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Liberia to Power its Economy Through Improved Energy Access and Job Creation

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Liberia’s efforts to transform the lives of poor people have received a huge boost with financing approved today by the World Bank. Two new operations will increase access to sustainable, reliable and affordable energy, and boost economic recovery by providing employment opportunities and business skills training to vulnerable Liberians.

Funded by the International Development Association (IDA), these projects aims at improving Liberia’s economy and helping to build resilience for vulnerable households that are greatly at risk of falling into poverty due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Poverty remains widespread in Liberia and is now on the rise. An estimated 44% of Liberians were living with less than $2 a day in 2016 and is now projected to reach 52% in 2021. Access to healthcare, education, and basic utilities like energy, are also particularly low compared to the rest of the region.

“Given the devastating impact of Covid-19 on the economy and people’s livelihoods, improved energy access will  stimulate inclusive economic growth while support to the informal sector will help the most vulnerable Liberians to recover from the loss in incomes,” said Khwima Nthara, World Bank Country Manager in Liberia.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on Liberia’s economy and people’s livelihoods and poses a major threat going forward. When the global pandemic emerged in early 2020, Liberia was already facing a challenging domestic and external environment. Weak consumption and declining output had caused the Liberian economy to contract by an estimated 2.3 percent in 2019 and a further 2.9 percent in 2020. According to the High-Frequency Phone Survey of Households conducted by the Liberia Institute of Statistics and Geo-Information Services, more than 70 percent of households reported experiencing food shortage and increased food prices. This call for a comprehensive response focusing both on the need to protect the poor and vulnerable in the short term, as well as support economic recovery in the medium term.

“This is a demonstration of the Bank’s strong commitment to Liberia. The approved package of support will be a big boost to our Covid-19 recovery efforts and our vision to transform the economy through infrastructure development,” said Samuel D. Tweah Jr, Liberia’s Minister of Finance and Development Planning.

The support program includes the following:

The Liberia Electricity Sector Strengthening and Access Project (LESSAP) is the first project of a multi-phase programmatic approach (MPA) with a goal to provide sustainable, reliable, and affordable electricity to 632,500 Liberians.  The project will rehabilitate and expand electricity infrastructure and provide sustainable solutions for electricity access.  The LESSAP will target mainly two key areas – grid electrification in the greater Monrovia area and provide for a sustainable business model for scaling up renewable energy based mini-grids and stand-alone solar systems in remote areas.  It will also deliver off-grid solar electrification to about 200 health facilities in particular to help build resilience against COVID-19. The total financing envelope for the MPA is $180 million in IDA support with the first phase commitment of $44 million in IDA credit and IDA grant of $15 million.  The project also includes grant support of $2.5 million from the Energy Sector Management Assistance Program (ESMAP) and $2.7 million from Japan Policy and Human Resources Development Fund (PHRD), both of which will be administered by the World Bank.

The Recovery of Economic Activity for Liberian Informal Sector Employment Project (REALISE) will increase access to employment opportunities for some of the most vulnerable households in the informal sector who are at risk of falling deeper into poverty. The project will provide grants and business skills training to 4,000 vulnerable households to revive or start small businesses, as well as temporary employment and wages to 15,000 poor individuals, half of whom will be women. It will target low-income communities and poor families in Greater Monrovia. REALISE project will be implemented by the Ministry of Youth and Sports and the Liberia Agency for Community Empowerment, utilizing implementation capacities developed under the ongoing Liberia Youth Opportunities Project. The project will be financed through IDA concessional terms of $5 million credit and $5 million grant.

*The International Development Association (IDA) is the World Bank’s fund for the poorest. Established in 1960, it provides grants and low to zero-interest loans for projects and programs that boost economic growth, reduce poverty, and improve poor people’s lives. IDA is one of the largest sources of assistance for the world’s 76 poorest countries, 39 of which are in Africa. IDA resources help effect positive change in the lives of the 1.6 billion people living in the countries that are eligible for its assistance. Since its inception, IDA has supported development work in 113 countries. Annual commitments are constantly on the rise and have averaged $21 billion over the past three years, with about 61% going to Africa.

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Africa Today

Partnership with Private Sector is Key in Closing Rwanda’s Infrastructure Gap

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The COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic has pushed the Rwandan economy into recession in 2020 for the first time since 1994, according to the World Bank’s latest Rwanda Economic Update.

The 17th edition of the Rwanda Economic Update: The Role of the Private Sector in Closing the Infrastructure Gap, says that the economy shrank by 3.7 percent in 2020, as measures implemented to limit the spread of the coronavirus and ease pressures on health systems brought economic activity to a near standstill in many sectors. Although the economy is set to recover in 2021, the report notes the growth is projected to remain below the pre-pandemic average through 2023.

Declining economic activity has also reduced the government’s ability to collect revenue amid increased fiscal needs, worsening the fiscal situation. Public debt reached 71 percent of GDP in 2020, and is projected to peak at 84 percent of GDP in 2023. Against this backdrop, the report underlines the importance of the government’s commitment to implement a fiscal consolidation plan once the crisis abates to reduce the country’s vulnerability to external shocks and liquidity pressures.

“Narrowing fiscal space calls for a progressive shift in Rwanda’s development model away from the public sector towards a predominantly private sector driven model, while also stepping up efforts to improve  the efficiency of public investment,” said Calvin Djiofack, World Bank’s Senior Economist for Rwanda.

According to the Update, private sector financing, either through public-private partnerships or pure private investment, will be essential for Rwanda to continue investing in critical infrastructure needed to achieve its development goals. The analysis underscores the need to capitalize further on Rwanda’s foreign direct investment (FDI) regulatory framework, considered one of the best in the continent, to attract and retain more FDI; to foster domestic private capital mobilization through risk sharing facilities that would absorb a percentage of the losses on loans made to private projects; and to avoid unsolicited proposals  of public–private partnership (PPP) initiatives; as well as to build a robust, multisector PPP project pipeline, targeting sectors with clearly identified service needs such as transport, water and sanitation, waste management, irrigation, and housing.

While the report findings establish clearly the gains of public infrastructure development for the country as whole, it also stressed that these gains tend to benefit urban and richer households most.

 “Rwanda will need to rebalance its investment strategy from prioritizing large strategic capital-intensive projects toward projects critical for broad-based social returns to boost the potential of public infrastructure to reduce inequality and poverty,” said Rolande Pryce, World Bank Country Manager for Rwanda. “Any step toward the Malabo Declaration to allocate 10 percent of future infrastructure investment to agriculture, allied activities, and rural infrastructure, will go a long way to achieving this goal.

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Greenpeace Africa responds to the cancellation of oil blocks in Salonga National Park

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© Kim S. Gjerstad

On Monday the UNESCO World Heritage Committee decided to remove Salonga National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo from the List of World Heritage in Danger. The decision follows clarification “provided by the national authorities that the oil concessions overlapping with the property are nul[l] and void and that these blocks will be excluded from future auctioning.”

Oil blocks overlapping with Salonga were awarded by President Joseph Kabila in the twilight of his regime. Greenpeace Africa has repeatedly demanded their cancellation, while local leaders voiced their opposition to the project in light of its impacts on communities. 

“A decision by President Felix Tshisekedi to cancel all oil blocks in Salonga Park must be followed by a decision to cancel oil blocks in Virunga Park and across the Cuvette Centrale region. These are vast areas rich in biodiversity that provide clean water, food security and medicine to local communities and which render environmental services to humanity,” says Irene Wabiwa Betoko, International Project Leader for the Congo Basin forest. 

The Salonga National Park, which is Africa’s largest tropical rainforest reserve, was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1984. The park plays a fundamental role in climate regulation and the sequestration of carbon. The park is also home to numerous endemic endangered species such as the pygmy chimpanzee (or bonobo), the forest elephant, the African slender-snouted crocodile and the Congo peacock. Salonga had been inscribed on the List of World Heritage in Danger in 1999, due to pressures such as poaching, deforestation and poor management. The government of DRC later on issued oil drilling licences that encroached on the protected area, posing a threat to the wildlife-rich site.

“DRC’s auctioning of oil blocks has not only been scandalously lacking transparency and menacing for particularly sensitive environmental areas – they neither benefit Congolese people nor the planet. Instead of privileging a small group of beneficiaries of the toxic fossil fuels industry, diversifying the DRC’s economy should be done through renewable energy investments that will make energy accessible and affordable for all,” Irene Wabiwa concluded.

Greenpeace Africa urges full transparency from both UNESCO and the DRC government and calls for the publication of all supportive documents regarding the decision to cancel the aforementioned oil blocks, as well as the map of the nine oil blocks that are still being auctioned in the Cuvette Centrale region.

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Domestic violence, forced marriage, have risen in Sudan

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photo: UNDP/Ahmed Alsamani

Deteriorating economic conditions since 2020 and the COVID-19 pandemic have fuelled an increase in domestic violence and forced marriage in Sudan, a UN-backed study has revealed. 

Voices from Sudan 2020, published this week, is the first-ever nationwide qualitative assessment of gender-based violence (GBV) in the country, where a transitional government is now in its second year. 

Addressing the issue is a critical priority, according to the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) and the Government’s Combating Violence against Women Unit (CVAW), co-authors of the report. 

“The current context of increased openness by the Government of Sudan, and dynamism by civil society, opens opportunities for significant gains in advancing women’s safety and rights,” they said

Physical violence at home 

The report aims to complement existing methods of gathering data and analysis by ensuring that the views, experiences and priorities of women and girls, are understood and addressed. 

Researchers found that communities perceive domestic and sexual violence as the most common GBV issues. 

Key concerns include physical violence in the home, committed by husbands against wives, and by brothers against sisters, as well as movement restrictions which women and girls have been subjected to. 

Another concern is sexual violence, especially against women working in informal jobs, but also refugee and displaced women when moving outside camps, people with disabilities, and children in Qur’anic schools.  

Pressure to comply 

Forced marriage is also “prominent”, according to the report. Most of these unions are arranged between members of the same tribe, or relatives, without the girl’s consent or knowledge. 

Meanwhile, Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) remains widespread in Sudan, with varying differences based on geographic location and tribal affiliation.  Although knowledge about the illegality and harmfulness of the practice has reached community level, child marriage and FGM are not perceived as key concerns. 

Women’s access to resources is also severely restricted.  Men control financial resources, and boys are favoured for access to opportunities, especially education. Verbal and psychological pressure to comply with existing gender norms and roles is widespread, leading in some cases to suicide.  

The deteriorating economic situation since 2020, and COVID-19, have increased violence, especially domestic violence and forced marriage, the report said. Harassment in queues for essential supplies such as bread and fuel has also been reported.  

Data dramatically lacking 

Sudan continues to move along a path to democracy following the April 2019 overthrow of President Omar Al-Bashir who had been in power for 30 years.  

Openly discussing GBV “has not been possible for the last three decades”, according to the report.   

“GBV data is dramatically lacking, with no nation-wide assessment done for the past 30 years, and a general lack of availability of qualitative and quantitative data,” the authors said. 

To carry out the assessment, some 215 focus group discussions were held with communities: 21 with GBV experts, as well as a review of existing studies and assessments. 

Research was conducted between August and November 2020, encompassing 60 locations and camps, and the data was scanned through a software for qualitative analysis, followed a model first used in Syria. 

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