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World Bank sanctions $248 million loan for water, sanitation facilities in Punjab

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By Newsgram Staff Writer

With the World Bank sanctioning a loan of Rs 1,540 crore for water and sanitation facilities in Punjab, the state government is all set to provide water connections and toilets to every rural household in the next six years.

‘Punjab Rural Water and Sanitation Sector Improvement Project’ aims at significantly improving the state’s water delivery and sanitation services along with enhancing the quality of life in rural Punjab.

A Punjab government spokesperson said on Thursday that the WB has approved its contribution of a $248 million (Rs. 1,540 crore) loan for the $354 million (Rs. 2,200 crore) ‘Punjab Rural Water and Sanitation Sector Improvement Project.’

The project is said to provide a minimum of 10 hours of daily water supply, a toilet for every toilet-less household, and a sewerage system in over 315 villages. In addition, it aspires to deliver safe and pure surface water to 121 villages that are currently drinking water contaminated with uranium and other heavy metals.

The World Bank data cites that over four million women in Punjab, who, at present, bear the burden of securing daily water supplies and deal with poor sanitation facilities, would benefit from this project as they would have access to more reliable and better quality water supply and sanitation facilities in their own households.

The spokesperson also said, “Over 625,000 households in the state still lack toilets. The sanitation component would provide a subsidy to every toilet-less household to construct one.”

It is anticipated that the project would directly benefit an estimated 8.47 million rural people in Punjab. It includes over 4 million female beneficiaries and 2.44 million beneficiaries belong to scheduled castes.

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Punjab Exempts Women Cops With Kids Below 5 From Frontline Duties

The decision has been approved by Chief Minister Amarinder Singh

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Punjab has exempted women cops with kids under five from Covid duties. Wikimedia Commons

Punjab Director General of Police (DGP) Dinkar Gupta on Tuesday barred all police personnel with medical issues, as well as women cops with children under five from the frontline duty in a bid to protect them from undue exposure to the risk of Covid-19.

The decision has been approved by Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, who has asked the DGP to ensure all protective and welfare measures for the corona warriors.

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Measures are taken to save women officers from exposure to coronavirus. Wikimedia Commons

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The DGP said there had been concerns expressed on this count during several calls received on the newly launched tele-counselling facility for anxious police corona warriors and their families.

At present, there are over 48,000 police personnel engaged in curfew enforcement and relief measures across the state and the tele-counselling facility was launched on April 20 to equip police officers and their families with additional information and skills to cope with the psychological aspects of the Covid-19 duties, including a high degree of risk of contracting infection. (IANS)

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Poverty and Inequality Rising Rapidly in Thailand: Report

Poverty, Inequality in Thailand on the Rise, World Bank Says

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"Taking the Pulse of Poverty and Inequality in Thailand," launched last week, says the country's poverty rate jumped from 7.2% to 9.8% between 2015 and 2018, adding nearly 2 million new people to the ranks of the poor. Pixabay

By Zsombor Peter

Thailand’s poverty rate has been rising in recent years despite steady, if slow, overall economic growth, a new World Bank report says, widening the gap between rich and poor in Southeast Asia’s second-largest economy.

“Taking the Pulse of Poverty and Inequality in Thailand,” launched last week, says the country’s poverty rate jumped from 7.2% to 9.8% between 2015 and 2018, adding nearly 2 million new people to the ranks of the poor. Inequality, as measured by household consumption, also spiked in 2016 for the first time in four years and has eased little since.

Analysts see a direct link between those figures and the results of last year’s general elections, Thailand’s first since a 2014 military coup led by then-General Prayut Chan-ocha, now the country’s prime minister.

Pheu Thai, a party tied to former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, won the second most votes and the largest share of seats in the popularly elected House of Representatives, the lower house of the National Assembly,  with strong support from some of the country’s poorest provinces in the North and Northeast.

A junta-appointed Senate and Election Commission finally tipped the contest to form a majority government in Prayut’s favor, but the numbers echoed the lasting disaffection of the country’s poor.

“Plummeting incomes were clearly a major factor in the opposition’s strong showing in the 2019 general election. That is why Pheu Thai did so well — especially given  that rural farmers and also urban households continue to be attracted by the populism of Thaksin,” said Paul Chambers, a political analyst and lecturer at Thailand’s Naresuan University.

Thaksin was first elected prime minister in 2001, after the shock of the Asian financial crisis of the late 1990s, and reelected four years later only to be kicked out of office by a military coup in 2006. The telecoms tycoon now lives abroad, avoiding a 2008 corruption conviction that he disputes. However, the subsidies, cash transfers and other populist policies he pushed have left him and his proxies with a loyal following among the farmers of Thailand’s rural North and Northeast, who feel left behind by an urban elite cloistered mostly in the capital, Bangkok.

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The World Bank said many of Thailand’s poverty spikes coincided with regional or global financial crises or with drought but added that periods of political instability also tend to depress consumption and investment, which can drive incomes down and poverty rates up. Pixabay

“That is partly why Thaksin was able to rise in the early 2000s, because of grievances over this disproportionate allocation of resources,” said Harrison Cheng, an associate director with consulting firm Control Risks who follows Thailand.

He said the concentration of wealth and power in Bangkok has continued under Prayut.

The World Bank report backs him up. It shows poverty hovering steadily at about 2% between 2015 and 2018 in Bangkok while rising everywhere else, nowhere more so than in the strife-torn South. Riven by a Muslim insurgency, the South became the country’s poorest region in 2017, only just edging out the Northeast with a poverty rate of about 12%. The South again topped the Northeast in 2018 with a poverty rate just over 14%.

The report ascribes the latest rises in poverty and inequality to droughts, slow economic growth and falling incomes among both rural farmers and urban businesses.

The bank says Thailand has now seen four such spikes since 2000, more than any of the other nine Association of Southeast Asian Nations countries.

The report’s author, Judy Yang, attributes that, at least in part, to slow wage growth during the period, slower than in any of the bloc’s other large economies.

“If you are a household, what really pulls you out of poverty is getting a better-paying job, getting more income, getting labor market income,” she said.

What also sets Thailand apart is its political turmoil. The coup-prone country has seen four swings between military and civilian rule since 2006, governments cut short by controversial court orders and several rounds of mass protests, some of them deadly.

The World Bank said many of Thailand’s poverty spikes coincided with regional or global financial crises or with drought but added that periods of political instability also tend to depress consumption and investment, which can drive incomes down and poverty rates up.

Cheng, of Control Risks, said his conversations with clients confirm that Thailand’s volatile politics have kept many potential investors at bay, holding the economy back.

“A lot of the investors are staying away and taking a wait-and-see approach for a long, long time now,” he said.

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A man begs for money in central Bangkok, Thailand. VOA

“If they are not in Thailand already, they will be thinking very seriously about whether they should do so because what if there’s a change in government again? What if there are massive street protests like in 2013, 2014? Are you going to repeat the 2010 Bangkok standoff between the Red Shirts and the military?” he added, referring to Thaksin supporters by their color-coded apparel of choice.

Cheng said the constant and sudden turnover in governments has also fostered a habit of short-term policy prescriptions on poverty and inequality that have done more to soothe the symptoms than cure the causes.

Chambers and Cheng agreed that if the latest bout of bad numbers gets worse, Prayut’s problems will also be increased by swelling ranks of not just the poor but also of disenchanted voters.

The World Bank report proffers poverty and inequality figures only up to 2018 but adds that “trends beyond this year are not optimistic, given continued low economic growth rates and stagnant wages.”

Another severe drought devastated farmers last year as the country’s gross domestic product growth rank sank to 2.4%, its lowest since 2014. GDP forecasts for 2020 are even worse, owing much to the novel corona virus outbreak, which has hit the country’s important tourism sector hard.

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To counter those blows, Prayut’s government has ramped up and introduced new social welfare programs for the poorest households and last week approved a stimulus package expected to pump some $12.6 billion into the economy.

The World Bank recommends that authorities continue to strengthen the country’s safety net and create better jobs for low-income earners in the short term. In the longer term, it says giving all children equal access to health and education opportunities would be the best way to make future generations more prosperous and more equal. (VOA)

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World Bank Issues its First ‘Green Loan’ For Environmental Businesses in Vietnam

World Bank Issues 'Green Loan' to Vietnam for the first time ever.

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Most Vietnamese worry about air pollution, but it's cited most highly as a concern in Hanoi, which is closer to the polluting factories of southern China. VOA

A division of the World Bank has just made its first so-called “green loan” to a bank in Vietnam, meant for businesses to help with environmental problems in a nation that has one of the world’s highest emissions rates relative to its economy.   Vietnam has a fast growing economy but also has a fast growing pollution problem.

The loan package of $212.5 million to VPBank was announced this month under the Green Loan Principles, a voluntary set of international guidelines to make loans for eco-friendly projects, such as to promote solar power or biodiversity.

In explaining why it packaged the loan, the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation (IFC) said that Vietnam is the most “carbon intensive” nation in the Asia Pacific region, after China and Mongolia. Carbon intensity measures how much carbon dioxide a nation emits for every dollar of gross domestic product (GDP) it generates. In other words Vietnam’s economy costs a lot of greenhouse gas, and the IFC hopes loans like this one can help reduce the pollutants.

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A man withdraws money from an ATM at a branch of Vietnam Prosperity Joint Stock Commercial Bank (VPBank) in Hanoi. VOA

This meets a “strategic objective of increasing financing for climate-smart initiatives to boost environmentally sustainable development in emerging markets with high potential of greenhouse gas emissions reduction such as Vietnam,” Rosy Khanna, the IFC financial institutions group director for Asia Pacific, said.

She said there is “high interest” among investors to provide a “source of capital while helping the country tackle climate change at the same time.”

Climate problems mean Vietnam has a business opportunity that the IFC values at $753 billion for investors looking to tackle them.

The Southeast Asian nation has one of the highest GDP growth rates in the world but that growth is causing worry about the potential impact on the environment. Vietnamese citizens are increasingly worried about everything from the plastic rubbish that is ending up in the ocean, to the toxic chemicals that could be polluting their food and water supply. Khanna said Vietnam has a lot of potential to reduce emissions, but the reason emissions are so high is that the nation is increasingly generating electricity through coal, the dirtiest source of energy.

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Property developers are building enclosed communities in Vietnam where sustainability is part of the design, from motion-detecting lights to pollution warning systems. VOA

VPBank, officially known as the Vietnam Prosperity Joint Stock Commercial Bank, said it would use the loan to invest in alternatives.“

This is also an opportunity to help VPBank make positive contributions to national objectives by providing financial solutions to the segment of corporate customers investing in eco-friendly projects, such as renewable energy, national energy security, energy efficiency, green buildings, green transport, [and] waste treatment,” the bank said in a press release.

The IFC has also collaborated with businesses to facilitate green finance in other developing nations such as Costa Rica, Egypt, India, Mexico, and Ukraine.

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It said the loans in Vietnam would likely be used for green infrastructure, in addition to energy projects, particularly involving small or medium size businesses.

VPBank has committed to setting up a management system to ensure accountability for the green loan, allowing it to record and monitor the types of green projects the loan finances, as well as allowing for third party verification. (VOA)