Reuters- Friday June 23 2:36 PM ET
DURBAN, South Africa (Reuters) - South African President Thabo Mbeki pledged on Friday to help step up pressure for
African debt relief in order to free up money for the battle against AIDS and poverty on the continent.
Mbeki was responding to calls from delegates at an annual Southern Africa economic summit, who said the time was ripe to lift
the burden of more than $100 billion in outstanding debt, which costs Africa an estimated $10 billion a year.
``We need to put a little more pressure on people to deal with this matter a little more seriously,'' he told several hundred
government and business leaders at the end of the three-day conference.
Mbeki said that he would raise the issue at a meeting of the G-8 group of industrialised nations in Okinawa, Japan next month,
backed by Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika and Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo.
But he repeated that any initiative to eradicate AIDS--which has already killed an estimated 11 million Africans--would have to
be linked to the battle against other major diseases, like malaria.
``The fight against AIDS must include the fight against poverty--and other major killer diseases on this continent,'' he said.
African officials have been asking for debt relief from western governments and organisations for more than a year, saying that
Africa also badly needs an infusion of new funds and political capital similar to the Marshall Plan that revived post-war Europe.
Many western groups are backing the proposal.
African countries spend far more money on servicing their debt than on fighting diseases like AIDS, seen as the biggest killer
and the biggest threat to security and economic development on the war-torn, poverty-stricken continent.
``Linking the health process to debt relief is a winning proposition from the global point of view,'' said Jeffrey Sachs, director of
Harvard University's Center for International Development.
``It's not a matter of convenience, it's a matter of life and death--who can claim for money when lives are at stake?'' he told the
Sachs estimated that an injection of $10 billion a year from western countries and organisations like the World Bank was
needed to eradicate diseases like AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis.
``Fundamentally debt relief is necessary on top of this because it leaves money in the ministries of health of Africa,'' he told
International donors have linked aid, debt relief and improved trade relations to moves by African governments to cement
democracy, work to end wars, boost domestic markets and fight corruption. African leaders say this policy is not working.
The Group of Seven rich nations pledged last year to write off $100 billion of about 40 of the poorest countries' debts but
progress has been slow. An IMF programme for Highly Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) requiring internal poverty reduction
scheme to obtain debt relief is bogged down. And a US House of Representatives panel last week slashed US funds for Third
World debt relief, the fight against AIDS and humanitarian assistance.