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‘Cancel the Debt’ banner protest outside the Treasury and on Parliament Square

CAFOD: Thom Flint

Campaign update: Debt

Published on 18 November 2020

Cancel the Debt Campaign Update

Christian Aid Campaigner Alpha Gougsa breaks down what has been achieved in 2020 on debt cancellation and just how far we need to go.

We have all been affected in some way by the devastating impact of coronavirus.

As the pandemic has spread in many of the poorest countries, our neighbours around the world have been hit even harder, often without the safety nets we’ve seen at home.

For example, Burkina Faso has only 19 ventilators for a population of 11 million.

The most vulnerable have fallen ill, and the economic impacts have left people who were already struggling without a way to feed their families and survive this crisis. 

Debt re-payments are taking away resources that are vital for coping with the health, social and economic crises resulting from the pandemic. We need rich nations, private creditors and multilateral bodies to cancel the debt of the world’s poorest countries.

In April this year as the crisis took hold, we launched our campaign to Cancel the Debt with thousands of you emailing the Chancellor to call on him to champion debt cancellation at international meetings.

A global movement to cancel the debt

of you emailed the UK Chancellor
signed petitions globally calling for action on debt

Ahead of key international finance meetings this year you put pressure on the UK Chancellor, Rishi Sunak to ensure that no one was left behind and that the most vulnerable countries did not face an impossible choice between saving lives or repaying debts.

  • We handed in your petitions, signed by more than 860,000 people.
  • We also handed in the photo petition that hundreds of you took part in - check out the video below.
  • Campaigners across the country held virtual lobbies with MPs.
  • 140 Christian leaders wrote publicly to the World Bank and IMF in support of debt relief. 
  • Campaigners met with the Treasury office to discuss the UK's role at the G20 Finance Ministers meeting and the World Bank and IMF annual meetings.

What was the outcome of these meetings?

We’ve seen some steps taken on debt relief this year. Initially the G20 finance ministers agreed to suspend up to $12bn in debt repayments owed by the poorest countries for a 9-month period.

But these first steps didn’t go far enough. They simply kicked the can down the road.

Eventually G20 countries agreed to extend debt suspension until June 2021 and to look into a framework for long-term debt restructuring. But again, this doesn’t go far enough.

It still doesn’t cancel debts for vulnerable countries, instead it rolls over payments that will accrue interest and potentially create an even bigger debt crisis in the future.

Crucially, the debt suspension only covers payments to other governments and not to private lenders. Private lenders are hugely important - they own about a third of the debt owed by the world’s most vulnerable countries and charge much more interest than G20 countries or the IMF.

What’s next?

Right now, we’re working out our plans for 2021. There will be opportunities to influence and make real progress on debt next year. So, we’ll continue to push for debt cancellation for all the most vulnerable countries from all forms of creditors until the end of 2022.

Until then, find out more about our other campaigns