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Vietnam’s Coastline Urgently Needs New Resilience Development Strategy

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The coastline of Vietnam is increasingly exposed to natural disasters, resulting in significant human and economic losses, but current risk management measures prove inadequate. A new resilience development strategy is urgently needed ─ otherwise, additional economic growth over the next decade in the range of billions of dollars could be wiped away by natural shocks, according to a new report by the World Bank.

The ongoing devastating storms and floods that battered the central part of Vietnam are the latest evidence of a worrying trend that natural risks, which have already been substantial, are intensifying due to rapid urbanization, economic development, and climate change. Resilient Shores, a report jointly developed by the government of Vietnam, the World Bank, and the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery released today, provides some sobering statistics on how vulnerable the coastline is and who and what are most impacted.

To ensure the sustainable development of Vietnam’s coastal zones, we cannot ignore the challenges of natural shocks and climate change. To secure prosperity, we must invest in resilience,” said Tran Quang Hoai, Director General, Vietnam Disaster Management Authority, Vietnam’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development.

The report estimates that 12 million people in coastal provinces are exposed to the threat of intense flooding and over 35 percent of settlements are located on eroding coastlines. Each year, an average of $852 million – or 0.5 percent of GDP – and 316,000 jobs in key economic sectors are at risk from riverine and coastal flooding.

Public facilities and infrastructure are also at risk, which means disruption of service delivery at the time when they are most needed. Severe flooding affects directly 26 percent of public hospitals and healthcare centers and 11 percent of schools in the region. More than one-third of Vietnam’s power grid is located in forested areas, at risk of being damaged by storm-induced fallen trees.

Despite much progress over the past decade, Vietnam’s current risk management scheme still faces significant challenges. Major shortcomings the report identifies include fragmented and incomplete risk information and ineffective enforcement of related regulations such as spatial planning, building codes, safety standards and systematic maintenance of infrastructure systems. For instance, the report shows that two-thirds of Vietnam’s sea dike system does not meet the prescribed safety requirements.

If the current trends of rapid economic development in high-risk areas continue, disaster losses are bound to increase,” said Carolyn Turk, World Bank Country Director for Vietnam. “It’s time for a new approach to balance the risks and opportunities so that Vietnam’s coastal regions can continue to be an engine of growth while being resilient to shocks.

The report presents a concrete action plan in five strategic areas that needs to be rolled out immediately and decisively.

  • Strengthening data and decision-making tools by establishing openly accessible natural disaster databases, as well as asset management systems for critical infrastructure.
  • Factoring risks in zoning and spatial planning based on the best available information.
  • Strengthening the resilience of infrastructure systems and public services by upgrading such assets in the most exposed and under-protected areas and updating existing safety standards.
  • Taking advantage of nature-based solutions by tapping into the protective function and economic contribution of ecosystems in a systematic manner.
  • Improve disaster preparedness and response capacity by upgrading the early warning system, strengthening local response capacity, improving social safety nets and implementing comprehensive risk financing.

Vietnam’s diverse coastline spans over 3,000 kilometers. The coastline’s wealth of natural endowments provides livelihoods for some 47 million people or half of the country’s population. The region also bears the brunt of natural disasters that hit Vietnam regularly.

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Egypt: New Project Will Support Railway Safety and Efforts to Enhance Service Quality

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The World Bank’s Board of Executive Directors today approved a US$440 million loan to support Egypt’s initiatives to enhance the safety and service quality of the country’s railways.

The Railway Improvement and Safety for Egypt (RISE) total project cost is US$ 681.1 million, including US$ 241.1 million in contribution by the Egyptian National Railways (ENR). The project will focus on modernizing the signaling for the Cairo – Giza – Beni Suef segment of the ENR network and supporting the reforms needed to enhance ENR’s performance and competitiveness.

Today more than ever, there is a great need to develop sustainable infrastructure. Redefining smarter transportation solutions improves safety, enhances mobility, safeguards the environment and strengthens job creation and economic growth,” said Dr. Rania A. Al-Mashat, Egypt’s Minister of International Cooperation. “This project supports the momentum for reform and the demand for urban mobility and reliable public transport, integral to achieving the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.

The ENR network comprises of over 5,000 km of rail tracks and primarily offers passenger services for low-income Egyptians. About 270 million passengers took trains in FY2019, up from 228 million in FY2015 and 247 million in FY2010. Over the years, ENR has faced multiple obstacles that show there is margin for improving its performance, namely in the realms of operations, cost recovery, maintenance, and customer service.

This operation builds on the World Bank’s policy dialogue with Egypt in the transport sector, including on institutional and governance arrangements, and safety and regulatory aspects,” said Marina Wes, World Bank Country Director for Egypt, Yemen and Djibouti. “We are keen and committed to continue to support this vital sector which provides critical services especially to low-income citizens, helping to increase access to employment opportunities and markets.

The newly approved Railway Improvement and Safety for Egypt Project (RISE) is a continuation of the Egypt National Railways Restructuring Project (ENRRP), which concluded in 2020 and focused on upgrading the signaling system of the Alexandria – Cairo and Beni Suef – Nag Hammadi segments.

Modernizing and reforming Egypt’s railways is critical to meeting citizens’ travel needs and boosting the overall economy,” said, Lieutenant General Kamel El Wazir, Egypt’s Minister of Transportation. “Improving the service for millions of passengers per day is a priority, particularly because citizens depend on the ENR to access jobs and do other tasks, including fulfilling personal errands. Increasing freight transport is also a critical objective, which will increase the economy’s overall competitiveness. Through partnering with the World Bank on this project, we aim to enhance the performance of this important sector.

The RISE project will modernize the signaling system and track upgrade works along the Cairo – Beni Suef segment, and will continue ENRRP’s works along the Alexandria – Cairo and Beni Suef – Nag Hammadi segments at a total length of 763 km. The RISE project also aims to improve safety for ENR passengers and workers in a holistic and systemic manner by introducing an upgraded Safety Management System. Service quality will also improve due to the improved punctuality, which is expected to increase from 75 to 90 percent of trains running on time.

Additionally, the RISE project seeks to advance the railway modernization efforts promoted by the Ministry of Transport to align ENR with international best practices by introducing performance-based funding. 

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Reversing the Impact of the Pandemic on Female Workers in Latin America

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Working women in Latin America and the Caribbean were disproportionately affected by the Covid-19 pandemic compared to men. This fact underscores the need for the countries of the region to adopt measures to prevent the widening of the gender gap in the labor market, which persists despite decades of progress.

Women’s participation in the labor market rose from 41 percent in 1990 to 53 percent in 2019, a significant upward trend that is at risk of reversing in the current context, according to a new World Bank report.

“Women tend to have a more fragile employment situation than men, with jobs in the informal sector, in tasks that require more face-to-face interaction and less remote work, such as trade, personal care or tourism,” said Ximena Del Carpio, World Bank Practice Manager for the Poverty and Equity Practice Group for Latin America and the Caribbean. “In times of crisis, these workers are much more vulnerable to changes in the labor market.”

According to the policy note The Gendered Impacts of COVID-19 on Labor Markets in Latin America and the Caribbean prepared by the World Bank’s Gender Innovation Lab (LACGIL), at the onset of the pandemic, women were 44 percent more likely than men to lose their jobs temporarily or permanently (56 percent chance for women, 39 percent for men).

This gap remained virtually unchanged at around 15 percent once temporarily unemployed workers began to return to their jobs. However, the report underscores that permanent job loss affected one in five women.

Not all countries were affected equally. At the onset of the pandemic crisis, Honduras and Costa Rica had the highest gender gaps, where women were 25 percentage points more likely than men to be unemployed. Bolivia and Peru exhibited the smallest differences at the regional level, at 10 percent and 11 percent, respectively.

The report indicates that 56 percent of the job losses during the crisis were concentrated in trade, personal services, education, and hotels and restaurants. Those are four of the five most highly female-intensive sectors, employing 60 percent of female workers before the pandemic. This suggests a growing gap in the labor market, with potential effects on women’s empowerment, exacerbating intrahousehold imbalances and domestic violence.

The study conducted three rounds of telephone surveys in 13 countries of the region between May and August 2020, with 13,152 observations. The surveys focused on the employment situation of men and women during the pandemic and changes in household income and access to services, among other aspects. Based on the findings, the report offers public policy recommendations to reverse the negative impacts of the pandemic on women’s labor market participation and to ensure an inclusive recovery.

Immediate public policy responses should incorporate the gender perspective and create the conditions and incentives for women to work. They should also include programs to help women most affected by the crisis and those without access to social protection coverage. Additionally, they should support self-employment, promote training and job placement programs, and provide incentives for the formalization of female workers.

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Equality in engineering crucial to achieving sustainable development

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Regional disparities in engineering, especially in Africa, must be addressed if the world is to realize a common future where no one is left behind, according to a report issued on Wednesday by the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and partners. 

The study highlights currently insufficient engineering capacities to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the internationally agreed blueprint for a peaceful and prosperous planet, as well as the lack of diversity in the field. 

“Engineering is one of the keys to the sustainable development of our societies, and to activate its full potential, the world needs more engineers and more equality”, said Audrey Azoulay, the UNESCO Director-General. 

Pandemic accelerates action 

The report, entitled Engineering for Sustainable Development: Delivering on the Sustainable Development Goals, was prepared in collaboration with the Chinese Academy of Engineering; the International Centre for Engineering Education (ICEE), based at Tsinghua University in Beijing; the World Federation of Engineering Organizations (WFEO); and other international engineering organizations. 

It was released ahead of World Engineering Day for Sustainable Development, observed this Thursday, 4 March. 

“The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the call for urgent action to deliver on the SDGs, while affirming the relevance of engineering to sustainable development”, the authors said. 

Women ‘historically underrepresented’ 

The report underscores how equal opportunity for all is crucial to ensuring inclusivity and gender balance in a profession that has played an essential role in development and human well-being.  

Engineering is critical to mitigating the impact of climate change and advancing the SDGs, especially in Africa and the small island developing States, UNESCO said.  

Despite the profession’s importance, the UN agency noted that women have been “historically underrepresented” in engineering, making up only 10 to 20 per cent of workers.   

Barriers hampering women include persistent gender stereotypes in the field and inadequate policies or educational environments that do not meet their needs and aspirations. 

Transforming and innovating 

The report showcases engineering innovations and actions from across the world that are contributing to meeting the SDGs. The 17 goals aim to end poverty, reduce inequality and spur economic growth, while also protecting the natural environment. 

Examples mentioned include the increase in digital technology use during the pandemic, such as telemedicine for virtual treatment, while Artificial Intelligence, or “AI”, is helping to make water systems more adaptive and efficient. 

The authors said “engineering itself needs to transform to become more innovative, inclusive, cooperative and responsible”, underlining the need for “a new paradigm” that bridges disciplines in order to address complex issues such as climate change, urbanization and preserving the health of oceans and forests. 

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