As churches in southern Africa mobilize to help the victims of the floods in Mozambique, the president of the country's main ecumenical organization had called on the rich nations of the world to forgive his country its crippling debts.Methodist Bishop Bernadino Mandlate, who is president of the Christian Council of Mozambique (CCM), said that it was immoral that creditor nations continued to demand payments while the country's population was struggling to survive the devastating floods. Mozambique pays US$1.46 million a week to service its debts, according to Christian Aid, based in London, which has publicized the bishop's call for debt relief."The economic situation of Mozambique was precarious before the flooding. Now the economic situation has gone from precarious to catastrophic," according to Bishop Mandlate, who belongs to the Methodist Church in Southern Africa (Wesleyan Church in Mozambique).Although in recent years there had been rapid growth, this growth had mainly benefited the urban areas, such as the capital, Maputo, Mandlate stressed. "Most of Mozambique has not seen the fruits of the growth. Nearly 70 percent of Mozambicans live in the countryside, and it is the life of these people which has been worst affected by the flooding. With the harvest gone, these people have lost their livelihood."Bishop Mandlate added that while the flooding was a disaster, the disaster of debt had been continuing for years. "I make no apology for discussing debt at this time. It is a disaster that children under five are dying because of [the lack of] healthcare, sacrificed because of the need to pay back old loans."A Christian Aid policy assistant, Mark Farmaner, told Ecumenical News International (ENI) today that the cancellation of 90 percent of Mozambique's foreign debt was scheduled for the near future under the "Heavily Indebted Poor Countries" (HIPC) initiative. Since the floods, a number of countries, including Great Britain, the United States, Germany and Finland, had announced that they would write off the remainder of Mozambique's debts once the bulk of the debt had been cancelled. However, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank had not announced any similar initiative. Neither has Japan, which is chairing the meeting of the Group of Seven (G7) industrialized countries in July. Mozambique owes Japan around $56 million. Japan has offered Mozambique $1 million of assistance in kind.In most cases, Mozambique is also paying heavy debt-servicing charges, even though much of its debt is to be written off in the near future."That's taking resources away from Mozambique at a critical time," Farmaner told ENI.Meanwhile, in other parts of southern Africa, church leaders have expressed shock at the effects of the flooding and called on their members to help provide assistance.In South Africa, the Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town, Njongonkulu Ndungane, has launched an emergency fund for Mozambican flood victims and has appealed to all South Africans and to Anglican bishops throughout southern Africa to urge their parishes to contribute. "We simply cannot stand by without responding to the horrific circumstances. Our relationship with our sister nation calls for action that will hopefully spur the rest of the world to follow suit," Archbishop Ndungane said. "The human drama unfolding is far bigger than one denomination, one faith or any of the other divides in our society."The Catholic Bishops of Southern Africa have also expressed extreme concern about the devastation caused by the floods and called on "all people of good will" to contribute to the relief effort. In a statement released in Cape Town on 8 March, the bishops pointed out that hundreds had perished and hundreds of thousands more were homeless, starving and in grave danger of contracting diseases.In Zambia, churches have united across denominational barriers to provide material support to the flood victims in Mozambique. Churches belonging to the Pentecostal Assemblies of God (PAOG), and to the Evangelical Fellowship of Zambia (EFZ) are spearheading the collection of material and monetary support from all churches in Zambia. POAG and EFZ churches between them account for more than 1.5 million Christians.Joshua Banda, vice national superintendent of POAG, told ENI that the two umbrella bodies were "merely coordinating the project. Otherwise this is for every Christian living in Zambia today."Banda, who is overseeing the program, added: "For this reason we are going to work with all the umbrella church organizations like the Christian Council of Zambia and the Zambia Episcopal Council."He said the coordinating committee, including clergy from different denominations, was gathering a wide range of goods, and hoped to collect 1000 blankets and 50 tents, as well as gas and paraffin stoves, cooking utensils, soap, candles, mosquito nets, and children's clothes."We see this as an opportunity to unite as Christians for the purpose of alleviating the suffering of our brothers and sisters in Mozambique."Father Ignatius Mwebe, secretary general of Zambia's Catholic Secretariat, described the program as an opportunity for "Christian churches to come together and narrow the differences."The Catholic Church would give spiritual and material support "to such a cause, because the social teachings of the church emphasize the need to help the less fortunate. We will not sit back."A spokesperson the Christian Council of Zambia (CCZ) said the cause "started by the Pentecostal and Evangelical churches is a very noble one, we can do nothing but render the support we can."Mozambican Anglican Bishop Dinis Sengulane, who is also the chairman of the Bible Society board in Mozambique, had a narrow escape from death because of the floods. He was trapped by the waters after being forced to abandon his car on the road to Maputo, but was airlifted to safety by helicopter.Speaking after his rescue, Bishop Sengulane said that hospitals were overcrowded and "even patients with malaria, cholera or meningitis had to sleep on the floor."Copyright © 2000 Ecumenical News International. Used with permission.
Other articles on Mozambique debt relief are available at the
Reuters, and The Boston Globe (which offers both a
news story and
opinion piece).See ChristianityToday.com's past coverage of the Mozambique floods
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