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Post-tsunami challenge: Debt write-off for the weak and vulnerable

By Gordon Brown - posted Thursday, 27 January 2005

This audience has been brought together by shared concern for world poverty and is also expressing a universal sorrow at the tragic consequences of one the most devastating disasters the modern world has witnessed, and our resolve to do everything to help the victims, and assist the reconstruction. An earthquake in one continent has left families devastated in every continent.

Humbled by nature, we have since been humbled by humanity in recent days. We have witnessed an unprecedented demonstration of sympathy and generosity: The true test of an international community.

We must ensure that all heavily indebted countries gain relief, re-finance their health and education systems, and are not prevented from essential reconstruction because they have to service massive debt. So, we and other governments, propose an immediate moratorium on repayments, such as a 100 per cent debt write-off, for Sri Lanka - with Britain, paying 10 per cent of this. The G7 and Paris Club options for further assistance must be on the agenda of a G7 Finance Ministers meeting, soon.


Unprecedented disasters can befall any country at anytime. The capacity to withstand and respond to disasters reflects the state of emergency services, health care systems, and the basic infrastructure. These all reflect underlying levels of prosperity and poverty. Starkly, without warning systems, developed health care, and with weak institutional capacity, countries are more vulnerable, and less able to cope in the aftermath. One moment of devastation can wipe out years of hard-won development.

The UN Secretary General has already asked for £1 billion. We also welcome the decision by the World Bank to make hundreds of millions of US dollars and additional resources available for reconstruction, and for the offer of US$1 billion of emergency assistance loans by the IMF.

Just how irrevocably bound together we all are in adversity. The richest persons are connected to the fate of the poorest of the world, even while they are strangers and have never met. People now see that they share the same concerns, the same interests, the same common needs and the same linked destinies. The worldwide response - in Britain £90 million has already been raised by the public - demonstrates that we seek, individually, to address the underlying causes of poverty.

The UK has special responsibilities, as President of the G7 and European Union, we can tackle not just the tragic consequences - but forge a long term plan for the reconstruction of Asia - by creating a new “Marshall Plan” for the developing world. We need a world that does not have to choose between emergency relief and the causes of poverty which equal injustice.

World leaders are due to attend at UN Summit to examine what we have to do to seriously address the scale of global poverty.

Five years ago, in New York, these leaders shared a commitment to right the greatest wrongs of our time including: the promise that by 2015 every child would be at school, avoidable infant deaths would be prevented, and poverty would be halved. Rich countries would work with the poor.


These Millennium Development Goals were not a casual commitment. Every leader, every international body and almost every single country signed up.

So close to the start of our journey to 2015, it is clear that our destination risks becoming out of reach, receding into the distance ... And we know one stark fact that underlines this: not only are 70 million girls and 40 million boys not going to school today and every single day but until we act as many as 30,000 children will suffer and die from avoidable disease even while the world has the medicines to help them.

In 1948, while Europe still lay in ruins, the American Secretary of State, General Marshall, proposed an ambitious plan for social, and economic, reconstruction. Marshall understood most of these problems were not, in themselves, a strategic military threat. He realised his plan should include all poor countries in the area.

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Article edited by Norman Ingram.
If you'd like to be a volunteer editor too, click here.

This is an edited and abridged version of the speech International Development in 2005: the challenge and the opportunity by the Rt Hon Gordon Brown MP, Chancellor of the Exchequer at the National Gallery of Scotland on January 6, 2005. It is Crown copyright.

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About the Author

Gordon Brown was appointed as Chancellor of the Exchequer on 2 May 1997. He has been MP for Dunfermline East since 1983 and was Opposition spokesperson on Treasury and Economic Affairs (Shadow Chancellor) from 1992.

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