World Bank to loan Colombia $500 mln to support infrastructure needs

BOGOTA, Sept 30 (Reuters) - The World Bank has approved a loan of $500 million to Colombia to support the Andean country’s basic infrastructure needs and protect vulnerable groups during the coronavirus pandemic, it said on Wednesday.

The pandemic has placed essential service providers such as electricity, water and sewage companies under significant pressure, the bank said in a statement, adding the loan will support Colombia’s government to manage the impact of the pandemic on vulnerable sections of society.

“The infrastructure sector is an essential element within a comprehensive strategy to rebuild the economy, mitigate the social impact and promote the country’s recovery,” Ulrich Zachau, the bank’s director for Colombia and Venezuela, said in the statement.

The loan will also go towards developing resilient and sustainable infrastructure to support Colombia’s economic recovery and to promote the use of renewable energy sources and reducing carbon emissions.

“With this operation we hope to have a positive impact on job creation, competitiveness and growth with a strong focus on mitigating and adapting to climate change,” Zachau said.

During the first six months of the year, the World Bank lent Colombia $1.25 billion and provided the country with $250 million in contingency financing to help its coronavirus response.

President Ivan Duque declared a national lockdown to control the spread of coronavirus in late March, which lifted at the end of August. The measures battered the country’s economy, causing urban joblessness to soar and shuttering thousands of businesses.

Colombia has reported just under 830,000 cases of coronavirus and almost 26,000 deaths.

“The World Bank is accompanying the most relevant efforts we have launched to respond adequately and efficiently to the demands placed on our infrastructure by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Colombia’s Minister of Finance Alberto Carrasquilla said.

“Additionally (the loan) will contribute important resources to finance the country’s budget,” he added. (Reporting by Oliver Griffin; Editing by Stephen Coates)