Special Report

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The World

Forget the clamor and compromise in Washington, D.C. over President Barack Obama’s stimulus plan.

A more troubling chapter of the rapidly deteriorating global economic crisis is playing out quietly in dark corners — and crowded fast food joints — across Asia, Africa, Europe, the Middle East and beyond.

Use this map to see what our correspondents have uncovered:

Viewed collectively, the numbers are staggering:

  • Consider the 65,000 Chinese factories now shuttered, and the thousands of poor, rural villages bracing for the return of 20 million unemployed migrant workers.
  • Or what’s happening on the streets of Japan — the world’s second largest economy — where 1.6 million are now living on welfare, the highest number since 1965.
  • Or deep inside South Africa’s platinum mines, where 10,000 workers are set to lose their jobs due to the collapse of the global auto industry (fewer cars mean fewer catalytic converters, which use the metal).
  • Or in crumbling Moscow tenements and frigid villages across Russia, where the Kremlin is warning of a surge in alcoholism — and that official unemployment could hit 2 million.
  • Or in smoke-choked Cairo cafes, where tens of thousands of young men who have given up looking for work congregate and commiserate.

To understand what’s unfolding we asked 20 GlobalPost correspondents in 20 countries to report on the ground truth of this deepening crisis. In other words, what’s really happening, and how are people being affected by a world of trouble?

To uncover the scope and humanity of the story, we armed our correspondents with the same questions: How bad is it? What is the government doing about it? How are ordinary people suffering? How are habits changing? Which moguls are out of luck?

What we found was grim.

Nervous governments are throwing money at the problem: $586 billion in China. $132 billion in Japan. $42 billion in Mexico. $28 billion in Canada. Meanwhile central banks in Brazil, India, and other countries are slashing interest rates, almost begging consumers to spend more.

Instead, they are spending less: Gasoline consumption in Costa Rica has plummeted. Sales of Soju — a powerful Korean alcohol that sells for a dollar a bottle — are at a 9-year high. Shoppers at Mexican grocery stores are clawing and clubbing over discounted tomatoes and bananas. Indians are opting for “by-two” coffee (one shared between two people), or “cutting chai” (one tea split between three). 2008 sales at McDonald’s Japan hit $4.4 billion, a record, as Japanese turn to cheaper fast food.

But because optimism is the flip side of fear, we also asked our correspondents to look for a ray of hope in each country. It wasn’t easy, but they found them.

 (Editor’s note: The economic data in the above comes from official government sources, including the International Monetary Fund and the CIA World Factbook).

Other recent stories by Thomas Mucha:

Peasant revolution 2.0

Goodbye Kitty: Japan in Decline

Can Barack channel Miles?

The sick man and the dragon

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