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AIIB Support Helps Keep Russia’s Railways on Track

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To help alleviate the temporary liquidity constraints caused by the decline of long-haul passenger transportation and deferred client payments against the backdrop of the COVID-19 outbreak, AIIB is extending financing to Russian Railways (RZD) in the local currency equivalent of USD300 million. RZD owns and operates Russia’s integrated national passenger and freight railway network and is the largest commercial employer in Russia with around 900,000 employees at the end of 2019. This AIIB loan will contribute to the company’s efforts to preserve jobs and the working conditions of employees and ensure continuous operations.

Covering approximately 85,500 kilometers of track, Russia’s railway system is the world’s third longest railway network, second largest railway in terms of freight turnover and fourth largest railway in terms of passenger turnover. In addition to transporting passengers across large distances, its rail routes link to busy seaports that service Asia and Europe, serving as a “land bridge” between them, thus contributing to Russia’s domestic and foreign trade.

However, as with all transportation companies, RZD faces the negative impacts of COVID-19. In particular, long-haul passenger rail operations in Russia have been severely affected; in some months, the decline in passenger turnover reached 70 percent.

The project aligns with AIIB’s commitment to support infrastructure clients in responding to the COVID-19 crisis through the Bank’s COVID-19 Crisis Recovery Facility (CRF). With such support, clients can successfully overcome temporary liquidity constraints and maintain critical long-term investments.

“With this project, AIIB contributes to the support for railway transportation services, which remain a socially significant and the most affordable means of transport for millions of citizens, and an efficient way to transport large quantities of goods and freight,” said AIIB Vice President, Investment Operations, Konstantin Limitovskiy. “AIIB’s commitment to sustainability has to go beyond just the infrastructure itself. It must also account for the people, both those who provide and those who depend on its services.”

This project is funded by the AIIB Crisis Recovery Facility, and is AIIB’s first approved nonsovereign CRF project in Russia.

The CRF provides up to USD13 billion of financing to both public and private-sector entities facing serious adverse impacts as a result of the pandemic. As of Oct. 15, 2020, AIIB’s Board of Directors has approved a total of 22 projects amounting to over USD6.645 billion to help 16 members navigate the challenges of these highly uncertain times.

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Circular solution to Mosul’s conflict debris launched

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Photo credit: Gashtiyar Fathullah , IOM / 04 May 2021

Mosul – Iraq’s second largest city – suffered massive devastation during the conflict with the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). An estimated 7-8 million tonnes of debris was created by the fighting, mainly in the Old City on the banks of the Tigris River. To deal with this huge debris challenge, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) are joining forces with Mosul Municipality – with the support of Japan – to establish the city’s first debris recycling center.

In the conflict’s immediate aftermath, clean-up campaigns cleared hundreds of thousands of tons of debris blocking streets to allow residents access to their homes and businesses, and enable rehabilitation of critical infrastructure such as hospitals, schools and water treatment plants.

The cleared debris, however, was often dumped in an uncontrolled manner in open spaces, gullies and strewn along roadsides for lack of designated disposal sites, creating problems in this city where land is a premium. Furthermore, much of the debris remains locked in damaged buildings which will require complex explosive hazard clearance and demolition and will take many years to release.

“By processing the rubble to produce quality materials that can be used in reconstruction efforts, creating much needed job opportunities for returnees and cleaning-up the urban environment, this initiative practically illustrates how humanitarian needs and sustainable development goals can be addressed in a joint manner,” said Dr. Jassim Humadi, Iraq’s Deputy Environment Minister.  “We are very grateful to the Government of Japan for their support in helping turn the debris problem in Mosul into a means of positive change.”  

The project builds upon lessons learned and best practices gathered under debris recycling pilots implemented jointly by IOM and UNEP in Mosul and Kirkuk. Where conventional practice had been to clear and dump the debris, this new initiative will concentrate on reusing the recycled aggregate for reconstruction.

“Material testing results confirming that the recycled aggregate complies with Iraq’s standards for road construction should also help pave the way for embedding circular economy principles in dealing with routine construction and demolition waste, thereby promoting a ‘building back better’ approach to crisis recovery,” said Gary Lewis, Director of UNEP’s Disasters and Conflicts Branch.

In the destroyed village of Buwaiter, where the pilot debris recycling project in Kirkuk was implemented, “unemployed youth with no work opportunities benefited immensely,” said Salal Othman, who guards the recycling site and used the crushed gravel to pave the area in front of his house, which is typically impassable during the rains.

“Young people in our village view debris recycling as a golden chance in terms of job creation, which additionally, by clearing the rubble, is allowing us to return and rebuild our homes,” added Mijbel Mar’i, a 24-year-old day labourer.

Remarking on the debris recycling in Buwaiter, Hassan Al-Jubouri, the head of Multaqa sub-district, described it as “an excellent step to dispose of huge volumes of debris while simultaneously employing people,” adding that “with this project, in addition to removing the debris we now have the possibility to reuse it. And given that many rural roads in our sub-district need surfacing, the crushed materials are ideal for this end.”

“Japan has provided over USD 500 million as humanitarian assistance to the people affected by the crisis since 2014. Additionally, Japan decided this year to provide a new assistance package to Iraq, amounting to USD 50 million, including this project by UNEP,” said Japan’s Ambassador to Iraq, His Excellency Mr. Kotaro Suzuki. “I commend UNEP’s initiative together with IOM on recycling debris which cleans up the urban environment and produces materials for road construction as well as creating job opportunities for unemployed youth.”

“In Japan, after the earthquakes, people mourned their loss and started to clean up the debris which was all that was left of their homes and memories of loved ones. Our fathers’ generation did the same in scorched cities after the war, to rebuild towns for their people, for their future children,” he added. “We want to assist people in Mosul and Kirkuk in their efforts to revive their towns, rebuild their lives once again.”

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Viet Nam’s mango industry: towards compliance with export market requirements

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A Swiss-funded project, implemented by the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), is helping mango value chain stakeholders in the Mekong River Delta to maximize export opportunities.

Viet Nam is the world’s 13th largest producer of mangoes, with an annual production of 788,000 tons (2018). Much of this production is cultivated in four provinces in the Mekong River Delta in south-western Viet Nam.

With world demand for mangoes continuing to surge, Viet Nam is well-placed to diversify its mango export markets. Currently, the vast majority of mango exports are destined for neighbouring China, but the short shipping links to important markets in the Republic of Korea, Japan, Singapore and Australia offer obvious opportunities for diversification.

A project workshop has brought together more than 150 representatives of different mango value chain stakeholders, including government ministries, local authorities of Mekong River Delta provinces, farmers, cooperatives, packing houses, exporters and logistics companies, as well as representatives of importing countries. In the workshop’s technical session, participants were advised by experts on what needs to be done and what conditions need to be met in order to be able to export in terms of quality infrastructure, and value chain and market promotion, and the key requirements for establishing a sustainable, diversified and high-value export market.

The workshop was organized in the framework of the project, “Increasing the standards and quality compliance capacity of the mango value chain in Mekong River Delta”, funded by the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO).

During the workshop, Jonas Grunder, Deputy Director of SECO in Viet Nam, said the country has signed some key trade agreements such as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) and the Viet Nam-EU FTA (EVFTA).  But he noted that despite the opportunities to strengthen integration into the world trade system, Viet Nam’s agricultural sector still faces numerous challenges in substantially increase their access to global markets. This is why, he said, the Swiss Federal Economic Bureau had decided to join hands with UNIDO to start a technical assistance programme focusing on  the mango value chain in the Mekong Delta.

Tran Thanh Nam, Viet Nam’s Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, highlighted the important role of cooperative in the effort to improve the quality of mangoes. He also added that farmers in the provinces should increase efforts to comply with the VietGAP and GlobalGAP standards of good agricultural practice.

On the margins of the workshop, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, UNIDO, the International Agricultural Development Fund (IFAD), the Dong Thap Provincial People’s Committee and Ben Tre Provincial People’s Committee co-signed a joint declaration to develop the fruit value chain in the Mekong River Delta through the project, “Building Forward Better: A Resilient Women and Youth-Centred and Digitally Enhanced Value Chain Development in Vietnam”, with the financial support of the United Nations COVID-19 Response and Recovery Multi-Partner Trust Fund (UN COVID-19 MPTF).

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Ukraine to Modernize Higher Education System with World Bank Support

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The World Bank’s Board of Executive Directors approved today a $200 million project to support the Government of Ukraine’s efforts to strengthen efficiency, quality, and transparency of the country’s higher education system. The project – Ukraine Improving Higher Education for Results – will help boost the quality of the higher education sector, as well as its relevance to labor market needs, while also promoting resilience and continuity of learning in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The project will finance investments in the modernization of teaching and research facilities and digital learning infrastructure of higher education institutions (HEIs) to ensure learning continuity through remote learning modalities and to support resilience and change management over the longer term. It will also support the development of modern digital infrastructure for distance learning and creation of advanced teaching and research laboratories and learning support facilities.

Another objective of this project is to improve transparency of Ukraine’s education sector through modernization of the Higher Education Management Information System and establishment of a National Student Survey and unified information system on competitive research funding of HEIs.

“The World Bank is pleased to partner with Ukraine to modernize teaching and learning in universities in line with European standards in order to equip young Ukrainians with the skills they need for the 21st century,” said Arup Banerji, World Bank Regional Country Director for Eastern Europe. “As Ukraine recovers from the pandemic, we also strongly support Ukraine’s higher education system in its efforts to be better technically and digitally equipped for providing learning in the post-COVID-19 world.”

The Ukraine Improving Higher Education for Results Project will be implemented over a five-year period by the Ministry of Education and Science (MOES) of Ukraine. The MOES will have overall responsibility for project coordination and monitoring of the implementation progress. 

The World Bank’s current investment project portfolio in Ukraine amounts to just over $3 billion, in nine ongoing investment projects and one Program for Results operation, and is expected to grow to around $3.6 billion over the next two months. The investments support improvements in basic public services that directly benefit ordinary people in areas such as water supply, sanitation, heating, power, energy efficiency, roads, social protection and healthcare, as well as private sector development.

Since Ukraine joined the World Bank in 1992, the Bank’s commitments to the country have totaled approximately $13 billion in about 70 projects and programs.

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