IMF enhances debt relief trust to assist low-income countries amid COVID-19 economic turmoil

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Simon Ateba is Chief White House Correspondent for Today News Africa. Simon covers President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, the U.S. government, the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and other financial and international institutions in Washington D.C. and New York City.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) Executive Board has adopted some immediate enhancements to its Catastrophe Containment and Relief Trust (CCRT) to provide debt service relief for its poorest and most vulnerable members amid COVID-19 economic turbulence.

IMF said the CCRT allows the IMF to support international debt relief efforts when poor countries are hit by severe natural disasters or battling public health crises—such as the current coronavirus pandemic—with grants for debt service relief.

An earlier version of the CCRT was used to provide assistance of some $270 million to Haiti in 2010 to respond to the earthquake. It was next updated in 2015 to provide close to $100 million in grants to the three countries most impacted by the Ebola crisis, Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. 

In a statement received by TODAY NEWS AFRICA in Washington D.C., IMF said the COVID-19 outbreak and the associated global economic turmoil “creates a critical need to support the Fund’s membership, including exceptional balance of payments support for the poorest members especially impacted by the pandemic.”

It added: “Well-targeted support will allow these countries to prioritize medical spending and health-related as well as other immediate needs in the challenging economic environment, characterized by sharp declines in income, lost revenue and higher expenses.

“In that context, the IMF Executive Board has approved changes to the CCRT that expand the qualification criteria to better cover the circumstances created by a global pandemic and to focus on delivering support for the most immediate needs.

“Specifically, the decision will allow all member countries with per capita income below the World Bank’s operational threshold for concessional support to qualify for debt service relief for up to two years.

“This would apply when a life-threatening global pandemic is inflicting severe economic disruption across the Fund’s membership and is creating balance of payments needs on such a scale to warrant a concerted international effort to support the poorest and most vulnerable countries.

“The IMF has also launched a fund-raising exercise that would enable the Trust to provide about $1 billion for the current pandemic. Ms. Georgieva has called upon the Fund’s economically stronger member countries to help replenish the CCRT, which had only $200 million available for the world’s poorest countries.

“The U.K. has responded with a pledge for £150 million ($183 million). Other donors, including Japan and China, are also coming forward with important contributions. “The IMF’s revamped Catastrophe Containment and Relief Trust can now provide rapid debt service relief on IMF debt obligations to more of our poorest and most vulnerable members. This will help them to channel more of their scarce financial resources to their vital emergency medical and other relief efforts,” IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva said. “Furthermore, we are calling on donor countries to replenish the Trust’s resources to help boost our ability to provide additional debt service relief to our poorest member countries.”

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