The World Bank’s top 10 biggest debtors (2024)

There are 121 low- and middle-income countries feeding into to the World Bank’s (WB) debtor reporting systems, but almost half of the $391bn owed to the Washington-based multilateral lender traces back to just 10 of them.

India takes the top spot. Its $39.7bn debt towards the WB recorded at the end of 2021 is double that of the next biggest debtor, Indonesia, with $19.6bn. Pakistan and Bangladesh follow with $18.3bn and $17.8bn, respectively, according to WB figures.

The WB has traditionally provided an array of concessional and non-concessional financing packages to low- and middle-income countries that would otherwise struggle to bring in foreign capital through foreign direct investment (FDI) or commercial debt markets. It does so mostly through two main agencies: the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD), which provides loans and development advice to help middle-income countries and creditworthy poorer countries reduce poverty; and the International Development Association (IDA), which addresses poverty reduction by providing interest-free loans and technical assistance to the poorest developing countries.

The geography of the WB’s debt has evolved over the years as low- and middle-income countries move up the development ladder, increase their access to international capital markets and, eventually, become less dependent on development finance. However, given its loans’ long maturity (15 to 20 years for IBRD loans and 35 to 40 years for IDA loans), the list of the bank’s biggest debtor may reflect disbursem*nts that happened decades ago.

India is a case in point. Although it is the WB’s biggest debtor, its existing stock of WB debt jumped from $5.6bn to$37.1bn between 1980 and 2010. It then almost stopped growing, reaching $39.7bn at the end of 2021 as the country accelerated its development journey and increased its access to commercial capital markets.

Similarly, Brazil and Mexico, which stood in seventh and eighth place, respectively, in the top 10 of WB’s biggest debtors at the end of 2021, have seen only marginal increases in their overall WB debt since 2010, as they both clinched upper-middle-income status.

China is another case in point. The country remains the WB’s fifth-largest debtor. Its WB debt increased by a factor of 24 between 1980 and 2010, when it peaked at $22.1bn. In the following decade, China actually repaid part of its outstanding debt towards the WB, which stood at $16.6bn at the end of 2021, as the country has lifted millions from poverty and is expected to become a high-income country in the next few years.

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On the other hand, the rest of the top 10 is populated by fast-growing lower-middle-income countries, mostly from Asia, that have experienced great levels of development finance support from the WB since 2010. Indonesia stands out in second place with an outstanding WB debt of $19.6bn at the end of 2021, an increase of 73% from 2010; Pakistan comes in third place with $18.3bn (+55%); Bangladesh in fourth place with $17.8bn (+67%); Vietnam in sixth with $16bn (+107%) and Colombia in ninth place with $$13.5bn (+80%).

But the largest overall increase in debt stock in the top 10 belongs to Nigeria, in tenth place. Between 2010 and 2021 its WB debt has shot up by more than 230%, reaching $12.3bn.

Although they do not make the top 10, there are other countries that stand out for the level of WB debt they took onboard between 2010 and 2021. One of them is Uzbekistan, whose WB debt jumped from just $373m in 2010to $4.3bn at the end of 2021. That trajectory reflects the end of the country’s international isolation as Shavkat Mirziyoyev rose to power in 2016 with a reformist agenda, following the death of long-time dictator Islam Karimov.

Another country that stands out is Ethiopia, which has accumulated a total debt towards the WB of $11.7bn at the end of 2021 — a large increase from $1.8bn in 2010.

From a regional perspective, the WB increased lending the most to sub-Saharan countries and countries from the Middle East and North Africa between 2010 and 2021. In both regions, WB lending increased four times faster than in East Asia and the Pacific, as well as Latin America — five times faster than South Asia.

The World Bank’s top 10 biggest debtors (2024)
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