Global growth to slow through 2023 due to continued COVID-19 flare-ups – New Global Economic Prospects report

After rebounding to an estimated 5.5 percent in 2021, global growth is expected to decelerate markedly to 4.1 percent in 2022, reflecting continued COVID-19 flare-ups, diminished fiscal support, and lingering supply bottlenecks, according to a New Global Economic Prospects report.

The COVID-19 upsurge comes as the vaccine supply crunch persists.. Photo credit: United Nations

In contrast to that in advanced economies, output in emerging market and developing economies (EMDEs) will remain substantially below the pre-pandemic trend over the forecast horizon.

The global outlook is clouded by various downside risks, including renewed COVID-19 outbreaks due to Omicron or new virus variants, the possibility of de-anchored inflation expectations, and financial stress in a context of record-high debt levels.

The report states that if some countries eventually require debt restructuring, this will be more difficult to achieve than in the past.

Climate change may increase commodity price volatility, creating challenges for the almost two-thirds of EMDEs that rely heavily on commodity exports and highlighting the need for asset diversification. Social tensions may heighten as a result of the increase in between-country and within-country inequality caused by the pandemic. Given limited policy space in EMDEs to support activity if needed, these downside risks increase the possibility of a hard landing.

These challenges underscore the importance of strengthened global cooperation to foster rapid and equitable vaccine distribution, proactive measures to enhance debt sustainability in the poorest countries, redoubled efforts to tackle climate change and within-country inequality, and an emphasis on growth-enhancing policy interventions to promote green, resilient, and inclusive development and on reforms that broaden economic activity to decouple from global commodity markets.

Climate change may increase commodity price volatility

The near-term outlook for global growth is somewhat weaker, and for global inflation notably higher, than previously envisioned, owing to pandemic resurgence, higher food and energy prices, and more pernicious supply disruptions. Global growth is projected to soften further to 3.2 percent in 2023, as pent-up demand wanes and supportive macroeconomic policies continue to be unwound.

However, the report further noted that although output and investment in advanced economies are projected to return to pre-pandemic trends next year, in emerging market and developing economies (EMDEs)— particularly in small states and fragile and conflict -afflicted countries—they will remain markedly below, owing to lower vaccination rates, tighter fiscal and monetary policies, and more persistent scarring from the pandemic.

The masked burden of COVID-19

The impact of the pandemic in Sierra Leone runs much deeper than what its morbidity suggests

If we consider just the numbers of COVID-19 infections and deaths, Sierra Leone has fared well. So far, the country has recorded just over 6,200 cases and about 120 deaths. It has been suggested that the relatively young population, the recent experience with Ebola, and a swift response to the pandemic, including the declaration in March last year of a 12-month state of emergency, may have helped slow the spread of the virus. One concern with such figures is that COVID-19 in Africa is “underdiagnosed and underreported”, and that mortality may be “hidden” due to limited testing and death recording capacities. A corollary of this is the impact of pandemic measures on livelihoods, food security, health, and disaster preparedness—which, too, remains concealed from public scrutiny. There is, hence, a need for a more holistic look at the situation, to consider how COVID-19, like other health emergencies before, has exacerbated existing vulnerabilities in Sierra Leone.

It is is well established that disasters are rarely the result of a single event. They are instead produced by an accumulation of hazards, risks, and vulnerabilities in a population. Sierra Leone is extremely prone to natural disasters, including floods and landslides in the rainy season and droughts and wildfires in the dry season. These disasters are usually complicated by chronic issues like uncontrolled urbanisation, poverty, poor sanitation, a fragile health system, and other infrastructural weaknesses. In this already precarious scenario, the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the risks for communities. Therefore, it is necessary for Sierra Leone’s COVID-response strategy to be part of a wider disaster-risk framework that takes into account existing needs and vulnerabilities, rather than drawing away attention from them.

COVID-19 has significantly disrupted people’s livelihoods and increased the risks associated with poverty. According to the World Bank, Sierra Leone’s economy contracted by 2.2 per cent in 2020, and 81 per cent of micro, small, and medium enterprises experienced a decrease in their profits due to the pandemic. This is partly a result of restrictions that the government has imposed to curb the spread of infection, including short-term lockdowns, curfews, and limits on the opening hours of restaurants and bars. With only limited state support, these restrictions have led to job losses and a reduction in the incomes of many people. The International Growth Centre estimates that 57 per cent of households in Sierra Leone have experienced a decline in income due to COVID-19.

The restrictions on movement and the temporary closure of markets have, in particular, affected rural communities and farming households. Small-scale farmers are not able to sell their products at normal levels, while day labourers and workers in the agricultural supply chain struggle to find employment. The resulting losses in income are naturally compounding food insecurity, which is already a serious issue. According to a 2020 World Food Programme report, more than 5 million Sierra Leoneans lack adequate nutrition.

Restrictions and lockdowns in other parts of the world have also impacted many Sierra Leonean families that rely on remittances sent from abroad. While exact figures are not available, Sierra Leone’s migrant workers often work in sectors most affected by the pandemic, such as construction and hospitality, and this has affected their ability to send money home.

This is just one example of how the local impacts of a disaster are shaped by global and structural drivers. COVID-19 is an international health emergency, but rather than acknowledging how different countries are interconnected in the risks and vulnerabilities they face, many governments are turning inwards and adopting more protectionist measures in their response to the virus. This is illustrated by the hoarding of vaccines by higher-income countries, as well as the cuts that some have made to their foreign aid spending.

The UK, for instance, has reduced its overseas aid budget in 2021 to 0.5 per cent of national income, down from 0.7 per cent. This translates to an estimated decrease in overall aid spending of £3.5 billion. The UK’s bilateral aid to Sierra Leone was £80 million in 2019–20, but this will be reduced significantly in 2021, according to the Center for Global Development. Inevitably, this will lead to significant cuts to programmes that provide essential services, such as water, sanitation, and access to healthcare to marginalised communities. With roughly half of public infrastructure and investment projects in Sierra Leone funded by foreign aid grants, such cuts have already led to the closure of some projects.

Together, these challenges show how COVID-19 is exacerbating economic insecurity in Sierra Leone. Given that approximately 60 per cent of people live below the national poverty line, recovery from such setbacks will not be easy. The socioeconomic impacts of COVID-19, as recent research shows, will aggravate other serious problems, including food insecurity.

Health needs
While the recent experience of Ebola provided a framework for countries in West Africa to respond to the emerging risk of COVID-19, the pandemic has diverted attention from other health vulnerabilities.

The most significant challenge for communities is access to healthcare, especially outside of major cities. While in 2010 the government of Sierra Leone introduced free healthcare for some groups, including children under 5, costs remain prohibitive for many families. There is a lack of trained clinicians, diagnostic services, basic medical equipment, and drugs in Sierra Leone, all of which contribute to adverse health outcomes. According to a 2019 report published in the African Journal of Primary Healthcare & Family Medicine, there are just 1.4 doctors, nurses and midwives per 10,000 population in Sierra Leone, equating to a qualified workforce of under 1,000 to serve a population of 7.8 million.

There are also apprehensions from some medical professionals that the focus on COVID-19 might hinder measures to fight endemic diseases like malaria, one of the leading causes of death in Sierra Leone. It is worth noting that in 2014 twice as many people died of malaria than in the Ebola outbreak. Improving maternal and birth outcomes must also remain a high priority in Sierra Leone. According to UNICEF, maternal mortality rates, as well as those for newborns and children under five in Sierra Leone are amongst the highest in the world.In addition to these chronic problems, the pandemic has resulted in fewer people seeking medical help across Africa, which may also lead to poorer health outcomes overall.

Disaster risk framework
While COVID-19 is a serious public health threat, it is important to acknowledge that some responses to the pandemic have heightened existing vulnerabilities in many communities. This is not unique to Sierra Leone — a recent report by Oxfam outlined the inordinate impact that COVID-19 has had on marginalised communities across the world.

Countries with underlying social and structural inequalities have limited capacity to respond to complex health emergencies such as COVID-19. It is also crucial to recognise that crises that consume a disproportionate share of resources and attention, like the ongoing pandemic, can aggravate existing insecurities, set back development gains, and make communities more susceptible to other types of disasters. Public health emergencies may increase poverty and inequality, divert investment from other social programmes (including education and health), and increase the risk of food insecurity.

It is therefore clear that public health emergencies are complex disaster-risk drivers, and should be integral to disaster-risk frameworks and planning for lower-income countries. This means not planning just for the direct effects of public health emergencies — which are more clearly identified in the existing frameworks for disaster risk reduction — but to also mitigate the risk of policy responses having unintended adverse impacts.

The Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction aims to “prevent new and reduce existing disaster risk through the implementation of integrated and inclusive economic, structural, legal, social, health, cultural, educational, environmental, technological, political and institutional measures that prevent and reduce hazard exposure and vulnerability to disaster, increase preparedness for response and recovery, and thus strengthen resilience”. This framework recognises that while a country’s leadership must be at the helm of such efforts, local governments, NGOs, and the private sector must also share responsibility.

How could Sierra Leone move towards adopting this approach? It is heartening to note that the nation has already begun to move in this direction in recent years. Following the 2014–16 Ebola outbreak, Sierra Leone took significant steps to enhance future epidemic preparedness, including participating in the West African Regional Disease Surveillance Systems Enhancement (REDISSE) programme, which coordinates access to resources, such as laboratory facilitates, personal protective equipment, medication, and vaccines. In 2019, Sierra Leone launched the National Action Plan for Health Security which seeks to improve healthcare access and also build resilience for future disease outbreaks and public health hazards. And crucially, in November 2020, the National Disaster Management Agency came into being, with the objective of being the nodal organisation for strategic coordination and management of “disasters and similar emergencies throughout Sierra Leone and to develop the capacity of communities to respond effectively to disasters and emergencies”. 

While these initiatives are certainly in the right direction, it is possible that there is still a tendency among disaster managers in Sierra Leone to look at disaster events in isolation—through the lens of immediate relief, often at the expense of recovery and resilience—rather than as part of a complex system (see related feature: The unintended consequence). This can be counterproductive. There is, hence, a pressing need for agencies such as Sierra Leone’s National COVID Emergency Response Centre (NACOVERC) and the NDMA to consider the indirect impacts of COVID-19. Mitigating such foundational issues are critical for building resilience in a disaster community. This will require the national agencies to enhance their coordination with external stakeholders—such as the World Bank Group’s COVID-19 response and other aid agencies—to include assessments for the less-visible vulnerabilities in communities, and fashion focussed interventions to reduce their impacts.


Jamie Matthews, PhD, specialises in disaster communication. He is the co-editor of Media and Disaster Communities (Palgrave).

NOTE: This article was first published on 6 August 2021 on, which works to strengthen disaster communication in Sierra Leone.

Cover graphic: Felix Rhodes

World Bank Support for Country Access to COVID-19 Vaccines

KATHMANDU, 3, NEPAL – 2021/01/27: A health worker holds up a vial of Covid-19 coronavirus vaccine to administer to frontlines health workers at the Armed Police Force Hospital. Nepal government is launching the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccination campaign against coronavirus (Covid19) starting today. Nepalese Health and sanitation workers deployed in the frontlines will be the first to receive the vaccines in the first phase of the campaign. Over 400,000 such frontline workers will be included in the initial stage. (Photo by Prabin Ranabhat/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

With expectations to reach 50 countries amounting to $4 billion by mid-year, the World Bank Group is working with partners on the largest vaccination effort in history to stop the COVID-19 pandemic.

On April 2, 2020, at the initial COVID-19 response phase, the World Bank’s Board of Executive Directors approved a $6 billion Global COVID-19 Response Program (also called the COVID-19 Strategic Preparedness and Response Program, or SPRP).

The program has reached over 100 countries with emergency operations to prevent, detect, and respond to COVID-19 and strengthen systems for public health preparedness.

The timing of potential vaccine development was not known when the SPRP was approved, but global vaccine development efforts progressed rapidly. Recognizing the need for COVID-19 vaccines, on October 13, 2020, the World Bank Board approved an additional financing of $12 billion to the SPRP for developing countries to finance the acquisition and distribution of COVID-19vaccines, aiming to support vaccination of 1 billion people globally 

Lebanon: Fair and transparent distribution of COVID19 vaccine key to real success

The first batch of COVID-19 vaccines for Lebanon arrived in the country on February 13, 2021 as part of the World Bank-financed Lebanon Health Resilience Project (LHRP).  

This is also the first World Bank support for COVID-19 vaccination in the world. Lebanon officially launched the national vaccination campaign at Rafik Hariri University Hospital in Beirut on February 14. The first to receive the vaccine was Dr. Mahmoud Hassoun, the head of the hospital’s Intensive Care Unit. The second in line was beloved Lebanese actor, 93-year-old Salah Tizani. Together, they represent the priority groups which the campaign targets in the early phases of vaccination: frontline health workers, the elderly, and those with co-morbidities.    

“I’m telling everyone to come and get vaccinated and not be scared. Better to get vaccinated than to be knocked down by this deadly virus,” Tizani told the AFP. Despite the implementation challenges ahead, COVID-19 vaccination in Lebanon will save lives and support economic recovery in a country that urgently needs it.

Lebanon has been suffering from three mega-crises: an economic crisis since October 2019, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the aftermath of the Port of Beirut explosion.  The explosion damaged 292 health facilities and significantly reduced access to care, especially for the vulnerable. The COVID-19 pandemic has further exacerbated the strains on the health sector.

In March 2020, at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the World Bank (WB) approved the reallocation of US$40 million for COVID-19 response under LHRP, a US$120 million project approved in 2017 to support the Government  with increasing access to quality healthcare services to poor Lebanese and displaced Syrians. The reallocation represented the first World Bank financing to help a country fight COVID-19. The reallocation helped procure medical equipment and supplies to increase Lebanon’s capacity in responding to the pandemic and cover hospital fees for COVID-19 patients. To date, the project has provided medical equipment and supplies to 45 public and private hospitals and paid the hospital bills for 768 patients.

But an unprecedented surge in COVID-19, coupled with a high level of infections among health workers in Lebanon has been overstretching the health sector’s capacity. Along with other public health measures, a quick rollout of COVID-19 vaccination is crucial to protect the health system, reduce the spread of infection and put the country on its path to reopening the economy with confidence. 

Once again, the World Bank’s Board of Directors approved on January 20th, in a special session, a second reallocation of LHRP funds for COVID-19 vaccination, bringing the total value of the COVID-19 component to US$58 million, of which US$34 million is dedicated to COVID-19 vaccination. Less than 48 hours later, the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) was able to transfer the payment for the purchase of what would be the first COVID-19 vaccines Lebanon would receive. 

Remittance flows to shrink 14% by 2021 due to COVID-19

Based on the trajectory of economic activities in many large, migrant‐hosting countries, especially the United States, European countries, and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, remittance flows to Low- and Middle-Income Countries are expected to register a decline of 7.2 percent to $508 billion in 2020, followed by a further decline of 7.5 percent to $470 billion in 2021.

The projected decline in remittances will be the steepest in recent history, certainly steeper than the decline (less than 5 percent) recorded during the global recession of 2009.

This outlook for remittances indicates a more gradual but more prolonged decline (continuing into 2021) than our April outlook (see World Bank 2020c), which forecast a sharper decline in 2020 followed by a modest recovery in 2021.

Despite the projected decline, the importance of remittances as a source of external financing for the LMICs is expected to increase further in 2020.

 Remittances flows to LMICs touched a record high of $548 billion in 2019, larger than foreign direct investment (FDI) flows ($534 billion) and overseas development assistance (ODA, around $166 billion) (figure 1.6).

 The gap between remittance flows and FDI is expected to widen further as the decline in FDI is expected to be sharper (box 1.2).

According to these projections, in 2020, in current US dollar terms, the top remittance recipient countries are expected to be India, China, Mexico, the Philippines, and Egypt, unchanged from 2019). As a share of GDP for 2020, the top five recipients would be smaller economies, including Tonga, Haiti, Lebanon, South Sudan, and Tajikistan. 

According to the World Bank, the foremost factor driving the decline in remittances in 2020 and 2021 is weak economic growth and employment situation in large migrant‐hosting countries such as the United States and Europe.

A second factor affecting remittance flows is weak oil price. The economies of GCC countries and Russia—major sources of remittances to South Asia, South‐East Asia and Central Asia—are highly dependent on oil price.

Outward remittances from Russia seem to have a direct correlation with cyclical movements in oil price. In the case of Saudi Arabia, the correlation is less visible at a quarterly frequency, but the long‐term effects are present; a continued weakness in oil price has affected economic activities and hence employment of foreign workers, and outward remittances have been falling since 2015.

The World Bank notes that a more structural factor in the case of Saudi Arabia and other GCC countries is a shift in their employment policies that favor employment of native‐born workers. In the medium term, outward remittance flows from the GCC countries are unlikely to increase significantly.

Sierra Leone’s President Julius Maada Bio Launches Education Project, Signs US$ 66 Million Education Multi Donor Trust Fund

Ministry of Basic and Senior Secondary Education has launched the Sierra Leone Education Project and signed a US$ 66 Million 5- year Multi Donor Trust Fund to boost the Free education Programme.

Representatives from international agencies, governments and national stakeholders at the launching programme

The Vice President, Dr Mohamed Juldeh Jalloh, said that the launch of the education project by the World Bank, Irish Aid, Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the European Union, EU, showed the importance of partnership in supporting the vision of president Bio.

“Today every Sierra Leonean kid wants to be in school. That explains clearly the Free Education Programme has created a tremendous impact. This has, no doubt, given reasons to His Excellency’s vision to prioritise human capital development as the bedrock of the New Direction Government,” he noted.

The World Bank Country Manager, Gayle Martin, said they were happy to celebrate the first day of the start of the new school term with the launching of the Sierra Leone Education Project, as well as signing the Education Multi Donor Trust Fund with development partners.

She noted that with Government’s flagship Free Quality Education Programme, the project would be a five-year support to primary and secondary education nationwide, adding that in particular the aim was to improve the management of the education system, teaching practice and learning conditions.

“Education is the single-most important determinant of economic mobility and the importance of investing in education cannot be overemphasized. The World Bank congratulates the efforts of the government of Sierra Leone, the leadership of President Bio in placing education and human capital development, more generally, at the centre of the national development agenda, as articulated in the National Development Plan, and also as reflected in budget allocations since 2018, under challenging macro-fiscal conditions,” she noted.

Minister of Basic and Senior Secondary Education, Dr Moinina David Sengeh, said that the event showed a celebration of the education sector as they witnessed the formal kick-off of the Free Education Project. He recalled that when he took up office the first challenge was to restructure the ministry so that it could absorb resources, engage partners and deliver education services to all children; digitalize the ministry through technology that would help do work better; help school leaders lead better, help teacher teach better and also help pupils to learn better.

”I am pleased to report to your Excellency that not only do you have a ministry fit for purpose, we even have an entirely new directorate called Partnership and Resource Mobilization. We cannot deliver effective services without the right global and local partnerships and efficient resource mobilization approaches. Today is a bold step marker under our belief as a ministry as we reaffirm our partnerships with the World Bank, Irish Aid, the EU, and the Foreign and Commonwealth and Development Office,” he explained.

Dr Sengeh further stated that regardless of the many challenges the world had faced, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the ministry recorded many gains, adding that they would continue to work and consult with partners, children, civil society and the private sector.

“We will continue to evolve and transform with evidence data. We are, more than ever, motivated and ready to deliver on our mandate and completely transform the education sector in Sierra Leone,” he assured.

COVID-19 to Plunge Global Economy into Worst Recession since World War II

The swift and massive shock of the coronavirus pandemic and shutdown measures to contain it have plunged the global economy into a severe contraction. According to World Bank forecasts, the global economy will shrink by 5.2% this year.

COVID-19 to Plunge Global Economy

 That would represent the deepest recession since the Second World War, with the largest fraction of economies experiencing declines in per capita output since 1870, the World Bank says in its June 2020 Global Economic Prospects.

Economic activity among advanced economies is anticipated to shrink 7% in 2020 as domestic demand and supply, trade, and finance have been severely disrupted. Emerging market and developing economies (EMDEs) are expected to shrink by 2.5% this year, their first contraction as a group in at least sixty years. Per capita incomes are expected to decline by 3.6%, which will tip millions of people into extreme poverty this year.

The blow is hitting hardest in countries where the pandemic has been the most severe and where there is heavy reliance on global trade, tourism, commodity exports, and external financing. While the magnitude of disruption will vary from region to region, all EMDEs have vulnerabilities that are magnified by external shocks. Moreover, interruptions in schooling and primary healthcare access are likely to have lasting impacts on human capital development.

“This is a deeply sobering outlook, with the crisis likely to leave long-lasting scars and pose major global challenges,” said World Bank Group Vice President for Equitable Growth, Finance and Institutions, Ceyla Pazarbasioglu. “Our first order of business is to address the global health and economic emergency. Beyond that, the global community must unite to find ways to rebuild as robust a recovery as possible to prevent more people from falling into poverty and unemployment.”

Under the baseline forecast—which assumes that the pandemic recedes sufficiently to allow the lifting of domestic mitigation measures by mid-year in advanced economies and a bit later in EMDEs, that adverse global spillovers ease during the second half of the year, and that dislocations in financial markets are not long-lasting — global growth is forecast to rebound to 4.2% in 2021, as advanced economies grow 3.9% and EMDEs bounce back by 4.6%. However, the outlook is highly uncertain and downside risks are predominant, including the possibility of a more protracted pandemic, financial upheaval, and retreat from global trade and supply linkages. A downside scenario could lead the global economy to shrink by as much as 8% this year, followed by a sluggish recovery in 2021 of just over 1%, with output in EMDEs contracting by almost 5% this year.

The U.S. economy is forecast to contract 6.1% this year, reflecting the disruptions associated with pandemic-control measures. Euro Area output is expected to shrink 9.1% in 2020 as widespread outbreaks took a heavy toll on activity. Japan’s economy is anticipated to shrink 6.1% as preventive measures have slowed economic activity.

“The COVID-19 recession is singular in many respects and is likely to be the deepest one in advanced economies since the Second World War and the first output contraction in emerging and developing economies in at least the past six decades,” said World Bank Prospects Group Director Ayhan Kose. “The current episode has already seen by far the fastest and steepest downgrades in global growth forecasts on record. If the past is any guide, there may be further growth downgrades in store, implying that policymakers may need to be ready to employ additional measures to support activity.”