Debt Relief Funding in Jeopardy in Congress

Date: Fri, 23 Jun 2000 00:45:04 -0400 (EDT)

Dear All,

One of the most pressing issues of world poverty is the debt that poverty-ridden nations owe wealthy nations and global financial institutions. Many poor countries spend as much or more paying off their debts as they spend on health and education, combined. According to the 1997 Human Development Report, a United Nations Development Program publication, the lives of some 7 million children could be saved every year if the money that African nations -- which include most of the poorest, most heavily indebted countries -- pay on their debts instead went to health, education, and other social programs.
With little real progress on debt relief since that report came out, we can safely -- horrifically -- estimate that because governments were paying back debts to wealthy creditors instead of investing in the lives of their people, many millions -- possibly several tens of millions -- of children died before they had a chance to live.
There has recently been a glimmer of hope on the issue of debt relief. One year ago, the world's leading industrial nations improved on a 1996 debt relief plan. Even this enhanced plan could not possibly have solved the problem of the debt -- the initiative simply was not ambitious enough -- but it could have made -- and can still make -- a difference in many millions of lives. Yet the plan is of no real value unless the wealthy countries actually contribute the promised funds.
The U.S. Congress is on the verge of taking a significant step away from implementing the plan. In order to fulfill its commitment under last year's debt relief plan, the United States must appropriate at least $435 million in debt relief for fiscal year 2001 (with more to follow in 2002 and 2003), but the foreign appropriations bill that the Senate is due to vote on includes only $75 million, and the version of the bill approved by a House subcommittee of the Appropriations Committee earlier this week includes even less, only $69.4 million (see NY Times, 6/20/00, editorial;
A strong and well-conceived debt relief plan would lead to considerable increases in spending on health, education, AIDS prevention programs, and the like in many of the world's poorest nations. Yet some in Congress seem determined not to let the United States live up to its commitments even under the weaker plan that exists. What is more, there is a significant danger that other wealthy countries will not meet their commitments if the United States fails to meet its own.
Please call, fax, or write/e-mail your representatives and Senators (at this point, representatives might be more important on this issue because the Senate has indicated that it will defer to the House) to urge them to support at least $435 million in debt relief for this coming year, and to pressure their colleagues on the House Appropriations Committee to include at least this sum for debt relief in the foreign appropriations bill. This Committee is expected to take up the matter next week (the week of June 26). If you want to contact House Appropriations Committee members directly, they are listed (along with contact info) at, a site that also contains other good information on the current struggle to get Congress to approve money for debt relief. If you would like more information on debt relief and its potential for saving and improving many millions of lives, an article I wrote is available at (go to the current issue). You can find Congressional contact information at To the extent that following through on the past year of debt relief commitments will save some of these lives, they are in the hands of your representatives in government. And through them, these lives are in your hands, in all our hands.
Thank you as always for your time and attention to this issue.



"I have only dreams: to build a better world, a world of harmony and understanding, a world in which it is a joy to live. This is not asking for too much." -- Yitzhak Rabin

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