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Vatican Hails G-8 Decision

Guest John Thavis

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Guest John Thavis

The Vatican hailed an agreement by the world's richest nations to cancel $40 billion of debt owed by some of the world's poorest countries, but said the move should be followed by an increase in development aid.


A statement June 14 by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace said the debt cancellation should be "the first of many steps" taken to brighten the future of the world's poor.


On June 11, finance ministers from the Group of Eight industrialized nations -- the United States, Britain, Japan, Canada, Russia, Germany, Italy and France -- met in London and agreed on the debt write-off package.


Eighteen poor countries, most of them in Africa, will benefit immediately from the debt cancellation. The plan could eventually be extended to 20 other countries if they submit economic adjustment programs.


The Vatican statement commended the richer countries for "finally" moving to erase some of the debt burden, and recalled that the Catholic Church has been pushing for debt relief for many years.


"The decision to forgive the debts of those countries and move toward furthering the debt forgiveness for others is a clear sign of the solidarity that people of developed nations must have for those living in developing countries," the statement said.


The Vatican said it was important, however, that the funds freed by debt forgiveness now be used to provide necessary public goods, such as clean water, basic health care and education.


It also chided the developed world for failing to live up to previous pledges on development aid, in particular the commitment by many nations to boost foreign aid budgets to 0.7 percent of their national income.


"The promise was made but only a small fraction of that money has ever been provided. This is the sort of program that should go hand in hand with debt relief. It is not enough to simply wipe away the debt. An increase in development aid should follow," the Vatican statement said.


"Developed countries cannot continue making empty promises and agreeing to development programs that will not be carried out," it said.


All European countries have promised to enact the 0.7 percent pledge by 2015. The United States and Japan so far have not agreed to set a similar timetable.


The Vatican missionary news service, Fides, praised the G-8 decision to cancel debt. It expressed the hope that "the resources released will not be used for arms or to enrich local governments but rather to build schools and hospitals and offer the people of these countries opportunities for development."


African bishops also reacted positively to the news.


"We are obviously pleased with the G-8's decision," Archbishop Berhaneyesus Souraphiel of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Ethiopia and Eritrea, told Fides.


Archbishop Souraphiel was a member of a delegation of cardinals and bishops who toured Europe in May calling for the cancellation of poor countries' debts. The delegation also included prelates from India, Honduras, Nigeria and Zambia.


"Our request has been granted," Archbishop Souraphiel said. "Now we insist that rich countries must commit themselves for real development in the poorer areas of the planet assigning 0.7 percent of the gross national product for this purpose."


Bishop Michel Cartateguy of Niamey, Niger, said church leaders there were "overjoyed with the news" of the debt cancellation. Niger, which is facing a serious food shortage, is one of the countries that will benefit from the agreement.


Bishop Cartateguy noted that Niger's debt had been canceled once before, in 2000, and the government used the money to build schools and hospitals.


He said that unfortunately Niger lacks the funds to make these structures function, "and so we have schools without teachers and hospitals without doctors or nurses."

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