Prime Minister Imran Khan has made another call for rich countries to provide more debt relief to poor countries. Speaking at a UN conference, he cited the continuing – and debatable – Covid-19 pandemic and the impact of debt on achieving sustainable development goals by 2030. Last year, PM Imran and other world leaders made similar pleas, which garnered significant results. media attention and can be credited for helping convince rich countries and international financial institutions to offer various debt relief options to poor countries.
While we hope that this call will also bear fruit, we don’t believe it will be significant. This is because most of the wealthy countries have spent large sums on domestic economic support programs and health care. Some who are still providing substantial assistance have shifted their focus to aid in the form of vaccines, which, although necessary and laudable, will not cure the long-term and ongoing problems associated with large debt.
But on that vaccine note, Imran has also called for an expansion of the Covax vaccine program, joining a chorus of world leaders demanding the same. Unfortunately, while several other poor countries, fearing the worst, have been trying for months to develop vaccine programs for themselves, we have ‘forgotten’ to get anything beforehand and will rely more on Covax.
Imran also asked for financial assistance for countries with balance of payments problems, which are unlikely to get much support. This is because, as data published by the United Nations this week shows, much of Europe sees incoming foreign investment falling to negative levels. Few other rich and middle-income countries are seeing equally bad numbers in 2020. Rich or not, these countries will be strapped for cash and unwilling to pay emergency funds for others at the expense of their own citizens.
But Imran concluded his speech at the United Nations with a strong point: reminding rich nations of a counter-climate change commitment to mobilize $ 100 billion a year for climate action in developing countries. This commitment, unlike the Covid-19 emergency assistance, has been planned for more than a decade. It would be disappointing if the rich government delayed one form of imminent disaster relief for another.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 27th, 2021.