Coronavirus: Drop the debt

2 April 2020 — Global Justice Now

As coronavirus gets a foothold in every country, governments in the global south are facing an appalling choice: pay for emergency healthcare, or pay off international debts.

Across Africa, Asia and Latin America, lower-income countries urgently need to scale up their health spending. But they’re due to spend over $25 billion on debt payments in 2020. This is money that could be used now to save lives as this terrible virus continues to spread.

In Mali, the country has 20 ventilators for a population of 19 million. In Haiti, there are 64 ventilators to cover 11 million people. Kenya has 130 beds in intensive care units, for 50 million people. We have 4,000 ICUs in the UK – and we all know it’s not enough.

That’s why we’re joining with our friends at Jubilee Debt Campaign to support a global call for immediate debt cancellation for lower-income countries in response to the coronavirus threat. African leaders have already called for $100 billion of debt cancellation to help combat coronavirus. Money that could be going towards urgent healthcare to save lives should not be flowing out to some of the world’s wealthiest lenders. Will you join the call to drop the debt?

We are all still processing the shock of this crisis to our lives – both the health threat, and the economic consequences. And that’s in one of the richest countries in the world.

In much of the global south, the economic shock of coronavirus has arrived even before the virus has taken hold. Investors have removed $83 billion from emerging markets in a matter of weeks. Income from things like coffee, copper and tourism, which many countries rely on, has crashed, while borrowing costs have risen. The UN says developing countries need $2.5 trillion of debt cancellation, emergency finance and aid to weather the storm. UN chief António Guterres has called it the biggest global challenge since World War Two, saying: “what the world needs now is solidarity”.

All of us who stand for internationalism need to raise our voices in these extraordinary times. In just two weeks, UK Chancellor Rishi Sunak will be taking part in virtual meetings of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). It’s a key opportunity to take decisions that give governments in the global south what they need to try and fight this pandemic: Money. Now.

We need to put maximum pressure on our government to back a massive debt reduction at these talks – taking in everyone the debts are owed to: rich country governments, international institutions, and private banks and speculators. What’s in it for them? As the Ethiopian prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, has said: “If the virus is not defeated in Africa, it will only bounce back to the rest of the world.” Will you sign the petition to drop the debt today?

Sign the Petition

At Global Justice Now we have a long history of campaigning for debt justice for countries around the world. As a founding member of the Jubilee Debt Campaign, we pushed rich countries and international institutions like the World Bank and IMF to cancel billions of dollars of debt in the 1990s and 2000s, freeing up vital funds for health and education spending in the global south. We know that in a crisis, debt cancellation is the fastest way to get money to governments – as it puts a stop to what’s flowing out.

Already, key figures in global institutions are starting to acknowledge the problem of debt in this crisis. The head of the IMF has acknowledged the “tremendous burden” on low-income countries and the need to “deal with” countries in debt distress. The head of the World Bank has acknowledged that low-income countries need some form of “debt relief”. Now we need the governments like the UK which run these institutions to push for global action.

As it has in past crises, our pressure can make a difference. We can push for short-term debt moratoriums to turn into the proper debt cancellation. We can push for debt cancellation to come without unhelpful strings which will be used to impose austerity. We can push for new funding to be in the form of grants not loans. Let’s start by putting pressure on the UK government over the next two weeks. Please sign the petition now:

Thank you for all your support.

Jonathan Stevenson
Campaigner at Global Justice Now

Sign the Petition

PS. To find out more about global debt and the coronavirus emergency, join our webinar with the Jubilee Debt Campaign’s head of policy Tim Jones and others next Thursday. And you can also find lots more information about global debt justice on the Jubilee website at: http://www.jubileedebt.org.uk

MORE INFO

[1] Urgent call to head off new debt crisis in developing world, 22 March 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/22/urgent-call-to-head-off-new-debt-crisis-in-developing-world

[2] Africa, Latin America Fragile Targets for Coronavirus Spread, 20 March 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2020/03/20/world/africa/ap-af-virus-outbreak-vulnerable-countries.html

[3] Africa’s fragile health systems rush to contain coronavirus, 20 March 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/20/africas-fragile-health-systems-rush-to-contain-coronavirus

[4] Africa is woefully ill-equipped to cope with covid-19, The Economist, 26 March 2020, https://www.economist.com/middle-east-and-africa/2020/03/26/africa-is-woefully-ill-equipped-to-cope-with-covid-19

[5] UN calls for $2.5tn emergency package for developing nations, 30 March 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/30/un-calls-trillion-emergency-package-help-developing-nations-coronavirus

[6] If Covid-19 is not beaten in Africa it will return to haunt us all, Financial Times, 25 March 2020, https://www.ft.com/content/c12a09c8-6db6-11ea-89df-41bea055720b

[7] Dozens of poorer nations seek IMF help amid coronavirus crisis, 27 March 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/27/dozens-poorer-nations-seek-imf-help-coronavirus-crisis

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