International Constraints

In the early 1980s, many developing countries experienced severe economic crises and had to implement a variety of 'structural adjustment policies,' enforced by the international finance agencies, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, to reduce government spending and improve balance of payments. Reduced spending resulted in cutting a variety of welfare programs that had been effective in controlling malnutrition, such as food price subsidies. Structural adjustment conditions have been rigidly imposed by the agencies for countries to obtain new financial loans. These institutions are funded by quotas from members who have voting rights in proportion to their contribution, assessed according to economic status, so that decisions are effectively in the hands of the major industrialized countries, especially the United States. This banking structure means that the policies of borrowing countries are dictated by the richer industrialized nations.

Structural adjustment has frequently resulted in changes of particular concern to the poor, such as increased food prices and decreased expenditure on social programs. The effects of these policies on health care, food consumption, incomes, and prices appear to have led to a serious deterioration in indicators of nutrition, health status, and school achievement in several countries, although it is difficult to distinguish policy effects from those of general economic decline. Efforts were subsequently made by UNICEF and other bodies to buffer vulnerable groups from these effects. During the same period, there were also cutbacks in welfare programs in developed countries, such as the provision of school meals.

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