Public debt has soared throughout the world's advanced economies to the highest levels since World War II, the International Monetary Fund warned Wednesday, with many governments facing weak growth and declining prices for such commodities as oil and metals.
Even as the global economic crisis of several years ago eased, the IMF said, government borrowing picked up, and two of the world's economic powers, Japan and Europe, remain mired in slow growth.
The Washington-based world funding agency said: "Public debt now exceeds the level observed during the Great Depression (of the 1930s) and is approaching the level immediately after World War II." The IMF said that for advanced economies, debt has risen to more than 107 percent of their national economic output, while Japan is almost at 250 percent.
"Advanced economies are facing the triple threat of low growth, low inflation and high public debt," the IMF said. "This combination of factors could create self-reinforcing downward spirals."
Emerging market economies are better off, the IMF said, with total public debt just under 50 percent of gross domestic product. However, many of those countries face sharply higher budget deficits and other challenges that could force them to increase their indebtedness.
With slow growth, the financing needs of many countries are increasing just as their revenues are weakening. The IMF and World Bank said more countries are approaching them for loans.
Wednesday's assessment of world governmental debt came a day after the IMF cut its global growth forecast for 2016 to 3.2 percent, down two-tenths of a percent from an earlier forecast.
The economic assessments are being released as economists and financial officials from around the world are gathering in Washington for this week’s meetings of the World Bank, IMF and leaders from the G-20, the world's biggest economies.
Major economic and social issues are on the agenda, including implementation of last year's Paris climate-control accord and measures to boost worldwide food production to alleviate hunger, mental health care, growth of the internet, early childhood development, job production and ideas for spurring economic growth.