As governments strive to revive their economies amid the Covid-19 pandemic, the World Bank has launched a project to help Cambodia mitigate the virus’ impacts on its economic growth. The Post’s Niem Chheng sat down with World Bank country manager Inguna Dobraja to get more details.
The World Bank just approved the “Cambodia Covid-19 Emergency Response Project”. Could you tell us more about it?
The aim of this project is to assist Cambodia in its efforts to prevent, detect and respond to the threat posed by Covid-19 and strengthen national systems for public health preparedness. This will help Cambodia to reduce and delay the transmission of Covid-19, help reduce the incidence of serious disease and deaths, and ensure ongoing essential health services, particularly during the pandemic period.
This is a $20 million project. What sectors does it cover?
The project will finance the upgrading of the national reference laboratory for testing Covid-19, improving diagnostic capacity at four regional laboratories and 21 associated laboratories in the provincial hospitals. It will also support the supply of medical equipment, including personal protective equipment and other consumables for isolation and treatment wards in all 25 provincial hospitals.
It will also finance the procurement of medical supplies and equipment needed for activities outlined in the Covid-19 Master Plan, including business continuity of essential services, drugs and medical supplies for case management and infection prevention. The project has built-in flexibility to reallocate resources in case the needs of the health system changes.
The project will also support the functions of Emergency Operating Centers at the sub-national level, including building staff capacity to monitor the outbreak, screening people entering the country, strengthening call/hotline centers, and community engagement.
Is it a grant or a loan?
This is a credit from the International Development Association, or IDA, the arm of the World Bank Group that supports the poorest countries. This credit has a term of 38 years with a grace period of six years.
Who is going to benefit from this project?
The expected project beneficiaries will be infected people, at-risk populations, medical and emergency personnel, medical and testing facilities across Cambodia. The project will target urban and rural communities across Cambodia.
What else is the World Bank doing to help Cambodia mitigate the Covid-19 impacts?
The Covid-19 shock is hitting most of Cambodia’s main drivers of growth hard and will have a lasting impact on the economy and the population. The World Bank intends to support Cambodia both to effectively deal with the Covid-19 crisis and to strengthen the country’s economy for recovery and future resilience. In addition to the Cambodia Covid-19 Emergency Response Project, the World Bank has also activated $14m of the Contingency Emergency Response Component under the Cambodia Health Equity and Quality Improvement Project (H-EQIP) in support of the country’s Covid-19 Master Plan, including the urgent need to procure medical supplies, equipment and ambulances as well as enhance testing capacity of the National Reference Laboratory. The H-EQIP project implemented by the Ministry of Health regularly monitors the trends of health service utilisation by poor households to ensure that services continue to be delivered during the Covid crisis.
To further strengthen health service delivery, the Cambodia Nutrition project will focus on maintaining the demand for and supply of essential maternal and child health and nutrition services in the wake of Covid-19, and the Cambodia Strengthening Pre-Service Education System for Health Professionals project will aim to equip health professionals with better knowledge and skills to deal with emergencies such as the Covid-19 outbreak.
Beyond the health sector, several projects will focus on broader economic and social recovery. For example, in the agriculture sector our support will enhance farm productivity, explore possibilities to develop new local and regional agriculture value chains as well as provide targeted support to smallholder farmers in building their earning capacity and resilience to shocks such as Covid-19.
The World Bank will continue to support building Cambodia’s road infrastructure – the new Cambodia Road Connectivity Improvement project will connect rural communities to health centres and schools, reducedisruption from floods and help local agricultural producers to access markets. It will also generate jobs for local communities during road construction thus supporting economic recovery.
In early April, the World Bank predicted that Cambodia’s economic growth will nosedive to 2.5 per cent. Will the World Bank offer any support to help revive the Kingdom’s economic growth after Covid-19?
The Covid-19 shock, propagated through falling global demand, supply chain disruptions and nationwide lockdowns, is hitting most of Cambodia’s main drivers of growth hard. The World Bank is working with the government to support policy reforms that provide relief to affected populations, facilitate a robust recovery, and build resilience against future economic shocks.
We observe that workers, migrant workers and street vendors, among others, are also affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. Will they benefit from the World Bank’s projects?
The World Bank is supportive of policy actions that scale up support to economically vulnerable households affected by Covid-19 as well as improve access to finance for small- and medium-sized businesses that are facing supply and demand shocks. The Livelihood Enhancement and Association of the Poor project has been helping to move poor rural and urban families in Siem Reap and Phnom Penh out of poverty for the last two years. The project is now adjusting to help these families cope with the current loss of income and recover through more on-farm investments and maintaining support for skills training and job placement while vocational schools are closed and job opportunities have declined.
If you are asked to pick three top priority measures to help the most affected people, what would they be?
During times of economic crisis such as the current one, strong social assistance measures are required to prevent people from falling into poverty. Supporting firms impacted by the Covid-19 shock is also needed. And finally, policies that improve the competitiveness and resilience of Cambodia’s economy will help the economy to recover and benefit the livelihoods of its citizens.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.