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Debt Burden of LDCs continues to climb to a record $744 billion in 2019

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In response to an urgent need for greater debt transparency, the latest edition of the International Debt Statistics (IDS) report provides more detailed and more disaggregated data on external debt than ever before in its nearly 70-year history—including breakdowns of what each borrowing country owes to official and private creditors in each creditor country, and the expected month-by-month debt-service payments owed to them through 2021.

Before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, rising public debt levels were already a cause for concern, particularly in many of the world’s poorest countries as discussed in our Four Waves of Debt report published in December 2019. Responding to a call from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, the G20 endorsed the Debt Service Suspension Initiative (DSSI) in April 2020 to help up to 73 of the poorest countries manage the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the 2021 IDS report the total external debt of DSSI-eligible countries climbed 9.5% to a record $744 billion in 2019 from the previous year highlighting an urgent need for creditors and borrowers alike to collaborate to stave off the growing risk of sovereign-debt crises triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic. The pace of debt accumulation for these countries was nearly twice the rate of other low- and middle-income countries in 2019.

The debt stock of DSSI-eligible countries to official bilateral creditors, composed by mostly G-20 countries, reached $178 billion in 2019 and accounted for 17 percent of long-term net debt flows to low- and middle-income countries. Within the G-20 creditor group there have been some important shifts characterized by a marked increase in lending by G-20 member countries that are themselves middle-income countries. For example, China, by far the largest creditor, has seen its share of the combined debt owed to G-20 countries rise from 45 percent in 2013 to 63 percent at end-2019. Over the same period the share for Japan, the second largest G-20 creditor, has remained broadly the same at 15 percent.

The 2021 IDS data release also reflects progress made to increase coverage of complex debt instruments, given their rising prominence in the debt profiles of developing countries. The central bank and currency swap arrangements that represent loans from other central banks also occur in low- and middle-income countries. The World Bank is working to ensure that these debt instruments are captured in the IDS dataset.

Increased debt transparency will help many low- and middle-income countries assess and manage their external debt through the current crisis and work with policymakers toward sustainable debt levels and terms.

“Achieving long-term debt sustainability will depend on a large-scale shift in the world’s approach to debt and investment transparency,” said World Bank Group President David Malpass. “The time has come for a much more comprehensive approach to tackling the debt crisis facing the people in the poorest countries—one that involves debt-service suspension as well as broader efforts such as debt-stock reduction and swifter debt-restructuring, grounded in greater debt transparency.”

Greater debt transparency is critical to productive investment and debt sustainability. The World Bank Group has called for full transparency of the terms of the existing and new debt and debt-like commitments of the governments of the poorest countries. It has urged creditors and debtors alike to embrace this transparency—to facilitate analysis that would enable countries to identify sovereign-debt levels that are consistent with growth and poverty reduction.

“Debt is what enables governments to have extra resources they need to invest in health systems, education, or infrastructure,” said World Bank Chief Economist Carmen Reinhart. “If you have a debt problem, all those ambitions suffer. That’s why it’s important to get the debt onto sustainable ground as quickly as possible. We can’t afford another lost decade.”

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Development

Lao PDR: New Project to Protect Landscapes and Enhance Livelihoods

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The World Bank’s Board of Executive Directors today approved a US$57 million project to help Lao PDR promote sustainable forest management, improve protected area management, and enhance livelihoods opportunities in eight provinces across the country. Project funding comes from the World Bank’s International Development Association, with contributions from the Global Environment Facility and the Canada-World Bank Clean Energy and Forest Climate Facility.

The Lao Landscapes and Livelihoods Project will support economic recovery in light of the adverse impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic by focusing on preservation of natural capital such as forests, biodiversity, water resources, soil, and land. The Project will help communities in over 600 villages and 25 forest areas to secure livelihoods and jobs from sustainably managed forests, including opportunities in timber and non-timber products, and nature-based tourism.  

“This project will be crucial to helping Lao PDR recover from the global coronavirus shock by protecting and enhancing its natural capital, and supporting the creation of green jobs in vulnerable communities,” said the World Bank Lao PDR Country Manager Nicola Pontara.

Despite enjoying sustained periods of high economic growth in the last three decades, Lao PDR has experienced a gradual deterioration of its natural capital, making vulnerable rural people more susceptible to floods and droughts while jeopardizing their access to food, fiber, fresh water and income.

The Government of Lao PDR will implement the project through the Department of Forestry at the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry. To create jobs and livelihoods and secure environmental benefits, the project will develop environmentally and socially sustainable partnerships among communities, government, nature-based-tourism companies, and forest plantations.

The Lao Landscapes and Livelihoods Project complements other partnerships between Laos and the World Bank on biodiversity protection, carbon emission reductions and nature-based tourism. It also supports the priorities of the government’s ninth National Socio-Economic Development Plan for 2021-25 and the 2030 National Green Growth Strategy.

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Two-Thirds of Poorer Countries Are Cutting Education Budgets Due to COVID-19

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Children in Côte d'Ivoire wear face masks as they return to school after temporary closures due to COVID-19. © UNICEF/Frank Dejongh

Education budgets are not adjusting proportionately to the challenges brought about by COVID-19, especially in poorer countries.  Despite additional funding needs, two-thirds of low- and lower-middle-income countries have, in fact, cut their public education budgets since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, according to the new joint World Bank – UNESCO Education Finance Watch (EFW)

In comparison, only one-third of upper-middle and high-income countries have reduced their budgets.  These budget cuts have been relatively small thus far, but there is a danger that future cuts will be larger, as the pandemic continues to take its economic toll, and fiscal positions worsen.  These differing trends imply a significant widening of the already large spending disparities seen between low- and high-income countries.

According to the new report, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, in 2018-19, high-income countries were spending annually the equivalent of US$8,501 for every child or youth’s education compared to US$48 in low-income countries. COVID-19 is only widening this huge per-capita education spending gap between rich and poor countries.

EFW stresses that the education finance challenge is not only about mobilizing resources, but also about improving the effectiveness of funding. Unfortunately, recent increases in public education spending have been associated with relatively small improvements in education outcomes. Although access to education has improved, the learning poverty rate – the proportion of 10-year-olds unable to read a short, age-appropriate text – was 53 percent in low- and middle-income countries prior to COVID-19, compared to only 9 percent for high-income countries.  COVID-19 related school closures are likely to increase this 53 percent share to as much as 63 percent.

“This is a critical moment where countries need to recover the learning losses the pandemic is generating, invest in remedial education, and use this window of opportunity to build more effective, equitable, and resilient systems,” said Mamta Murthi, World Bank Vice President for Human Development.  “The learning poverty crisis that existed before COVID-19 is becoming even more severe, and we are also concerned about how unequal the impact is.  Countries and the international development community must invest more and invest better in education systems and strengthen the link between spending and learning and other human capital outcomes.”

EFW notes that global spending on education has increased over the last 10 years, but the signs are that the pandemic may interrupt this upward trend. Funding for education has grown most rapidly in low- and lower-middle-income countries, where the gaps between the funding needed to achieve the SDGs and current allocations are the widest. The deterioration in government finances over the medium-term suggests that without concerted efforts to prioritize education, the outlook for mobilizing the domestic resources required for education will worsen.

Aid for education has increased by 21 percent over the last 10 years. Disbursements had increased rapidly in the 2000s and fell between 2010 and 2014 in the aftermath of the great financial crisis. However, since 2014, aid to education has increased by 30 percent, reaching its highest recorded level of US$ 15.9 billion in 2019. However, fiscal constraints, other sectoral needs, and changes in student mobility patterns, suggest that external aid for education might fall at a time when it is needed most.    

“External financing is key to support the education opportunities of the world’s poorest,” said Stefania Giannini, Assistant Director-General at UNESCO. “Yet donor countries are likely – and some have already begun – to shift their budget away from aid to domestic priorities. Health and other emergencies are also competing for funds.  We foresee a challenging environment for countries reliant on education aid. UNESCO estimates that it may fall by US$ 2 billion from its peak in 2020 and not return to 2018 levels for another six years.” 

The EFW is a collaborative effort between the World Bank and the UNESCO Global Education Monitoring Report team.  It will be produced annually following the main release of spending data by UNESCO’s Institute of Statistics.  The EFW aims to draw together the best data available on all sources of education funding and monitor efforts to improve information on the levels and use of education funding.  However, good quality and timely information on government, household, and aid spending in education is not readily available in all countries.  This hinders planning and monitoring at a time when countries cannot afford any missteps.

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Global Alliance on Circular Economy and Resource Efficiency

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Bringing together governments and relevant networks and organizations, the Global Alliance on Circular Economy and Resource Efficiency (GACERE) aims to provide a global impetus to initiatives related to the circular economy transition, resource efficiency, sustainable consumption and production patterns, and inclusive and sustainable industrialization.

GACERE is being established by the European Commission on behalf of the European Union (EU), and by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), in coordination with the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO).

GACERE will be launched on Monday 22 February 2021 from 12:00 until 13:15 CET on the margins of the first segment of the fifth meeting of the United Nations Environment Assembly.

The event will be hosted by Virginijus Sinkevičius, EU Commissioner for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries; Inger Andersen, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and UNEP’s Executive Director; and LI Yong, UNIDO’s Director General.

Ministers of countries which have joined GACERE and other stakeholders will provide their perspectives on the Alliance’s intended role in supporting a global just transition to circular and resource-efficient economies and the achievement of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

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