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(Debt) Relief for Haiti

(Debt) Relief for Haiti

More than two weeks after Haiti was devastated by a catastrophic 7.0 magnitude earthquake, the shattered country is pleading for better aid for victims amid reports of chaotic and ineffective food distribution. Worse yet for the troubled country - as well as the organizations trying to get relief supplies in - is that aftershocks have damaged the south pier of Port-au-Prince's port, "reducing the number of containers that can be unloaded there," according to Air Force Gen. Douglas Fraser. Aftershocks have been a major obstacle to the relief effort, disrupting road infrastructure and leading another military official to predict that "restoring electricity to Haiti's pre-earthquake capacity is still a couple of weeks away." You can read more about the situation on the ground in Haiti from Dr. Adam Koons, a member of a URJ congregation and the Director of Relief & Humanitarian Assistance of International Relief & Development, who yesterday wrote about his experiences on the RAC's blog.

Though monetary donations are still the preferred way of helping Haiti (the Union for Reform Judaism's Haiti relief fund, to which you can donate here, has already raised more than $600,000), some advocates are calling for a different kind of relief: debt relief. A good primer on Haiti's history of odious debt can be found here, but in reality, even if Haiti's history was not so pockmarked by exploitation, debt relief would still be "a no-brainer." As Jubilee USA points out, "Haiti is projected to pay at least $100 million in debt payments to [the IMF and World Bank] over the next five years unless [its] debts are cancelled." Needless to say, the earthquake has severely damaged Haiti's ability to pay back those debts. JubileeUSA has put it succinctly: "all of Haiti's limited resources should be directed at recovery, not repayment."

The IMF and World Bank's responses, unfortunately, have not been as generous. The IMF did expand Haiti's existing loan program by $100 million, but it was in the form of loans - which need to be paid back - and not grants. The Union of Reform Judaism, along with 80 other religious denominations, human rights groups, and development agencies, signed a letter spearheaded by JubileeUSA, asking Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner to "ensure that Haiti's existing debt be cancelled definitively and that any new money comes in the form of grants, not loans." (You can send a letter to Secretary Geithner urging him to cancel Haiti's debt at JubileeUSA's website).

Haiti is not the only country that could benefit from debt relief. The Jubilee Act (H.R.4405) "cancels impoverished country debt, prohibits harmful economic and policy conditions on debt cancellation, [and] mandates transparency and responsibility in lending from government" to 65 countries. To learn more about the Jubilee Act, visit JubileeUSA's website, or you can send an e-mail to your Representatives asking them to co-sponsor the bill.

Published: 1/28/2010

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