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Fiji Time: 2:02 PM on Monday 21 April

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World bank aid

Geraldine Panapasa
Monday, January 21, 2013

THE World Bank is committed to helping improve the lives of all Fijians says Franz Drees-Gross, country director for Timor Leste, Papua New Guinea and the Pacific islands in light of the recent natural disasters.

Though the bank had not scaled up in Fiji to the extent that it had elsewhere in the Pacific, Mr Drees-Gross said Cyclone Evan was a reminder of how vulnerable all island states in the Pacific region were to such events.

"Natural disasters can significantly impact a country's economy.

"The bank is currently working with development partners in Samoa to help the government produce a damage and loss assessment," he said from Sydney, Australia.

"We will be working with partners on a similar exercise in Fiji. After the 2009 flooding in Fiji, we provided $US1million ($F1.75m) through Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) to assist with flood early warning systems in the Nadi river basin.

"More broadly, one initiative that I am really excited about is the introduction of catastrophic risk insurance.

"With support from the Japanese government, we will by the end of January, be able to provide insurance for the Marshall Islands, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga and Vanuatu that will be able to provide fast disbursing finance to these countries in the event of future disasters."

He said the bank averaged seven to eight new investments in the region each year within its total portfolio of about 40 projects.

Mr Drees-Gross said the portfolio was performing well generally despite the inevitable challenges in implementation.

"Working closely with clients, we have helped encourage real improvements in peoples' lives," he said.

"In less than five years, more than two million people throughout the region's member countries have gained access to mobile telephones as a result of World Bank, government and other partners support for reform, and new private investment financed by the International Finance Corporation (IFC) — the bank's private sector arm.

"In Tonga, we're now following on with a joint project with the Asian Development Bank to land a broadband cable to provide faster and cheaper internet access."

Mr Drees-Gross said this would help connect communities and businesses to schools, hospitals and markets.