The small island states of the Caribbean have contributed least to the problem of global warming but are the first to suffer its effects, especially the increasing frequency and severity of hurricanes. It is unconscionable that a country such as Dominica should have had to pay an installment of several million dollars in debt repayment to a creditor only days after it was devastated by the passage of hurricane Maria.
With the 2018 hurricane season fast approaching, Jubilee Caribbean hosted a meeting of representatives of churches of the independent states of the OECS and Barbados at St Martin’s Retreat Centre, St Andrew, on Monday, 5 March, to discuss possible preemptive action and to propose to international bodies, governments and lending agencies the need for a just and structured approach to disaster relief.
Jubilee Caribbean and Jubilee Grenada are part of the global Jubilee movement that promotes the biblical concept of Jubilee (cf. Leviticus 25, Deuteronomy 15, Nehemiah 10 and Luke 4) which includes the periodic cancellation of debt and an end to the cycle of poverty caused by indebtedness.
A Call to the Governments of the Caribbean and the International Financial Institutions ahead of the next hurricane season: establish debt relief as an instrument for emergency support and reconstruction.
The 2017 hurricane season has been one of the most devastating in the history of the Caribbean. In the most affected of the Eastern Caribbean islands, Barbuda and Dominica, we have seen lives lost and destruction totalling more than twice the annual GDP.
All research points to the fact that the growing severity of hurricanes in the Caribbean is related to manmade climate change. This means that we in the Caribbean, like some other nations elsewhere in the global south, are least responsible for but most affected by climate change. The few dozen small Island States across the world, for example, have neither the size nor developmental history to have been major contributors to current climate change. Yet these small Island States are the most easily devastated by rising seas and harsher storms. Our brothers and sisters who inhabit these places are in peril, through no fault of their own.
Still, our nations are not only exposed to adverse weather phenomena. Moreover, we are small Island States with small and less diversified economies that have little capacity to withstand external shocks, with which poor but larger nations may be able to cope. This has been one of the reasons that we have never been able to sustainably escape from our debt traps. However, our external debt can be turned into an instrument of efficient support in the event of future catastrophes, if there is a proper mechanism to allow for moratoria and serious debt restructuring.
As Churches in the Caribbean, we have witnessed the grief and despair of our people last September, and we are not prepared to enter the next hurricane season without at least being able to tell them that our authorities shall be able to use scarce resources for immediate relief and mid-term reconstruction rather than debt service.
We, therefore, call upon all those who bear responsibility for responding to any crisis in the next hurricane season and beyond:
- Our own heads of State and Government must unite and collectively demand the creation of an efficient debt relief option ahead of the next hurricane season through all available means, including the United Nations System and the Bretton Woods Institutions.
- The IMF must use its rule-setting power to endorse a full debt moratorium once a hurricane or any other serious disaster brings destruction beyond a pre-defined level and make sure that a serious debt restructuring of all external commitments shall be possible under due consideration of our peoples’ human rights.
- The ECCB and the CDB must act as supporters of a comprehensive debt restructuring process once it is needed.
We as Churches and broader Civil Society in the Caribbean commit ourselves to support our authorities in their efforts towards global justice in every possible way, including through global advocacy with the help of the international community.
Debt relief has been provided before to countries in need, eg through the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative (HIPCI) under WB/IMF leadership or the IMF’s Catastrophe Containment and Relief Trust (CCRT) after the Ebola crisis in West Africa. Through these initiatives, beneficiaries have been given the opportunity of a fresh start and found a way out of their debt traps. There is no reason why our people in the Caribbean, in contrast, should have to slide deeper and deeper into their debt traps after each hurricane season.
We urgently need a tailored Heavily Indebted Caribbean Countries Initiative, which will combine immediate relief and an efficient form of debt restructuring. We do not want to face the next hurricane season without a proper mechanism for relief in place.
05 March 2018
Signatures to the statement:
- Rev Dr Osbert James, Presbyterian Minister, Member Conference of Churches in Grenada and Chair of Jubilee Grenada
- Fr Sean Doggett, Roman Catholic Priest and member of the Conference of Churches in Grenada and Jubilee Grenada
- Rev Joachim Phillip, Pentecostal Pastor representing the Alliance of Evangelical Churches in Grenada and a member of Jubilee Grenada
- Pastor. Jerome Gordon, Director of Public Affairs and Religious Liberty, (SDA Conference)
- Alvin Clouden, Roman Catholic Layman and member of the Conference of Churches in Grenada and Jubilee Grenada
- The Hon. Oliver Joseph, Roman Catholic Layman/Minister of Labour and member of Jubilee Grenada
- Janis James, Representative of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Kingstown, St Vincent and the Grenadines
- Valerie Ramoo, Executive Secretary of the Conference of Churches in Grenada
- Rev Vonnie James, Acting Chair of Conference of Churches in Grenada and member of Jubilee Grenada
- Rev Sylbert Prescod, Superintendent Minister of the Methodist Church – Grenada Circuit
- Rev John Lewis, Director of the Grenada Institute for Theological Education
- Bishop Dr Cuthbert Edwards, Bishop of the Methodist Church, South Caribbean District (Barbados)
- Bishop Clyde Harvey, Roman Catholic Bishop of St George’s in Grenada
- Bishop Gerard County, Roman Catholic Bishop of Kingstown, St Vincent and the Grenadines
- Bishop C Leopold Friday, Bishop of the Windward Islands
- Archbishop Robert Rivas, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Castries, St Lucia
- Bishop Gabriel Malzaire, Roman Catholic Bishop of Roseau, Dominica
- Archbishop Jason Gordon, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Port of Spain, Trinidad
- Fr John D Persaud, General Secretary of the Antilles Episcopal Conference, Trinidad and Tobago
This statement is also supported and endorsed by the following:
- Jurgen Kaiser, Jubilee Germany
- Eric LeCompte, Jubilee USA
- Sarah-Jayne Clifton, Jubilee UK