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What Was Adjustment with a Human Face?

Brendan McGuigan
Brendan McGuigan

Adjustment With a Human Face is the name of a UNICEF Report from 1987 which critiqued the pervasive Structural Adjustment Programs. It focused on the negative impacts that the Programs had on health and education in the developing world, and was scathing in its indictment of the Programs’ role in damaging the developing world. Adjustment With a Human Face was groundbreaking in that it was one of the first widely-popularized and respected critiques of the Structural Adjustment Program system, which until then was virtually unquestioned.

Structural Adjustment Programs are used by both the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund in developing nations, in an attempt to ensure the countries are able to meet their financial obligations to these institutions. They are usually required of the countries as a precondition to receiving a loan, and their use has been criticized over the years from different bodies as being ultimately detrimental to the nations they are trying to help.

World Bank and the IMF implement structural adjustment programs.
World Bank and the IMF implement structural adjustment programs.

Ideally, Structural Adjustment Programs would help shift a country towards fiscal responsibility and balance, with no negative consequences. In the real world, however, many Structural Adjustment Programs have led countries even further towards financial stability, and often have impoverished already poor groups within the countries to the point where their lives become in jeopardy.

There are a number of criticisms leveled against Structural Adjustment Programs, of which those laid out in the Adjustment With a Human Face paper are just the most well-known. One such criticism is that Structural Adjustment Programs often require changes that essentially rob the nation of its sovereignty, allowing the IMF and the World Bank to set national policy. Another is that in pursuing strategies from such a directly-fiscal perspective, other concerns, such as the environment, are left to the side, resulting in long-term degradation of a nation’s natural resources.

The Adjustment With a Human Face paper specifically criticized the way that Structural Adjustment Programs affected the social sector, most notably health and education. Because most Structural Adjustment Programs involved balancing budgets and eliminating deficit spending, while requiring investment in a number of industrial and commercial sectors, the social sector often bore massive budget cuts. School programs, health programs, environmental programs, and various social safety systems were all eliminated or severely reduced. This austerity mentality caused, in many nations, a reduction in life expectancy and quality of life, and in extreme cases led to violent civil unrest.

While leveling criticisms, Adjustment With a Human Face was ultimately a set of policy recommendations, not a straight attack, which is part of what made it so powerful. Using ten cases studies of different nations, the Adjustment With a Human Face program laid out ideas for how to minimize the negative impacts of Structural Adjustment Programs, and showed working models to improve the lives of everyday people in the nations being adjusted. Ultimately, Adjustment With a Human Face led to a massive overhaul of the way adjustment was done at both the IMF and the World Bank, with Structural Adjustment Programs eventually being largely replaced by Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers, which draw heavily on input from the borrowing nation itself.

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Discussion Comments


Adjustment with the human face originated from the 1987 UNICEF critique of the Structural adjustment programmes.


where was the origin of the report titled "adjustment with a human face"

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    • World Bank and the IMF implement structural adjustment programs.
      By: CIEL Photostream
      World Bank and the IMF implement structural adjustment programs.