The spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in the Arab region has led to passenger flights declining by more than half in the first six months (6M) of 2020, compared to the same period in 2019.
The closure of land borders has also widely restricted the movement of people and goods. Only maritime freight transportation has shown some resilience to the various disruptive factors caused by the pandemic, with some variations between countries in the extent of their impacts.
These findings were highlighted in a new study issued by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA). The study, entitled “Impact of COVID-19 on Transport in the Arab Region”, was conducted in cooperation with the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).
The total number of air passengers to, from, and within the Arab region over the whole of 2020 is expected to drop to about 154 million, taking the number of passengers back to the 2009 level.
The total revenue losses of airline companies in the region are estimated at $38bn in 2020, reflecting a decline of about 53% on last year’s revenue. At the same time, global air travel is not expected to return to pre-pandemic levels before 2023.
Air transport is not the only sector affected by the repercussions of the pandemic-related measures. Border closures and safety protocols have also had an impact on the movement of people and goods. The study foresees a decline of 22% in road freight transport turnover in the region during 2020.
In contrast, port calls by all commercial cargo vessels in the region declined only by 1% during the first 31 weeks of 2020 compared with the same period in 2019. The number of container vessel port calls remained steady, although port calls by passenger vessels were hit hard, dropping by 40.1%.
In view of these changes, ESCWA Executive Secretary Rola Dashti urged Arab governments to implement support measures for the transport and logistics sector. These measures include financial support, tax rebates and other duties exemptions, and subsiding workers’ salaries and training.
“Governments should strengthen international and regional cooperation to take concerted actions to address the pandemic and its impact on transport and logistics, such as information sharing, mutual recognition of certificates and compliance documents, and border management coordination,” she underlined.
The new study is part of a series of impact assessments of the COVID-19 pandemic undertaken by ESCWA to support Arab Governments in joining efforts to mitigate the effects of the pandemic.