Lower income country debt payments in 2023 will hit the highest level since 1998, according to figures released by Debt Justice today. External debt payments for 91 countries will average at least 16.3% of government revenue in 2023, rising to 16.7% in 2024, an increase of over 150% since 2011.
Higher debt payments are linked to falling public spending. The last time payments were so high, world leaders created a debt relief scheme for the most indebted lower income countries, which led to 60%-80% of their debts being cancelled.
Heidi Chow, Executive Director of Debt Justice said:
“Debt payments are reaching crisis levels in many countries, hindering the ability of governments to provide public services, fight the climate crisis and respond to economic turmoil. There’s no time to waste, we urgently need fast and comprehensive debt relief schemes across all external creditors, including legislation in the UK and New York to make private lenders take part in debt cancellation.”
Mae Buenaventura of the Debt Justice Program of the Asian People’s Movement on Debt and Development (APMDD) said:
“Debt payments drain Southern countries of much needed development financing to protect its citizens from the ever worsening economic and climate crises. Recent developments in Pakistan and Sri Lanka demonstrate how current international debt mechanisms are spectacularly failing to provide the deep, wide, equitable and permanent debt reduction to prevent the deterioration of living conditions by peoples of the South. Without debt cancellation, Southern debts will continue to rise and along with it, the continued hemorrhage of development finance.”
The figures are for 91 countries classified as low or lower middle income by the World Bank, or as a Small Island Developing State by the UN, where data is available. Countries with scheduled external debt payments over 30% of government revenue between 2022-2024 include Sri Lanka, Laos, Pakistan, Zambia and Dominica.
According to the World Bank, for the countries covered in the analysis, of their external debt payments in 2023 and 2024:
- 46% are to private lenders (not including Chinese private lenders)
- 30% are to multilateral institutions
- 12% are to Chinese public and private lenders
- 12% are to other governments
In March, the UK parliament’s International Development Select Committee called on the UK government to “consult on the introduction of legislation to compel or incentivise participation of private creditors in the Common Framework [the G20’s debt relief scheme]”.
External government debt payments 1998-2024, mean for low income, lower middle income and small islands developing states, % of government revenue
 A full methodology and list of countries and their debt payments is below
 Calculated by Debt Justice from World Bank International Debt Statistics database
 https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm5803/cmselect/cmintdev/146/report.html recommendation 10
Methodology on the figures
The figures on external debt payments as a percentage of government revenue are for 91 countries classified as low or lower middle income by the World Bank, or as a Small Island Developing State by the UN, where data is available. The figures are external government debt payments (which includes both principal and interest) as a percentage of government revenue. The average is a mean unweighted average – i.e. all countries are counted the same, so the figures are not unduly influenced by larger countries. The figures do not include domestic debt payments, which in some countries are a large proportion of overall payments.
The figures for external government debt payments have been calculated primarily from the World Bank’s International Debt Statistics database. The figures for government revenue are calculated from the IMF’s World Economic Outlook (October 2022 edition).
In a few cases, the figures come from IMF Debt Sustainability Assessments, for countries where data is not available in the World Bank or IMF databases (Afghanistan, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Pakistan, South Sudan, Tuvalu), or where we know external debt payments not included in the World Bank database are included in the IMF Debt Sustainability Assessments (Republic of Congo, Malawi and Sierra Leone).
The World Bank’s International Debt Statistics database shows external debt payments on loans contracted by the end of 2021. It therefore does not include payments on loans made in 2022, 2023 or 2024. The figures for 2023 and 2024 in particular are therefore a lower estimate – they are likely to be higher in as much any loans given from 2022 on lead to new payments in 2023 and 2024.
The median average follows the same pattern as the mean, with payments in 2024 at the highest level since 1998 and increasing by 230% between 2011 and 2024 (see graph below). This shows that the increase is due to a general trend across all countries covered, not caused by particular outliers. In a few cases such as Sri Lanka, Zambia and Ghana, governments are in default on some of their external debt. In these cases, the figures show the scale of scheduled payments, but some of these payments are not actually being made.
External government debt payments 1998-2024, median for low income, lower middle income and small islands developing states, % of government revenue
The 91 countries with their payments in 2022, 2023 and 2024, and the average across the three years, are listed below. The full dataset is available at: https://debtjustice.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2023/04/Low-and-lower-income-debt-service.xlsx
Government external debt payments as percentage of government revenue, by country, 2022-2024
|Country||World Bank income classification||2022||2023||2024||Average 2022-2024|
|Sri Lanka||Lower middle||81.4||75.0||78.6||78.3|
|Lao PDR||Lower middle||52.9||65.6||53.5||57.3|
|Dominica||Upper middle / SIDS||29.4||57.8||76.6||54.6|
|Congo, Rep||Lower middle||37.1||29.1||22.2||29.5|
|El Salvador||Lower middle||32.3||30.9||17.7||27.0|
|Cabo Verde||Lower middle / SIDS||24.6||27.3||25.5||25.8|
|Jamaica||Upper middle / SIDS||25.3||23.3||28.1||25.6|
|Cote d’Ivoire||Lower middle||24.8||25.9||25.3||25.4|
|Maldives||Upper middle / SIDS||36.8||21.2||14.0||24.0|
|Guinea-Bissau||Low / SIDS||19.4||20.9||23.3||21.2|
|Belize||Upper middle / SIDS||19.8||19.0||17.8||18.9|
|Comoros||Lower middle / SIDS||8.6||19.1||19.2||15.6|
|Dominican Republic||Upper middle / SIDS||14.0||13.7||18.0||15.3|
|Grenada||Upper middle / SIDS||15.5||14.9||14.3||14.9|
|St Vincent and the Grenadines||Upper middle / SIDS||15.1||12.4||12.0||13.2|
|Samoa||Lower middle / SIDS||12.2||13.6||12.6||12.8|
|Central African Republic||Low||9.0||10.6||12.9||10.8|
|Kygryz Republic||Lower middle||8.9||10.6||10.8||10.1|
|Tonga||Upper middle / SIDS||9.1||8.7||9.4||9.1|
|Papua New Guinea||Lower middle / SIDS||8.0||8.9||9.5||8.8|
|Haiti||Lower middle / SIDS||9.2||8.4||7.8||8.5|
|Marshall Islands||Upper middle / SIDS||8.5||8.2||6.2||7.6|
|Fiji||Upper middle / SIDS||7.1||7.6||7.2||7.3|
|St Lucia||Upper middle / SIDS||7.6||7.3||6.7||7.2|
|Vanuatu||Lower middle / SIDS||5.6||7.3||7.4||6.8|
|Mauritius||Upper middle / SIDS||8.1||6.7||5.0||6.6|
|Sao Tome and Principe||Lower middle / SIDS||5.1||6.3||7.4||6.3|
|Micronesia||Lower middle / SIDS||5.6||5.5||3.9||5.0|
|Guyana||Upper middle / SIDS||4.3||3.9||3.6||4.0|
|Timor-Leste||Lower middle / SIDS||2.4||2.8||2.9||2.7|
|Solomon Islands||Lower middle / SIDS||1.5||2.3||3.0||2.3|
|Tuvalu||Upper middle / SIDS||0.8||0.8||0.3||0.6|