The majority of developing countries had less foreign currency reserves to cover their imports at the end of 2022 than before the Covid-19 pandemic started, according to fDi calculations based on data from 75 countries.

More than half (39) of the assessed countries have seen their import cover ratios – a standard comparable measure of foreign exchange reserves – fall by 25% or more. This is based on changes between March 2020 and December 2022, or the latest month where figures are available on Haver Analytics, an economic data agglomeration platform.


Foreign exchange reserves, commonly known as forex or FX reserves, are used by central banks for a variety of tasks including to finance a country’s fiscal and balance of payment deficits, manage currency’s exchange rates and maintain confidence in financial markets. Economists tend to worry when countries have forex reserves that fall below three months’ worth of imports. Among the 75 countries analysed, Bolivia has seen the sharpest decline in its reserves since Covid-19. In September 2022, the latest month where data is available, the landlocked South American country had enough FX reserves to cover 0.825 months of imports, 88% less than in March 2020. 

Bolivia’s reserves are being depleted by a “combination of a sustained large fiscal deficit monetised by the central bank” and “fixed exchange rate regime”, according to the IMF. International reserves held by Bolivia’s central bank stood at about $372m in January 2023, less than a tenth of their level in January 2020, Haver Analytics data shows.

Sri Lanka recorded the second largest decline (-77.9%) in its import coverage since the pandemic. The South Asian nation has been undergoing “the mother of all crises” amid political instability, an economic collapse and soaring public debts. This week (March 7) the IMF said that Sri Lanka had secured financial assurances from China, India and all its major bilateral creditors after months of waiting for approval for a $2.9bn bailout.

Gabriel Sterne, the head of global emerging market research at Oxford Economics, says dwindling forex reserves highlight that “crisis resolution policies are themselves in the midst of one of the biggest crises” since the IMF and World Bank were formed over 70 years ago.

Current efforts to help countries like Sri Lanka and Zambia “should provide clues as to when resolution policies can provide impetus to rebuilding FX reserves and recoveries more generally in these economies,” says Mr Sterne.

Lebanon has seen the third steepest fall in its foreign reserves in terms of imports among the 75 countries analysed. Between March 2020 and December 2022, foreign reserves fell by 75.7% to a value equivalent to 8.312 months worth of imports. The Middle Eastern country has faced the deepest economic crisis in its history since October 2019, which was exacerbated by Covid-19 and a massive explosion at the Port of Beirut in August 2020.


Pakistan and Kyrgyzstan make up the remainder of the 5 countries which have seen their reserves fall by at least 60% since the pandemic. In December 2022, foreign reserves in both countries covered less than 1 month of imports.

While the majority of the 75 developing countries saw their reserves decline, there were 12 countries which saw an improvement. This included countries with a low base in March 2020, such as Ecuador, which saw its foreign reserves increase by 223% to a value sufficient to cover 2.48 months of imports, as well as Bosnia and Herzegovina (+150% to 0.23 months of imports). While Nigeria performed well compared to its peers, with an improvement in its FX reserves by 40.9%, the latest available month of data was September 2021.