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Overview

  • Economy

    Eritrea’s recent growth performance has been marked by significant volatility in part due to its dependence on a predominantly rain-fed agriculture sector, accounting for about one-third of the economy (and which has a significant impact on distribution services which account for around 20% of gross domestic product (GDP), and on a narrow mining sector which also accounts for 20% of the economy. Real GDP growth is estimated to have recovered to around 12% in 2018, while averaging -2.7% during 2015-18 on account of frequent droughts and a decline in mining production.  

    Reported inflation has been negative during 2016-18, following the exchange of currency in circulation in November 2015 that resulted in a monetary contraction. Deflation continued in 2018 as increased trade with Ethiopia resulted in further put downward pressure on prices.

    In recent years, Eritrea has significantly tightened fiscal policy to reverse the chronic deficits it suffered after the increase in regional insecurity in 1998. In 2018, the fiscal surplus widened to around 11% of GDP in 2018. This was largely achieved by a sharp drop in capital spending as well as some revenue measures. However, fiscal pressures, both recurrent and wage-related are likely to mount.

    Short-term growth prospects remain challenging given fiscal constraints and limited opportunities under existing restrictions. The recovery in agriculture is expected to slow. The country remains in a difficult macroeconomic situation with an unsustainable debt burden (including arrears to the World Bank) and vulnerable financial and external sectors.

    However, the economic outlook is potentially favorable in the medium term, reflecting the new mining operations coming on stream, but are also dependent on measures to relax restrictions on the private sector imposed and to reopen access to concessional development finance. 

    Poverty appears to have remained widespread in Eritrea, but the lack of data limits available quantitative evidence. The most recent available survey data from 1996/97 indicate a 70% poverty rate.

    The country has seen consistent improvements in life expectancy (rising from 50 years in 1990 to 65 years in 2015) and expected years of schooling (from 3.8 years in 1995 to 5.4 years in 2010) and strong social outcomes in the face of limited resources.    

    Nevertheless, challenges remain. An unfinished maternal and child health agenda is compounded by a significant rise in Non-Communicable Disease (NCDs). Skilled birth attendance remains low, between 35-60%, maternal mortality ratio high at 485 deaths per 100,000 live births and under-five malnutrition also high with 52% of children underweight.

    Political Background

    Eritrea is small, coastal country strategically located along the Red Sea in the Horn of Africa, bordered by Sudan, Ethiopia and Djibouti. Eritrea is divided into six administrative regions called ‘zobas’, which vary in size, population and socioeconomic conditions. 

    After a long liberation war, Eritrea regained self-rule in 1991 and full independence in 1993. The country enjoyed seven years of stabilization, reconstruction and development, before the onset of a border war with Ethiopia in 1998. The brunt of hostilities ended in 2000 and a UN Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission (EEBC) ruled in favor of Eritrea in 2002, but the border zone remained militarized, UN Security Council sanctions were imposed in 2009 and reinforced in 2011. Eritrea remained in a state of mobilization for almost two decades under transitional political arrangements focused on national security with a suspension of traditional checks and balances. The earlier development model was eschewed in favor of greater self-reliance and a more state-led planned economy.  

    Management of national resources – labor, land, and finance – was geared toward maintaining a state of military readiness, alongside efforts to broaden social equity. The private sector was gradually replaced by an extensive state sector geared to marshal scarce resources and increasing restrictions were imposed. An institutional framework developed to direct labor into an indefinite military and national service. The resulting austerity and extensive controls spurred migration of people and capital.

    In mid-2018, Eritrea experienced a turnaround in its external environment.   Ethiopia accepted the EEBC decision and signed a peace treaty with Eritrea in July 2018. Eritrea began to normalize relations with neighboring countries. In November 2018, UN Security Council lifted its sanctions on Eritrea. This raised expectations of a reorientation of Eritrean political and economic arrangements have been met with caution from the administration, as evidenced by President Isaias’ recent call for a “patient appraisal of the unfolding reality.” 

    Last Updated: Sep 18, 2019

  • The overriding goal of the World Bank Group (WBG) is to support the reduction of extreme poverty and improve the prospects for more shared prosperity in Eritrea. After a hiatus of several years, the Government of Eritrea has recently reopened dialogue with the World Bank on renewed development cooperation.

    In response, the World Bank is preparing a Country Engagement Note which would chart the pathway to broader reengagement with Eritrea, to identifying the most critical constraints and opportunities facing the country and to future areas of cooperation. Given Eritrea’s current lack of access to International Development Association financing on account of outstanding repayment arrears, the WBG program will seek to finance future activities through trust funds, partnerships, and the World Bank’s own budget.

    Last Updated: Sep 18, 2019

  • The Bank’s engagement in Eritrea in recent years was in the Ports Rehabilitation Project for the rehabilitation and upgrading of the Massawa and Assab ports. The project, with a World Bank investment of $30.3 million, closed in December 2011 having achieved all its activities. It enabled the government to substantially increase the productivity of Port Massawa. Bulk cargo handling increased by 71% from a base of 850 tons per ship per day in 1997 to 1,457 tons, which was well above the target of 1,100 tons. Break bulk handled increased from 170 tons per ship per day to 286 tons, a growth of 68% and above the project target of 260 tons. The port handles eight 20-ft equivalent unit (TEU) containers per hour, up from only three, but the target of 12 TEU/hr was not achieved.

    The project financed the extension of the container terminal and berths at Port Massawa, and also acquisition of new port equipment and spare parts. It improved the access of the port by rehabilitating and expanding the Sigalet and Dahlak causeways. Modern environmental management practices were introduced at the port and supported with acquisition of environment management equipment. It also facilitated the emergency repairs on the old jetty, thereby holding these facilities from collapse and securing petroleum products supplies to Eritrea. The only pending contract under the project was the construction of a new jetty and associated supervision works, which was terminated by the government before the closure, citing poor performance by the contractor. 

    Eritrea has achieved universal primary education, but access remains an issue at the pre-primary, middle and secondary school levels, as does quality across all levels of schooling. Eritrea attained the Millennium Development Goal of universal primary with gross enrollment ratio (GER) at 107% in 2015/16.  However, only about one in five children have access to pre-primary education. Middle school GER is 75% and secondary school GER 28%.  

    Eritrea also has a strong tradition in health care where its indicators compare favorably with Sub-Saharan African (SSA) countries. Eritrea was one of only two low-income SSA countries to achieve all health-related MDGs by 2013 and also achieved the "Roll Back Malaria" targets. During 2000-13, the country saw a 67% reduction in under-five mortality, 78% reduction in maternal mortality (ratio), 82 and 69% reduction in HIV prevalence and deaths respectively, 85 and 90% reductions in malaria incidence and deaths; and 62 and 61% reductions in tuberculosis incidence and deaths.  

    A tradition of social mobilization has helped to achieve remarkable progress against Female Genital Mutilation which has been widespread and impressive “last mile” results, e.g. raising DPT3 immunization coverage from 76 to 94% by 2017. 

    Last Updated: Sep 18, 2019

  • The Ports Rehabilitation Project (1997 - 2011) was implemented by the Eritrean government and the Bank in partnership with the European Union and the Italian government. 

    Last Updated: Sep 18, 2019

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LENDING

Eritrea: Commitments by Fiscal Year (in millions of dollars)*

*Amounts include IBRD and IDA commitments


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Additional Resources

Country Office Contacts

Main Office Contact
Africa Avenue (Bole Road)
Addis Ababa
Ethiopia
+(251) 115176000
For general information and inquiries
Gelila Woodeneh
Sr. External Affairs Officer
+(251) 115176000
gwoodeneh@worldbank.org
For project-related issues and complaints
eritreaalert@worldbank.org