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World Bank supports multi-sector COVID-19 response in Sri Lanka

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In early 2020 when the first COVID-19 wave swept across Sri Lanka, triggering lockdowns, and impacting livelihoods, the World Bank and the government came together to support emergency response actions across multiple hard-hit sectors, a World Bank news release said.

“The result was the creation of the Contingent Emergency Response Components (CERC) Pool covering key economic sectors of agriculture, education, ICT, transport, and disaster risk management”, a news release from the bank said.

“Within weeks, the CERC Pool reallocated $56 million from ongoing projects to support prioritized COVID-19 recovery and response activities. The CERC Pool, launched in September 2020, is supporting COVID-19 affected communities, strengthening resilience by online education ensuring food security, safe transport, water and sanitation, preparedness to floods, and expanding digital infrastructure.”

This is only the second time in the Bank’s history when CERC resources have been combined from many ongoing projects into one account to meet an unprecedented COVID-19 emergency in Sri Lanka, it added.

“The World Bank COVID-19 response CERC Pool was put together in a couple of weeks. We reallocated Bank funds to match the pandemic requirements at the request of the government,” said World Bank Country Manager for Sri Lanka and the Maldives Chiyo Kanda. “The aim was to realign available funds according to government priorities.”

Agriculture and food security

Outlining sector support the release said a total of $18.6 million was earmarked to support agriculture and food security needs. CERC Pool is supporting the construction of 104 crop storage facilities for small scale farmers growing onions, mung beans, groundnut, and cowpea. Farmers also received high quality seeds to continue their livelihood despite pandemic disruptions. The storage units are on State land to promote equitable access and are expected to be completed by the end of this year.

Education

Under COVID-19 prevention the World Bank is also supporting the government to increase water and sanitation services in schools to improve daily disinfection and cleaning protocols. These measures include redesigning and installing additional facilities to ensure basic water, sanitation, and waste management services. These measures will be critical to resume onsite education and reduce the disparities that have emerged due to the pandemic.

Funds will also be used to provide catch-up and remedial education, which has become increasingly more important as school closures drag on due to the third COVID-19 wave.

Some funds have also been earmarked to support online education and set up a system for tele-education and e-learning for school and university students. This will include lectures and content for TV broadcasts, radio broadcasts, and print material. High speed Wi-Fi internet connections will also be provided to 651 rural schools, along with computers, smart boards, and TVs.

“Well-developed digital education has the potential to be a game changer in education. The World Bank hopes to engage and support Sri Lanka’s digital development efforts further and this will very likely be a key focus in the next Country Partnership Framework said, Chiyo Kanda.

Digital Development

Under the $5.95 million ICT component, the Information and Communication Technology Agency (ICTA), in collaboration with various stakeholders, is working to improve digital infrastructure and bring public services online, to allow government officials to work efficiently from home. Under this initiative ICTA is rolling out the following activities: expansion of the Lanka Government Cloud 2.0 (LGC 2.0) including the establishment of a high-availability disaster recovery site, implementation of a government-wide email and collaboration system and video conferencing facility, and a pilot digital forms submission platform (forms.gov.lk). These CERC activities are part of a broader digital transformation effort to implement a “whole-of-government approach” to improve the delivery of public services, making digitalization the way forward for Sri Lanka.

Transport

The $24.2 million allocation from the transport sector is to implement sanitation and COVID-19 related social distancing measures on public transport. CERC activities have focused on the purchase of non-contact Infrared (IR) thermometers in buses, provide Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for transport employees, and to procure sanitizer spray machines for 300 bus terminals.

Disaster Risk Management

Close to $1.61 million allocation under CERC Pool supports flood response activities including setting up centres/camps to provide shelter to displaced persons from seasonal monsoon related flooding, purchase of folding field beds, thermometers, first aid kits, PPE, power banks, cleaning equipment and ration packs. In addition, the support includes purchase of fuels for operation of machinery and vehicles to ensure flood preparedness and timely support for displaced people.

“CERC Pool has shown the importance of incorporating disaster risk management across critical sectors to improve country’s disaster preparedness and ensure timely support for affected people during emergencies”, Ms. Kanda added. “The World Bank remains committed to contribute to Sri Lanka’s efforts to build back better.”



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GL follows up Udaya’s initiative, negotiates concessionary crude oil supplies with UAE

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Balance-of-payment crisis continues to stagger govt.

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The United Arab Emirates (UAD) has agreed to discuss a possible arrangement to provide Sri Lanka crude oil on concessionary terms in the face of the country experiencing a severe balance-of-payments crisis, according to the Foreign Ministry.

Foreign Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris took up the matter with UAE Minister of Industry and Advanced Technology Dr. Sultan Al Jaber, on the sidelines of the 76th session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York. Prof. Peiris is on President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s delegation to the UNGA.

In late August, Energy Minister Udaya Gammanpila sought the intervention of the Acting Head of the UAE Embassy in Sri Lanka, Saif Alanofy. Minister Gammanpila also met the Iranian Ambassador in Colombo in a bid to explore the possibility of obtaining oil from Iran on concessionary arrangements.

The Foreign Ministry statement on Prof. Peiris meeting with the UAE Minister dealt with the financial crisis experienced by the country. “Foreign Minister Peiris explained the challenges Sri Lanka is experiencing in respect of its external budget, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Prof. Peiris focused in particular on the country’s requirement for oil and requested concessionary arrangements from the UAE.”

The Foreign Ministry quoted Minister Al Jaber as having said that the UAE would be happy to assist and proposed the establishment of a strategic framework to take the process forward.”

The ministry stressed that both sides agreed to follow-up rapidly.

Energy Minister Udaya Gammanpila earlier told The Island that concessionary arrangements were required to procure oil as part of an overall strategy to overcome the developing crisis.

Pivithuru Hela Urumaya (PHU) leader and Attorney-at-law Gammanpila said that increase in fuel prices in the second week of June this year was only a part of the government’s response to heavy pressure on foreign reserves. Minister Gammanpila said that the decision was taken close on the heels of dire warning from the Central Bank.

Minister Gammanpila said that in spite of foreign currency crisis, the government ensured an uninterrupted supply of fuel. According to him, Sri Lanka spent as much as USD 3.5 to 5 bn annually on oil imports depending on the world market prices.

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President attends 9/11 commemoration in NY

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President Gotabaya Rajapaksa yesterday attended the special commemorative event near the Manhattan Memorial in the United States to mark the 20th anniversary of terrorist attacks in Washington and New York.

The terrorist attacks took place on September 11, 2001, targeting the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon, the headquarters of the United States Department of Defence.

Coinciding with the 76th Session of the United Nations General Assembly, the United Nations Office of Counter-Terrorism and the 9/11 Memorial Museum jointly organised the event. Other Heads of State and government representatives, who were in New York to attend the UN General Assembly, were also present at the event to pay tribute to those who lost their lives in those attacks.

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FSP calls on govt. allies not to pretend to oppose adverse deal with US firm

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By Anuradha Hiripitiyage

Due to the secret agreement signed with US firm New Fortress Energy, Sri Lanka would soon face a situation akin to the one already faced by Ukraine, the Frontline Socialist Party (FSP) predicted yesterday.

“Sri Lanka is trying to reduce its dependency on coal and switch over to LNG. With this in mind, several coal and diesel power plants are to be converted into LNG in the coming decade. Now, we will entirely depend on the US to provide us with LNG to power these plants. Given that the US intends to control the seas in which Sri Lanka is placed strategically, they will not let us off the hook once they establish their foothold here. We are in deep trouble,” FSP Propaganda Secretary, Duminda Nagamuwa said.

Nagamuwa said that some constituents of the government were pretending that they opposed the transfer of government’s shares in the Yugadanavi Power Plant to New Fortress Energy. “But this is not the time for theatrics but for concrete action”, he said.

Nagamuwa said that the agreement between the government and US Company New Fortress Energy to construct a new offshore liquefied natural gas (LNG) receiving, storage and regasification terminal at Kerawalapitiya as well as the transfer of government’s shares in the Yugadanavi Power Plant had to be scrapped.

“Even government ministers agree that the agreement was not discussed with them. Several affiliates of the government are trying to convince the people that they are fighting this decision from inside. However, past experience has shown that when push comes to shove they will stay with the government. They must show the leaders of the government that they are not puppets,” he said.

Nagamuwa said that if those affiliated to the government were serious in their opposition to undermining Sri Lanka’s energy security they should show their commitment by doing something concrete.

The Yugadanavi Power Station at Kerawalapitiya already produced 300 MWs of energy and there was a plan to build another 350 MW plant there. The US Company had now been allowed to build an offshore LNG receiving, storage, and regasification terminal and to provide LNG to the existing Power Station and the new 350 MW power plant to be built, he said.

“Now we are under the power of the US. We will soon be facing the plight of Ukraine,” he said.

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