1998 NCC News Archives

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CWSW Endorses Third World Debt Forgiveness Campaign

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Church World Service works in more than 70 countries, including the U.S., in disaster relief, human development and refugee assistance. It is a ministry of the National Council of Churches, the nation's preeminent ecumenical organization which includes 34 Protestant and Orthodox member communions with a combined membership of nearly 52 million.

SAN FRANCISCO, March 18 -- Reaffirming its commitment to redress inequities between rich and poor, the Church World Service and Witness Unit of the National Council of Churches is supporting a growing grass-roots effort to cancel unsustainable Third World debt.

During its regular spring meeting here, the CWSW Unit Committee endorsed a campaign by Jubilee 2000, a worldwide movement to cancel international debt by the new millennium; urged the U.S. government to use its leadership to support debt cancellation, and asked the NCC as a whole along with its 34 member communions to join the Jubilee 2000 campaign. CWSW is the NCC’s humanitarian response ministry.

The campaign, which is supported by a growing number of faith-based groups and non-governmental organizations, recalls the biblical concept of Jubilee -- a time when slaves were set free, debts were canceled, land returned to landless families, and a new beginning created for people whose lives had been degraded by indebtedness..

"Jubilee symbolizes a fresh start for the poor and reestablishes justice and equity in the world," said Joan Harper, who chairs the Office of Justice and Peace of the Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles.

The need for a new Jubilee is dire in the world’s poorest countries, Harper told the CWSW Unit Committee. Debt to international lending agencies such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund stifles economic development and diverts scarce economic resources from health care, education and other socially beneficial programs. In Uganda, for example, the government spends $3.51 per capita on education, but it spends $17 on debt repayment, she said.

Much of the debt resulted from ill-conceived development projects during the 1970s and 1980s, flawed policies applied to recipient countries in exchange for assistance, and short-sighted decisions of the nations’ leaders. Much of the borrowing benefited elites, but repaying the debt falls upon the most impoverished members of society. At least 1 billion people are saddled with such debt to the West, which translates into $420 per person.

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