World Bank: Debt of poorest countries climbed to $744b before pandemic

The total external debt of the world's poorest countries climbed 9.5 percent to a record $744 billion in 2019, according to the World Bank Group's latest International Debt Statistics (IDS) report.

"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," the multilateral lender said Monday in a statement during the annual meetings of the World Bank Group and International Monetary Fund (IMF).


The Group of Twenty (G20) endorsed the Debt Service Suspension Initiative (DSSI) in April this year to help up to 73 of the poorest countries manage the impact of the pandemic, allowing them to suspend payments on official bilateral debt until the end of 2020, the World Bank noted. 


World Bank Group President, David Malpass, previously urged the G20 countries to extend the time frame of the DSSI through the end of 2021 and commit to give the initiative as broad a scope as possible.


The latest IDS report showed that the total external debt of countries eligible for the G20 debt relief programme climbed to a record last 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 report noted.

"It's been very important that leaders of poorest nations speak up and speak out about the need for a lighter debt burden from the creditor nations," Malpass said on Twitter on Monday. 

"That dialogue hasn't been as robust yet as I think is necessary to move this process along," said the World Bank chief.

Finance ministers and central bank governors from the G20 economies are scheduled to meet virtually on Wednesday and could make a decision on further extension of debt service relief.

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