Major U.S. religious leaders Thursday begin 40 days of fasting and lobbying in the U.S. Congress to win support for the Jubilee Act, a bill that would cancel the debt of 67 of the world?s poorest countries and establish responsible lending practices for the future.  Currently, indebted nations reportedly spend an average of 100 million dollars a day to service their debt.

Among the religious leaders is 79 year-old Reverend David Duncombe of the United Church of Christ in the northwestern U.S. state of Washington. This would be his third fasting for poor countries debt cancellation.  Reverend Duncombe told VOA he is fasting again because he had been successful in previous fasting in getting the U.S. Congress to act on debt cancellation for poor indebted countries.

?This will be my third fast for debt cancellation for poor countries, and why I?m doing it is that in 1999 and 2000 when I did the first fast, it proved effective in moving the legislation through Congress and appropriating enough funds to begin this process,? he said.

The 79 year-old Duncombe said he is risking his own life because more and more people are dying each day in Sub-Saharan Africa.

?I don?t know if the figures have changed, but in 1999 our figures from here in the Republican office, that 19,000 Sub-Saharan children died every day of starvation and starvation-related diseases. And that?s just not admissible, and if we can do something her to change that, then that?s worth taking a chance for,? he said.

Reverend Duncombe rejects criticism that by fasting for debt cancellation, he and others are helping African countries avoid their responsibility to pay back money they have borrowed.

?These are what we call ODS debt. It?s a legal term. What happened is that in the 1970s the IMF and World Bank got so much money from oil profits that had to be invested that they made very wise and we feel unjust loans to mostly African nations, many of whom didn?t have democratic forms of government, and who used the money, not for the poor people, but for whatever the leaders wanted ? dams or palaces or whatever. And now 30 years later, these people don?t have any responsibility for those loans,? Duncombe said.

He said the fasting is not only intended to influence the U.S. Congress but also all international lending organizations.

?We have a bill in Congress that, if passed, would require our Treasury Department to make certain kinds of arrangements with the basic lending institutions of the World Bank and the IMF to, out of their own funds, pay off these debt so that these countries that can?t pay their debt can put their money into poverty-focused activities,? Reverend Duncombe said.

The 79 year-old Duncombe said fasting for 40 days is a worthy cause even if it means a risk to his life. 

?I fasted for 45 in ?99 and 50 in 2000. Well, yes, somehow I may be able to make through. But I think we have to take risks in this country to help people. And certainly if we took risk, we would be regarded around the world more favorably than we are right now. If we are willing to do this, then may be people would think a little better of America,? Duncombe said.