The poorest 53 countries have debts totalling between 290 and 380 billion dollars, whilst for the poorest 149 countries, it is over 2.6 trillion US dollars.
We are not against all debt - all countries rely on credit (which becomes debt). But we are calling for an end to unjust, or 'illegitimate', debt, which should not be paid either because payment is an intolerable burden on poor countries, or because the supposed 'debt' itself is simply unfair. This includes:
- Debts that a country can't afford to repay and prevent it meeting its people's basic needs. For instance, in 2005/06, Kenya's budget for debt payments was as much as for water, health, agriculture, roads, transport and finance combined. A recent study suggested that 107 countries need debt cancellation to guarantee an 'ethical poverty line' of $3 a day for their people.
- Debts on loans that the lender knowingly gave to dictators or oppressive regimes For instance, the current South African government, since it came to power, has been paying off a debt of $22 billion lent to the apartheid regime, money that helped to prop up that regime.
- Debts on loans that the lender knew was going to be stolen through corruption. For instance, the World Bank continued lending to former dictator Mobutu Sese Seko in Zaire (now Democratic Republic of Congo), even after the IMF representative said he was stealing the money and that there was "no prospect" of getting it back.
- Debts in payment for projects that failed because of bad advice or incompetence by the lenders. For instance, the Bataan nuclear power plant in the Philippines was built on an earthquake fault-line at the foot of a volcano and has never been used - but it is still costing the Philippines $1 million a day in debts to the US and Swiss and Japanese banks. The company that built it got paid.
- Debt on unfair terms, such as very high interest rates. For instance, many countries have to pay debts in foreign currencies: when the exchange rates change dramatically - for example because of commodity prices brought about by bad advice from the World Bank and IMF - they end up paying the debt many times over, and still owing more than they originally borrowed.
- Debts contracted illegally, where proper processes weren't gone through. For instance, the military dictatorship in Argentina contracted many loans, that it used to prop up its oppressive regime, without getting the congressional approval that the constitution required.
These are the latest figures available from the Jubilee Debt Campaign - there has been some debt cancellation in 2006 and 2007, but there also have been new debts taken on. The overall figures are unlikely to have changed hugely.