The Bangladesh government responded fast with the onset of the COVID 19 pandemic. To curb the spread of the novel coronavirus, the government declared a 10-day general holiday from March 26, 2020, which was later extended till May 30, and economic activities resumed on a limited scale. In addition to taking public health measures, the government announced a package of support programs to help the poor and vulnerable households with cash transfer and food programs and finally the government provided stimulus package to firms to sustain employment in key sectors. Movement measures continued till early August 2020.
Within three weeks of detection of the first case in Bangladesh, the World Bank approved a fast-track $100 million financing to help Bangladesh prevent, detect, and respond to the pandemic and strengthen its national systems for public health emergencies.
Supporting the health sector
The COVID-19 Emergency Response and Pandemic Preparedness Project will help detect, manage and treat suspected and confirmed COVID-19 cases. The project will provide a range of support, including:
- Benefiting people with suspected and confirmed infections, at-risk populations, medical and emergency personnel, as well as public and private service providers, medical and testing facilities, and the national health system.
- Equipping designated laboratories with COVID-19 trained staff as well as diagnostic equipment, test kits, and reagents.
- Delivering critical medical support cope with the increased demand for services, and rehabilitate district-level health facilities, selected Medical College hospitals, the Infectious Diseases Hospital, and the Bangladesh Institute of Tropical and Infectious Diseases, among others.
- Mobilizing resources for faster procurement to expedite the acquisition of critical items.
- Supporting screening in Bangladesh’s designated health facilities and entry points.
Quality Jobs and Recovery
Since June, the World Bank approved 5 projects totaling over $1.7 billion to help create quality jobs, improve water and sanitation services, and accelerate economic recovery from the pandemic as well as build resilience to future crises.
- The $500 million Private Investment and Digital Entrepreneurship (PRIDE) Project will promote and attract about $2 billion direct private investments, create 150,000 jobs, and develop economic zones and software technology parks. By attracting domestic and foreign private investment, including in the IT and ITES sectors, the project will help the economy to rebound from the impacts of COVID 19.
- The $250 million Second Programmatic Jobs Development Policy Credit will create fiscal space to support the government’s response to the COVID-19 crisis, while helping recovery and building resiliency of the economy, of workers and of vulnerable populations to future shocks.
- The $295 million Enhancing Digital Government and Economy (EDGE) Project will establish an integrated, cloud-computing digital platform for all government agencies and improve cyber-security. It will build resiliency during future crises, whereby the platform will enable the government to operate virtually and deliver critical public services to citizens and businesses.
- The $500 million Western Economic Corridor and Regional Enhancement (WeCARE) Phase I project will improve road connectivity along the Jashore-Jhenaidah corridor in four western districts. The project will also install fiber optic cables along the highway to provide reliable and affordable internet access, which will be critical for emergency responses and business continuities in crises similar to the COVID-19 pandemic. To help recover from the economic impacts of COVID 19, it will provide immediate social protection and livelihoods support to the rural poor by engaging them in labor-intensive civil works, and in the post-COVID period, the project will create jobs for the local communities through civil works for the national highway and support transport agencies by preparing them for future crises.
- The $200 million Bangladesh Rural Water, Sanitation and Hygiene for Human Capital Development Project will help Bangladesh improve access to safe water and sanitation services in rural areas and thus help prevent diseases and protect from infectious disease outbreaks, including the COVID-19 pandemic. Further, it will address urgent WASH needs during the COVID 19 pandemic in a quick and timely way. The project will also will facilitate loans for households to improve their water and sanitation facilities and for the local WASH entrepreneurs. In crowded public spaces, the project will set up about 2,514 handwashing stations.
During COVID-19, the World Bank has partnered with the Bangladesh government to bring innovative tools and continue its engagement.
Agriculture: The World Bank is helping to increase the storage capacity of Bangladesh’s national strategic grain reserves by 535,500 tons for 4.5 million households. During the pandemic, ‘virtual call centers’ in rural Bangladesh are helping farming communities sell produce and order supplies through mobile phones.
Education: Digitization has been mainstreamed with support from University Grants Commission of Bangladesh with an average of around 3,800 classes held online daily with more than 220,000 students in attendance.
Public Procurement: In FY20, $ 17.5 billion worth of procurement contracts representing about 62% of public procurement expenditure in the country were processed through the electronic government procurement (e-GP) system. During the COVID pandemic, the e-GP system worked as the backbone to continue day to day development operations in the country. It enabled about 1300+ public organizations to process all procurement activities online. Now, a citizen’s portal can now monitor public spending in Bangladesh through innovative digital dashboards and feedback loops to ensure transparency and accountability.
Water: Handwashing stations with soap dispensers have been placed in strategic locations such as entrance of markets in 30 municipalities. By instituting geographic information system (GIS) and IT-enabled systems, the World Bank support is providing coordination and assistance to all municipalities. Around 100,000 participants had already attended project consultation meetings – and many community leaders had previously helped in sensitizing households on the benefits of piped water connection and subsequent enrollment. Hence, they have a stake in maintaining infrastructure such as pipes, taps and soap dispensers even once the worst of the pandemic has passed.