IMF warns of 'uneven' Mideast recovery with lopsided vaccine rollout

By: AFP      Published: 05:29 PM, 4 Feb, 2021
IMF warns of 'uneven' Mideast recovery with lopsided vaccine rollout

Economic recovery in the Middle East and North Africa is expected to accelerate this year following a double whammy shock, but growth will be uneven due to unbalanced access to the coronavirus vaccine, the IMF said. 

The region -- which includes all Arab countries and Iran -- suffered one of its worst economic performances last year due to lower oil prices and sweeping lockdowns to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. 

But while the region's economy shrank by 3.8 percent in 2020, the International Monetary Fund expects growth of 3.1 percent this year and 4.2 percent next year amid a rebound in oil prices and the roll out of vaccines. 

"This year we expect a recovery after the year 2020 that was a year like no other where the region faced one of the most severe dual shocks," Jihad Azour, director of the Middle East and Central Asia Department at the IMF, told AFP. 

"Of course, we are in a period of high uncertainty and the race between the virus and the vaccine will define the recovery pace. And this recovery pace will vary between countries depending on access to the vaccine."

Many countries in the region haven't launched vaccination campaigns yet due to worldwide shortages, internal conflicts and weak finances. Wealthy Gulf states were among the first to start turbocharged programs. 

The UAE and Bahrain have administered two of the fastest per capita deliveries in the world. 

"Currently, we are seeing a great divergence between countries. Those who are among the front runners worldwide in terms of vaccination, like UAE and Bahrain, will have a faster recovery than those who are lagging," said Azour. 

"Therefore it's a recovery that is uneven and uncertain." 

After a 4.8 percent contraction in 2020, oil-rich Gulf states are expected to grow by 2.5 percent this year, according to the IMF

Saudi Arabia, the biggest oil exporter and largest Arab economy, is tipped to expand by 2.6 percent this year following negative growth of 3.9 percent in 2020.