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COVID Costs MENA Region $200B, World Bank says
Iranian men, just one of them wearing a protective mask, sit in front of a closed shop in the seaport city of Anzali, Iran, 227 miles north of Tehran, Oct. 9, 2021. (Morteza Nikoubazl/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

COVID Costs MENA Region $200B, World Bank says

The international financial institution says the region was ill-prepared to handle the pandemic and must overcome “historic underinvestment” in public health

The coronavirus pandemic will have cost the economies of the Middle East and North Africa $200 billion in gross domestic product loss by the end of 2021, according to a regional economic update, titled “Overconfident: How Economic and Health Fault Lines Left the Middle East and North Africa Ill-Prepared to Face COVID-19,” that the World Bank released last week.

The World Bank defines the MENA region as including Algeria, Bahrain, Djibouti, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Malta, Morocco, Oman, the Palestinian territories, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen.

The report, however, does not mention Malta, and Israel appears in only two of the reports’ many graphs and nowhere in the tables or text, so it is not clear to what extent the report covers these countries.

The report calculates the economic loss by comparing the region’s actual GDP with its predicted GDP if there had been no pandemic.

It says that the MENA region economies shrank by 3.8% in 2020, and are forecast to grow by just 2.8% in 2021.

Measured on the basis of per capita GDP, which is a more accurate way to assess standards of living, the situation is even worse. Per capita GDP in the region declined by an estimated 5.4% in 2020, and it is predicted that the 2021 increase will be only 1.1%.

As a result, in 13 of the 16 countries for which the report makes macroeconomic forecasts, standards of living will be lower next year than they were prior to the pandemic.

The region’s health systems were ill-prepared for the COVID crisis, the bank charges. Among other problems: A bloated public sector and high public debt crowded out investments in public health, leaving the region’s health infrastructure in a precarious position when the virus hit. MENA was one of the only regions in the developing world where government expenditure as a share of GDP increased during the decade prior to the pandemic, rising from 16% to 18% between 2009 and 2019.

The bank warns that, to handle future health crises, countries in the region need to pay more attention to timely public health data and take measures to correct “historic underinvestment” in public health.

“The pandemic’s crippling impact on economic activity in the region is a painful reminder that economic development and public health are inextricably linked. It is also a sad reality check that MENA’s health systems, which were considered relatively developed, cracked at the seams under the crisis,” said Ferid Belhaj, World Bank vice president for the Middle East and North Africa. “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 that may arise due to future pandemics, climate-related disasters and even social conflict.”

Here are the latest COVID-19 numbers for the Middle East and North Africa as of 4:15 pm Greenwich Mean Time (UTC±0) on Thursday.


CountryConfirmed CasesDeathsRecoveredActive Cases
Palestinian Territories416,6764,288398,42413,964
Saudi Arabia547,7978,755536,8172,225
United Arab Emirates738,1522,116731,6324,404


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