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Economic development

Total GDP (US$1995 billion) by sub-region: West Asia

In real terms, total GDP increased by 43 per cent in the region as a whole over the decade to 1998 (measured in constant US$1995)

Source: estimated from World Bank 2001

Economic performance has been greatly affected by fluctuations in oil prices on international markets, internal economic policies and other non-economic factors, including regional wars and internal conflicts (UNESCWA 1999). The economies of the GCC countries depend on oil revenues and related industries while those of the Mashriq countries and Yemen are more diversified.

Total GDP for the region has increased more than threefold from US$85.8 billion in 1975 to US$256.67 billion in 1980 and reached US$307.71 billion by 1998 (UNESCWA 1999).The graph on the right shows the growth of total GDP in constant US$1995 for the period 1988-98.

The GCC countries (excluding Iraq) accounted for 85.47 per cent of aggregate nominal GDP for the region in 1997, of which Saudi Arabia had the largest share (US$146.2 billion) followed by the United Arab Emirates (US$49.54 billion) and Kuwait (US$30.37 billion). The Gulf War in 1990 severely damaged the economies of many countries in the region, directly or indirectly.

Economic growth rates have varied considerably within the region. While the real annual GDP growth rate averaged 3.04 per cent in the GCC countries between 1976 and 1998, it was slightly higher in some Mashriq countries - 4.46 per cent in Syria, 5.51 per cent in Jordan and 6.39 in Lebanon (UNESCWA 1999).

The structural composition of GDP in the region has changed markedly in the past three decades due to economic diversification (UNESCWA 1999). GCC countries started restructuring their economies to reduce their dependency on oil by diversifying into agriculture, industry and the service sector, including tourism. The combined share of the industrial sector (including oil) fell from 80 per cent in 1975 to 51 per cent by 1998, while the service sector's contribution increased from 19 per cent in 1975 to 44.5 per cent by 1998. The overall contribution of agriculture increased from 0.89 per cent in 1975 to 4.22 per cent in 1998 (UNESCWA 1999). Although the share of oil in the GDP of the GCC countries has fallen from 62.4 per cent in 1980, it was still high at 33.81 per cent in 1998.

Energy production and consumption: West Asia
West Asia is rich in conventional energy resources and 9 of the 12 countries are oil producers and exporters. Despite being a major producer, the Middle East uses only about 4.3 per cent of total global commercial primary energy. Energy consumption has grown faster in West Asia over the past three decades than anywhere else. Nevertheless, this growth slowed from 6.4 per cent annually in the 1970s to 4.7 per cent in the 1990s (UNDP, UNDESA and WEC 2000). Per capita total final energy consumption has also grown steadily over the past three decades, from 0.5 tonnes of oil equivalent in 1971 to 1.6 tonnes of oil equivalent by 1999 (compiled from IEA 2001).