June 18, 2020 / 12:09 AM / 24 days ago

Many Jordanians struggling as country emerges from COVID-19 lockdown, U.N. agency says

AMMAN (Reuters) - Many people in Jordan are struggling to meet basic needs after a more than two-month lockdown to fight the coronavirus pandemic, a United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) study said on Wednesday.

FILE PHOTO: Mohammed Natour, who went from selling airline tickets to selling fruits and vegetables, after the coronavirus outbreak brought the tourism industry in Jordan to a sudden halt, waits for customers at his office in Amman, Jordan May 31, 2020. . REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed

Although Jordan has contained the first wave of COVID-19 and is now reopening most businesses, the full impact of the pandemic is still unfolding in the aid dependent country of 10 million people, the UNDP study said.

Jordan had already been hit by years of sluggish growth and high unemployment, Sara Ferrer Olivella, resident representative of UNDP Jordan, told Reuters.

“Many businesses were not doing well even prior to the crisis, similarly many families have little savings left to cope with income losses due to lockdown measures,” Olivella said.

Officials have adopted recent estimates by the World Bank that the economy was set to shrink by 3.5% this year compared with an IMF estimate of 2% growth before the health crisis.

It is the first such contraction since 1990.

Unemployment is expected to rise beyond 19% in the fourth quarter last year, with many businesses either failing or cutting jobs amid a highly uncertain outlook for recovery.

Two-thirds of families in a recent UNDP nationwide survey said they had less than one week of financial resources to draw on at the peak of the lockdown, according to Olivella, who added that more than three-quarters of respondents predicted a “long-lasting” impact.

“This is worrying considering that the crisis is far from over. Many informal workers lost their livelihoods so it is very likely that we will see poverty rise,” Olivella said.

Job losses and business closures were also affecting large parts of the country’s middle class, she added.

An expected sharp drop in annual remittances by expatriate Jordanians in Gulf countries hit by the pandemic, inflows that support tens of thousands of families and boost GDP, will add to Jordan’s economic woes, the UNDP said.

Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; Editing by Tom Brown

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