DUBAI: A group of traditional Emirati musicians perform at the entrance of Expo 2020, in the Gulf Emirate of Dubai, on October 6, 2021. - AFP

DUBAI: The Middle East and North Africa are experiencing a tenuous and uneven economic recovery in 2021 as they get to grips with the coronavirus pandemic, the World Bank said yesterday. The Washington-based institution said the pandemic had seen the region's economies shrink by 3.8 percent in 2020, in part due to public health systems' lack of preparedness to deal with the health crisis. The World Bank projected 2.8 percent growth for region's economy in 2021, with total losses from the pandemic estimated to reach almost $200 billion by the end of this year.

GDP per capita is forecast to grow by only 1.1 percent this year after declining by about 5.0 percent in 2020. The health crisis inflicted heavy job losses and a sharp increase in the number of people living below the poverty line of less than $5.50 a day. "Stressed health systems have combined with global economic factors - such as fluctuations in commodity prices, particularly oil - to produce an uneven economic recovery for the region and a tenuous outlook," the World Bank said in a report.

"Each economy's performance depends heavily on its exposure to commodity-price fluctuations and how well it managed the pandemic." It warned that recovery will also depend on a rapid and equitable rollout of Covid-19 vaccines, especially as new variants emerge. "While the GCC (the six-country Gulf Cooperation Council) is among the best in the world at vaccinating its citizens, the slow pace of the vaccine rollout in many developing MENA countries leaves them vulnerable to surges in COVID cases," the report said.

It added that political uncertainty and fragility in developing oil exporter countries, including Iran, Iraq, Libya and Yemen, pose additional risks to economic growth. "The pandemic's crippling impact on economic activity in the region is a painful reminder that economic development and public health are inextricably linked," said the World Bank's vice president for the Middle East and North Africa, Ferid Belhaj. "Going forward, there must be a stronger focus on building core public health functions and leveraging the power of health data and preventive health systems to accelerate the region's recovery and to prepare for future public health emergencies." - AFP