Extending Exceptional World Bank Support to the MENA Region Amid Dual Economic Shocks
The World Bank responded to dual economic shocks caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent collapse in oil prices with strong lending, technical assistance and global expertise throughout the Middle East and North Africa. These shocks came on the heels of growing unrest and fragility in some countries, which were causing reversals in economic and social gains.
Over the fiscal year, which ended on June 30, new commitments in the MENA region included US$3.4 billion from the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, which supports development in middle-income countries; and US$202.9 million from the International Development Association, the Bank’s fund for the world’s poorest countries. In addition, there were US$103 million in new committed grants for the West Bank and Gaza.
“The severe human and economic damage from the COVID-19 pandemic, combined with historic drops in global oil prices and fragility and conflict in a number of countries, threaten many of the hard-fought development gains in the MENA region in recent years,” said Ferid Belhaj, World Bank Vice President for the Middle East and North Africa. “It is precisely in times like these that the World Bank must play an indispensable role to support not only social and economic development — with a focus on youth and human capital — but also regional and global stability. We remain committed to our mission — to respond swiftly and forcefully to countries’ requests for emergency support and to continuing the medium- and long-term project of realizing MENA’s promise in the years to come.”
Guided by the enlarged MENA regional strategy, the World Bank approved 22 new operations during the previous financial year, including:
In Egypt, US$400 million will support building Egypt’s transformational Universal Health Insurance System as the country’s pathway toward achieving universal health coverage and improving the health outcomes of its citizens.
In Jordan, the World Bank mobilized technical and financial resources to help the country face the multi-faceted impact of the COVID-19 outbreak through new projects, including a US$350 million Emergency Cash Transfer COVID-19 Response Project to provide cash support to poor and vulnerable households affected by the pandemic.
In Morocco, a US$500 million First Financial and Digital Inclusion Development Policy Financing (DPF) project will support transversal reforms and promote digital transformation and greater financial inclusion;
In Tunisia, a reform platform to help respond to the COVID-19 crisis is part of an international support package coordinated with macro-financial assistance from the European Union. The financing package, which includes contributions from several international financial institutions, will amount to US$600-700 million in 2020. The World Bank approved a US$175 million Development Policy Financing operation to support the reform package.
As the COVID-19 pandemic widely spread through MENA, the World Bank quickly surged support to help blunt severe health and economic damage. The immediate response included financing, policy advice, and technical assistance to help countries cope with the urgent health needs of the pandemic and slow the spread of the disease. Financing across the region, from emergency response components and a fast-track package for new projects, was part of the World Bank Group’s Fast Track COVID-19 Facility — a global effort to help strengthen the COVID-19 response in developing countries.
The COVID-19 emergency projects, which focus on the most acute needs to help MENA countries address the pandemic, are only the latest projects in the World Bank’s long focus on health, education, and building human capital throughout the region. As part of the Human Capital Project, which was launched in 2018, the Bank is helping countries identify game-changing areas, make foundational investments, and accelerate progress in building human capital. World Bank research estimates that GDP per worker in MENA could be two times higher if children today achieved complete health and education.
The COVID-19 pandemic was far from the only crisis facing the MENA region. The World Bank provided a US$6 million IDA credit to Djibouti and a US$25 million IDA grant to Yemen to address the threat posed by large desert locust outbreaks and strengthen the countries’ preparedness systems.
The Bank also continued its long focus on delivering a range of analytical products to support evidence-based policies and coordinate approaches to the MENA region’s development challenges. The latest Regional Economic Update examined how transparency about critical economic issues — such as public debt and employment — can drive growth and enhance trust in government in the region.
During the financial year, four MENA countries were among the top 10 improvers in the World Bank’s Doing Business report: Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Bahrain, and Kuwait. These countries account for almost half of the region’s reforms. The United Arab Emirates remained the strongest performer overall in the region, placing 16th (out of 190) on the ease of doing business rankings. The Bank is focused on helping countries enact reforms that focus on transparency, fair competition, and good governance to make MENA open for business and attract investments needed to create jobs for youth and women.
The World Bank currently has a portfolio totaling approximately US$20 billion in the MENA region. The portfolio covers a diverse range of sectors such as agriculture, energy, education, the environment, health, social protection, trade and transportation.