Austrian Groups Back Cancellation of “Toxic Debt”

Vienna, Austria; Manila, Philippines. Debt and development groups in Austria have thrown their support behind a growing movement in the Philippines to have an odious debt for highly polluting incinerators scrapped.

In a meeting in Vienna with a visiting representative of the “Stop Toxic Debt” (STD) campaign, the Austrian groups affirmed their unity with Filipino lawmakers and activists who have joined forces to strike out the US$2.2-million payment for the controversial Austria medical waste project in the proposed national budget for 2009.

“We hear what the Filipino people are saying and warmly support the moves by the civil society and the Congress to get the Austrian government to cancel the loan and put an end to this story of debt and pollution that has tainted Austria’s official development assistance to the Philippines,” Thomas Wenidoppler of the Export Credit Agency Watch (ECA Watch Austria),

Rudolf Remler Schoeberl of DKA-Austria, a Catholic group that supports human rights and development projects overseas, stated that “the continued payment for the wasteful debt is depriving Filipinos, especially the poorest of the poor, with the resources to meet their basic human needs. This is unacceptable and has to be corrected.”

Both Wenidoppler and Schoeberl also welcomed the idea of Philippine legislative and civil society leaders visiting Austria to bring the “toxic debt” issue before the members of the Austrian parliament and the general public.

Manny Calonzo of the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA) reported from Vienna that the STD partners in Austria have already initiated steps to raise the debt issue with concerned politicians as well as with the Ministries of Finance and Foreign Affairs.

“We value the solidarity and participation of our NGO counterparts in Austria to rectify the gross injustice of toxic technology transfer that the Filipino people continue to pay at the expense of increased spending for public health and environmental protection,” Calonzo said.

The Austrian medical waste project, signed in 1996, originally cost PHP503-million. As of 2007, the Philippines has already paid a total of PHP599-million for the principal and the interest payment of 4% per year. The debt will mature on September 30, 2014.

STD partner groups and political allies have argued that the “freed resources from the cancellation of illegitimate loan projects could be used to reduce child mortality, avert maternal deaths and combat life-threatening diseases; expand other health programs; purchase medicines and hospital beds; hire additional health workers; or ecologically process or treat infectious or pathological waste without incineration.”

The report “Toxic Debt” by the EcoWaste Coalition criticized the loan for the 26 now decommissioned medical waste incinerators as an “onerous Austrian legacy” for the country.

Another report “Bad Medicine” by Greenpeace Southeast Asia slammed the dumping of the obsolete incinerators in the name of development assistance as a “blatant form of toxic trade.”

The STD campaign count among its partners the EcoWaste Coalition, Freedom from Debt Coalition, Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, Greenpeace Southeast Asia and Health Care Without Harm.

EcoWaste Coalition
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