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LONDON - Debt experts, charity groups and investors welcomed news on Wednesday that the world's poorest countries will get new IMF funds and COVID-19 debt relief, but they also cautioned that for some it would still only be a band-aid solution.
A new $650 billion allocation of the IMF's quasi currency known as Special Drawing Rights (SDRs) will provide over $20 billion of funding, while an extended repayment holiday on loans from rich G20 nations will temporarily save another $7 billion.
The $20 billion share of the SDR increase alone is more than all the emergency money the IMF provided in Africa https://www.imf.org/en/Topics/imf-and-covid19/COVID-Lending-Tracker last year and in relative terms, those under the most serious stress will receive the biggest benefit.
Zambia's share of the handout - SDRs are allocated roughly according to the size of economies - will double its international reserves. It will lift those of Argentina, Ethiopia, Ecuador, Kenya, Ghana and Sri Lanka by at least 10%.
More help might be forthcoming too. Talk has already begun about wealthier countries donating or recycling some of their new SDR either directly or into emergency IMF facilities where they could be put to good use.
That would add significant extra support but some feel that even that might not be enough for those in the deepest funk.
The European Network on Debt and Development (Eurodad), comprising 50 non-governmental organisations, estimates the average debt-to-GDP ratio for nearly 70 countries in the G20's Debt Service Suspension Initiative (DSSI) will rise above 60% this year from 52% pre-pandemic and 46% back in 2015.
In sub-Saharan Africa, interest payments suck up close to 50% of government revenues for Ghana and around 30% for Nigeria and Angola, S&P Global calculates.
Zambia, Mozambique, Republic of Congo and Angola have all seen their debt burdens soar above 100% of GDP, while Morgan Stanley has flagged concerns about Cameroon, Kenya, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Tunisia, Sri Lanka, Laos and the Maldives.
"This SDR issuance will help the countries that were not in terrible shape coming into this crisis muddle through," said S&P sovereign analyst Ravi Bhatia. "But for others that already had very high debt levels and have big payments to make, this isn't going to be enough."
Carmen Altenkirch, an emerging market sovereign analyst at Aviva Investors, holds a similar view. She thinks Zambia, Pakistan, Ghana, Argentina and Bahrain will see the biggest benefit from the SDR increase, while Pakistan and Angola will get the most from the DSSI extension.
"Pakistan is a great example of a country that could have defaulted," without the support she said. However, it won't solve the underlying problems of those countries with the highest debt burdens and rising interest costs.