PARIS – The global economic crisis has claimed many victims – unemployed workers, underwater homeowners, and bankrupt pensioners – but nowhere have the repercussions been as devastating as in the developing world. The setback to the fragile gains of recent years, particularly in Africa, threatens to return millions of people to the extreme poverty from which they had just managed to escape. In addition to the prospect of enormous human suffering, severe economic, political, and social pressures now threaten to overwhelm and destabilize developing countries, triggering conflict on an unprecedented scale.
What makes today’s downward spiral particularly disheartening is that the economic crisis has hit at a time of the first glimmerings of progress, notably in health care. Since 2000, the rate of people dying from AIDS has declined, child-killing diseases like malaria and measles are being tackled more effectively, universal primary education is inching forward, and the targets for safe drinking water are in sight.
Now, though, the global economic crisis is sapping developed countries’ shaky efforts to fulfill their commitments for official development assistance (ODA) in order to achieve the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). A UN report warns that annual investment from these donor countries is falling $35 billion short of the $150 billion goal. Unless something changes, there is little chance that the MDG targets can be sustained in the long run.
Indeed, the consequences of the fall-off in ODA are already dramatic; the number of people going hungry and in extreme poverty is now far greater than before, and the same is true of the unemployed, those who work in vulnerable jobs, or earn less than $1.25 a day. Progress in health and literacy is being undermined. World Bank data link the economic downturn to an increase, by 200,000, in mortality among children under the age of five.