Rally urges donors provide debt relief to Pakistan

ISLAMABAD. A large number of people staged a rally here on Thursday with an aim to press international donors to step forward and write off the country’s massive $53 billion debt to guarantee the Pakistani people the ‘right to life’.

Carrying banners and placards, the participants of the rally, organised by the international aid agency, Oxfam, marched from National Press Club to Parliament House where speakers vowed to continue their struggle unless the international community shows seriousness towards this issue. The Oxfam representative said that the debt must be cancelled because of the level of destruction caused by the recent unprecedented flooding and the massive costs of immediate relief and longer-term reconstruction. The call comes ahead of the meeting of Friends of Democratic Pakistan today (Friday) in Brussels, where foreign ministers will address the issue of Pakistan’s short and long-term needs. The data provided by the Oxfam stated some two-and-a-half months since the floods struck the ‘UN Appeal’ is only one-third funded. Rebuilding the country will require a huge injection of funds. The Pakistan government has estimated that reconstruction may cost as much as $45 billion.

Some countries, including France, Japan, South Korea and China — all members of the Friends of Democratic Pakistan — have received more money from Pakistan than they have given in response to the flooding. France received $62 million in debt payments in the first nine months of the last financial year, more than 15 times its direct contribution to the flood response. Japan received $111 million, more than five times its contribution to the response. South Korea received four times as much, and China three times as much. The data further stated that at a time when Pakistan faces challenges such as terrorism and post-flood situation, the international financial institutions and donor countries should come forward and provide relief in particular reference with foreign debts.

The UN Human Rights Commission has adopted a number of resolutions on the issue of debt and structural adjustment. One such resolution, adopted in 1999, asserts that “The exercise of the basic rights of the people of the debtor countries to food, housing, clothing, employment, education, health services and a healthy environment cannot be subordinated to the implementation of the structural adjustment policies, growth programmes and economic reforms”. Farzana Bari, a social activist, while speaking on the occasion, said that recent calamity in Pakistan has rendered hundreds of thousands of people homeless and now it is quite a daunting task for the government to ensure their proper rehabilitation in their respective areas. She said that the International Monetary Fund waived a debt of $268 million given to Haiti and after this the World Bank also eased the life of Haitians by deferring repayment of its debt for five years. “The unprecedented rains have triggered a massive humanitarian crisis that has threatened the lives of millions of people including women and children. The international donors should also waive off foreign debts of Pakistan to help cope with the critical situation,” she said.

Farzana Bari said the affected people do not belong to a specific age group, but include infants to 80-year-olds and now all these people find themselves in a situation where they have lost all their property and assets. According to the flood data from the last 62 years, the country has suffered cumulative financial losses of more than Rs385 billion on account of 15 major floods. However, the damage done by the 2010 floods is far more than that figure. Consuelo Lopez-Zuriaga, Oxfam Head of Humanitarian Campaigns, said it is a moral and economic absurdity that while poverty-struck people in Pakistan are struggling to put their lives back together much richer countries like France and Japan are receiving vast sums of money in debt payments. “The debt burden cannot be allowed to impede the relief and reconstruction efforts. Pakistan needs aid and its debts dropped so that families can get back to their land and rebuild their homes and their lives,” he said.

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