The antidote to crisis

I’m writing this from a windowless room in the IMF basement where our Oxfam team has been camped out for almost a week covering the World Bank and International Monetary Fund Spring Meetings. You can really lose your perspective down here, away from the sunlight and the bustling streets of Washington. So we keep reminding each other to get outside to enjoy a few minutes of spring sunshine every once in a while to stay grounded.

The World Bank and IMF member governments attending these meetings also need to stay grounded in reality! Outside the marble, glass and steel of the impressive Bank/Fund complex, and miles away from Washington, developing countries are already starting to suffer the crushing effects of the global financial crisis, a disaster they did not cause.

Based on new IMF statistics released this week, we estimated that 90 million more people will be pushed into extreme poverty this year alone due to the crisis. That’s more than the entire population of Germany.

But wealthy governments are acting like the only problem is in their own balance sheets. And this week IMF member countries have been bickering about how to use the profits from selling its gold reserves, instead of taking decisive action to use this money to help struggling low-income countries.

This is why we are asking you to weigh-in and ask Dominique Strauss-Kahn (Managing Director of the IMF) and the IMF to put its gold to work for the poorest countries. Our thanks go to the over 1,000 of you who acted quickly and took the action on our website. Thanks to your messages to the IMF, some important progress has been seen – the IMF agreed to double its spending for poor countries in principle. But there was no specific agreement about how to make this happen yet. Rather than letting them off the hook, we want you to keep the pressure on – get your friends to call on the IMF to do the right thing now. We are meeting the IMF in the next few weeks so help us show them that this gold sales package must help the world's poor.

To highlight the need for the kind of support that gold sales could give to the poorest countries, our colleagues from Sub-Saharan Africa have come here to share their experience of the frightening ripple effects of the global crisis in their home countries. There are real fears that spending on public services like healthcare and education will be cut in these poorest countries, where they are already grossly under-funded.

I can’t help but think about the impact of the economic crisis on the 75 million kids around the world who are not in school. Will it be even less likely that they get the chance to learn to read and write? And just as terrible, what about those who are in school today that might not be able to attend next month or next year if schools begin closing for lack of public funding? What could this mean for a whole generation?

Thankfully, some people at these meetings have been paying attention. I found some hope at a breakfast meeting I attended yesterday on education. The room was full of influentials, including the people in charge of aid in the Danish, British and Dutch governments. They met to talk about how to drum up enough money for education and make this aid more effective, and it was clear from the commitment of these particular donors that they will not forget the world’s children. But other donors must urgently step up with new commitments. Aid for education has stagnated in the past few years and education has been neglected by the global community in favor of other issues.

I was energized by the Global Campaign for Education’s action week launch event, where Queen Rania of Jordan, US Congresswoman Nita Lowey, and high level representatives of the Obama administration spoke passionately about the importance of education for all the world’s children. Momentum in the US and around the world seems to be building, despite the dismal economic situation, because more and more people are realizing that education is the antidote to crisis.

Ask Dominique Strauss-Kahn (Managing Director of the IMF) and the IMF to put its gold to work for the poorest countries.

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