in: Development and Cooperation (10/2020), Online
Poor countries with heavy debt burdens need debt relief to cope with the Covid-19 crisis. The funding provided by the international community so far is not enough. More is needed than the suspension of debt servicing which public lenders have agreed on.
Even before the pandemic started, about half of the world’s low-income countries were heavily indebted according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. Covid-19 will plunge yet more countries into debt. Left to themselves, they will not be able to cope with the crisis. Their government revenues are plainly too small.
The only solution in this precarious setting is debt relief for developing countries. The IMF has recently reformed the Catastrophe Containment and Relief Trust which serves the purpose of relieving debt-servicing. More countries can now benefit from it at the same time and on short notice. Nonetheless, more extensive debt relief is necessary. For good reason, Gerd Müller, Germany’s federal minister for economic cooperation and development, has also advocated debt relief for the poorest countries in his “Emergency Covid-19 support programme”.
To ensure that individual creditors do not benefit disproportionately to the detriment of other creditors, all public and private creditors should participate in debt relief equally, and that in turn will require that they all make the conditionalities of their loans publicly transparent. Since debt relief should only be granted to heavily indebted countries, moreover, a maximum debt limit needs to be defined.
We must consider, moreover, that debt relief only heals the symptoms of indebtedness, but does not tackle the underlying reasons. Debt relief must therefore be linked to beneficiaries investing in poverty reduction, infrastructure development and better debt management.