Africa Renewal: How is the World Bank helping countries such as Kenya and others to defeat and address the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic?
Mr. Jaramillo: We have been very focused helping countries like Kenya respond to the COVID-19 pandemic through a massive global effort. Within the first three months of the pandemic, we were able to swiftly approve 100 emergency health credits for 100 countries, including Kenya, Somalia, Uganda and Rwanda.
For Kenya specifically, we executed a very quick emergency disbursement from an ongoing project for 10 million in mid-March for the government to immediately start acquiring test kits, personal protective equipment (PPEs), lab reagents and other critical supplies. This enabled Kenya to adapt facilities for isolation and other emergency actions. In early April, we approved the first loan of $48 million to supplement the funding needs of the Ministry of Health and the entire health system.
As the crisis deepened and affected the broader economy and people’s livelihoods, we triggered the second step, which is a $1 billion concessional credit to help the government continue to finance its operations and provide public services. In addition, we increased the World Bank’s allocations of safety net programmes to Kenya.
We continue to support the Inua Jamii initiative that helps poor families, orphans and the elderly. Some 1.1 million Kenyan families have benefited from this programme. We want to prioritize support for micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs), which provide jobs and livelihoods for many ordinary Kenyans.
What about recovering. How could the World Bank help?
There are three main priorities for Kenya that I think are also very relevant for the rest of East Africa. The first is about jobs and SMEs, which are the backbone of the economy. We are helping jumpstart these SMEs many of which are led by young entrepreneurs and hire many young people.
Second is deepening the digital economy. Digital capacity has proven to be an invaluable tool during this pandemic, allowing people to work from home and children to continue to engage in schooling. Even patients can access medical advice through digital means and of course we have digital payments and other digital financial services.
Digital economy will be part of the way we do business in the future. Kenya is a global leader in this, and I think it needs to continue to be a good example for Africa and for the world. But there needs to be more investment in the sector to ensure that 100 percent of ordinary Kenyans have access to broadband.
The third is water and sanitation. Again, the pandemic has revealed something we knew before, which is that our countries suffer from chronic water shortages, that major cities and economic hubs are critically short of water and that agriculture is often hampered by drought. Too many Kenyans don’t have access to water and sanitation. For example, in the North and North Eastern counties of Kenya, access to safe drinking water is only available to less than half of the population and only a third have access to improved sanitation.