World Bank approves $150m grant to scale up support for refugees and host communities

The World Bank said today it had approved a $150 million grant for Uganda to support an ongoing project that improves access to basic social services, expands economic opportunities, and mitigates environmental impacts of prolonged refugee presence in host communities.

The bank said the grant builds on an initial $50 million provided for a project covering 11 districts that host the largest number of refugees and as a result bear “a disproportionate amount of strain on existing community social services and infrastructure.”

The Development Response to Displacement Impacts Project was approved in May 2016 and became effective in June 2017. It is implemented by the Office of the Prime Minister, and is expected to close in June 2021.

The project “supports investments in basic social service infrastructure, integrated natural resources management and income generating activities including alternative livelihoods like value-addition to agriculture products, and fish farming,” a press release by the bank said.

It also “seeks to strengthen transparency and accountability while addressing social risk management and gender-based violence.”

Largest refugee host country

Uganda has the largest refugee population in Africa and the third largest worldwide, according to the United Nations. There are over million refugees living in Uganda, most of them from South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Burundi and Somalia.

Uganda’s prime minister, Ruhakana Rugunda, said the government “welcomes this support from the World Bank to boost our efforts in responding to the needs of refugees and the generous communities that host them.”

The increase in funding follows a “significant increase in refugee numbers being hosted in Uganda since the design of the parent project,” according to the bank’s project paper on the grant. It adds that “while the parent project was restructured in March 2018 to respond to this increase and to expand the project to additional refugee-hosting districts, there was no commensurate budgetary increase.

“Given the immense needs in both number and geographic coverage of the refugee influx, the parent project is expected to disburse resources rapidly—it has already disbursed 67% of the credit as of February 15, 2019 and will be completely disbursed by December 30, 2019.”

Refocus on refugees and host communities

Although the additional funding will support activities drawn up for the initial project, it’s main aim is to “scale-up existing components and activities of the parent project to also include refugees as direct project beneficiaries, rather than secondary beneficiaries, along with the host communities.”

The project’s initial focus was mainly on “mobilization and capacity building” for host communities and local governments, with “an implementation process that is responsive to community priorities.”

Of the $150 million, $74.5m is earmarked for social and economic services and infrastructure, $30m for sustainable environmental management — specifically, “demand-driven soil and water conservation and management practices and interventions to rehabilitate degraded lands and support alternate energy sources.”

The next $30m will fund a livelihoods support program, while $15.5 million is earmarked for a “strengthened transparency and accountability mechanism” managed by the Inspectorate of Government, and policy support for a more unified approach by the government, its agencies, and other stakeholders to the medium-term effects of the rise in refugee numbers.

Graft fears

The focus on “transparency and accountability” is understandable. A United Nations inquiry found last year that officials in the prime minister’s office were colluding with those from the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, to inflate refugee numbers and steal funds allocated to them. The cabal inflated refugee figures by over 300,000.

The project is part of a regional project, and is also being implemented in Ethiopia, Kenya and Djibouti, the bank said.

“This grant shows the international community – and the World Bank – greatly appreciates Uganda’s generosity towards refugees,” Tony Thompson, the World Bank’s country manager in Uganda said. “We look forward to working very closely with other development and humanitarian partners to support the Government and the people of Uganda to support these efforts.”