Events to highlight plight of debtor nations


A human chain around the Central Bank, Dublin, was one event among many in 50 countries yesterday to highlight calls for the unpayable debts of the world's poorest countries to be written off. The campaigners' message is that debt repayments are taking precedence over health care, education, clean water, sanitation, and this is costing lives.

They chose yesterday because it marked 300 days to go in the countdown to the Millennium when they want the Third World debt cancelled and a fresh start to the new century for these countries.

The Dublin event drew more than 300 in a carnival atmosphere with the Millennium Festival Drummers, jugglers and unicyclists. However, the serious message was ever present with many banners and people with huge chains wound around them, symbolising the shackles of debt.

Organisers Trocaire, Jubilee 2000, and the One World Network of Students, said the human chain took 10 minutes to form as people from all over Ireland, including children, joined hands.

During the 10 minutes, an estimated 10 children would have died in the developing world.

Their deaths could be linked to the debt crisis in their countries as governments sacrificed investment in healthcare to repay debts.

Trocaire's campaign officer, Ms Caoimhe de Barra, said: "Every hour 57 children die, according to UNICEF figures, because developing countries can't invest in healthcare and other facilities as they are trying to pay off their debt."

It was obscene, she said, that at the turn of the millennium the weight of unpayable debt was crushing economies and taking people's lives. One in five children in Mozambique died before they reached their first birthday, yet that country was obliged to spend four times as much on debt repayments as it could spend on healthcare.

The cost of implementing debt cancellation would be £100 billion but the G7 nations spent $459 billion on military equipment in 1995. Ms de Barra said they were not arguing for the cancellation of all debt. It would be complex in its application. Each country would be dealt with case by case, in a transparent manner and ensuring that corrupt leaders and dictators would not benefit from debt cancellation.

This would have to be organised by Third World networks, working with governments. Organisers are encouraging people to sign a Jubilee 2000 petition which they will take to Cologne, Germany, on June 19th to present to the leaders of the G8 nations.

Ireland so far has more signatures per head, at over 400,000, than any other state. The aim is to collect half-a-million signatures in Ireland by the May 14th deadline.

Other events will be held on the 200th day and the 100th day to the millennium as part of the ongoing campaign.