ADB-funded development in Bangladesh: 40 projects hit by pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic has slowed down the implementation of at least 40 of the 49 projects funded by the Asian Development Bank in Bangladesh

Jul 14, 2020

The coronavirus pandemic has slowed down the implementation of at least 40 of the 49 projects funded by the Asian Development Bank in Bangladesh. 

Initial estimate shows that awarding of contracts may fall by 20 percent this year and disbursement of funds by 30 percent if no special measures are taken.

In six months till June 30, the achievement in awarding contracts was only 13.87 percent and that in disbursing funds 21.41 percent of the targets, show ADB documents.

"Given the Covid-19, special measures will be needed to speed up the project implementation as lockdown has seriously impacted the project progress," read the documents.

Against such a backdrop, the Tripartite Portfolio Review Meeting (TPRM) for the ADB-funded projects will be held in Dhaka tomorrow. This is the first such meeting this year.

The TPRM will be co-chaired by the secretary of the Economic Relations Division and the country director of the ADB's Bangladesh Resident Mission.

Representatives of the implementing agencies for all the projects will take part in the virtual meeting.

They will assess the impact of Covid-19 on project implementation, review key implementation issues that may affect progress, prioritise actions to meet the targets, and also discuss approval of proposed projects.

As of June 30 this year, Bangladesh's active portfolio with the ADB stands at $10.81 billion in the form of loans or grants for 49 projects in six sectors. The amount includes $742 million in loan for the projects approved this year.

Of the projects, 12 are in the transport sector; nine in education and health; eight in energy; eight in water, urban infrastructure and services; seven in agriculture, natural resources and rural development; and five in the finance sector.

The projects in transport and energy sectors account for 55 percent of the portfolio value.

According to the ADB, Bangladesh was performing well till March when Covid-19 started affecting the implementation of the projects.

To contain the spread of the virus and ensure safety of workers and employees, the majority of the construction sites were closed following the shutdown, it said.

Since then, contracts under several packages could not be awarded and also funds could not be disbursed, seriously impacting the project implementation, the ADB mentioned in the documents.

The government imposed the shutdown in late March to contain the spread of the virus. It, however, lifted the restrictions on May 31 as the shutdown started to affect the economy and people's livelihoods.

Though a number of the project sites have reopened, work is going on there on a limited scale.

The Roads and Highways Department is implementing several ADB-funded projects, including Greater Dhaka Sustainable Urban Transport and SASEC Road Connectivity Project-1 and 2.

Under the urban transport project, a dedicated bus line or Bus Rapid Transit is being built from Dhaka Airport to Gazipur, while the two-lane road from Gazipur to Rangpur is being upgraded to four lanes under the road connectivity projects.

"The implementation of our projects has been hampered by the pandemic as work of those projects was suspended for more than two months since late March," RHD Chief Engineer Quazi Shahriar Hossain told The Daily Star yesterday.

"We have resumed work but still cannot work in full swing as many foreign experts are yet to return," he said.

Replying to another question, Shahriar said, "The pandemic will affect every project, and we have to extend the deadline by at least three months. We have already got such indications from the project officials."

SASEC Chattogram-Cox's Bazar Railway Project is another major project funded by the ADB.

Under the project, a single-line dual-gauge railway track will be built from Dohazari in Chattogram to Cox's Bazar via Ramu.

The authorities of the fast-track project had a plan to complete 50 percent of the physical work within fiscal 2019-20, but it was 40 percent as work remained suspended for two months due to the pandemic.

The physical work of the project came to a near halt after March. Though, most of the workers have returned to the project site, rain is hampering work, said a project official, seeking anonymity.

Things are almost the same for the other projects.

The ADB said the implementing agencies are now planning to reopen construction sites and camps as the government lifted the shutdown.

As part of the TPRM preparations, sector-wise discussions were held between the implementing agencies from June 29 to July 5.

"All ongoing and upcoming procurement packages were reviewed, and initial agreement was reached on package-wise contract awards and disbursement that are likely to happen in 2020," it mentioned.

The ADB's Bangladesh Resident Missionhas prepared guidelineson health safety for the implementing agencies, contractors and consultants amid the pandemic.

This will supplement the existing environmental management plan (EMP) and occupational health and safety guidelines.

The contractors are required to maintain a comprehensive and site-specific health safety protocol in project activities and ensure safe distancing of the workers, it noted.

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