Wednesday, 5 January 2005

Well how can we ask for more?

Over $3b has been pledged to those states affected by the devastating Tsunami . That's pretty impressive, and we've come a long way from those early days when we were moaning about how the £15m from the UK and the $35m from the USA was totally inadequate (the British public has now pledged £76m and are likely to top £100m, with the government saying they will match the final figure, and the US have now pledged over $350m).

I've been interested in some of the things Gordon Brown has been saying about trying to get the G8 Nations to suspend the debt owed to them by the countries affected by the Tsunami.

Get this:

The external debt of each of these countries:

  • Indonesia $132.2bn
  • India $104.4bn
  • Thailand $59.2bn
  • Malaysia $48.6bn
  • Sri Lanka $9.6bn
  • Somalia $2.7bn
  • Seychelles $560m
  • Maldives $270m
according to the World Development Movement (WDM), which campaigns for debt relief, the annual repayment costs on this debt are:

  • Indonesia $13.7bn
  • India $13bn
  • Thailand $17.9bn
  • Sri Lanka $653m
  • Maldives $20.8m

Based on those figures, the WDM said that the $3bn donated by the world to the victims of this disaster "will cover one-and-a-half months" of debt repayments for the five countries most affected by the tsunami disaster [this data stolen from the BBC]

Ah - that rains on our parade a little doesn't it?

Well done world, we've covered six weeks worth of debt repayment with our outstanding and noteworthy generosity. We should probably pat ourselves on the back for that. We rock!

With that in mind, I think we should cautiously welcome this overture by Gordon Brown to look at persuading the rich nations to suspend this debt to help fundamentally improve conditions in these countries by removing this albatross that they will never be able to pay off.

Brown's plan would be worth $5b a year to these countries. That's not small beer (assuming we can try and make sure that this money ends up with the people who need it the most, and not just in the pockets of local governments and adminstrators.... and that's easier said than done)

Hang on though.... What about the rest of the world? Have we forgotten about the millions of displaced people in Darfur? Have we forgotten that people are suffering elsewhere in the world?

No - apparently not.

Gordon Brown said:

"What my discussions with the IMF, the World Bank, the US treasury secretary and other financial leaders over the last few days have shown to me is that we never want to be in a position again where we have to choose between emergency aid and tackling the underlying causes of poverty. The world ought to be able to do both.

"That is why I will also be putting forward proposals for a new Marshall Plan for aid, trade and debt relief for the developing world to release sufficient resources through debt relief and through additional money to be provided by the richest countries and for trade justice so that we can deal with the underlying causes of poverty in Africa and else where as well as providing the aid for reconstruction. That is why 2005 will be a critical year for development under the UK's presidency." [quoted in The Guardian]

Oh. Hang on a second - he wants the debt repayments FROZEN. He's not saying the debt should be dropped.

The Jubilee Campaign and the World Development Movement have described the plan as "welcome but inadequate" - the debt must be cancelled altogether, not just suspended for an unnamed period of time.

The Jublilee Debt Campaign said in a statement: "In countries where preventable poverty was killing thousands daily even before the waves struck, debt cancellation – 100% debt cancellation for the poorest of these countries – was already necessary. Debts must be dropped – but there will still be a need for substantial emergency aid to deal with the impact of this disaster and prevent it claiming even more lives."

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, remember that 30,000 people are dying EVERY SINGLE DAY from preventable or treatable illnesses. If we remove the burden of the ridiculous debts that they owe us then we can really begin to make a difference....

I don't want to make too big a song and dance about this though. I actually think it's quite refreshing that a politician is stepping forward and putting these kind of issues up for serious debtate. Sure, the charities are arguing that the debt should be dropped entirely and not just suspended, and of course they are right.... but we should also recognise that when the British government talked about using their term with the presidency of both the EU and of G8 to really try and stamp out world poverty, for once it may not have all been spin. On the one hand, I'll believe it when I see it, but on the other hand it's brilliant that this issue is up for debtate at the table of power.

Labour get a bad enough press at the minute, and I'm personally still pretty pissed off with them about Iraq, but this feels like a positive step to me, and I welcome it..

What are you going to do to Help Make Poverty History in 2005 ?

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