Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Povery reduction...how to help

As many people ask how they can “help” reduce poverty in Africa, I believe it is important to share information on how to do just that…

This week the United States Congress will vote on the “Jubilee Act”, the most important debt legislation since 2000 (The concept of “Jubilee” is found in both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible, calling for debt cancellation and the righting of relationships every seven years with a “super Jubilee” every fiftieth year). Among other things, the Jubilee Act will expand access to debt cancellation to all the countries that need it to fight extreme poverty. Without debt cancellation, it will be nearly impossible for many countries to achieve the United Nations Millennium Development Goals to cut extreme poverty in half by 2015.

From 1970-2002, Africa received some $540 billion in loans and paid back $550 billion in principal and interest. However, because interest rates skyrocketed and compound interest made repayment impossible, Africa remains with a debt stock of $295 billion. The consequences of this debt are numerous and serious. Because indebted countries are required to use a large percentage of their national funding toward their debt, essential human services such as health and education are underfunded, and left out of reach for the impoverished majority. The United Nations Development Program estimated in 2003 that 30,000 children die each day due to preventable diseases. Debt cancellation would free the resources needed to help reverse this devastating reality.

The world's most impoverished countries pay more than $100 million each day in debt payments to wealthy governments and financial institutions such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. In countries where the majority of the population live on less than $1 per day, this money could be spent on clean water, basic health care, and education rather than repaying some of the world's wealthiest financial organizations. In addition, as experts estimate it would take an annual commitment of $18 billion a year to reverse the AIDS crisis in Africa that claims 7,000 lives a day (and because Sub-Saharan Africa pays almost $13 billion in debt service to the wealthy nations and institutions every year), the benefits of debt reduction for Africa would be incredible.

I fully realize that many (probably most!) of the people reading this letter have never gotten involved in something like this. I hope this can be a “maiden voyage” for you, because ordinary Americans working with partners around the world can generate the political will needed to achieve full debt cancellation, leading to better and longer lives for countless African people. The United States has the most influence of any nation over creditors and international banks. Our Congress could leverage full debt cancellation for impoverished countries. However, they will not act unless they know you care. The U.S. House of Representatives is going to vote on the Jubilee Act this week. If you wish to get involved (…and I hope you do!), please call your representative through the Capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121.

Much of the statistical information used for this letter came from the “Jubilee USA Network” homepage, http://www.jubileeusa.org. In order to learn more about Jubilee, please visit the site. In addition, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s “Advocacy” webpage (…a great site which relates faith to action) provides a great deal of information dealing with this issue, as well as strategies and suggestions on how you may call your government representative (…this is especially helpful for those who have not done something like this before). Please visit: http://www.elca.org/advocacy/issues/economiclife/08-02-29-debt-cancellation.html

“Action without faith is a nightmare, but faith without action is a daydream”

With peace and love,