What is the human cost of the global economic crisis? How many people will the crisis prevent from escaping poverty, and how many will remain hungry? How many more infants will die? Are children being pulled out of schools, making it virtually impossible to reach 100 percent completion in primary education by 2015? What are the gender dimensions of the impacts? These are some of the questions as the global economy comes out of the worst recession since the Great Depression.
Historically, periods of sharp contraction have been extremely harmful for human development. Social indicators tend to deteriorate rapidly during economic downturns and improve slowly during economic booms. Moreover, vulnerable groups, such as children and women, are more exposed to the effects of growth volatility.
The recovery of the global economy has been more robust than expected. Driven by strong internal demand in many emerging economies and the recovery of global trade, GDP growth in emerging and developing countries is projected to accelerate to 6.3 percent in 2010, from 2.4 percent in 2009. Supporting the economic recovery are expansionary macroeconomic and, especially, fiscal policies. Fiscal deficits in emerging and developing countries, up by almost 3 percent of GDP in 2009, are projected to remain high in 2010. More than in previous crises, many countries sustained spending plans and raised social spending to mitigate the effects of the downturn on the poorest people, although the differences among countries are wide. While financial market conditions for emerging and developing countries are improving and capital flows are returning, international bank financing and foreign direct investment are projected to remain weak in 2010.
How will the global economic crisis alter precrisis trends in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)? With only five years left until the target date of 2015, it is obvious that several of the MDGs will not be attained, globally or by a majority of countries. Many of the goals are too high for low-income countries, given their low starting points. Many countries, including low-income ones, have seen substantial gains in recent years, however, and entered the current crisis in a stronger position than in past crises (chapter 1 and chapter 2). Important questions are whether the gains will be preserved, and what happens if the fragile recovery slips into a prolonged stagnation.
The global economic crisis severely reduced developing-country external resources by drastically curtailing their export revenues and their access to private capital flows. As elaborated in previous chapters, the resulting decline in economic activity sharply increased poverty and impaired public services to the poor. To a degree, the international system worked effectively to support developing-country access to external resources and limit the rise in poverty. Despite initial fears, increased trade restrictions in reaction to the crisis affected only a small part of international trade. Bilateral donors increased aid (at least through 2008), and the international financial institutions (IFIs) dramatically increased their lending. As the global recovery has taken hold, developing-country export revenues have begun to recover, and their access to external finance to improve, although both remain well below precrisis levels.
This is the final article in our series commemorating the fortieth anniversary of Bretton Woods. Andrew Kamarck was with the World Bank for 28 years, holding a number of senior positions in the institution. Since retiring from the Bank, he has been Associate Fellow at the Harvard Institute of International Development. In this strictly personal perspective, he reflects about the Bank’s past efforts to promote development, including some of the obstacles it has faced, and the important role it has to play in the future.
This paper highlights that despite unprecedented gains in living standards in some countries over the past few decades, poverty continues as a harsh reality in too much of the developing world. The causes lie in part with poor country governments that have not followed through on the policies and programs needed to accelerate growth and eradicate poverty. But they also reflect the uneven record of development assistance and protectionist trade policies and agricultural subsidies in industrial countries, which have dampened profitable investment and growth in the developing world.