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Poor countries to stay poor despite debt write off, say engineers

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WRITING OFF the debts of the poorest nations is unlikely to help the world meet United Nations poverty reduction targets by 2015, Africa-based engineers said this week.

And they warned that more needed to be done to tackle corruption to ensure that the full benefi s of debt relief and overseas aid were felt.

They said Africa lacked the human and material resources to deliver infrastructure projects underpinning the UN's Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

The UN set the development goals in 2000. They include halving the number of people without safe drinking water, halving starvation figures and reversing the spread of HIV/ AIDS.

'The governments of African countries don't have the right structure to spend huge sums of money in such a short time frame, ' said Gibb Africa managing director Paul Karekezi.

'There isn't the technology or the right people to absorb this level of work'.

He was speaking following chancellor Gordon Brown's announcement last Saturday that 38 of the world's poorest countries would receive 100% debt relief on International Monetary Fund, World Bank and African Development Bank loans (see box).

The decision was made by finance ministers from the G8 group of the world's most industrialised nations.

It is seen as the first step towards eradicating poverty by providing a package of debt relief, increased aid and trade barrier removal.

But economists estimate that it will cost an extra £27.6bn in aid every year to achieve the MDGs by 2015. Debt relief is only worth £30.4bn over 40 years.

'Cancelling debt is of course a good idea, but much of this money will still be wasted unless corruption is tackled. It will be years before the money is spent on the ground, ' said Karekezi.

Scott Wilson's pro-poor development unit leader Hamish Goldie-Scot agreed that cancelling debt was more symbolic than significant.

'But at least it removes the excuse for some governments not spending money on health and education, ' he said.

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