Press Release
June 22, 2009


GENEVA, Switzerland -- Developing countries may soon be able to swap their debts for commitments and interventions to reduce disaster risks as recommended by Sen. Loren Legarda.

Senator Legarda's motion to espouse a "debt-for-disaster risk reduction (DRR) investments swap" was unanimously adopted at the Parliamentarian Meeting at the Second Session of the Global Platform on Disaster Risk Reduction held here last week.

As reflected in the summary report of the meeting, parliamentarians agreed to advocate for swapping developing country debt for DRR commitment and interventions to promote ecosystems regeneration and protection.

Through a debt swap, the creditor country cancels a portion of debt. In return, the debtor country invests the canceled amount in development projects according to conditions previously agreed by both parties, Legarda explained.

This is already being done for the environment where debts of developing nations are swapped for reforestation projects.

Some of the projects that can be funded to lessen risks from disasters are the building of safe hospitals and schools, planting mangroves in coastal areas, investments in early warning systems, cleaning up rivers in blighted urban areas and retrofitting unsafe public infrastructures as a protection against imminent earthquake, Legarda said.

The Legarda proposal was commended by United Nations Undersecretary General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes who considered it "a noble idea" along with the proposal to use 30 percent of the UN climate adaptation funds for DRR.

As about 45% of the Philippines' annual budget goes to debt service, a small part of it could be renegotiated with donor countries and institutions that "have a moral responsibility to help developing nations insofar as reducing DRR and adapting to climate change," according to Loren.

Philippine external debt stood at $53.8 billion as of end-December 2008. The country is projected to incur a deficit of P150 to P250 billion this year, further necessitating foreign borrowings to fund the massive infrastructure projects of the Arroyo administration.

Loren said that the "debt-for-DRR" swap could lessen the foreign debt of the Philippines and at the same time boost its efforts to protect and improve the environment so as to reduce disaster risks from natural catastrophes.

Loren came here to attend the four-day Second Session of the Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction, held here last week to assess strategies to reduce disaster losses worldwide.

She addressed the conference of the world's parliamentarians as the United Nations' champion for disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation in the Asia-Pacific region.

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