June 15, 2002, Article on G8 and Africa

Saturday, June 15, 2002, The Halifax Herald

Poor suffocating under debt - activists
Lack of food, water, health care killing 19,000 African children daily

Ted Pritchard / Herald Photo
Social activists Njoki Njoroge Njehu, front, and Thandiwe Nkomo speak at a news conference Friday criticizing the G-7 financial leaders' inaction on World Bank reform.

By Susan Bradley and Patricia Brooks / Staff Reporters G-7 Finance Meeting

G-7 nations are forcing impoverished countries to privatize public services and sell their natural resources in exchange for aid money, a group of social activists said Friday in Halifax.

The Halifax Initiative, formed before the 1995 G-7 summit in the city, wants wealthy countries to reform global financial policies they say keep poor countries struggling under crushing debt.

Those policies are "sucking money" from developing countries, mostly in the southern hemisphere, Njoki Njoroge Njehu, a Kenyan native with the U.S. Network for Global Economic Justice, said at a news conference.

Hard currency - desperately needed for food, clean water, health care and education - is leaving sub-Saharan African countries at the rate of $120 million per day to service debt.

As a result, 19,000 children die in Africa every day because governments are sending money off the continent that needs to be invested in clean water, food and health, according to a United Nations study in 2000.

And aid doesn't help pay down national debts.

"For every $1 in aid received, countries are repaying $13 on old debt," Ms. Njoroge Njehu said.

Privatization, which investors say is more efficient, is costing lives, she said.

Poor families cannot access private health care and education, even for fees of 33 cents US.

Ms. Njoroge Njehu told the story of parents who watched their 14-year-old son die because they could not pay the 33-cent fee.

Children, particularly girls, are also being pulled out of schools in Africa now that education fees are being charged in some areas.

"Privatization doesn't work in the north. Why do they think it will work in the south?"

Pam Foster of the Halifax Initiative - which includes labour organizations, churches and international aid groups - said commercial banks eventually write off debts that can not be paid, but the World Bank does not.

A total of 60 agencies from G-7 nations have asked the finance ministers to provide debt relief for poor countries, promote environmentally sustainable development, reduce poverty and address the severe challenges in sub-Saharan Africa including the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

The Halifax Initiative will join other protesters at a rally today at noon at the Halifax Commons. They'll march downtown, where the ministers are meeting.

More than 200 protesters gathered on the Commons at supperhour Friday. After marching downtown to Grand Parade to protest the ministers' arrival, they proceeded to Spring Garden Road, where they occupied Park Lane mall.

Jessica Squires, with the Atlantic G-7 Welcoming Committee, pointed out to media a number of volunteer legal observers. They are law students acting as third-party observers, who will monitor this weekend's protests "in case police escalate the situation."

Organizers handed out cards explaining protesters' rights if police approach them.

The protest committee had its own medics available but hoped they would not be needed.

The observers are also videotaping and photographing protests in case evidence is needed if protesters are arrested.

The Canadian Teachers Federation, Oxfam Canada and the Global Campaign for Education called on Canadian Finance Minister John Manley and his G-7 colleagues to put up cash to get all children into school by 2015.

There are 125 million children who are not enrolled in primary school - about one in five worldwide - and most are girls.
The estimated cost of the aid is $4 billion US, or an annual contribution of $10 million to $15 million per country.