By Ahmed Eljechtimi and David Lawder
MARRAKECH/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Morocco insisted on Thursday that Marrakech will host International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank annual meetings in October despite the recent devastating earthquake, but the two institutions have not committed to the plan, three people familiar with their deliberations said.
The IMF and World Bank are still assessing whether the Oct. 9-15 meetings can be safely held in Marrakech, just 45 miles (72 kilometres) from the site of the 6.8-magnitude quake that killed more than 2,900 people last Friday.
The meetings would bring 10,000 to 15,000 people to the tourist hub, which suffered some damage to its ancient medina quarter and is the main conduit for relief efforts to areas worst-hit by the quake in the High Atlas Mountains.
Officials at the IMF and World Bank are assessing whether the meetings would inhibit recovery efforts, the sources said on condition of anonymity because the deliberations are private.
Other considerations are security and lodging safety and whether Marrakech’s infrastructure, including water and power systems and hospitals can handle the influx of people without straining the country’s resources.
Morocco’s central bank governor, Abdellatif Jouahri, told a “Road to Marrakech” central banking conference on Thursday that the meetings would take place as planned, in one of the first official government comments on the matter. The conference was being held in preparation for the meetings, he said.
A spokesperson for Morocco’s embassy in Washington also told Reuters in an email: “I am pleased to inform you that the government of Morocco will go ahead with the annual meeting as scheduled despite the earthquake.”
PRESSING FOR AN ANSWER
The comments showed strong pressure from the North African country for the IMF and World Bank to forge ahead with meetings that would bring significant revenue to Morocco and shine a global spotlight on its resilience and strong economic policies.
The institutions have traditionally held their annual meetings every third year in a member country, and the Marrakech meetings have already been delayed two years in a row due to COVID-19.
Spokespeople for the World Bank and IMF declined to comment on the institutions’ deliberations over the meetings, referring reporters to a Sept. 10 joint statement expressing solidarity with and financial support for Morocco and a “willingness to support Morocco in the best way possible.”
An IMF spokesperson said however, that past annual meetings abroad, including in Bali in 2018, provided a boost to host country tourism and local business owners, with the tourism impact alone “estimated in the tens of millions of dollars.”
The sources familiar with the deliberations said the site for the Marrakech meetings, a campus of temporary structures and large tents on the outskirts, was undamaged and functioning.
One of the sources said the Bank and Fund were considering how the structures could be repurposed later for relief efforts and how the meeting agenda could focus on aid.
(Reporting by Ahmed Eljechtimi in Marrakech and David Lawder in Washington; Editing by Kevin Liffey, David Holmes, Alexandra Hudson)