenges 

With the coronavirus pandemic reversing progress in human development and widening inequalities, many respondents prioritized access to basic services and support to the hardest hit places and communities in the short-term, according to the results

The top immediate, short-term priority globally was universal access to healthcare. 

In addition, given the impact of the crisis on children and education, greater investments in education and youth programmes ranked high among respondents, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, and central and southern Asia. 

Long-term challenges 

Similarly, while people expect access to health services to improve over the next 25 years, respondents in all regions identified climate change and environmental issues as the number one long-term global challenge. 

Other longer-term priorities vary according to income levels, but include rising concern with employment opportunities, respect for human rights and reducing conflict. 

Respondents in higher human development countries tended to give the highest priority to the environment and human rights, those in lower human development countries tended to accord the highest priority to less conflict and meeting basic needs, such as employment, healthcare and education. 

UN’s role 

Many respondents also looked to the United Nations to lead in international cooperation to address immediate and longer-term global challenges, the results showed, with many also want the Organization to innovate – to be more inclusive, engaged, accountable and effective. 

In surveys and UN75 dialogues held around the world, participants called on the UN for moral leadership; a more reformed, representative and agile Security Council; and an inclusive and participatory UN system, with improved understanding of the work of the Organization among citizens around the world, and which shows more care for the needs of the people. 

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World Bank Signs $105 Million Project to Improve Waterways in West Bengal

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The Government of India, the Government of West Bengal and the World Bank today signed a $105 million project to improve the inland water transport infrastructure in Kolkata, West Bengal.

The West Bengal Inland Water Transport, Logistics and Spatial Development Project will facilitate passenger and freight movement across the Hooghly river; undertake spatial planning to improve accessibility in the Kolkata Metropolitan Area; enhance the quality of life of its residents; and contribute to the growth of the state’s logistics sector.

“Inland waterways are now emerging as a cost effective and an environment friendly option for passenger and freight movement,” said C S Mohapatra, Additional Secretary, Department of Economic Affairs, Ministry of Finance. “This Project will help improve the river transport infrastructure in West Bengal and help in the economic development of the state by connecting the hinterland with markets and job centers in Kolkata’s Metropolitan Area,” he added.

The agreement was signed by C S Mohapatra, Additional Secretary, Department of Economic Affairs, Ministry of Finance on behalf of the Government of India; Rajdeep Dutta, Deputy Resident Commissioner on behalf of the Government of West Bengal; and Junaid Ahmad, Country Director, India on behalf of the World Bank.

The project will cover the five most populous districts of southern West Bengal, including its urban agglomeration — the Kolkata Metropolitan Area (KMA) where around 30 million people or one-third of West Bengal’s population live.

“This operation will allow the state to invest in Kolkata’s economic productivity by making its waterways and ferry services part of an efficient and safe urban mobility strategy,” said Junaid Ahmad, World Bank Country Director in India. “Importantly, given Kolkata’s strategic location, the project is also ensuring that the metropolitan area emerges as a transport and logistics hub for the sub-region, leveraging the EDFC and connecting to the north-east and the land-locked countries of Nepal and Bhutan.”

The Hooghly river,  a distributary of the river Ganga, in Kolkata separates the Kolkata port from its large consumption centers, which are, its wholesale market and its vast hinterland comprising among others the entire North East of India and two landlocked neighboring countries namely, Nepal and Bhutan. More than 80 percent of freight and passenger traffic currently cross the river via Kolkata’s three bridges. To curtail congestion, the city has restricted the movement of trucks to the port to certain bridges and only during limited hours, reducing access to the port and increasing the cost of logistics.

West Bengal’s ferries can provide an efficient, flexible mode of public transport for both passengers and freight, saving on operating costs and travel time when compared with road journeys. The existing ferry system, operational for decades, caters to less than 2 percent of the passenger traffic and a small portion of the freight movement. Developing the river transport infrastructure will enable a large population of the state to utilize its waterways, have alternative, multi-modal options for transportation for both freight and passengers, connect the hinterland with Kolkata Metropolitan Area’s markets and job centers and emerge as a logistics hub.

In the first phase, the project will enhance the capacity and improve the safety of the Inland Water Transport system; including rehabilitating existing jetties, buying new ferries with enhanced design; and installing electronic gates in 40 locations. In the second phase, it will support long-term investments for passenger movements, including in terminals and jetties; improve the design of the inland water transport vessels; ensure night navigation on the most hazardous and trafficked routes and crossing points; and encourage the private sector to invest in Ro-Ro vessels that will allow easier movement of trucks across the Hooghly river.

“Such long-term planning will not only help the city improve passenger and freight transport, but allow it to utilize its waterfront and enable more efficient land use and urban planning,” said Fuad Malkawi, Senior Urban Development Specialist and Natalya Stankevich, Senior Transport Specialist and task team leaders for the project. “Improving ferry services is also critical for some of the most disadvantaged community groups who are dependent on IWT,” they added.

To better cope with increased precipitation and flooding, climate-smart engineering solutions will be applied, including modular floating designs for ferry access points at the passenger terminals. In addition, the project will facilitate disable-friendly amenities, ensure women’s safety and encourage women’s employment in the IWT Department as well as with the ferry operators.

The $105 million loan from the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD), has a maturity of 17 years, including a grace period of 7 years.

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Reforming Lebanon’s Port Sector to Build Back a Better Port of Beirut

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Reforming Lebanon’s port sector is a prerequisite for building back a better Port of Beirut and revitalizing the Lebanese economy, according to a new World Bank note that aims to provide guidance to policymakers on the crucial additional requirements for the rebuilding of the Port of Beirut (PoB).

The note titled Reforming and Rebuilding Lebanon’s Port Sector: Lessons from Global Practices summarizes global best practices in port governance and border management reforms, and offers a set of guiding principles to help inform port sector reforms in Lebanon and pave the way to rebuild a better PoB. The note also draws on extensive consultations with public and private sector organizations, civil society, academia, and the diplomatic and donor communities.

Following the August 4, 2020, massive PoB explosion that devastated the city, killing at least 200 people, wounding thousands, and displacing around 300,000, a Rapid Damage and Needs Assessment (RDNA), prepared by the World Bank in cooperation with the United Nations and the European Union, estimated damage to the PoB at about US$350 million. Five months after the tragic event, there is still a need to balance the immediate actions needed to secure Lebanon’s vital imports with the opportunity this crisis offers to “build back better” the ports system of Lebanon and stimulate trade and economic growth.

The Port of Beirut is the main gateway for the external trade of Lebanon, but it has failed in its key role as an enabler of economic development in the country by failing to guarantee safe and efficient operations and undertaking the necessary long-term strategic planning. These failures are a direct result of the current mismanagement and lack of good governance of the Port that was established in a legal vacuum and adheres to a port management system that arguably reflects the complex political-economic realities of Lebanon, and which as a result run counter to many recognized good practices.

The note argues that a crucial pre-requisite to the rebuilding of the Port is the establishment of a robust institutional framework for the port sector. This framework will pave the way to rebuild a modern, transparent and efficient port and to restore trust of the Lebanese society and port users into its capacity to strengthen the economic fabric and provide support in overcoming the country’s economic crisis.

“A new national port sector strategy is needed to optimize port infrastructure across Lebanon and to serve best the country and allow improved transit and trade,” said Saroj Kumar Jha, World Bank Mashreq Regional Director. “Building back better means revisiting the siting and sizing of the PoB, and rebalancing roles and investments in other ports and other logistics infrastructure using an economic corridor approach to position Lebanon to benefit from future opportunities in the Mashreq region.”

The note also argues that the reconstruction roadmap of the Port of Beirut should have four key building blocks: i) a new governance structure based on the landlord port model; ii) efficient and modern Customs, border agency and trade processes that have an essential role in addressing transparency, predictability and security issues; iii) open and transparent bidding processes for selecting investors, operators or concessionaires; and iv) quality infrastructure that is contingent on a countrywide strategy for the port sector and a revised masterplan for the Port of Beirut.

When effectively implemented in a transparent and participatory manner, these reforms would meet the demands and aspirations of the Lebanese people and all stakeholders towards the efficient functioning of the Port. The World Bank Group stands ready to engage with the port sector stakeholders and a reform-minded government to reform the port sector of Lebanon and rebuild a modern and efficient Port, based on the global best practice presented in this Note.

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