Page last updated at 00:15 GMT, Sunday, 7 February 2010

G7 nations pledge debt relief for quake-hit Haiti

Women look on as aid food is distributed in Port-au-Prince. Photo: 6 February 2010
At least a million people in Haiti are currently in need of aid

The world's leading industrialised nations have pledged to write off the debts that Haiti owes them, following a devastating earthquake last month.

Canada's finance minister announced at a summit in Iqaluit, northern Canada, that Group of Seven countries planned to cancel Haiti's bilateral debts.

Jim Flaherty said he would encourage international lenders to do the same.

Some $1.2bn (£800m) of Haiti's debts to countries and international lending bodies has already been cancelled.

"We are committed in the G7 to the forgiveness of debt, in fact all bilateral debt has been forgiven by G7 countries vis-a-vis Haiti," Mr Flaherty said at the end of the two day gathering of finance ministers.

It must be right that a nation buried in rubble must not also be buried in debt
Gordon Brown
UK Prime Minister

"The debt to multilateral institutions should be forgiven, and we will work with these institutions and other partners to make this happen as soon as possible," he added.

At least one million people are in need of aid in Haiti after the magnitude 7.0 earthquake which struck in mid-January, killing more than 200,000 people.

The G7 group - which includes Canada, the US, UK, France, Germany, Italy and Japan - has been under pressure to help Haiti recover since the 12 January quake by cancelling the money owed by Haiti.

Haiti was rated as the poorest nation in the western hemisphere even before the earthquake struck.

Though exact figures are difficult to obtain, the exact amount owed bilaterally to G7 countries is believed to be quite small.

Brown's pledge

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown hailed the pledge, saying: "It must be right that a nation buried in rubble must not also be buried in debt".

A woman and her child camp near their former home in Port-au-Prince
Debt relief is expected to free funds for the reconstruction effort

"The UK has already cancelled all debts owed to it by Haiti and I strongly welcome today's G7 commitment to forgive Haiti's remaining multilateral debt," he added.

"We will work with others to make sure this is delivered."

On Friday, the US voiced support for the plan to extend international debt relief for Haiti.

"The earthquake in Haiti was a catastrophic setback to the Haitian people who are now facing tremendous emergency humanitarian and reconstruction needs, and meeting Haiti's financing needs will require a massive multilateral effort," said Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner.

He said the US would seek to reach an agreement for the funds owed to the multilateral donors, which include the Inter-American Development Bank, the International Fund for Agricultural Development and the International Development Association.

Mr Geithner also echoed the call by the head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Dominique Strauss-Kahn, to provide full relief of the country's outstanding debt to the body, including a $102m emergency loan approved in January.

Last June, the international community agreed to cancel some $1.2bn (£800m) of the country's total debt of $1.9bn owed to bi- and multilateral lenders including the IMF, World Bank and the US government, as part of a programme for heavily indebted poor countries.

UK-based charity Oxfam has urged the writing off of about an additional $900m (£557m) that Haiti still owes to donor countries and institutions.

Venezuela, one of Haiti's biggest creditors, last month forgave the country's $295m oil-related debt.

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