'A footprint means pressing down and global means world, so 'global footprint' means pressing down on the world and we don't want to press too hard' (child's definition of a Global Footprint)
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localDebt: trampling on people and trashing the planet

Debt creates a large footprint in all corners of the world, affecting people and the environment everywhere, but the specific impacts that debt has depends on where you live.  

In the west the impacts of debt can certainly be painful; it may cause you to lose your job or your home. But in poor countries debt, quite literally, kills.  

For many years some of the poorest countries of the world have been trapped in debt. Some countries which suffered under brutal regimes are now made to repay loans that the rich world gave them to prop up these dictators. Some have repaid more than they originally borrowed, but are caught repaying huge sums of interest. The impacts have been that countries already struggling to keep their people fed, educated and healthy, have been forced to spend their limited funds on repaying their debts to rich countries rather than providing essential services for their own people. Some Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) have had their debts partially cancelled but often under unfair conditions (see box).

Many poor countries are still paying more in debts than they spend on health, education and other essential services.

Ten years ago, debt cancellation for the poorest countries of the world was something that governments refused to even consider. However, public pressure and the highly successful global Jubilee Debt Campaign (Jubilee 2000) turned the idea of debt cancellation into reality. As a result of debt cancellation there are thousands of new teachers and schools in Malawi, Tanzania and elsewhere; a free childhood immunisation programme in Mozambique and an HIV/AIDS programmes in Benin, to name but a few benefits.

However, still only 20% of the debts have been cancelled. And the problem isn’t just money – it’s also about power. In return for having their debts cancelled, governments in poor countries are often forced to introduce policies that hurt their own people while continuing to benefit rich foreign companies. Countries are asked to cut public spending on health, adopt unfair trade rules or privatise basic services such as water supplies for example.

So, the debt problem has not gone away. The Jubilee Debt Campaign, a coalition of over 200 charities, unions, churches, and local and national campaign groups in the UK, continues to campaign for an end to the scandal of unfair and unpayable poor country debt. You can find out how you can get involved by visiting the
Jubilee Debt Campaign website. For example you could encourage your school to become a Jubilee School.


Downsides for the Rich

There are important downsides to debt in the rich countries of the world too. The high availability of credit in recent years has enabled people to spend beyond their means. This has resulted in huge levels of consumption which depletes valuable resources quicker. It also uses up more energy which in turn generates higher carbon emissions, the main cause of climate change and global warming. So credit and debt creates a large environmental footprint.

Debt can also seriously damage our health according to recent research. The more in debt you are, the higher your chances of developing anxiety and depression say psychiatrists. They also say that working to earn money simply to keep up with debt repayments creates great stress.