WASHINGTON, July 26, 2021 —The World Bank’s global response to the COVID-19 pandemic has been designed to help save lives and livelihoods for the poorest and most vulnerable while safeguarding the prospects for sustainable growth in developing countries. In the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, the Bank’s support is helping countries respond to immediate needs arising from the pandemic including securing vaccines while simultaneously strengthening health, education, and social protection systems. In parallel, World Bank financial support and technical assistance are helping bolster the resilience to economic and environmental shocks facing MENA countries.
In the fiscal year ending June 30, 2021, new commitments in MENA totaled US$3.98 billion from the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, which supports middle-income countries; US$658 million from the International Development Association, the Bank’s fund for the world’s poorest countries; and US$114 million for the Palestinian Authority.
“The pandemic has put the region’s already strained resilience to the test and has taken a devastating toll on people across MENA. It has also heightened the urgency for decisionmakers to undertake further reforms to address long-standing development challenges in their countries,” said Ferid Belhaj, World Bank Vice President for the Middle East and North Africa. “The World Bank’s response is helping countries and their people cope with the ongoing health, social, and economic impacts of the crisis, but much more needs to be done. We remain committed to working with countries in the region as they continue to combat the pandemic and address their immediate priorities in climate mitigation and water resources management to forge a green, resilient, and inclusive development path.”
This year, the World Bank approved 35 new operations in the MENA region, including those focused on the COVID-19 response – across health, business and social safety net systems – as well as those focused on climate-smart investments for a resilient recovery. Operations included US$200 million in Egypt for initiatives to reduce air pollution in Greater Cairo; a US$500 million operation in Jordan to spur climate-smart public and private investment and help accelerate recovery, create more jobs, and strengthen green growth opportunities; and a US$250 million operation in Morocco to support the economic inclusion of youth in rural areas and improve the marketing efficiency and environmental sustainability of agri-food value chains. In Tunisia, the Bank provided US$300 million for cash transfers for approximately one million vulnerable households and over 100,000 children. In Yemen, a further US$203.9 million in grants strengthened emergency social protection, by targeting food-insecure households through a cash transfer program.
In addition to health systems strengthening, the Bank also responded to requests for support for COVID-19 vaccines. Financing for vaccines included a reallocation of US$34 million for citizens and refugees in Lebanon—the first World Bank-financed operation for the procurement and distribution of the vaccine anywhere. The Bank also approved support for COVID-19 vaccination programs in Tunisia (US$100 million), and additional financing, including co-financing, for Jordan (US$63.5 million) and Yemen (US$20 million).
The impact of the pandemic on the region has been exacerbated by other crises, such as volatile oil prices and growing unrest and fragility in some countries. The World Bank worked with the United Nations and the European Union on damage and needs assessments immediately after the Port of Beirut explosion in August 2020 and the violence in Gaza in May 2021. A multi-donor trust fund was also set up in Lebanon to kickstart the immediate recovery of vulnerable populations and businesses and support the government’s efforts to catalyze reforms and prepare for medium-term recovery and reconstruction.