WB approves $400m to help Pakistan combat locusts, reopen schools

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ISLAMABAD: The World Bank has approved two projects worth $400 million for Pakistan with an aim to support interventions in reducing food insecurity from the outbreak of locusts, and measures to restore education for schools closed due to Covid-19.

The financing of $200 million for the ‘Locust Emergency and Food Security Project (LEAFS)’ will support emergency actions to control the locust outbreak and prevent further spread across Pakistan and South Asia region, said a statement issued by the bank on Monday.

This would be the World Bank’s first agriculture project at federal level in Pakistan since 2010, when the 18th amendment had devolved agriculture and rural affairs to provinces.

Of the total project cost, $125 million would be financed from the International Development Association (IDA).

Commenting on the approval of the two projects, WB Country Director for Pakistan Illango Patchamuthu said that the compounded impact of the locust outbreak and Covid-19 pandemic calls for urgent, coordinated and targeted actions to secure Pakistan’s agricultural economy and improve educational systems to protect human capital.

”Together, these projects will contribute to short- and long-term goals to increase Pakistan’s food security and achieve greater equity for students across the country,” he stated.

According to the WB statement, the LEAFS project will benefit at least six million farmers and agricultural labourers, of which approximately 30pc are women, by addressing the negative impacts on the livelihoods of farmers and labourers living in areas where crop damage and losses are most severe.

Meanwhile, the $200 million loan from the International Development Association (IDA) of the World Bank for the ‘Actions to Strengthen Performance for Inclusive and Responsive Education Programme (ASPIRE)’ will address school disruptions due to Covid-19 by accelerating virtual and distance learning opportunities for students.

“ASPIRE supports Pakistan’s efforts to safely reopen schools by establishing protocols and leveraging technology to expand access to online learning programs and training for teachers and administrators. Increased connectivity will help bridge the gap to provide education services for Pakistan’s youth, particularly among disadvantaged communities,” the statement read.

The programme will provide training to teachers on distance-learning and expand digital access through free, public Wi-Fi hotspots. 

ASPIRE also strengthens coordination among federal and provincial governments to generate new investments in traditional and alternative education programs to accelerate the recovery phase and build back better.

“School disruptions from the Covid-19 pandemic disproportionately affect disadvantaged and hard-to-reach children, especially girls and young women,” said Task Team Leaders for the programme, Manal Quota and Juan Baron. “The programme addresses immediate and medium-term response efforts to increase education services for out-of-school students by combining traditional and innovative learning approaches through new technology and alternative teaching methods.”

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