Letter to WCC member churches in "Group of Eight" nations, 13 March 2000.
Dear Sisters and Brothers,
Images of the terrible devastation of Mozambique in recent weeks have brought forth an outpouring of compassion from neighboring countries in Southern Africa and around the world. There is a mounting will to assist this people and its churches in this time of great emergency and to support them as they begin the daunting work of reconstruction of homes and infrastructure. This, however, requires a form of international solidarity which goes beyond charity to offering justice to this beleaguered nation, to make "jubilee" a reality and to create conditions for them to "build houses and inhabit them, and to plant vineyards and harvest their fruits."
Mozambique's external debt has for decades frustrated or slowed its efforts to achieve development and a decent standard of living for its people. Under the present circumstances this debt is economically, ethically and morally intolerable. It must now be forgiven.
Mozambique has no hope of meeting the projected costs of emergency response, and much less those of recovery from the long-term damage to its economy unless its disabling debt burden is lifted. Its past and current obligations were already far beyond the country's capacity to pay current interest on the debt, and debt service costs are on the rise. We hope the churches and the wider international community will respond generously to the emergency needs of Mozambique, but this is not enough in the present grave circumstances.
We therefore urge you to appeal to your governments to forgive their bilateral debts with Mozambique and to advocate with multilateral creditors, especially the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, for the immediate, total and unconditional cancellation of the money owed by Mozambique, and not simply postpone debt payment to a future date as they did for Honduras after the "Hurricane Mitch" disaster.
We also call on the churches and Government of Mozambique to take their own accountability seriously and to use the resources resulting from the debt cancellation for strengthening and building the social sector.
Mozambique is not the only country in Southern Africa that has suffered badly from the floods, nor is it alone in having to confront a debilitating debt. However, given the dramatic situation now in Mozambique action is most urgently needed here. We hope that this will lead soon to similar relief for its neighbors throughout the region.
Continuing our commitments. We address this appeal now in light of our long-standing commitments. You and other member churches have accompanied the churches and people of Mozambique during their costly struggles for independence before 1975. We have remained with them during the crippling sixteen years of civil war that followed, and through the years of subsequent drought and famine that claimed a million lives. We continued to support the churches' courageous peace and reconciliation efforts leading up to and since the 1992 peace agreement between the Government and RENAMO. Thus we know well the terrible waste of civil war and the economic instability that haunted the country even before the floods. More than 75,000 demobilized soldiers have yet to be reintegrated into society and the economy. Hundreds of thousands of land mines lie buried still and now hamper transport and relief work in remote areas of the country. Vast stocks of arms and ammunitions have yet to be recovered and pose a continuing threat to social stability and peace. Despite all this and the debilitating effects of the debt, a young democracy was emerging and the nation's economy was growing in strength in recent times. Last year for the first time Mozambique was able to produce enough food to feed its population. These efforts of the people cannot now be sacrificed. They need to be strengthened.
Mozambique remains one of the world's poorest countries with a per capita annual income of some US$90. It is counted among the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPCs) with a debt burden of $8.3 billion. Even after initial debt relief was granted in June 1999, the annual debt service averages $73 million. Partly as a result of structural adjustment requirements, the health care budget is a mere $20 million and that for education only $32 million. Floods have destroyed a large part of Mozambique's infrastructure (roads, communication and buildings). Thousands of hectares of crops have been destroyed, and there is a looming health crisis. Well over a million people are affected. Early reconstruction cost estimates were $65 million, and the most recent torrents have done further damage. This, combined with the remaining debt burden, risks keeping the people of Mozambique in a state of permanent poverty and misery.
We therefore urge you to take action now. Please advocate with your governments for a collective decision by the "Group of Eight" leading industrial nations to take a lead in canceling all bilateral and multilateral debt for Mozambique, and that they spare no effort to help it and other affected Southern African nations to guarantee the economic, social and cultural rights of their peoples.
Please continue to keep the people and churches of Mozambique in your prayers during this time of crisis and reconstruction. Your prayers and expressions of solidarity, communicated to the Christian Council of Mozambique, will help to assure them of the spiritual and practical support of brothers and sisters around the world.
Yours in Christ,
Acting General Secretary