Antigua and Barbuda Wednesday said countries in the Caribbean are seeking “breathing space in which to recover” from the ravages of natural disasters and the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
Addressing the Permanent Council of the Organization of American States (OAS), the island’s ambassador to the hemispheric body, Sir Ronald Sanders, said those who make policy for the international financial institutions and multilateral development banks also have to stop pretending that the economic and financial circumstances that existed in January 2020 are still the same in November 2020.
“The world has altered and significantly. The reality is that while many countries – including my own – are denied access to concessional financing and debt relief based on the wrongful measurement of high per capita income, that per capita income has been reduced by as much as 40 percent because job losses have doubled. “
Sir Ronald said that the time has long passed for the policymakers to admit the reality of the changed situation and to amend the policies of financial institutions to address it.
“Similarly, while Paris Club members continue to demand debt repayment without debt restructuring, they too should face the reality that countries cannot pay what they do not have. Debt default is what will occur with little prospect of repayment unless a balance is struck now.
The Permanent Council is also considering a draft declaration titled “Solidarity with the Peoples and Governments of the Hemisphere that have suffered natural disasters,” and the Antigua and Barbuda diplomat said it is important and vital now.
“If these circumstances continue to be ignored or the usual placebos are administered rather than the financing vaccines that exist and can be applied, this pandemic of economic disaster and human suffering will plague our hemisphere irreparably and irreversibly,” Sir Ronald said, adding that “each of our countries dwells in the same neighborhood.”
He said when circumstances reach calamitous proportions, as is now the case in several countries, none will be immune from the consequences.
“Those consequences will wash up on the shores of others or encamp at their borders. The beneficiaries will be transnational organized criminals, drug traffickers, human traffickers, and all those seize crises as opportunities.
“The security of all will be endangered as it breaks down in a few. In the words of this Declaration. We know that solidarity and brotherhood are essential to the peaceful development and wellbeing of the neighboring peoples of the Americas,” Sir Ronald said, reiterating that “is why the Declaration before this Permanent Council is so important and vital now.”
In his address to the Council, the Antigua and Barbuda diplomat said that Hurricanes Eta and Iota left countries in Central America in disastrous circumstances and caused significant mudslide damage in Colombia.
He said landslides and flooding had displaced thousands of persons, sweeping away their homes and other property and leaving scores of people dead or missing.
“The loss of livelihoods and business is considerable, and so too is the widespread damage done to the infrastructure, including roads, bridges, and public utilities. On this occasion, countries of Central America are the worst affected by these storms; countries of the Caribbean were not spared recent storms’ savagery.
“In Jamaica, St Kitts-Nevis and my own country, Antigua and Barbuda, the infrastructural damage caused by flooding and landslides of other tropical storms in the last few weeks are substantial,” Sir Ronald said, noting that in the case of Antigua and Barbuda, preliminary estimates of damage amount to almost five percent of the island’s gross domestic product (GDP).
“Climate Change and its catastrophic effects continue to manifest themselves in our hemisphere. This wreckage and its high costs come as many of our countries are battling extraordinary public health costs because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The situation is made worse for many of our economies because of the significant decline in revenues, again attributable to the effects of COVID-19, particularly for the tourism industry which is vital to many of our nations,” Sir Ronald said, adding that the need for attention by the international and financial institutions and multilateral development banks is now urgent.
He warned that many countries are becoming overwhelmed by the demands for welfare and recovery from disasters while revenues are dwindling.
“Countries need breathing space in which to recover. This means that they need access to financing on concessional terms. It also means that they also require debt relief in the forms of debt forgiveness and debt relief,” Sir Ronald said.