Published on 1 May 2020
Christian Aid campaigner Luke Harman highlights how debt relief can support the world’s poorest communities in their fight against coronavirus.
Last month, we urged world leaders to do more to support our global neighbours living in global poverty, to help them tackle the emerging coronavirus emergency.
As infection rates speed up in the poorest countries, our neighbours around the world will face the same impacts we’ve experienced in the UK, but with added burdens such as poor healthcare and sanitation.
The impacts on people living in poverty
Although the health impacts of the virus are yet to reach the levels we’ve seen in the UK, the economic effects of the pandemic have already hit people hard, with lockdowns leading to hundreds of thousands of lost jobs and livelihoods.
In the poorest countries, there is often little social protection in place for people who are losing jobs and struggling to feed their families. Many of the most vulnerable people, such as those living in refugee camps or slums, are not able to take measures – such as hand washing and social distancing – that help prevent the spread of the virus.
When the virus does take hold, as we predict it will do, poor communities will need a great deal of support. For example, in Burkina Faso there are 11 – (yes 11!) ventilators for 19 million people, and in Sierra Leone there are no intensive care beds in hospitals.
Speaking out against debt injustice
What our campaigning has achieved so far
It’s an outrage that 76 of the world’s poorest countries are due to spend $40.6bn (£32bn) this year on debt payments whilst having to cope with a global health emergency. That’s $40.6bn that can’t be used to help deal with the devastating impacts of coronavirus.
By calling for this debt to be cancelled, we can help these countries have a fighting chance of tackling this virus that affects us all. The money could instead be channelled to keep people safe. For example, debt cancellation for 2020 could pay the salaries of 14,000 extra needed nurses in Malawi for the next three years.
United by your love for our sisters and brothers the world over, almost 10,000 of you have called on the UK Chancellor Rishi Sunak to help broker a debt relief deal for the world’s poorest people. You have joined hundreds of thousands of people to call on world leaders to cancel the poorest countries debt payments for 2020.
Add your voice to cancel the debt
Progress on the world stage
During the past month, we’ve seen progress on the issue of debt relief.
Firstly, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) agreed to cancel debt payments they were owed by 25 countries for a six month period. This is a good first step, but only covers debt owed to the IMF and for a limited period.
Following this, G20 finance ministers announced they would put debt payments of the poorest countries on hold so they can fight the pandemic, save lives and help support people who will lose their jobs.
Again, a good first step, but the G20 risks simply kicking the can down the road. We believe debt payments for 2020 should be cancelled outright, rather than added to the debt burden of the poorest countries. At the moment countries are still expected to pay back these debts with interest between 2022 and 2024.
Re-thinking how we do things
The interests of companies and creditors cannot be put before the lives of people.
The economic impact will be long-lasting. We are facing the greatest global economic crisis since the 1930s and it is always the most vulnerable who are worst hit. In this crisis, cancelling debt is a matter of life and death.
Creditor countries (like those in the G20) as well as multilateral bodies and private sector creditors should be working on a longer-term debt relief package, (which includes the cancellation of all debt payments in 2020).
We need to establish new rules for debt – combined with urgent efforts to address tax avoidance, as Christian Aid has long campaigned for – that enable a recovery from the crisis to be properly funded, and fair for all, particularly the most vulnerable people.