Business

World Bank supports multi-sector Covid response in Sri Lanka

The World Bank reallocated $ 56 million from ongoing projects into a Contingent Emergency Response Component (CERC) Pool funding, an emergency response mechanism established to provide funding for Covid-19-affected sectors.

This example of CERC activation showcases how a country can be quickly assisted to improve disaster responsiveness and support affected populations during an emergency.

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. The result was the creation of the CERC Pool covering key economic sectors of agriculture, education, ICT, transport, and disaster risk management.

Within weeks, the CERC Pool reallocated $ 56 million from ongoing projects to support prioritised Covid-19 recovery and response activities. The CERC Pool, launched in September 2020, supports Covid-19-affected communities, strengthening resilience via online education, ensuring food security, safe transport, water and sanitation, and preparedness to floods as well as expanding digital infrastructure.

This is only the second time in the World 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.

“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 (of Sri Lanka),” 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

A total of $ 18.6 million was earmarked to support agriculture and food security needs. The CERC Pool supports 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 also supports 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 between Sri Lanka and the World Bank that will map out projects for investment over the next four years,” Kanda explained.

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 in order 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 digitalisation 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 sanitiser spray machines for 300 bus terminals.

Disaster risk management

Close to a $ 1.61 million allocation under the CERC Pool supports flood response activities including setting up centres/camps to provide shelter to displaced persons from seasonal monsoon-related flooding and the 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.