IMF actions worsen Ebola crisis

February 14, 2015
Cuban aid arrives in Sierra Leone. "The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has disbursed only 27.3% of the $50 million announced;

Although the International Monetary Fund (IMF) claims it is part of the solution, the IMF is really part of the problem of underdevelopment and it has been for decades.

The latest proof is that the conditions imposed on countries in need have had serious impacts on the development of these countries’ public health services. In some countries, this means letting epidemics destroy the lives of thousands of people.

The latest example involves the Ebola epidemic.

The IMF is responsible for serious restrictions in developing adequate healthcare systems. It is not only social movements in the global South and North that make this claim.

It is in a study by several British universities published in the Lancet Global Health magazine.

Alexander Kentikelenis, professor of the University of Cambridge and research coordinator, noted at “The IMF policies have contributed to poorly funded, unprepared and understaffed health systems in countries with outbreaks of Ebola.”

The group, based in Washington, imposes anti-social conditions together with their loans. It prioritises short-term economic objectives such as reducing debt, which in fact only serves to increase the need to pay it back forever.

Bleeding resources to pay an illegitimate debt weakens the health system. For example, in Liberia, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), there were only 0.1 doctors per 10,000 inhabitants between 2006 and 2013, and 0.4 hospitals for 100,000 inhabitants in 2013.

On August 8, WHO declared the Ebola epidemic in West Africa an international public health emergency. More than 20,000 people had been affected and more than 8000 killed by the Ebola virus.

But the US$30 million granted in October last year by the IMF emergency assistance to Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone was not enough to confront the scale of the crisis.

These funds do not represent even half of the $300 million pledged during the G20 summit in November in Brisbane, Australia. Nor do they cover the $372 million debt these three West African countries built up within the international financial institution.

Finally, much of these funds had not even arrived in the country, given that they consist not only of donations, but also new loans or debt relief.

Thus the IMF approved new credit lines for these three countries that will send them further into debt: $41 million for Guinea, $49 million for Liberia and $39 million for Sierra Leone.

But Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone had to pay $100 million dollars in external debt last year and nearly $130 million more this year. A quarter of this sum will go to the IMF.

The extra $150 million announced by the financial institution in early January arrived very late and only after criticism of the IMF's poor management.

The hypocrisy of big donors is huge. According to a December United Nations report, Socio-Economic Impacts of the Ebola Virus Disease on Africa, only 23.4% of the $518 million pledged by the World Bank has been disbursed to date. Less than 10% of the $459.8 million announced by the EU has reached its destination.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has disbursed only 27.3% of the $50 million announced; not a cent of the $25 million promised by both Facebook owner Mark Zuckerberg and the Google Foundation have been seen.

Rather than counting on donations, new loans or debt relief, we should demand the immediate, total and unconditional cancellation of the external debt of West African countries affected by Ebola such as Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

That is what the United Nations' Economic Commission for Africa demanded on December 15: “Donors have been quite generous announcing a debt relief, but will need to go further and fully cancel this debt,” said Carlos Lopes, secretary general the commission, on December 15.

Obviously, this claim should be extended to all poor countries, misnamed as “developing”, where 85% of the world’s population lives. Their public debt (about $1.8 trillion) represents only 1% of global debt. Relief will not affect the global economic balance; the only thing needed is the political will.

It is good to raise the fiscal deficit when the health and lives of people are in danger.

It is not we who say this, but contradicting the usual conservative ideology of the IMF, its director Christine Lagarde said it and acknowledged that the IMF does not say it often.

But we should not have to wait for great humanitarian crises such as that caused by Ebola for people to see the clear need to increase the deficit in order to fund social services. Also, international law requires that compliance with basic human need is a priority compared to the bleeding of resources to pay the debt.

The IMF, which inhumanely ignores serious human needs, must disappear; those responsible for its decisions should be brought to justice for their actions. The devastating IMF policies have damaged too many people through neoliberal debt programs to be allowed to continue with impunity.

[Abridged from Campaign For The Abolition of Third World Debt. Translated by John Catalinotto. Jerome Duval is member of the Spanish Citizen’s Debt Audit Platform.]

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