Right of Reply: Andrew Simms

The senior adviser to Christian Aid responds to a recent article by Diane Coyle
HYSTERICAL OR gasping for breath? Central America's disaster requires a radical rethink on solving the economic problems of poor countries. Far from the hysteria suggested by Diane Coyle, linking aid and debt relief is essential to achieve the central objective of the Government's international development policy.

People die in disasters often because they are poor and have to live in environmentally vulnerable areas, such as coastal regions. Over one billion people live like this, at the whim of storm surges and tidal waves. It is hard to build homes in Nicaragua and Honduras equipped to withstand nature while they pay $221 million and $564 million in foreign debt service respectively each year.

The first objective, in preventing future tragedies, is to lift people out of poverty so that, in future, so many don't have to be lifted out of mud and floodwater. To do this the British Government is backing a set of international development targets. These include halving the number of people living on less than pounds 1 per day and the provision of universal primary education by 2015.

Neither foreign investment nor growth under their appalling economic forecasts will generate sufficient resources for the heavily indebted countries to meet the 2015 targets. Christian Aid believes that properly organised debt relief could contribute significantly. To meet health and education targets, Tanzania would need a 100 per cent cut in debt service; the same is true for Malawi, currently excluded from debt relief talks.

The World Bank and the rich creditor nations, including Britain, are all committed to the 2015 targets. The challenge is whether a piece of the new economic architecture can be built that will put a solid roof over everyone's head.