Tveit, a Norwegian Lutheran who took over as general secretary on January 1, is due to attend the Davos summit later this week.
In a statement made available to Ecumenical News International yesterday (January 25), Tveit said, “The time has come for the international community — politicians, business and civil society organizations — to focus on how Haiti can become sustainable.”
The forum has set aside time to discuss the situation in Haiti, which has been ravaged by a massive earthquake with a magnitude of 7 on the Richter scale. The Haitian government has said that the disaster killed 150,000 people, and maybe many more. Aid agencies have said that up to three million people remain in need of assistance.
Partner groups of the WCC, such as the ACT Alliance, are providing personnel and material assistance to Haiti.
In his January 25 statement, Tveit said, “Authentic development for Haiti will take some bold steps by the international community, in addition to the current emergency efforts.” He added that first among these steps was, “the immediate and unconditional cancellation of the country’s foreign debt. It would be morally untenable to do otherwise at this time of extraordinary hardship and destruction.”
Despite international financial institutions writing off $1.2 billion of Haiti’s debt in June 2009, the country’s debt level remains at around $640 million, with annual payments of about $50 million required to meet interest payments on that sum.
Tveit said that, for the WCC, debt cancellation would be an important step in the right direction, although not a solution. He believes that the international community needs to show moral leadership, and make sure that “any financial assistance to rebuild the country comes as grants rather than loans.” He added, “Those grants cannot be tied to the detrimental conditions that international financial organizations tend to impose on poor countries. This is not just about helping Haiti but about empowering and working with its people towards a sustainable society: one that is based on justice.”