Springing the debt trap

Ahead of the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty (October 17), more than 140 senior leaders of Christian churches from around the world have signed a letter urging the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank to cancel the debts of developing countries  fighting the coronavirus pandemic.

Signed by religious leaders from different denominations, including several in Canada, the letter was sent ahead of the annual meetings of the World Bank and IMF in mid-October 2020. Debt relief is on those meetings’ agendas, as part of the global economic recovery from the pandemic.

That debt relief is becoming a mainstream idea is evinced by the G20 group’s October 14 announcement of a moratorium on debt repayments by eligible devloping countries until June 2021, with the possiblility of a further six-month extension to be reviewed next spring.

The coronavirus pandemic is the worst global health crisis in a century. Yet, many countries are being forced to choose between spending money on saving lives and continuing to pay their debts.

In the letter, the church leaders encourage the global financial institutions to show “courageous leadership” and argue that debt cancellation “is the most immediate way to release the finance required to prevent millions of our sisters and brothers being needlessly pushed into poverty by the pandemic.”

Pope Francis has shown leadership on this issue, asking for debts to be cancelled “in recognition of the severe impacts of the medical, social and economic crises” faced by vulnerable countries as a result of the coronavirus. He also insisted on its importance in his recently published encyclical, Fratelli Tutti, saying that we all need to work together to build a better post-pandemic world.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau recently promised to increase development and humanitarian funding for the countries of the Global South that are simultaneously battling the impacts of poverty, climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic. He also indicated that Canada would continue to advocate for debt relief for developing countries facing economic hardship because of the pandemic, including at the annual meetings of the World Bank and IMF.

Development and Peace — Caritas Canada, along with many Canadian churches, has long advocated for debt cancellation as a way to allow countries to provide healthcare and education for their citizens, rather than contributing much of their revenue to debt and interest payments.

* Image: Christ Cleaning the Temple (1655) by the Italian artist, Bernardino Mei (from Wikimedia Commons).

By Dominique Godbout, Programs Officer, Humanitarian Assistance

Women are closely involved in determining the design priorities for shelters in the Rohingya refugee camps.

It has now been four years since the beginning of the massive influx of Rohingya refugees from Burma (Myanmar) into Bangladesh. Four years that Caritas Bangladesh, through its Emergency Response Program, has been working tirelessly to respond to the critical needs of the Rohingya women, girls, boys and men who live in the refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar.

Since 2017, too, Development and Peace — Caritas Canada, with support from thousands of Canadians and Global Affairs Canada, has been helping Caritas Bangladesh provide dignified and safe shelters to families in congested and disaster-prone camps.

Canada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy drove our commitment to ensuring that the shelters meet the specific needs of those who spend the most time in them: women, adolescent girls and other vulnerable groups. This meant that shelters had to be made of durable materials; be well ventilated; and have safe cooking and bathing spaces, room partitions for increased privacy, and locks for safety.

Caritas Bangladesh’s gender-sensitive, community-led approach to shelter rehabilitation and construction has had meaningful impacts on the community, especially for women, girls and vulnerable groups. Female participants have gained the confidence to voice their needs and participate in making decisions about upgrades to their shelters. They have also become skilled, knowledgeable, and self-reliant with respect to shelter rehabilitation/construction. Their use of these new skills and capacities has also led to greater community cohesion and pride. Women also feel a greater sense of security and confidence in their shelters’ ability to withstand recurring extreme weather events. Caritas Bangladesh is helping Rohingya women develop shelter planning, construction and maintenance skills.

Caritas Bangladesh is helping Rohingya women develop shelter planning, construction and maintenance skills.

In the past year, fires, floods, cyclones and the COVID-19 pandemic have caused several setbacks in the delivery of the humanitarian response. This has had adverse impacts on the safety and well-being of the refugees, especially those from the most vulnerable households. These difficulties notwithstanding, Development and Peace remains committed to supporting Caritas Bangladesh’s sustained effort to secure the dignity of the Rohingya people and improve their prospects.