Figures released today by the Jubilee Debt Campaign, based on IMF and World Bank databases, show that developing country debt payments increased by 85% between 2010 and 2018.

The new analysis from Jubilee Debt Campaign shows that average government external debt payments across the 124 developing countries for which data is available have increased from 6.6% of government revenue in 2010 to 12.2% of government revenue in 2018, an increase of 85%. This is the highest level since 2004, when such payments were 13.8% of government revenue (see graph below).

This rapid increase comes after a lending boom driven by low global interest rates. External loans to developing country governments more than doubled from $191 billion per year in 2008 to $424 billion in 2017 (the latest year with figures available). Yaoundé, capital of Cameroon. External government debt payments in Cameroon are 20% of government revenue. Cameroon is receiving IMF bailout loans to help keep making payments. Public spending per person has fallen 20% in two years.

Tim Jones, Head of Policy at the Jubilee Debt Campaign said “The growing debt crisis needs urgent international attention. A vital first step is to require that all loans to governments are publicly disclosed, allowing parliaments, media and civil society to hold governments to account for new borrowing.”

“In addition, when crises arise, the IMF should stop bailing out reckless lenders, and require debts to be reduced instead, so that the costs of crises are shared between borrower and lender. All too often, the lenders who helped to cause the crisis are bailed out, while all the costs of irresponsible lending are born by people in the borrowing country.”

“There is now evidence of falling public spending in countries hit by high debt payments, further undermining progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals.”

Graph. Average (mean, unweighted) external debt payments for developing country governments, 2000 – 2018

Jubilee Debt Campaign has also calculated that in the 15 countries with the highest debt payments, in ten of them public spending per person fell between 2016 and 2018. Across the 15, public spending fell by an average of 4%. The largest cuts were in Egypt, Cameroon, Angola and Mongolia, all of which are on IMF loan programmes.

In contrast, of the 15 countries with the lowest debt payments, in just two did public spending per person fall between 2016 and 2018. On average across these 15, public spending increased by 11%.

The growing debt crisis will be a key discussion at the IMF and World Bank Spring Meetings in Washington DC from 9-14 April, and the G20 Finance Ministers meeting 8-9 June in Japan.

The fall in global commodity prices in mid-2014 reduced the income of many governments reliant on commodity exports for earnings. This also caused exchange rates to fall against the US dollar, which increases the relative size of debt payments as external debts tend to be owed in dollars. In recent years rising US interest rates have further increased the interest costs of debt and caused further devaluations of currencies against the dollar.

The figures on public spending cuts are for countries with the highest debt payments, with information available from the IMF on public spending. The figures for the 15 countries are:

Country External government debt payments in 2018 as a percentage of revenue Change in government spending per person, in 2016 prices, from 2016 to 2018 Currently on an IMF lending programme
Angola 57% -19% Yes
Ghana 56% -4% Yes
Bhutan 39% +11% No
Sri Lanka 35% +1% Yes
Egypt 30% -23% Yes
Tunisia 28% +4% Yes
Mongolia 27% -14% Yes
Gambia 26% -3% No [On an IMF programme with no loans]
Mozambique 25% -5% No
Jamaica 24% +17% Yes
Georgia 24% +9% Yes
Belize 24% -10% No
Chad 20% -8% Yes
Senegal 20% -1% No
Cameroon 20% -20% Yes
Average: -4%

Other governments with external debt payments over 20% of revenue, but with no comparable figures from the IMF on public spending, are: Venezuela (63%), Lebanon (36%), Maldives (23%), South Sudan (21%), Sudan (21%), Yemen (21%), Costa Rica (20%).

The figures are for countries with the lowest debt payments with information available from the IMF on public spending. The figures for the 15 countries are:

Country External government debt payments in 2018 as a percentage of revenue Change in government spending per person, in 2016 prices, from 2016 to 2018 Currently on an IMF lending programme
Timor-Leste 0% +8% No
Kiribati 1% +23% No
Afghanistan 2% +10% Yes
Solomon Islands 2% +9% No
India 2% +12% No
Papua New Guinea 3% -8% No
Nepal 3% +40% No
Guinea-Bissau 4% 0% Yes
Benin 4% -18% Yes
Kosovo 4% +12% No
Nigeria 4% +29% No
Mali 4% +10% No
Philippines 4% +16% No
Uzbekistan 4% +14% No
Bolivia 5% +8% No
Average: +11%