Many low-income countries have very high levels of external debt, much of it owed to official creditors. The Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative aims to reduce debt levels to 'sustainable' levels, thereby reducing the burden of debt repayment on export earnings and on the government budget. This will in turn release resources for development, especially for poverty reduction. In December 2000, the IMF and the World Bank announced that 22 eligible countries (18 of them in Africa) had qualified for debt relief under the HIPC initiative, the debt relief being worth some US$ 34 billion. But the HIPC initiative-and debt relief more generally-remains highly controversial. Many have argued that the HIPC initiative does not go far enough, and that the debt should be completely written off so as to provide a fresh start for the world's poorest economies. Others have argued that a complete write-off will not necessarily benefit the poor of the indebted countries. And there is much debate regarding the interim poverty reduction strategy papers (PRSPs) that are a key part of the HIPC process, as well as the question of how to improve fiscal systems so that the resources released by debt relief reach the poor.
Building on the recent debate the WIDER conference will review what is presently known about the relationship between debt, development, and poverty reduction, and will assess the state of progress on debt relief, and its implications for the relationship between aid donors and recipient countries. Papers on any aspect of the debt relief issue will be considered, including cross-country studies and country studies. Selected conference papers, together with a policy summary, will be included in a conference volume to be published by WIDER.