Debt Relief Call for Countries Hit by Disasters

By Little, Alison | The Birmingham Post (England), November 9, 1998 | Go to article overview

Debt Relief Call for Countries Hit by Disasters


Little, Alison, The Birmingham Post (England)


The Government is to press the world community to consider special debt relief for countries hit by natural disasters, like the central American states of Nicaragua and Honduras, International Development Secretary Ms Clare Short announced. Her statement followed her apparent dismissal last week of calls for the West to write off the debts of the two countries immediately after Hurricane Mitch left 7,000 people dead, 11,000 missing and up to a million homeless. Ms Short came under fire after she said that while there was a case for debt relief for some poor countries, calls for immediate cancellation of all debts owed by Nicaragua and Honduras were "misleading" and "irrelevant" to the relief effort required in the middle of a disaster. In a statement issued by her department on Saturday, she stressed the first priority, in which Britain was involved, was indeed immediate relief to save and sustain life after disasters like Hurricane Mitch. The next step was to devise arrangements to help countries rebuild. Both Nicaragua and Honduras - which pay about pounds 1 million a day in interest payments - would qualify in a few years for debt relief under a scheme for Highly Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) as defined by the World Bank and IMF "if they stick to sound policies", she said. "The question is: how can we help on a shorter timescale? "So Chancellor Gordon Brown and I are today calling on the IMF and World Bank to look closely, alongside work they already have in hand on post- conflict debt relief, at the case for special treatment for countries afflicted by natural disasters which severely damage their economies. "We shall be in touch with our European and G7 colleagues, because we want the international community to consider urgently what exceptional debt relief measures might be appropriate in the short term for both these groups of countries." A department spokesman said consideration was already being given by the IMF and World Bank to accelerated debt relief eligibility and special interim measures for HIPC countries emerging from conflict. Ms Short had wanted consideration to be given to similar treatment for those suffering big natural disasters, the spokesman added. Ms Short said Britain would continue to work with others to ensure appropriate help for non-HIPC countries which were hit by natural disasters but did not qualify for debt relief. …

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