World Social Forum - Porto Alegre, Brazil, 25-30 January, 2001


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ECONOMY: Blessed Are the Youth, For They Shall Inherit the Debt

By Gumisai Mutume

ADDIS ABABA, Dec 4 (IPS) For 24-year old Zambian youth activist Holo Hachonda the future has never seemed bleaker. Not only is HIV/AIDS wiping out thousands of people around him and clipping the development gains of his country it is also threatening his beloved Zambia with a growing debt burden.
Hachonda, who has been working in the area of reproductive health and AIDS since he was 18 years old is one of the 1,500 people that are attending the annual Africa Development Forum (ADF) whose theme this year is 'AIDS: The greatest leadership challenge'.

He is pushing an issue close to his heart ¡ that Africa adopt a collective position at this conference, against loans to finance HIV/AIDS programmes.

''Saying yes does not make sense,'' says Hachonda. ''AIDS is not an income generating project and Africa should adopt a common position to say no to interest bearing loans. It is we the youth who will inherit the debt.''

ADF 2000 is the first time that African leaders, intergovernmental agencies, policy makers, the private sector and civil society have come together to galvanise an African-led response to HIV and AIDS.

It seeks to adopt a continent wide position on more concerted action against HIV/AIDS in Africa and alleviating the devastating impact it has already had on the continent. The conference is jointly sponsored by the UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), the World Bank and the Joint UN Programme on AIDS (UNAIDS).

Some sections of civil society attending the meeting are lobbying for the inclusion of language addressing Africa's old and new debt and its impact on the fight against the dreaded disease.

Hachonda says they are opposed even to concessional lending facilities such as the 500 million dollar Multi-Country HIV/AIDS Programme (MAP) for Africa, which the World Bank is floating.

In September the World Bank approved the first batch of loans under the programme - for Ethiopia and Kenya. It approved about 50 million dollars apiece to the two countries in soft loans that mature in 40 year's time, when Hachonda will be in his mid-60s.

Debrework Zewdie, the lead AIDS co-ordinator for the World Bank says the institution has already received applications for 515 million dollars in loans under the programme and the Bank's board ''is ready to replenish the money as soon as we use it up. The intention is to use up the 500 million dollars during this fiscal year''.

Numerous other facilities are being dangled in front of African nations and some countries have swallowed the bait. However, a 1 billion- dollar United States Export Import Bank initiative has been slow off the ground and has been rejected by a number of southern African nations.

Under the programme announced in July, major US drug companies are offering their products at a discount to 24 African nations and the Export- Import Bank will finance their export through five-year loans, at commercial lending rates.

''Blessed are the youth,'' quips Hachonda, ''for they shall inherit the debt.''

Sub-Saharan Africa's foreign debt, put at 227 billion dollars by (UNAIDS) is a complex array of short and long-term debts owed to multi-lateral institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), bilateral creditors and the private sector.

Zambia, which is under consideration for debt relief under the World Bank/IMF enhanced Heavily Indebted Poor Countries initiative (HIPC) owed nearly 7 billion dollars in 1998. That year, Zambia paid 125 million dollars in debt servicing, an amount equal to 70 percent of its social sector.

With a 20 percent infection rate among adults, the southern African nation only spends 73 cents per capita on AIDS. Potential debt relief under enhanced HIPC could free an additional 16 dollars per capita.

Zambia is one of the countries often cited by a growing international NGO campaign arguing that the continued servicing of debt by heavily- indebted poor countries hampers their ability to confront urgent health crises such as HIV.

They argue that borrowing to finance the costs of attacking AIDS, conservatively estimated at 3 billion dollars annually by UNAIDS, will only raise Africa's already unsustainable foreign debt.

International anti-debt campaigners are also arguing that urgent social needs such as malaria control and HIV/AIDS cannot and need not wait the completion of enhanced HIPC.

Some 16 African countries are expected to make up the 20 HIPC countries that may qualify for debt relief by year-end. When HIPC was first launched in 1996 it aimed at bringing relief to 41 countries.

International anti-debt campaigner Jubilee 2000 has long argued that HIPC will not do much to benefit poor countries because it fails to eliminate all multilateral and bilateral debt.

ADF 2000 hopes to add its voice to the debt issue and ECA executive secretary KY Amoako says he expects the conference document to deal with how the continent should approach the financing of AIDS programmes.

''The issue is broader than just HIV/AIDS and encompasses the whole issue around debt cancellation. It is clear that we need to cancel as much as possible of Africa's debt, some progress has been made but we need to move further.

''We are arguing that as much as possible of new support for HIV/AIDS should be in the form of grants or highly concessional lending,'' he says. (END/IPS/IF/HE/gm/da/00)


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