The World Bank’s “pandemic bonds” will pay out $132.5m to some of the poorest nations affected by coronavirus, the Washington-based institution has confirmed, although critics question whether the payout is too late to be effective.
After long-running concerns about whether triggers for the bonds were too stringent to provide timely funds to countries in need, it was determined on Friday that the final criterion required to activate payment of the bonds — an exponential growth rate in coronavirus infections in countries poor enough to be eligible for funds — had been met.
“This is very late, and it is not the prompt predictable ‘surge’ payment that was promised to the World Bank’s board when the scheme was approved,” said Olga Jonas, a senior fellow at Harvard’s Global Health Institute, who worked at the World Bank for 33 years.
The bank issued two classes of bonds three years ago in a $320m deal designed to help developing nations facing a serious outbreak of infectious disease. The bonds deliver interest payments to investors, funded by donor nations Japan, Australia and Germany, until certain criteria are reached.
At that point, investors are not repaid in full and some of the funds are used instead to help tackle the crisis. Investors had been bracing themselves for steep losses, given that some criteria for the bonds to pay out had been met, including a minimum of 2,500 deaths, with more than 20 outside the country of origin.
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The final criterion was triggered when Air Worldwide, the World Bank’s external modelling agent, determined that the growth rate of the virus was above zero in countries poor enough to be eligible for funding. Commentators said the rapid spread of the virus in India is likely to have tipped the scales. The World Bank declined to comment on the timing of the bonds’ payout to poorer nations, but it has previously defended the structure of the bonds, noting they are just one tool at its disposal for protecting poor nations from pandemics. It has so far pledged $14bn in funding to help countries improve responses to the outbreak.
Proceeds from the pandemic bonds will go to countries that have suffered coronavirus casualties and are eligible for funding from the World Bank’s International Development Association. The committee designated to oversee the funds will meet in the coming days to determine which countries will receive funding, precisely when, and in what amount.
Investors in the $95m Tranche B, which was designed to cover coronaviruses and Ebola, will lose all of their money. Investors in the $225m Tranche A, which was designed mainly for flu outbreaks but also covers coronaviruses, will lose 16.7 per cent of their initial investment.
Investors holding the bonds — among them Baillie Gifford, Amundi and Stone Ridge Asset Management — have already received interest payments, which totalled almost $100m by the end of February.
“The design of them by the private sector is flawed, by default and design, benefiting the private sector rather than protecting people who are suffering a pandemic,” said Clare Wenham, assistant professor in global health policy at the London School of Economics. “The amount they pay out . . . is pocket change in comparison to what the WB has already paid out. $130m is nothing now we’re looking at a systemic crisis.”