G-20: The Global South Is Too Big To Fail

By Hayley Hathaway 9-22-2009

As pundits and politicians wield fighting words over the domestic health-care crisis, another group is getting ready to combat a different crisis -- one which, unless it's resolved quickly, will cause 1.4 million to 2.8 million children in the developing world to die of malnutrition over the next five years. The global financial crisis will be the topic of this week's meeting of the G-20, a group of representatives from the world's 20 biggest economies, hosted by President Obama in Pittsburgh.

Last April the G-20 rightly accepted responsibility for causing much of the crisis and acknowledged their role in helping to fix it. But a new report released by Jubilee USA last week found the G-20 falling short against their own promises, and far short of the need.

Even though the G-20 heralded large numbers for the developing world at the end of their summit in April, only a small fraction is heading to the poorest. Of all the money promised by the G-20 to help fight the crisis, only $50 billion, or 5 percent, will end up going to the 78 most vulnerable countries. A little perspective: It cost U.S. taxpayers $283 billion to bail out the top 20 "too big to fail" Wall St. companies. What makes world leaders think the developing world isn't also too big to fail?

Helping the poorest isn't just about more money; it's also about humility and justice. Poor decisions by economists at the International Monetary Fund led many countries into this crisis, yet the G-20 chose to funnel $750 billion into the IMF without requiring large-scale reforms. The IMF and World Bank continue to include harsh, counterproductive conditions on their loans to poor countries: Currently, the IMF is pushing budget cuts and wage freezes in poor countries like Ethiopia and Malawi, who should be investing in new jobs and public services to help fight the recession. The IMF forced El Salvador, one of the poorest countries in Latin America, to raise taxes and cut gas and transportation subsidies in order to get a loan. The G-20 gave the IMF great power this spring; now, we must direct the institution to forgo these faulty economic practices and find ways to actually support the world's poor.

Every day, billions around the world wake up hungry, without clean water, and with insufficient shelter. Their daily struggles on the ground are directly affected by these decisions made at the G-20. This week I pray that the G-20 will listen to the protesters, preachers, students, and civil society members who are in Pittsburgh right now, raising up the voices and wisdom of the world's impoverished in an effort to end the crisis swiftly and justly.

Hayley Hathaway is Operations and Communications Coordinator for the Jubilee USA network.

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