Demand for financing and global knowledge remains strong in Middle East and North Africa, World Bank
The World Bank responded to strong demand from the Middle East and North Africa Region (MENA) during the financial year that ended on June 30th, 2019, with US$5.47 billion in new commitments to invest in people, expand the private sector, and set a course for digital transformation, in addition to helping MENA countries and the region continue on the path of stability and inclusive growth.
Along with the financial commitments, the Bank delivered a wide range of analytical products in support of development goals of MENA countries.
Second only to the previous financial year’s record commitment of US$6.3 billion, the new commitments included US$4.87 billion from the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, which supports development in middle-income countries, and US$596 million from the International Development Association, the Bank’s fund for the world’s poorest countries.
In addition, there were US$67 million in new committed grants for the West Bank and Gaza during the past financial year. The World Bank’s knowledge services included support for the region’s high-income countries through its Reimbursable Advisory Services.
The program, which reached US$56 million during the past financial year, supported efforts to diversify economies and promote private sector development, along with supporting the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in anticipation of their upcoming G20 chairmanship.
“While the region has stabilized following the dual economic and social shocks caused by collapsing global commodity prices and a wave of social unrest, many countries have yet to enact the deep structural reforms necessary to achieve economic transformation that yields sustainable, inclusive growth,” said Ferid Belhaj, World Bank Vice President for the Middle East and North Africa. “These reforms are ever more urgent if the region is to seize the opportunity that its rapidly growing, highly educated and tech savvy young population represents. We have been working with governments to unlock this immense potential, channeling our support towards efforts to transform the region’s economies and embrace digital technology as a path to growth and opportunities.”
In March of this year, the World Bank Group launched an enlarged strategy for the MENA region. It provides a new and positive vision for the future of MENA with a focus on investments in human capital, leveraging the benefits of digital technology, and mobilizing private financing for development while remaining committed to addressing the root causes of instability and responding to immediate needs.
All eyes will be on the region as Saudi Arabia takes over the presidency of the G20, Egypt chairs the African Union, and Morocco hosts the Annual Meetings in Marrakech in 2021.
Over the past financial year, the Bank worked with countries in the region to seize this momentum, turn these new priorities into reality, and project the region on to the global development stage, with a set of concrete goals to be achieved by 2021, in time for the Annual Meetings.
These efforts included a number of major financing programs. In Jordan, a US$1.45 billion financing package was launched to support the country’s plans to improve its business and investment environment and improve fiscal sustainability.
In Egypt, a US$1 billion program was launched to help sustain the momentum of Egypt’s reform program and capitalize on improvements to macroeconomic stability.
The program helped launch the next generation of reforms focused on creating opportunities for Egyptians and raising living standards by promoting the private sector and improving government performance.
In Morocco, a US$700 million program was launched in support of the government’s efforts to leverage digital technologies to transform the country’s economy into a more inclusive and innovative driver of growth.
The World Bank also provided support to countries directly and indirectly dealing with the spillovers of conflict in the region. In Yemen, the Bank launched a new country engagement strategy and committed US$540 million during the financial year to maintain the provision of services and support economic opportunities, bringing the Bank’s active portfolio to over US$1.7 billion.
The World Bank also continued its support to Syrian refugees and the communities hosting them in Jordan and Lebanon through projects with the Global Concessional Financing Facility, a multi-donor vehicle which has leveraged over US$2.5 billion in MDB financing to date.
World Bank knowledge continues to make important contributions to policy dialogues, with the “Mobility of Displaced Syrians: An Economic and Social Analysis” report shedding new light on Syrian refugees.
The Bank also delivered a range of analytical products to support evidence-based policies and hosted regional knowledge-sharing events to promote coordinated approaches to the region’s development challenges.
A flagship report on transforming the region’s education systems provides a roadmap to unlock their potential for education to contribute to growth and meet the aspirations of young people.
The Bank also convened the first ever digital conference in the Mashreq, at which both Jordan and Lebanon committed to universal access to high-speed internet by 2021. The MENA Gender Innovation Lab was launched to promote innovative policies to address the low participation rate of women in the region’s labor markets, which is essential for MENA to achieve higher, more sustainable and inclusive growth.
“In line with the goals of the World Bank Group’s historic capital increase announced last year, our programs have focused on scaling up support to meet the aspirations of people in MENA by focusing on the opportunities that digitization, entrepreneurship and innovation and greater regional coordination can bring,” said Anna Bjerde, World Bank Director of Strategy and Operations for the Middle East and North Africa. “We have also been pushing the boundaries with our IDA resources, in support of operations in Yemen to preserve the country’s social fabric in the face of conflict, and to support Djibouti’s efforts to transform its economy while also taking on the added economic burden of hosting Yemeni refugees.”
The World Bank currently has a portfolio totaling approximately US$19 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.