THE MUCH feared upward spike in oil prices and interest rates after the outbreak of the Persian Gulf war has not yet occurred. That, of course, is good news for the United States and industrialized economies already in the throes of a recession. But the already badly battered economies of Eastern Europe and the developing world took a real blow from Iraq's aggression against Kuwait. While Third World oil exporters such as Mexico and Venezuela and Africa's seven oil producers earned huge windfalls from the 1990 price increases -- fueled, it should be noted, by war fears -- the rest of Africa and large oil-importers such Chile and Brazil have been forced to scrape for more scarce foreign exchange to pay the unexpectedly larger oil bill. That amounted to an estimated additional $2.7 billion for sub-Saharan Africa alone.
The harsh effect of the Persian Gulf crisis is not limited to oil price swings. The Aug. 2 invasion chased more than 500,000 foreign workers from Kuwait and the Gulf and also forced an interruption of vital trading and supply relationships between Iraq and its Asian, Middle Eastern and European economic partners. Those developing nations losing billions in revenues from workers' remittances and trade and now forced to spend billions more to resettle displaced workers have been dealt much suffering by Iraq. Having caused the wounds, however, Saddam Hussein proposed a contemptuous solution: he offered free oil to any Third World nation -- provided it was willing to brave the U.S. and allied naval armada enforcing the U.N. Security Council trade embargo.
The rest of the world has been more helpful. From the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund have come loans to the so-called front-line countries of Jordan, Turkey and Egypt to assist with resettlement efforts. Soft-loan funds of the World Bank have also been reallocated to assist the low-income countries of Africa to shoulder last year's oil price increases. And the industrialized and Gulf nations, through the U.S.-formed Gulf Crisis Financial Coordination Group, have committed in excess of $13 billion for economic assistance to the hard-hit developing countries. The IMF has negotiated special stand-by arrangements for Eastern European countries, as well.
Escaping the toll imposed by Saddam Hussein's actions still won't be easy for anyone -- including the poor of the world who are among his principal victims.