'Worst crisis since Great Depression': IMF boss gives blunt assessment of global economy

  • Video report by ITV News Presenter Julie Etchingham

If you ask Kristalina Georgieva, the head of the International Monetary Fund, to assess the scale of the crisis facing the global economy, she doesn't mince her words.

"It is the worst crisis since the Great Depression. But it is more than that because it is a combination of a health crisis and an economic shock. And it is truly global."

The IMF is the world's lender of last resort. It has prepared its coffers by bolstering its support from the world's richest economies and now has about $1 trillion dollars lending capacity - four times more than in the financial crisis.

Over a hundred countries have reached out to the IMF for help - from Afghanistan, to Nigeria, to Haiti - with 45 requests approved already.

But usually their loans come with strings attached: a commitment from governments to tighten public spending for example - the sort of strings you can't attach in this crisis. Georgieva knows there are risks ahead for the IMF.

"We are looking to the transparency and accountability in countries. They themselves are coming up with commitments to audit the use of the funds we provide, but there are no strings attached.

"The only thing we ask countries is please spend more money for your doctors and nurses - and please, please use the money to protect the most vulnerable."

For the poorest countries - the G20 has already promised debt relief.

She thinks the crisis may mean they have to go further: "There is a possibility that in some cases debt simply is not sustainable and therefore some action has to be taken either to re-profile or restructure or in some cases write off this debt."

On whether the UK and EU should extend their Brexit negotiations, Georgieva was keen to clarify the IMF’s position: “At this time of increased uncertainty, we all have to do our best not to add to it.

"How exactly the EU and the UK decide on their relations is for the UK and for the EU. My plea is: think about the impact of this decision on uncertainty in the world.”

It is fascinating to listen to her as she is trying to navigate a crisis whose underlying feature is almost fathomless uncertainty.

She talks to me about global leadership and about whether some countries should consider a Universal Basic Income.

She praises not only the UK Chancellor's strategy so far, but the workers in our NHS.

Georgieva is only seven months into the job. It is an eye-watering challenge for the IMF and for her personally.

I ask her how she is dealing with it.

"This is the worst crisis since the IMF has been created. What I can tell you is that we leaned forwards. We are going to be a force for stabilisation and recovery in this world. It helps me that I was for five years Crisis Commissioner in the EU.

"I learnt one thing. Pray for the best - prepare for the worst"

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