The Global Economic Crisis and Developing Countries

Published: 26 May 2010

Behind the official statistics, farmers, manufacturing workers, migrant workers, waste-pickers, and women working unpaid in the home all over the world are asking the same question: ‘What hit us in 2009?'.

Oxfam's research on the global economic crisis in 12 countries, involving some 2,500 individuals, is combined in this report with the findings of studies by a range of universities, think tanks, and international organizations. The report reveals the depth and complexity of the impacts of the global economic crisis, and the vulnerabilities and resilience of poor people and countries worldwide.

Oxfam's research presents a diverse picture, with pockets of export-dependent workers and industries in countries like Ghana and Indonesia devastated, even as national economies seem to be weathering the storm. While householders spoke of having increasing trouble putting food on the table, they did not make neat conceptual distinctions between rising food prices, the economic crisis, or the impacts of climate change on their harvests.

While this crisis has shown that governments' spending on health and education certainly increases poor people's resilience to shocks, so too does fiscal space, which may imply greater restraint in public spending during boom periods. This is a delicate balance, and one that is best struck by accountable national governments, rather than being imposed by technocrats in Washington, London, or Frankfurt.

The crisis has highlighted social protection as a development issue, and the importance of managing risk and volatility at all levels. It is not enough to pursue economic growth now, and social welfare later - the two must come together in pursuit of improved well-being. Poverty is not just about income, or lack of it; it is about fear and anxiety over what tomorrow may bring. This crisis will not be the last, but if one of its lessons is that reducing vulnerability and building resilience are the central tasks of development, then future crises may bring less suffering in their wake.