Cancel debt and give Somali children a chance

Sir, David Pilling draws attention to the overwhelming case for Somalia to receive debt relief (“ Somalia calls for acceleration of debt forgiveness to help fight terrorism”, January 8). Of one thing we can be certain: without a clearance of debt arrears, Somalia will remain trapped in a cycle of drought, poverty and humanitarian crisis.

Simple arithmetic and moral imperatives combine to make the case for decisive international action. On any credible assessment, Somalia’s $4bn in accumulated debt stock is unpayable. More than 90 per cent of this stock is accounted for by arrears on debts incurred during the early 1980s, well before the majority of Somalia’s current population was born, principally to fund imports of military equipment hardware.

Arrears owed to the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank render Somalia ineligible for the long-term development finance the country desperately needs. Last year, humanitarian interventions staved off a full-scale famine. Yet another failure in the rainy season will make 2018 another emergency year, with an estimated $1.5bn in humanitarian aid required. That aid can keep people alive. But recovery will require predictable, multiyear investments in irrigation infrastructure, livelihoods, health and education.

Contrary to the claims of some of the commentators cited in Mr Pilling’s report, the current government is making strenuous reform efforts. Indeed, this has been acknowledged by the IMF in a recent staff review. Debt relief would help underpin these reform efforts. Writing off IMF arrears would unlock access to finance from the World Bank’s International Development Association and other donors — and the bank itself should be deploying its “pre-arrears clearance” facility for Somalia.

Our teams across Somalia are working to deliver life-saving health and nutrition programmes to children whose lives are hanging by a thread. These children deserve a better future. What they do not deserve is punishment for a debt they played no part in creating.

This article was originally published in FT.

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