Health and education come second to debt in one in eight countries (number of the day)

·2-min read
Before the health crisis brought the world to a standstill, The Gambia was paying at least US$3 to the debt for every $1 spent on so-called essential social services.

No fewer than 25 countries around the world spent more on debt service than on all their social services in 2019, including education, health and social protection. In light of this alarming finding, the United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef) is calling for global measures to alleviate this burden, which falls particularly on the youngest.

In its report "COVID-19 and the Looming Debt Crisis," Unicef reports that nearly one in eight countries in the world spent more on debt than on social protection, education, and health combined in 2019. In further detail, before the health crisis stalled the planet, Gambia, Haiti, South Sudan, or even Chad, among the countries with the highest levels of debt service, were disbursing at least 3 US dollars to debt for every dollar spent on so-called essential social services.

"Children living in countries with high debt burdens and limited resources for social protection, education and health are unlikely to ever break free from poverty and deprivation. The personal and public costs are enormous, leaving children, their communities and their countries with little hope for sustainable economic and social development," lamented UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore.

The report specifies that "a quarter of low- and middle-income countries -- home to 200 million children -- are currently debt-distressed or at risk of debt-distress." The report also indicates that indebted countries have already begun to reduce certain budgets, particularly those devoted to child protection, nutrition, but also to water, sanitation and hygiene services.

"Comprehensive debt relief and restructuring is essential to ensure a recovery that is both inclusive and sustainable so that children do not bear the double burden of reduced social services now and increased debt in the future. It is imperative that international agencies, creditors, and national governments act together to reduce the debt burden and direct savings towards inclusive social investments," concludes Henrietta Fore.

Christelle Pellissier