Third World Debt: Campaign's unremitting pressure forced the hand of government

The aid agencies, the devel- opment movement, pop stars and ordinary people came together to campaign for debt relief. Concern had been growing throughout the 1980s and 1990s. In 1996 many of those campaigning for change launched the Jubilee 2000 coalition, named after the Jubilee Law in the Old Testament which dictated that every 50 years land and animals were to rest, all property was to be restored and all debts cancelled. And poor people could be given a new start.

The same year, the wealthy nations announced their first strategy aimed at reducing debt in the Highly Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) to a "sustainable" level. But the campaigners' anger grew as it became clear that the HIPC initiative was slow and cumbersome. To be eligible, the poorest countries had to undergo three or more years of an International Monetary Fund (IMF) sponsored economic policy reform programme. Few managed to qualify.

As criticisms mounted, the Jubilee 2000 campaign gained momentum. At the G8 summit of leading nations in Birmingham last year, debt relief made it on to the agenda. More than 30,000 people joined hands in a giant circle to demand action. The Prime Minister left his top-level summit on the Saturday afternoon to greet them.

This year, at the Cologne summit of the G8 nations, reform of HIPC was announced, and by the autumn the IMF said it would be renaming its structural adjustment programme as the Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility, with greater emphasis on combating poverty.

But public pressure was not satisfied. Around 120 organisations, from the WI to Polygram and the British Medical Association, belong to Jubilee 2000. The coalition and its individual members have continued to press for a one-off cancellation of unpayable debt. The campaign was not confined to Britain. Around two million people signed a petition in Peru. The German finance minister was lobbied by 15,000 Christian Aid supporters demanding debt relief. Pop stars Bono and Sir Bob Geldof met the Pope, who had spoken out on the need to cancel debt.

A Jubilee 2000 spokesman said yesterday that the Government's action was down to people power. "Mr Brown knew his announcement would tap into public opinion. Debt is quite a difficult issue, but it's become a popular issue and politicians must respond."

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