Editor’s note: In this opinion editorial, World Bank Country Director for Haiti Anabela Abreu provides an overview of the key supporting initiatives that the institution has employes in Haiti to mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to emergency health financing, the World Bank is also supporting the French-speaking Caribbean country’s economic recovery, resilience, and safety nets for the vulnerable population.
On March 19, Haiti recorded its first confirmed case of COVID-19 and declared a state of emergency. The Government announced a series of actions, including containment measures and a social protection programme, to mitigate the impact on poor and vulnerable households.
The pandemic is expected to lead to significant losses in Haiti as the economy was already reeling from the persistent political crisis. The World Bank mobilised quickly to support the country. Our support combined new emergency financing, reallocation of funds from existing projects, as well as adapting the scope of projects to assist with recovery and resilience efforts.
Only two weeks after the first confirmed case, an emergency health operation, the Haiti COVID-19 Response project, was prepared and approved for US$20 million. Haiti was among the first countries to receive emergency financing through the COVID-19 Fast Track Facility, which is dedicated financing to fight the pandemic, as part of the global Multiphase Programmatic Approach. Aimed at infection detection, containment, and treatment, the new operation has already delivered critical support and essential personal protective equipment for medical workers. It complements and builds on the strong foundation of ongoing health projects, namely Improving Maternal and Child Health through Integrated Social Services (PASMISSI), which played a key role in containing the cholera outbreak, with zero laboratory-confirmed cases since January 2019, and the Strengthening Primary Health Care and Surveillance in Haiti project.
To complement the health sector response, three International Development Association (IDA) grants were approved to support the longer-term recovery and resilience phase. These include the Haiti COVID-19 Response and Resilience Development Policy Operation, supporting health emergency preparedness and response capacity, including strengthening the social protection system and disaster risk management systems, and development of a National Disaster Risk Financing Strategy. Because connectivity will be more important than ever for economic recovery, new financing was also approved to improve the infrastructure and safety standards of Haiti’s major airports through the Caribbean Regional Air Transport Connectivity Project, as well as to strengthen all-weather road access in Haiti’s central region through the Haiti Rural Accessibility and Resilience Project.
To leverage the resources in the existing portfolio, we triggered two Contingent Emergency Response Components (CERCs), which allow funds to be rapidly reallocated from ongoing projects for emergency purposes. The first CERC is providing support to farmers through the Haiti Resilient Productive Landscape Project, as the economic disruption of COVID-19 poses a risk to food security. The agricultural sector contributes up to 45 per cent of Haitian food needs, but farmers’ resources are exhausted after two years of financial crisis, lack of savings, and reduction of remittances during the pandemic. This rapid support will secure the next two cropping seasons and is expected to benefit 100,000 people.
A second CERC is financing emergency cash transfers through the Municipal Development and Urban Resilience Project to ease some of the economic and social challenges for the most vulnerable in Haiti. This project is also helping authorities at local levels serve their communities with personal protective equipment and handwashing stations.
We also adapted activities in several ongoing projects to meet emerging needs. For example, the Sustainable Rural and Small Towns Water and Sanitation Project took action to scale up handwashing and hygiene activities and finance public awareness campaigns. Efforts focused particularly on high-risk areas, such as the border entry point with the Dominican Republic, health centres, orphanages, prisons, and marketplaces. Over 2,500 handwashing stations were installed across the country.
Similarly, the Providing an Education of Quality in Haiti project ensured continuity of school feeding activities by starting home deliveries of dry rations so children do not miss out on critical nutrition while schools are closed. This initiative will help address the nutrition gap, given that 22 per cent of children were already chronically malnourished, and 65 per cent of children under 15 lived in poor households, even before the pandemic. The project is also planning to support educational programs on radio and television to help with remote learning, as well as robocalls as part of a COVID-19 awareness campaign.
The World Bank’s support to Haiti’s COVID-19 recovery and resilience efforts will continue over the coming year. We are planning a project to support small and medium-sized enterprises under a private sector jobs programme. Also under preparation are a social protection operation targeting the most vulnerable households, and a digital connectivity project aimed at building the necessary infrastructure to facilitate economic integration and future learning.
All of this would not have been possible without the dedicated efforts of the World Bank Haiti team and our partners in Haiti. Given the past experience with lockdowns, the teams quickly adapted to virtual meetings and found innovative solutions for preparing and supervising projects. Technology is also helping, as the teams used geospatial monitoring approaches for data collection, analysis, and tracking progress from afar. Despite the constraints of social distancing and the inability to see each other face to face for several months, our teams have in other ways been working together more closely than ever.