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Christians Welcome Debt-Relief Deals

British leaders of a Christian-based initiative to reduce global poverty welcomed recent deals to forgive debts of poor countries, while acknowledging that more needs to be done.

The Group of Eight rich countries recently finalized a debt deal canceling $25 billion in debts owed by 181 of the world’s poorest countries owed to the International Development Association of the World Bank at the end of 2003, effective July 1. Up to 22 more countries may qualify if they are able to meet requirements of the World Bank.

The African Development Fund and African Development Bank, which gives loans for infrastructure and poverty reduction projects, on Wednesday forgave $8.5 billion in debt owed by 14 low-income countries under the Fund’s Multilateral Debt Relief Initiative. Up to 33 nations could ultimately benefit.

Twenty countries benefited immediately from the Jan. 6 cancellation of all debt owed to the International Monetary Fund at the end of 2004. The amount was worth $3.4 billion and could rise to $5 billion if all potential countries qualify.

These three elements collectively are known as the Multilateral Debt Relief Initiative and together account for potentially around $50 billion of debt cancellation.

“The delivery of the G8 debt deal will make a significant difference to millions of poor people,” said Trisha Rogers, director of the Jubilee Debt Campaign, a coalition of organizations in the UK calling for 100 percent cancellation of unpayable debts by poor nations.

While the deal is not 100 per cent cancellation of the debts of all the world’s poorest countries, it is 100 per cent cancellation of some of the debts for some of the world’s poorest countries, the Jubilee campaign said in a media briefing. While hundreds of millions of the world’s poorest people are now free of debt, Africa’s total debt is still around $300 billion, and the largest benefits of the recent deals don’t take effect for another two months.

“There is so much more to be done,” said Caroline Pearce, senior policy and campaigns coordinator. “This is an important step forward for some countries–but other poor countries are still paying a total of $100 million every day to the rich world, and the path to achieving debt cancellation is still blocked by damaging and undemocratic conditions.”

Stephen Rand, co-chair of the Jubilee Debt Campaign, is a Baptist. He is on staff at Kairos (Baptist) Church in Wimbledon.

Rand, along with Doug Balfour, general director of Tearfund, the largest evangelical relief organization in Great Britain, several years ago began conversations about involving evangelical Christians in poverty relief that evolved into the Micah Challenge, a global Christian campaign launched in 2004 to hold national leaders accountable to U.N. Millennium Development Goals to reduce global poverty by half by 2015.

The campaign is endorsed by several Baptist conventions and unions around the world, and in July 2004 was endorsed by the General Council of the Baptist World Alliance.