For many of the 57 member countries of the Organisation of Islamic Council (OIC), 2022 is going to be a challenge. Issues that have plagued countries will continue, while new challenges will arise as nations battle to rebound from the COVID-19 pandemic, climatic disruptions, and socio-political instability.
There will be much to discuss at the General Secretariat of the OIC’s 35th session of the Islamic Committee of the International Crescent (ICIC) on 5 January. While there are pockets of stability and socio-economic development in the OIC, notably the Gulf countries and the more economically developed Southeast Asian nations of Malaysia and Indonesia, the challenges are particularly acute in the Middle East, Africa and Central Asia, with humanitarian crises, rising unemployment, inequality and inflation.
According to medical and security specialist International SOS’s Risk Outlook 2022, OIC countries are among the most ‘extreme’, with Afghanistan, Syria, Libya and Iraq in the top five most dangerous countries to visit this year. Other nations in the ‘extreme’ category include Mali, Yemen, and Somalia as well as certain parts of Nigeria and Pakistan.
Yet while the situation is difficult in much of the OIC, it is the same across much of the world, with the World Bank and World Health Organisation estimating more than half a billion people were pushed into extreme poverty in 2021.
North Africa and the Sahel
In North Africa, the instability in Libya over the past decade continues to impact the region and its neighbours. Libya was a major destination market prior to 2011 for exports and foreign labour, which has largely dried up, while the political situation has remained fragile.
The pandemic hit the country hard, with the economy contracting by 36.4% in 2020, according to Fitch Solutions, although is set for a rebound this year on the back of higher oil prices. The Libyan conflict has had dire spillover consequences for the Sahel region, with the French military and UN presence in the region spluttering since 2013.
Last year was the most violent in the past decade for Mali, Bukina Faso and Niger, with 2,246 terrorist attacks and battles, compared to 244 in 2013, and 5,317 deaths, according to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data project. Instability in the Sahel and parts of North Africa are also feeding the drive to migrate to Europe, with the area a conduit for human trafficking routes to Libya and beyond.
As the Europe Union’s response continues to focus on the military in the Sahel, and through strengthening its border force, Frontex, which is set to having a standing force of 10,000 by 2027, major challenges for the region are set to continue. In 2022, the UN notes that more than 30 million Sahelians will need assistance and protection, over 1 million more than 2021. Some 3.5 million people have been forced to flee their homes.
Sub Saharan Africa
The pandemic has disrupted economies across Africa, with the IMF estimating an additional 30 million people have been plunged into extreme poverty. On top of the impact of COVID-19, conflict and severe climatic events are causing further instability. Millions of people have been displaced over the past year in Ethiopia, Cameroon, Nigeria, and the Sahel.
In West and Central Africa, the crises are impacting more than 61 million people, with 28 million currently food insecure, notes the UN. Climate change, heavy rains and flooding affected more than 1.2 million people in 13 countries in 2021. In Southern Africa, the picture is also not rosey, with drought across much of the region. In Eastern Africa, the Ethiopian conflict has impacted the whole region, while political instability in Sudan is also causing negative ramifications.
On the flip side, Sub-Saharan African economies are forecast to grow by 3.8% in 2022, largely on the back of improved global trade and commodity prices. However, food inflation is expected to be particularly challenging, having risen from 2% per year in 2019, to 11% in 2021, while globally, food inflation rose 30% in 2021, according to the IMF.
The Middle East
The conflicts in Syria and Yemen continue to loom large over the Middle East. While signs of rapprochement between Gulf states and Syria holds some promise for greater stability, the Syrian economy has been ravaged, and there seems minimal funds available for substantive reconstruction to take place. The Syrian conflict, which is entering its twelfth year, is also hobbling the chances of Lebanon’s economic recovery, which has been hit by a financial crisis since October 2019, and the depreciation of the currency by over 90%.
Syria’s currency has also seriously depreciated, in part due to the Lebanese financial crisis, with the country having been Syria’s business and financial window to the world, and a major destination for deposits. Lebanese parliamentary elections in March are not expected to cause a sea-change amid deteriorating economic conditions, with an estimated 70% of the population on or below the poverty line.
In Iraq, the country is still reeling from the US-led invasion and the wider Syria conflict, while a record low rain-fall in 2021, has impacted the agricultural sector. In neighbouring Turkey, the lira’s deprecation by 44% to the US dollar in 2021, has caused serious problems for the economy, with the cost of energy and inflation rising, although exports reached an all-time high on the back of the weak lira.
In Yemen, over six years of conflict has devastated the country, with over 20 million people in need of aid – equivalent to 66% of the population – and over 4 million internally displaced.
The withdrawal of US and NATO military forces from Afghanistan in August 2021, attracted significant global media attention, but the aftermath has been less covered as the country has descended into further economic malaise. OIC countries gathered in Islamabad, Pakistan, to discuss the Afghan humanitarian crisis in December, agreeing to help Afghanistan on humanitarian grounds and the Islamic Development Bank to establish a Humanitarian Trust Fund.
The poorest country in Asia, per capita incomes declined from $650 in 2012, to $508 in 2020, and is forecast to drop to $350 this year, according to UN figures. Afghanistan’s GDP is slated to decline by 20%, to $16 billion, and could potentially decline by 30% if the situation continues to deteriorate. Some 22.8 million face acute food insecurity.
Neighbouring Pakistan continues to be impacted by the Afghan crisis, but the economy is looking more optimistic this year, with growth forecast at 3.2%.
On the other side of the Indian subcontinent, Bangladesh has had a tough couple of years, with the pandemic impacting the economy, and the country hosting 884,000 Rohingya refugees. The outlook for 2022, is more positive, with the country’s biggest export segment, garments, set to rebound as buying increases in the major export markets of Europe and North America, while the economy could reach half a trillion dollars this fiscal year if double-digit growth is achieved.
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