Cancel Haiti’s debt and ensure poor areas don’t miss out on reconstruction, Oxfam urges foreign ministers

Published: 25th January 2010

Foreign ministers meeting in Montreal on Monday should agree to cancel Haiti’s outstanding $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 for poor areas to speed economic recovery;
  • Support for civil society and the Haitian government including ‘ministries in a box’;
  • Build back better, e.g. earthquake proof buildings and alternative fuel sources to reduce deforestation

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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, the agency warned. With the planting season due to begin in two weeks, urgent steps are needed to boost food production and stave off further hardship for up to 3 million Haitians affected by the disaster.
Oxfam is also calling on donors to deliver on the IMF’s pledge to turn a $100m emergency loan to Haiti into a grant and is calling on them to learn the lessons of previous disasters and ensure funding is available to provide incomes for local people.
Jeremy Hobbs, Oxfam International Executive Director, said: “Expecting 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.
“Immediate cancellation of foreign debt must be accompanied by urgent action to support farmers and prevent a man-made food crisis exacerbating the hardship faced by the people of Haiti.
“This should take place alongside steps to speed the recovery of local markets such as cash grants to pay earthquake survivors to clear rubble and undertake other jobs linked to reconstruction.”
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.
Hobbs said: “Haiti is a divided and highly unequal society so there is a real risk that, in the weeks and months after the earthquake, politically influential and richer Haitians will secure reconstruction resources at the expense of Port-au-Prince’s poorest.”
Donors should step-up efforts to help the Haitian government and civil society recover from the disaster. This could include providing ‘ministries in a box’ – large tents containing the basic tools, such as telephones, desks and chairs, which are needed for a government department to operate.
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.
Hobbs said; “The leadership of the response must remain clearly in the hands of the United Nations and the Government of Haiti and all international military must actively and visibly coordinate efforts with the UN and Haitian Government on every level.”
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 meager belongings stolen. At least half a million people are living outdoors in improvised camps in the capital.

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Expecting 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.
Jeremy Hobbs
Executive Director, Oxfam International