The Nepal government and the World Bank today signed loan and grant agreements for $24 million Forests for Prosperity Project ($6.1 million as grant and $17.9 million as concessional loan) that will help Nepal advance sustainable forest management.

The project will contribute to transforming Nepal's forest sector by improving sustainable forest management and developing a strong forest-based private sector. These activities will result in multiple benefits for forest-dependent people in selected municipalities in Province 2 and Lumbini Province, including inclusive economic benefits, ecosystem services, and greater climate resilience.

It will help strengthen ongoing community-based conservation efforts while promoting inclusive sustainable use.

The agreements were signed by the Finance Secretary Sishir Kumar Dhungana on behalf of the government of Nepal and by the World Bank Country Director for Nepal, Maldives and Sri Lanka Faris Hadad-Zervos.

Additionally, a project agreement was signed by the Chief Executive Officer of the Agricultural Development Bank Ltd (ADBL), Anil Kumar Upadhyaya and the World Bank country director.

The ADBL, as a project implementation entity, will design and pilot a credit line for establishing and strengthening forest-based small and medium enterprises.

"Strengthening local communities, for whom forests are a traditional safety net during times of crisis, is especially important in the COV- ID-19 era. In that same spirit, the project will facilitate Nepal's forest-based private sector to invest in jobs and reduce dependence on timber imports," Dhungana has been quoted as saying in a media release.

"The project will also provide timely support to the institutions at the provincial and local levels to strengthen natural resource governance."

The project is a key part of the government's Relief, Recovery and Resilience (3R) plan and Nepal's commitments to mitigate and adapt to climate change.

Aligned with this 3R plan, development partners led by the World Bank and UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, coalesced around a 'Green, Resilient, and Inclusive Development' framework to mobilise investments over the next three years to secure jobs and livelihoods, build resilience, strengthen social inclusion, enhance sustainability, and promote efficiency.

"The project will support 50 municipalities, which is a starting point for inclusive climate action and inclusive green economic growth based on Nepal's comparative advantage.

We are confident that if the project yields expected outcomes, there will be opportunities to scale up the project and allow more people to benefit," stated Hadad-Zervos.

The Forests for Prosperity Project is the first World Bank-supported forest sector investment project in Nepal in over 15 years, and the third part of a joint programmatic engagement on forest landscapes by the World Bank and the government of Nepal.

Nepal receives $75 million

The World Bank's board of executive directors have approved $75 million from the International Development Association (IDA) to support access to safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines and equitable vaccine distribution by strengthening Nepal's health and vaccination system.

The financing is expected to facilitate vaccination of at least onethird of the population through an equitable distribution plan.

"The pandemic presents immense challenges and an uncertain environment, particularly in the purchase, supply and distribution of vaccines," Faris Hadad-Zervos, World Bank country director for Nepal, Maldives and Sri Lanka, has been quoted as saying in a press statement. "It is a testament to our strong partnership with Nepal that the Bank has been able to move quickly to support the government's ambitious plans to vaccinate at least 72 per cent of the population."

The additional financing builds on the $29 million for the original COVID-19 Emergency Response and Health Systems Preparedness Project that was approved in April 2020, the existing bank-supported health programmes, and confirmed support of other development partners in the context of the government's overall COVID‐19 response.

Most of the new financing (90 per cent) will go to the purchase of COVID‐19 vaccines and deployment for prioritised populations beyond the 20 per cent that will be vaccinated through COVAX. The rest of the financing will help strengthen the health system to support the COVID‐19 vaccination effort and procure other COVID‐19-related supplies such as diagnostic tests, laboratory equipment and therapeutics. The additional financing also supports community engagement and risk communication, and strengthening existing digital technologybased pandemic data, surveillance and monitoring systems.

"This support is critical for Nepal to safeguard the physical health of its people and economic health of the nation," said Gail Richardson, World Bank Practice Manager for South Asia for the Health, Nutrition and Population Global Practice. "Providing fast and fair access to the approved COVID-19 vaccines for the most vulnerable people will expedite population-level immunity, which is central to resilient recovery from the devastating effects of COVID-19."

A version of this article appears in the print on March 20, 2021, of The Himalayan Times.