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G8 Summit Diary: The World Bank president stole my seat (sort of)

I arrived in Hokkaido at 1.15am after 23 hours of travelling. The bus we were on for the last four hours made its way at a painfully slow pace through the increasingly mountainous landscape. I can see why they asked us to wear seat belts. It restrained the urge to get up and start walking instead, in the hope of arriving a little sooner.

Leora Hanser, Save the Children’s Head of Campaigns, and I flew overnight to Tokyo and then picked up the connecting flight to Sapporo. Our first encounter with the hard reality of global power came as we were checking in for the connecting flight, when we were told we were being moved from our allocated seats in row 2 because “the plane would not be balanced”. Not wanting to be responsible for an unbalanced plane we cheerfully agreed. Then when we got on board and headed down the back of the plane – and briefly feeling, well, balanced – we looked round to see the President of the World Bank, Robert Zoellick, and his staff being ushered into seats at the front. Guess which seats? You got it.

Good job he’s here though. The G8 leaders are arriving today and the signs are not too good for the world’s poorest people. Leaks from the pre-summit negotiations suggest the G8 may not re-confirm the promises they made to Africa in 2005 – when we all went to Scotland and wore white bands and sang and shouted a lot.

We picked up some information on the way that maybe they would repeat that promise after all, which gives some hope – though of course, better still would be a firm timetable for delivery of all that they promised. Right now, they’re well short – and meantime, food prices are making it harder than ever for the poorest families to make ends meet. Our Kroo Bay website shows mothers in Sierra Leone are finding a cup of rice costing twice what it did not long ago. So if Robert Zoellick can talk the G8 round, I’ll be happy he got my seat.

Most bizarre moment of the day was in Tokyo Narita airport as we queued to give our fingerprints at passport control. Leora spotted a helpful message on the information screen in French saying “if, for some reason, you do not have an index finger, please contact an attendant”. Do they keep spares? Why they only gave that piece of advice to French speakers I’ve no idea. Perhaps it means that if President Nicolas Sarkozy doesn’t deliver on his aid promises in the next few days, he won’t be able to point the finger at anyone else…

Some sleep was needed. Next we go into battle.

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