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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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Development

Vaccination, Jobs, and Social Assistance are All Key to Reducing Poverty in Central Asia

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As the pace of economic recovery picks up, countries in Central Asia have an opportunity to return to pre-pandemic levels of poverty reduction – if they put in place the right policies. This was the overall message shared by World Bank economists today at a regional online event “Overcoming the Pandemic and Ending Poverty in Central Asia”.

In the early 2000s, Central Asian countries were among the world’s best performers in poverty reduction. Starting in 2009, however, the pace of progress began to slow and even stagnated in some of the countries. The COVID-19 pandemic impacted a region already struggling to generate inclusive growth and end extreme poverty. Now in the second year of the pandemic, poverty rates in Central Asia are falling again, but with high inflation and low vaccination rates, the poor and the most vulnerable continue to suffer from food insecurity, uncertainty, and limited employment opportunities, especially for women.

“Central Asia is recovering from the first shocks of the pandemic, albeit in uneven ways,” said Will Seitz, World Bank Senior Economist in Central Asia. “Migration and remittances, key drivers of poverty reduction in the Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan, are quickly returning to 2019 levels. Labor markets are also recovering, and work disruptions are much less common. However, the region is yet to get on a stable poverty reduction path.”

Among policy priorities to reduce poverty, the World Bank is focused on three key areas: widespread vaccination, increasing employment and wages, and strengthening social assistance programs to support the most vulnerable. To support labor market recovery, the World Bank economists outlined short-term and medium-term measures, including the need to invest in green jobs and encouraging the creation and growth of firms.

It was also stressed that employment alone will not address all drivers of poverty, and strong safety nets are essential to protect the most vulnerable. Compared with other middle-income countries, Central Asian governments typically provide smaller shares of their populations with social assistance.

“Along with ensuring fair, broad access to effective and safe COVID-19 vaccines, Central Asian countries need to urgently address vaccination hesitancy, as it threatens to slow down the recovery,” said Tatiana Proskuryakova, World Bank Regional Director for Central Asia. “For every million people vaccinated, global GDP recovers on average nearly $8 billion. We are expecting advanced economies with relatively high vaccination rates to demonstrate much better growth rates than developing economies with low vaccination rates.”

Among the main reasons behind vaccine hesitancy in Central Asian countries are worries about vaccine contraindication and safety. While people with pre-existing health conditions in other countries are usually prioritized for vaccination, in the Central Asia region they are more likely to be hesitant to get vaccinated. Providing the public with accurate information on the safety of vaccines and encouraging people with pre-existing health conditions to be vaccinated may help address hesitancy issues.

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Vietnam’s Development Agenda Receives Additional Boost

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Vietnam’s push to enhance competitiveness, reduce its carbon footprint, and improve lives and livelihoods has been given a boost with the approval of an AUD 5 million grant by the Australian Government.

This grant represents additional funding to the ongoing Australia – Bank Partnership in Vietnam (ABP), which focuses on a wide range of policy areas designed to support the country’s development agenda.

“The COVID-19 pandemic continues to have a significant impact on Vietnam’s reform agenda and exacerbate inequalities, which are more pronounced and harder to close for ethnic minorities, for women and for other marginalized groups. Responding to this, Australia’s extended collaboration with the World Bank will continue to support Vietnam’s quick economic recovery and help achieve its development goals,” said Australia’s Ambassador to Vietnam HE Robyn Mudie.

The ABP will continue its work on gender equality and the sustainable development of the Mekong Delta. In addition, it will also help address new priorities set out in the country’s recently adopted Socio-Economic Development Strategy and Socio-Economic Development Plan, including the transition to a low carbon economy, social equity and inclusion, and innovation-driven growth.

“The ABP will continue providing high-quality advisory work, enabling Vietnamese policymakers to pursue substantive reforms,” said Carolyn Turk, World Bank Country Director for Vietnam. “These reforms are needed both for recovery from the economic costs of COVID, but also to set a solid basis for the pathway to higher income status.”

The ABP was established in 2017 with an initial funding amount of AUD 25 million. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the ABP responded quickly and provided an additional AUD 5 million to support Vietnam to respond to, and recover from, the pandemic. The program leverages expertise from Australia and the World Bank Group to support the Government of Vietnam in strengthening its development policies and programs.

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Cotton sustains more than 100 million families worldwide

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Women workers clean cotton in Multan city in Pakistan. © FAO/Aamir Qureshi

A single metric tonne of cotton provides jobs for five people on average, often in some of the world’s most impoverished regions; that adds up around 100 million families across the globe. 

To recognize these and other contributions, the United Nations is marking World Cotton Day, this Thursday. 

Cotton is an important means of livelihood for millions of smallholders and attracts export revenues to some of the poorest countries. This makes the sector a key contributor to reaching the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. 

For the UN, this natural fabric “represents so much more than just a commodity”, it is “a life-changing product.” 

Important source 

Cotton is a major source of income for many rural laborers, including women. With this World Day, the UN wants to raise awareness of the critical role that cotton plays in economic development, international trade and poverty alleviation. 

The initiative also wants to highlight the importance of sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment, and decent work for all. 

Resilient and multipurpose 

As a crop resistant to climatic changes, cotton can be planted in dry and arid zones. It occupies just 2.1 per cent of the world’s arable land, but it meets 27 per cent of the world’s textile needs. 

Around 80 per cent of cotton is used in the clothing industry, 15 per cent in home furnishings and the remaining 5 per cent mostly accounts for non-woven applications, such as filters and padding. 

Almost nothing from cotton is wasted. In addition to textiles and apparel, food products can be derived from it, such as edible oil and animal feed from the seed. 

Other uses have been developed recently, like using cotton-based filaments in 3D printers, because they conduct heat well, become stronger when wet, and are more scalable than materials like wood. 

The ‘Cotton Four’ 

The idea for the World Day was born in 2019, when four cotton producers in sub-Saharan Africa – Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad and Mali, known as the Cotton Four -proposed a celebration on October 7, to the World Trade Organization

With the UN officially recognizing the date, it became an opportunity to create awareness of the need of market access from least developed countries, to foster sustainable trade policies and to enable developing countries to benefit more from every step of the value chain. 

For years, UN agencies have worked towards this goal. 

For instance, since 2003, the International Trade Centre (ITC) and the World Trade Organization have helped the Cotton Four to improve production local processing capacity, as well as to discuss the trade reforms needed to address high trade barriers.  

Another UN agency, FAO, has long offered developing countries technical and policy support. One example is the +Cotton project, a cooperation initiative with Brazil that helps Latin American producers with innovative farming methods.

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