A vulnerable world

Mark Herkenrath, Director Alliance Sud
Political article
The spread of the coronavirus is confronting the world with enormous challenges. The same has been true for years for the climate crisis. The first outlines of what lies ahead for the global South and development cooperation can vaguely be seen.

Our planet’s balance is fragile, our world has become vulnerable. The catastrophic consequences of climate change are making it ever clearer that national borders are no bulwark against global problems. In the rich industrialized countries, where the global rise in temperature is causing less direct damage than in many developing countries, the repercussions are still being all too often downplayed. There is too little technical and financial support for particularly vulnerable countries in the global South, and what is paid is generally taken from tight development cooperation budgets. It also comes at the expense of the no less urgently needed support for poverty alleviation, the empowerment of civil society, the promotion of women, and the expansion of education and health systems.

The rapid spread of the new coronavirus across all continents is much less easy to ignore than climate change. It is also unleashing fears of a global economic downturn. The implications for developing countries are still hard to fathom. It is precisely the poorest countries in Africa, with their very close economic exchanges with China, that are most poorly equipped to deal with epidemics and their economic consequences. The World Bank, which will be holding its joint spring meeting with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in April for the first time by videoconference, made a pledge in early March of 12 billion US dollars in assistance loans to emerging and developing countries in their fight against coronavirus. Yet only half of those funds will go towards reinforcing healthcare systems and protecting the population. The other half will be provided through the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the World Bank's private sector arm. It is reserved for enterprises that may suffer economic losses because of the epidemic.

Coronavirus will surely be a topic when the Parliament next debates the strategy and funding of Switzerland's development cooperation for the next four years. Right-wing populist forces can be expected to call even more insistently than usual for cuts to the credit lines for international cooperation – and will no doubt wield the argument that the money being used for development aid is now urgently needed to protect the Swiss economy against the financial fallout from the new virus. Enlightened voices will stress that a high degree of international solidarity is required now more than ever and that our vulnerable world is all the more in need of stronger cross-border cooperation. It is to be hoped that the majority will align itself with these progressive voices.

Mark Herkenrath, Director Alliance Sud