G7 Finance Ministers Endorse Debt Relief for World’s Poorest Nations; Move Would Free Money To Improve Health, Education
Finance ministers from the Group of Seven industrialized nations, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund this weekend at their biannual meeting in Washington, D.C., "pressed ahead" with efforts to forgive the debt of the world's poorest nations, saying that they hope to come to an agreement later this year, the AP/Boston Globe reports (Aversa, AP/Boston Globe, 4/18). Several public health, AIDS advocacy and development groups have urged G7 finance ministers to support eliminating debt in more than 30 countries. The finance ministers in February agreed in principle to forgive up to 100% of the debts owed by the world's poorest countries, but the ministers remain deeply divided on the best way to move forward. U.K. Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown at the February meeting proposed to increase aid to developing nations to $100 billion annually through Britain's proposed International Finance Facility, which would frontload international aid to meet the U.N. Millennium Development Goals. Brown has said that more than 50 countries, including France and Italy, have expressed support for the initiative, although the United States so far has failed to fully endorse the plan. French President Jacques Chirac in January at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, proposed a global tax on international financial transactions to raise $10 billion annually to fight HIV/AIDS. Although the Bush administration supports 100% debt cancellation, the United States does not support either the U.K. or French plan to raise funds for poverty alleviation, according to U.S. Treasury Undersecretary John Taylor (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 2/7). Although G7 officials have "failed to settle differences," representatives from the United States and the United Kingdom said that are "encouraged by developments" at the meetings, according to the AP/Globe. "I believe we are making considerable progress now on these issues," Brown said, adding, "I think, for the first time as a result of these meetings, that more money will have to be available."
Although the finance officials "insisted they were making progress" on debt relief plans, some international aid groups "accused" G7 nations of "dragging their feet" and said that "further delay could worsen the plight of the world's poorest people," the AP/Globe reports. "Progress has stalled not because of disagreement over the principle of debt cancellation but over the mechanics of how to finance such cancellation," Debayani Kar, communications and advocacy coordinator for the debt relief organization Jubilee USA Network, said (AP/Boston Globe, 4/18). "The time for delay and posture is over. The table is set for [U.S. President] George Bush and (British Prime Minister) Tony Blair to deliver a historic deal," Jamie Drummond, executive director of the debt, AIDS and trade advocacy group DATA, said (Dunphy, AP/Richmond Times-Dispatch, 4/18). Although some African officials attending the meetings "expressed satisfaction" with the continent's economic growth, they said more money is needed to combat HIV/AIDS and malaria, according to VOA News (Wood, VOA News, 4/17). Addressing the meeting on Saturday, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan called on wealthy nations and developing countries to work together to fight poverty (Xinhuanet, 4/16). Outgoing World Bank President James Wolfensohn also "urged global action" to help Africa curb the spread of HIV and reduce poverty, according to AFP/Yahoo! News. "Looking ahead, and with just a decade to go to 2015, achieving all the (goals) presents an enormous challenge," Wolfensohn said at an IMF policy committee meeting. He added, "But we know that with the right policies and actions rapid progress is possible, and the success of the better-performing regions and countries, including in sub-Saharan Africa, provides hope for others" (AFP/Yahoo! News , 4/16).
World Bank HIV/AIDS Grant
In related news, the World Bank recently announced its approval of a $20 million grant to combat HIV/AIDS in six African countries, AFP/Yahoo! News reports. Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda -- which collectively constitute an area known as the Great Lakes region -- will receive funding from the grant. The grant will go toward HIV/AIDS prevention programs, as well as care and treatment programs for refugees, migrant workers, transport workers and other groups at high risk of contracting HIV, the World Bank said in a statement, according to AFP/Yahoo! News. More than six million HIV-positive people live in the region, AFP/Yahoo! News reports (AFP/Yahoo! News , 4/16).