One thing we at ELCA World Hunger try to study and teach others about is the root causes of hunger. I have been keeping up with Jubilee USA’s blog, and have been thinking a lot about one root cause of hunger in particular: debt. According to Jubilee USA, an organization that works for debt cancellation for impoverished countries, “Today international debt has become a new form of slavery. Debt slavery means poor people working harder and harder in a vain effort to keep up with the interest payments on debts owed to rich countries including the US and international financial institutions (IFIs)…”
In order to get a better picture of how debt to rich nations and IFIs affect the lives of those in poverty, I did a little research. Many countries that are in debt have millions of people in poverty. Many of these people did not benefit from the money that was loaned to these countries. Much of the money was used to fund development projects such as dams and coal burning factories which did little to make the lives of the poor better and left the environment damaged. Often times this is due to corruption and unfulfilled promises within the government. While the loans many times did not reach those in poverty, they are the ones forced to “bear the burden of repayment.” Countries who owe money are constantly making payments on the interest from these loans, which draws money away from funding things like health care, education and food security. Kenya provides an example of this. According to Jubilee USA, Kenya’s 2005/2006 budget dedicated 22% of government expenses to their debt. This amount of money was equal to Kenya’s budgets for health, roads, water, agriculture, transportation and finance expenses. Debt Payments slow down social and economic development that could be essential to helping people out of poverty. Debt cancellation is important because it can allow economies to grow to meet people’s needs (University of Iowa Center for International Finance and Development).
After learning more about debt, I became curious about Jubilee USA’s name, and stumbled on the theological basis of debt relief. Leviticus 25 talks about the “Year of Jubilee” occurring every seven years in which all debts are cancelled and all slaves are freed. Verses 36-37 state “If one of your countrymen becomes poor and is unable to support himself among you, help him as you would an alien or a temporary resident, so he can continue to live among you. Do not take interest of any kind from him, but fear your God, so that your countryman may continue to live among you. You must not lend him money at interest or sell him food at a profit.”
It is important to keep in mind how international debt affects our neighbors around the world and to do what we can to keep them “living among us.” Poverty is complex, and debt is one of the many factors that influence it. To take action or to learn more about Jubilee USA’s work, visit www.jubileeusa.org