I attended an excellent meeting with Jubilee Scotland meeting tonight to talk about their Debt’s not Done Campaign.
Jubilee Scotland estimates that there is still around £400bn debt owed by some of the world’s poorest countries. The legacy of dictators or governments not acting in their citizens interests casts a long shadow over the lives of many millions of people. The debate we are currently having in the UK regarding the impact of the bank bailout and scale and depth of cuts in our health and education investment only serves to highlight how devastating debt repayments are for poorer countries with less well-developed public services.
It is important that members of the public are aware that they can make a difference by campaigning together and by getting in touch with their political representatives and making their views known. I believe that the Make Poverty History demonstration had a big impact on the G8 summit which followed it and influenced the decisions it took. Similarly the Debt Relief Act which was passed last year by the UK Parliament was also the result of concerted lobbying by a broad-based campaign.
The Make Poverty History demonstration led to action by the G8. The combination of the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative and the Multilateral Debt Relief Initiative reduced the debts of poorer countries by 80%.
The sums involved are difficult to visualise but there are clear benefits which freed up the poorest countries to enable them to invest in vital public services. Mozambique used its debt savings to vaccinate 1 million more children against tetanus, whooping cough and diphtheria, as well as build and electrify schools. In Sierra Leone there are 600,000 more children benefited from getting to primary school, half of them girls. They have also been able to abolish primary school fees. Uganda doubled the number of people getting access to health care. In Zambia a third more people gained access to health services. Nicaragua was able to invest more in health and education services. Nepal was able to help fund peace processes in the country and rural electrification, essential in tackling poverty.
Campaigning was also successful in ending the Vulture Culture – a process whereby hedge funds were able to buy up a country’s debt at a discount then sue countries for payment at exorbitant rates of interest. After a broad-based campaign by churches, politicians and NGO’s such as the Jubilee Debt Campaign, a Private Members Bill promoted by Labour MP Andrew Gwynne which gained the support of the previous UK Labour Government was passed. From my work on climate change I am very aware that many countries need help. For example if we are to see rainforests protected, an important part of the battle against climate change, poorer countries need to be compensated for the fact that they are not able to burn trees for fuel or clear forests for development.
Campaigning can make a difference. However, the issue of debt remains so we need to redouble our efforts. Jubilee Scotland have designated 9th – 16th October Debt Week. They aim to highlight what more needs to be done.
It’s certainly an issue that the Scottish Parliament’s Cross Party Group on International Development will address during our meetings this year. Get in touch if you would like to be kept in touch with the Group’s work. Our next meeting will be in the Parliament on 21st of September.