c. 2000 Religion News Service
(UNDATED) If the world needed another reason for developing the global Jubilee 2000 debt cancellation initiative, one need only look to the compelling media coverage of the current disaster in southern Africa.
Like Honduras and Nicaragua after Hurricane Mitch, Mozambique would recover more quickly from the devastation inflicted on the region by recent storms if it were not burdened by a crushing foreign debt.
It is now estimated that as many as 1 million people have been affected by these storms and the worst flooding in 50 years. Many of them have been uprooted from their homes and driven to refugee camps. There are cities and district capitals which are totally immersed in water, including Chokwe and Xai-Xai in Gaza, Machanga and Buzi in Sofala, and Nova Mambone in Inhambane.
Mozambique’s Ministry of Agriculture has estimated that about 100,000 hectares (247,000 acres) of promising crops are completely lost. Many cattle and other small animals including game are lost. Most of the region’s drinking water has been contaminated, and health experts fear that 800,000 people _ especially children _ are at risk from possible epidemics of cholera, malaria and meningitis. According to reports, some clinics in Mozambique already are getting as many as 200 cases of malaria a day.
Church World Service has been working through the Mozambique Christian Council to provide blankets to those affected.
Now is the time for the United States to take a strong international leadership position, and act promptly to help cancel Mozambique’s debt, as pledged last fall by President Clinton. As Mozambique struggles to rebuild devastated infrastructures, it is critical that this process not be delayed by the need to make further payments on debt.
Before the latest flooding in mid-March that worsened the already critical situation, it was estimated the country would need two-and-a-half years to rebuild the destruction caused by rains, flooding and cyclone. The international community should endorse a process whereby the monies, which would have gone to repay these debts, are spent instead on schools, clinics, water and sewage treatment processes and other measures which will help to restore the well-being of Mozambique and its people.
To require continued payment on this debt will only serve to magnify and extend the human cost inflicted by this disaster.
The United States has been generous with its disaster assistance to the region, pledging $12.8 million in disaster relief and military assistance. But the United States can do more to respond to this terrible natural disaster.
Influenced by the global Jubilee 2000 campaign to lift the crushing burden of debt from the world’s poorest countries by the start of the new millennium Clinton has pledged debt cancellation to Mozambique, along with many other countries that are similarly indebted and impoverished.
Mozambique has also been determined to be eligible for debt relief through the World Bank’s Highly Indebted Poor Countries debt cancellation initiative. According to the Mozambican Debt Group, Mozambique is currently paying $1.46 million a week in debt services. It is due to receive some debt cancellation in April 2000. However, the extra relief will amount to approximately $250 million and will still leave Mozambique with annual average payments of $57 million, more than is spent on primary health and education combined.
Even this debt relief may be held up because the United States has not contributed to the HIPC trust fund, established to help cancel debts owed to regional multilateral development banks.
The Clinton administration has just submitted a supplemental budget request to Congress in order to fund this commitment. Together, we call on Congress to act immediately to honor this pressing need, and for the United States to use its influence with other creditors to press for cancellation of all of Mozambique’s foreign debt in this Jubilee year.
DEA END PAGE