The World Bank Group has approved a $500 million (around P25 billion) loan for the Philippine government to strengthen its national disaster response capacity, including its battle against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

The Washington-based multilateral lender said its board of executive directors approved on Thursday the third risk management development policy loan, which is part of “long-standing support to the Philippines’ broader policy efforts to boost its resilience and capability to prepare for and recover from disasters.”

“The World Bank is committed to supporting efforts to strengthen the Philippines’ capacity to prepare for and respond to natural disasters as well as health and economic shocks like COVID-19,” World Bank Acting Country Director for Brunei, Malaysia, Philippines and Thailand Achim Fock was quoted as saying in the statement.

World Bank said the facility will support key reforms such as the implementation of a unified rehabilitation and recovery planning framework; and promotion of integrated hazard and risk analysis in planning.

“[The loan will also support] developing multi-year investment plans for seismic risk reduction and retrofitting of important government buildings [and] implementation of an emergency cash transfer program during shocks,” it said.

The Philippines is vulnerable to natural calamities such as earthquakes and typhoons.

“Natural disasters and pandemics disproportionately hurt poor families and communities. Enhancing risk management and the capacity to address these challenges can help ensure that the Philippines can sustain progress in poverty reduction,” Mr. Fock said.

The country has not been spared from the coronavirus pandemic, which has infected over 1.5 million in 212 countries. Nearly 90,000 have died from COVID-19, a Reuters tally showed.

In the Philippines, the Department of Health on Thursday reported 21 new deaths and 206 additional cases of COVID-19, bring the total death toll to 203 and total cases to 4,076. The DoH said 124 recoveries have been recorded so far.

World Bank has a $14 billion fast-track package to support developing countries’ fight against COVID-19 via a mix of fast-track funding, policy advise and technical assistance.

It said the bank will deploy up to $160 billion over 15 months to protect vulnerable sectors, support businesses and help economies around the world recover from the crisis.

The Finance department has said it is looking to borrow around $5.7 billion (around P280 billion) from multilateral lenders including World Bank, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.

The additional funding will support the government’s $23 billion (P1.16 trillion) economic stimulus package to contain the virus and help affected sectors.

So far, the ADB extended an $8-million grant and pledged another funding package worth at least $1.6 billion for the Philippines.

Finance Secretary Carlos G. Dominguez III earlier said the country’s budget deficit may balloon to 5.3% of gross domestic product (GDP) this year from the previous target of 3.2%. Its debt level is also expected to reach 47% of GDP against the record-low of 41% last year.

Mr. Dominguez also said the economy could post a flat growth (0%) or contract by as much as one percent this year as the coronavirus and the Luzon-wide lockdown brought the economy at nearly a standstill. — Beatrice M. Laforga