Geneva (ENI). The head of the world’s largest grouping of churches, the Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit, is to tell the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos that Haiti’s foreign debt must be immediately and unconditionally cancelled.
Tveit, a Norwegian Lutheran, who took over as general secretary of the World Council of Churches on 1 January, is due to attend the Davos summit later this week.
In a statement made available to Ecumenical News International on 25 January, Tveit said, “The time has come for the international community – politicians, business and civil society organizations – to focus on how Haiti can become sustainable”.
The WCC has announced that Tveit will take a message on Haiti to the meeting of the World Economic Forum in the Swiss winter resort of Davos, which gathers global political, financial and other leaders each year.
The forum has set aside time to discuss the situation in Haiti, which has been ravaged by a massive earthquake with a magnitude of 7 on the Richter scale. The Haitian government has said that the disaster killed 150 000 people, and maybe many more. Aid agencies have said that up to three million people remain in need of assistance.
Partner groups of the WCC, such as the ACT Alliance, are providing personnel and material assistance to Haiti.
In his 25 January statement, Tveit said, “Authentic development for Haiti will take some bold steps by the international community, in addition to the current emergency efforts.” He added that first among these steps was, “the immediate and unconditional cancellation of the country’s foreign debt. It would be morally untenable to do otherwise at this time of extraordinary hardship and destruction”.
Despite international financial institutions writing off US$1.2 billion of Haiti’s debt in June 2009, the country’s debt level remains at around $640 million, with annual payments of about $50 million required to meet interest payments on that sum.
Tveit said that, for the WCC, debt cancellation would be an important step in the right direction, although not a solution. He believes that the international community needs to show moral leadership, and make sure that “any financial assistance to rebuild the country comes as grants rather than loans”.
Tveit noted, “Those grants cannot be tied to the detrimental conditions that international financial organizations tend to impose on poor countries.”
He added, “This is not just about helping Haiti but about empowering and working with its people towards a sustainable society: one that is based on justice.”