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ISLAMABAD: The World Bank's executive directors approved two projects for $400 million in concessional financing from the International Development Association to support Pakistan's interventions to reduce food insecurity from the outbreak of locusts and measures to restore education for schools closed due to Covid-19, said a press release issued on Monday.

This financing includes $200 million for the Locust Emergency and Food Security Project, and $200 million for the Actions to Strengthen Performance for Inclusive and Responsive Education Program.

"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," said Illango Patchamuthu, World Bank country director for Pakistan.

"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."

The Locust Emergency and Food Security Project (LEAFS) will support emergency actions to control the locust outbreak and prevent further spread across Pakistan and the South Asia region.

In the short-term, it will benefit at least six million farmers and agricultural laborers, of which approximately 30 percent 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.

The project will further support the medium- and long-term sustainability of the agricultural sector by promoting climate-smart solutions to increase resilience to weather-related hazards such as floods and droughts.

The LEAFS will improve early warning systems by strengthening the Food Security and Nutrition Information System (FSNIS), which is a critical decision-making tool to prevent pest outbreaks and improve national food security.

The project will also improve coordination among provincial, national and regional authorities to reduce climate and disaster risk.

"This project responds to the crisis with immediate actions to protect Pakistan's national food security and ensure sustainability of the agriculture sector," said Guo Li, Task Team Leader for the project.

"It will also strengthen the capacity of the Ministry of National Food Security and Research in policy making and managing disaster risk."

The Actions to Strengthen Performance for Inclusive and Responsive Education Program (ASPIRE) will address school disruptions due to COVID-19 by accelerating virtual and distance learning opportunities for students.

The ASPIRE supports Pakistan's efforts to safely reopen schools by establishing protocols and leveraging technology to expand access to online learning programmes 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 program will provide training to teachers on distance-learning and expand digital access through free, public WiFi hotspots.

The ASPIRE also strengthens coordination among federal and provincial governments to generate new investments in traditional and alternative education programmes 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 Manal Quota and Juan Baron, Task Team Leaders for the programme.

"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."

WORLD BANK GROUP'S LOCUST RESPONSE: The World Bank Group is mobilising emergency financing, complemented by policy advice and technical assistance, to support countries affected by the locust outbreak.

The Bank's Locust Response aims to help households and communities safeguard their livelihoods and cope with the economic impact of locust damage to crops, livestock, and related assets, as well as to help strengthen national response systems for locust preparedness.

THE WORLD BANK GROUP'S COVID-19 RESPONSE: The World Bank Group, one of the largest sources of funding and knowledge for developing countries, is taking broad, fast action to help developing countries strengthen their pandemic response.

"We are supporting public health interventions, working to ensure the flow of critical supplies and equipment, and helping the private sector continue to operate and sustain jobs. We will be deploying up to $160 billion in financial support over 15 months to help more than 100 countries protect the poor and vulnerable, support businesses, and bolster economic recovery."

This includes $50 billion of new IDA resources through grants and highly-concessional loans.-PR

Copyright Business Recorder, 2020