The World Bank warned developing countries on Wednesday to prepare for the "real" risk that an escalation in the euro area debt crisis could tip the world into a slump on a par with the global downturn in 2008/09.
In a report sharply cutting its world economic growth expectations, the World Bank said Europe was probably already in recession. If the euro area debt crisis deepened, global economic forecasts would be significantly lower.
"The sovereign debt crisis in the euro zone appears to be contained," Justin Lin, the chief economist for the World Bank said.
Manage your wealth in the current financial climate
Learn how to get the most out of your ISA & avoid common mistakes
"However, the risk of a global freezing-up of the markets and as well as a global crisis similar to what happened in September 2008 are real."
The World Bank predicted world economic growth of 2.5 percent in 2012 and 3.1 percent in 2013, well below the 3.6 percent growth for each year projected in June.
"We think it is now important to think through not only slower growth but sharp deteriorations, as a prudent measure," said Hans Timmer, director of development prospects at the bank.
The World Bank said if the euro area debt crisis escalates, global growth would be about 4 percentage points lower.
It forecast high-income economies would expand just 1.4 percent in 2012 as the euro area shrinks 0.3 percent, sharp downward revisions from growth forecasts last June of 2.7 percent and 1.8 percent, respectively.
It cut its forecast for growth in developing economies to 5.4 percent for 2012 from its previous forecast of 6.2 percent, saying expansion in Brazil and India and to a lesser extent Russia, South Africa and Turkey, had slowed already.
It saw a slight pick up in growth in developing economies in 2013 to 6 percent. But the report said threats to growth are still rising, suggesting the outlook remained highly uncertain.
"The downturn in Europe and weaker growth in developing countries raises the risk that the two developments reinforce one another, resulting in an even weaker outcome," it said.
It also cited failure so far to resolve high debts and deficits in Japan and the United States and slow growth in other high-income countries, and cautioned those could trigger sudden shocks.
On top of that, political tensions in the Middle East and North Africa could disrupt oil supplies and add another blow to global prospects.
It said that while Europe was moving toward a long-term solution to its debt problems, markets remained skittish.
On balance, the World Bank said global economic conditions were "fragile and there remains great uncertainty as to how markets will evolve over the medium term."