As world leaders head to New York this week for the United Nations General Assembly, there is still no end to the heart-breaking images of war-torn cities in the Middle East and North Africa, and of a massive exodus of people looking for sanctuary and opportunities to sustain a livelihood.
As the Group of Twenty leaders gather in Turkey this weekend, they will have on their minds heartbreaking images of displaced people fleeing countries gripped by armed conflict and economic distress. The surge of refugees in the last few years has reached levels not seen in decades. And these numbers could increase further in the near future.
The immediate priority must be to help the refugees—who bear the heaviest burden, and too often tragically—with better access to shelter, health care and quality education.
Many of the countries neighboring conflict zones—which have welcomed most of the refugees—have stretched their capacity to absorb people to the limit. To support additional public services for refugees, they will require more financial resources. The international community must play its part. With the IMF’s support, for example, Jordan has been able to adjust its fiscal targets to help meet this need.
Returning from Amman, where we just wrapped up a conference on the future of the Arab countries in transition, I am truly energized by the optimistic spirit that I encountered. Following on the heels of my visit to Morocco, it was an extraordinary couple of days of better understanding the people and the challenges they confront in this fascinating region.
I did not start my visit to Jordan in a conference room, but at the Za’atari refugee camp. It is now home—hopefully a temporary one—to over 100,000 Syrians who fled the bloody conflict in their country. I saw firsthand how these refugees cope under extraordinarily difficult circumstances—and how Jordan, the region, and the international
community are coming together. It is heartening to see how Jordanian hospitality and determined support from UN agencies and many other aid organizations are preventing a bad situation from becoming even worse. But more help is direly needed. We at the IMF are doing our own part, by flexibly supporting Jordan with a $2.1 billion loan. Continue reading “Building the Future: Jobs, Growth, and Fairness in the Arab World” »
By Masood Ahmed
(version in عربي)
The International Monetary Fund released today a new paper entitled “Toward New Horizons—Arab Economic Transformation amid Political Transitions.”
The paper makes the case for the urgency of launching economic policy reforms, beyond short-term macroeconomic management, to support economic stability and stronger, job-creating economic growth in the Arab Countries in Transition—Egypt, Jordan, Libya, Morocco, Tunisia, and Yemen.
These countries face the risk of stagnation if reforms are delayed further.Economic conditions have deteriorated from transition-related disruptions, regional conflict, an unclear political outlook, eroding competitiveness, and a challenging external economic environment.
As economic realities fall behind peoples’ expectations, there is a risk of increased discontent. This could further complicate the political transitions, impairing governments’ mandates and planning horizons and, consequently, their ability to implement the policies necessary to catalyze the much-needed economic improvements.
If there is one fact I think sums up the problems of the Middle East and North Africa, it is that the non-oil exports of the whole region, are $365 billion, about the same as the exports of Belgium, a country of 11 million people, compared with the 400 million people who make up the Arab world. This is a crucial indicator of the nature and size of the structural adjustment problem the Arab countries in transition face.
The IMF’s assistance varies across the region, given that each country faces its own economic challenges, and the instruments to tackle those challenges must be tailored to address those unique circumstances. I am pleased to say that a few days ago, in response to the authorities’ request, the IMF Board approved two loans in support of the economic reform agendas of Arab countries in transition: one for Jordan under a Standby Arrangement in the amount of $2.05 billion, and another for Morocco in the amount of $6.2 billion under our Precautionary and Liquidity Line (PLL). This follows on our earlier concessional loan to Yemen under the Rapid Credit Facility.
The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region suffers significant shortcoming in data, which are particularly problematic at a time economic transition. There are important data gaps, poor data quality and in many cases, internationally agreed standards of statistical methodologies, compilation periodicity and timeliness, and data dissemination practices are not followed.
We know that social exclusion and unemployment, especially among young people, are very painful and that the challenges ahead are formidable. We should not let the hopes and aspirations of the people who took to the street go unfulfilled. We must strive to ensure that the people of the Arab countries in transition have the opportunity for a fairer and more prosperous future.
Young people were innocent bystanders in the global financial crisis, but they may well end up paying the heaviest price for the policy mistakes that have led us to where we are today. Young people will have to pay the taxes to service the debts accumulated in recent years.
It is a period when hard choices must be made, when post-revolutionary euphoria must give some way to practical concerns. It also does not help that this is happening at a time of great turmoil in the global economy. But I remain hopeful. The final destination is clear: the Arab Spring is still poised to unleash the potential of the Arab people.