Notwithstanding Tanzania’s strong growth performance in 2019, a new World Bank report says its economy will also suffer the effects of the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic and global economic crisis.
The World Bank’s 14th Tanzania Economic Update (TEU) forecasts economic growth to slow sharply in 2020, to 2.5 percent from the 6.9 percent growth the government reported in 2019, while recognizing significant uncertainty as the pandemic continues to unfold. The report recognizes mitigating steps government has already taken, and this forecast assumes the authorities will take additional health and economic policy measures to mitigate negative impacts. However, there are downside risks for even slower growth if additional policy response is delayed or not well-targeted, or the external environment does not markedly improve this year.
The TEU analyzes the key transmission channels of the global crisis to the Tanzanian economy, including lower export demand, supply chain disruptions for domestic producers and suppressed private consumption. International travel bans and caution against contracting the virus have severely hurt the tourism sector, which had been one of the fastest-growing sectors in the economy. Tourism operators in the country are now forecasting revenue contractions of 80 percent or more this year, and only a mild recovery next year, conditional on how well global demand rebounds.
Beyond the macro numbers, the analysis says the pandemic is impacting lives and livelihoods. Simulations using the recent Household Budget Survey data released in December 2019 show that the crisis could push 500,000 more citizens below the poverty line, particularly those in urban settings relying on self-employment and informal/micro enterprises.
“The vulnerable people especially those employed in the informal economy are likely to bear the most severe impacts,” says Mara Warwick, World Bank Country Director for Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe. “They tend to live in congested settlements with limited access to basic services and they also lack adequate safety nets and have limited savings. Women and women-headed families will be more significantly impacted.”
The report also has a special highlight on the benefits of investing in Tanzania’s digital economy, both to support stronger policy responses to the current crisis as well as boosting the recovery in productivity and job creation. The country has already made good progress in the ICT sector which it can build upon, including the strong network of existing mobile accounts to streamline new cash transfer schemes and widen the coverage of existing social programs. Tanzania also is currently connected to three international undersea cables and, working with the private sector, could harness greater internet capacity to ensure continuity of government and education.
“If the digital economy is to rapidly expand to support the government’s response to the pandemic, there are a number of interventions that need to be considered, including making mobile money and low-value data packages affordable for the poor and removing barriers that currently prevent competitive mobile operators from investing in their own infrastructure,” says Tim Kelly, World Bank Lead Digital Development Specialist.