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“It was a race against time!” This was how CDIA Program Manager Neil Chadder described the experience of various CDIA teams as they flew out of their assignment areas in March before the COVID-19 border lockdowns.
At that time, a team of experts were deployed in Uzbekistan to carry out a project preparation study (PPS) for an integrated urban development project. The PPS aims to develop investments for Djizzak, Khiva, Yangiyer and Havas to improve their city livability and economy. Once the study is completed, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the Government of Uzbekistan will consider the project for funding.
Since they were demobilized in March, the CDIA experts have been working from their home offices in Uzbekistan, Philippines, Australia, Georgia and the United Kingdom.
“Despite the difficult situation, the team has managed to keep the project going and make steady progress towards the interim phase of project preparation,” says Neil.
The interim phase is expected to culminate in an agreement between all stakeholders on the subprojects that will be included in the package of investment, so that the pre-feasibility study for identified priority subprojects can be developed along with initial engineering designs and relevant analyses.
To prepare for this, the team has been using all available technologies to coordinate the identification of a long list of proposed projects and developing them further into potential investments. They have also continued preparing the technical assessments for water supply, wastewater and solid waste management sectors, along with the formulation of urban regeneration plans.
Simultaneously, they have continued identifying training activities and interventions to improve the cities’ institutional, organizational and human resource capacities. These will allow them to implement the proposed projects successfully.
The team has also been working on social, resettlement and environmental assessments to mitigate any potential negative project impacts on the residents and the environment. National consultants can now carry out the household surveys with the easing of local travel restrictions in some cities.
“The outputs needed for the interim phase ideally require face-to-face meetings and in-field data gathering and site visits,” says Neil. “The COVID-19 travel restrictions have been a major constraint to implementing the PPS as they are making it difficult for us to consult with city personnel and gather data for the project.”
The original plan was for national consultants to travel to these cities once travel restrictions eased; once there, they would undertake critical tasks and consult with officials to finalize the subprojects. The international team members were to continue working remotely until international borders opened and let them back into Uzbekistan to complete the necessary in-country tasks ahead of the interim workshop.
However, with borders still closed, CDIA has decided to fix the date for the interim workshop in late August 2020 and have the team complete all of the tasks for the interim stage – even if they will have to do these tasks remotely.
“It was a hard decision for CDIA, and our work will definitely be more difficult,” says Neil. “But it is crucial for us to sustain project momentum and deliver what we’ve promised to our partners. We’re happy that they are supportive of our plan.”
A blend of in-person and remote work will be the ‘new normal’ for CDIA as the team keeps working on its other ongoing studies.