US says UN World Food Program has agreed to help in distribution of aid to Gaza via sea route

WASHINGTON: Economies in the Middle East and North Africa face a “shadow of uncertainty” from ongoing tensions in the region, a senior IMF official said.
“We are in a context where the overall outlook is cast into shadows,” Jihad Azour, the International Monetary Fund’s director for the Middle East and Central Asia department, said in an interview in Washington.
“The shadow of uncertainty on the geopolitical side is an important one,” added Azour, a recent candidate for the next Lebanese president.
In the face of the ongoing conflicts in Gaza and Sudan and a recent cut to oil supplies by Gulf countries, the IMF has pared back its growth outlook for the Middle East and North Africa region once again.


Economic activity in Gaza has ‘come to a standstill’ and the IMF estimates that economic output in the West Bank and Gaza contracted by six percent last year.

The IMF expects growth in MENA of 2.7 percent this year — 0.2 percentage points below its January forecast — before picking up again next year, the IMF said in its regional economic outlook report.
The risks to growth in the MENA region remain heightened, the IMF said, pointing to the danger of greater regional spillovers from the ongoing Israel-Gaza war.
“We have concerns about the immediate and lasting impact of conflict,” Azour said.
The IMF report said that economic activity in Gaza has “come to a standstill” and estimates that economic output in the West Bank and Gaza contracted by 6 percent last year.
The IMF said the report excludes economic projections for the West Bank and Gaza for the next five years “on account of the unusually high degree of uncertainty.”
The IMF cannot lend to the West Bank and Gaza because they are not IMF member countries.
However, Azour said it has provided the Palestinian Authority and the central bank with technical assistance during the current conflict.
“When we move into the reconstruction phase, we will be part of the international community support to the region,” he added.
Azour also discussed the situation in Sudan, where thousands have been killed in a civil war that has also devastated the economy, causing it to contract by almost 20 percent last year, according to the IMF.
“The country is barely functioning, institutions have been dismantled,” he said.
“And for an economy, for a country like Sudan, with all this potential, it’s important to stop the bleeding very quickly and move to a phase of reconstruction,” he added.
The recent Houthi attacks have particularly badly hit the Egyptian economy on Red Sea shipping, which caused trade through the Egypt-run Suez Canal to more than halve — depriving the country of a key source of foreign exchange.
Egypt reached an agreement last month to increase an existing IMF loan package from $3 billion to $8 billion after its central bank hiked interest rates and allowed the pound to plunge by nearly 40 percent.
A key pillar of the current IMF program is the privatization of Egypt’s state-owned enterprises, many of which are owned by or linked to the military.
“This is a priority for Egypt,” Azour said. Egypt needs to have a growing private sector and give space for the private sector to create more jobs.”
“We have an opportunity to re-engineer the state’s role, to give the state more responsibility as an enabler and less as a competitor,” he said.


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