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UN expert warns of debt crisis as world emerges from Covid-19 pandemic

23 October 2023

NEW YORK (23 October 2023) – As the world emerges from the Covid-19 crisis, life has got harder for people as living standards fall, debt payments cannot be made and debt bonds and currencies are being devalued, a UN expert said today.

“When the COVID-19 pandemic spread across the world, the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals was already behind schedule and the pandemic then crippled these efforts,” said Attiya Waris, UN Independent Expert on foreign debt, in a report to the UN General Assembly. “We are now emerging from this crisis, and yet standards of living continue to drop, debt interest is not being paid, countries’ debt bonds are being declared as having junk status, currencies are being devalued, and life has become harder for people across the world,” she said.

In a world of multiple crises, the Independent Expert’s report addresses interventions already in place that need to be strengthened and other, newer ones, that need to be urgently implemented to prevent adverse impacts on human rights across countries.

Waris highlighted that global poverty had increased for the first time in 20 years. The fiscal implications of COVID-19 included the loss of millions of jobs which disproportionately affect those in situations of vulnerability.

Climate change, pollution and loss of biodiversity have adverse impacts on human rights. “The impact of weather-related disasters on acute food insecurity has intensified. Seven hundred million people could be displaced by severe water scarcity by 2030,” the expert said.

“People uprooted from their homes are among the most vulnerable to acute food security and malnutrition. Out of around 21 million refugees and 4 million asylum seekers globally in 2021, over 60 percent were hosted in food-crisis countries/territories,” Waris said.

As a matter of priority, the UN expert recommended that States and the international community prevent the creation of artificial crises and adopt a rights-based approach to the economy, a progressive tax system to increase fiscal revenues for State, systemic sustainability and financing of equal access to public services, particularly in the areas of health, education, and pensions. She also called on multilateral organisations to increase concessional lending capacity, revise financing conditions, and extend repayment terms.

She stressed the need for an international approach to fiscal matters, foreign debt and international financial obligations. “The establishment of a global fiscal authority, with an international tax cooperation framework through a multilateral instrument is essential for States to respond to polycrises,” Waris said.


Ms Attiya Waris (Kenya) is the Independent Expert on the effects of foreign debt and other related international financial obligations of States on the full enjoyment of all human rights, particularly economic, social and cultural rights

The Independent Experts are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Comprising the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, Special Procedures is the general name of the Council's independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

For additional information and media requests, please contact the OHCHR Secretariat: Halida Nasic ([email protected])

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts please contact Maya Derouaz ([email protected]) or Dharisha Indraguptha ([email protected]).

Follow news related to the UN’s independent human rights experts on Twitter @UN_SPExperts.

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