Cancel Haiti's Debt, Oxfam Urges

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25th January 2010, 01:38pm - Views: 733
Cancel Haiti's debt and ensure poor areas don't miss out on reconstruction, Oxfam urges

The international community should use today's conference in Montreal, Canada, to cancel Haiti's outstanding US $890 million international debt in the wake of the devastating earthquake, international agency Oxfam said today.

Debt cancellation is one of Oxfam's five priorities for Haitian reconstruction. The other elements are:
* Support for Haitian farmers and small business;
* Ensure poor areas benefit from cash grants to speed economic recovery;
* Support for civil society and the Haitian government
* Build back better, e.g. earthquake proof buildings and alternative fuel sources to reduce deforestation

Oxfam Australia's Policy Director James Ensor said Haitian recovery risks being undermined by the country's debt burden and by a pre-existing food crisis that has left Haiti dependent on imports for 40% of its food.

"With the planting season due to begin in two weeks, urgent steps are needed to bo ost food production and stave off further hardship for up to three million Haitians affected by the disaster," Mr Ensor said.

Oxfam is also calling on donors to deliver on the IMF's pledge to turn a US $100 million emergency loan to Haiti into a grant.

"For the international community to expect Haiti to repay billions of dollars as the country struggles to overcome one of the worst natural disasters in recent memory would be both cruel and unnecessary," Mr Ensor said.

Oxfam warned that donors, the UN and Haitian government must work together to ensure that poor areas that were amongst the hardest hit by the earthquake benefit fully from reconstruction efforts.

"Haiti is a divided and highly unequal society so there is a real risk that politically influential and richer Haitians will secure reconstruction resources at the expense of Port-au-Prince's poorest," Mr Ensor said.

Oxfam called on the sixteen foreign ministers of the `Friends of Haiti' attending the Montreal meeting to clearly define the role of the international military and make clear that forces will operate under the overall leadership of the UN and Haitian government. Two weeks after the earthquake, it remains unclear how the United States and other major donors will coordinate their assistance.

Oxfam asked the UN to step up night security patrols to protect the civilian population and for improved coordination on security measures between the Haitian government and international military forces.

It warned that people in Port-au-Prince are increasingly concerned for their own safety and security. People sleeping on the streets have told Oxfam that they are being attacked and their meagre belongings stolen.

Further information or to speak to
James Ensor:
Kate Thwaites
on +61 407 515 559

Oxfam is a leading international aid agency working with communities around the world for solutions to poverty and social injustice.

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