Building up to the G8

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This weekend, eight of the world’s richest countries will come together in Canada to discuss critical issues facing our world. Global security and terrorism are on the agenda, but will the G8 keep their promises to the world’s poor?

Just five years ago at Gleneagles, G8 leaders made a historic pledge to “Make Poverty History”, spurred on by one of the largest anti-poverty campaigns of all time. The Gleneagles Agreement promised to provide $50 billion of extra aid by 2010, and double the assistance being given to sub-Saharan Africa. At this year’s summit – half-way through the deadline year of 2010 – much of this money has yet to come through.

The G7 (the G8 minus Russia) will deliver less than two-thirds of the aid it promised to Africa. Even if figures are adjusted down to account for the economic crisis, over $18 billion is missing. This is not Britain’s fault, and we can be proud to continue the UK’s tradition of supporting those in need. But whilst the UK is on track to deliver on 93% of the aid it promised, progress from other countries has been seriously patchy. The United States, Canada and Japan each set relatively modest targets in 2005, but have managed to exceed them. France and Germany set more ambitious goals as part of the EU, but are only expected to deliver around one quarter of them. Without question, the most disappointing performance has been from Italy – the only G7 country to have actually cut its aid since 2004. Given that Prime Minister Berlusconi will be the only leader around the table in Muskoka who personally signed the Gleneagles Agreement, Italy’s regression is simply outrageous.

A draft version of the summit Communiqué, leaked back in May, made for worrying reading. Following intense lobbying from Italy and France, the draft Communiqué contained no mention of the Gleneagles pledges, and analysts have become concerned that the commitments would be quietly dropped. Downing Street has insisted the text was in no way finalised, and that the final version would not see the Gleneagles commitments watered down. We will find out this weekend how successful British lobbying attempts have been.

Where resources have been delivered, they have transformed the lives of millions. In sub-Saharan Africa, for example, nearly 3 million people are now receiving anti-retroviral drugs for HIV, compared to just 100,000 in 2003. In Ethiopia, Eritrea, Rwanda, Zanzibar and Zambia, bed-nets, insect spraying and other interventions have reduced the deaths from malaria by half. Vaccines and immunisations programmes have protected 257 million children from diseases – saving an estimated 5.4 million lives. 42 million more children are in school, and countries that have invested in agriculture have seen dramatic reductions in the numbers of people going hungry.

Donor countries have been quick to blame the economic crisis for their failure to keep promises. The crisis has also, let us not forget, pushed 64 million people into poverty this year. Berlusconi and his aides cited the recession, Italy’s public debt and even the L’Aquila earthquake as explanations for his aid cuts. But at the height of the crisis European leaders were able to lay their hands to €1 trillion to bail out the financial sector – equivalent to the combined total of all aid delivered since 1960.

Aid represents just 1% of government spending. BP have just announced they will raise $50 billion to deal with the Gulf of Mexico oil spill – the same amount of money as was pledged at Gleneagles. If a single company can find such funds in a matter of days, the richest countries in the world should have been able to find them in five years.

David Cameron’s first major challenge as a statesman will be to inspire the G8 to follow the UK’s lead, and fight to keep their Gleneagles promises. If he fails to do so, the pledge to “make poverty history” may become history itself.

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