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The G8 leaders need to prioritise aid for the world’s children

Boarding the Alitalia flight from Heathrow to Rome earlier this week, I saw the first signs that this G8 summit is likely to be – well, different. The side of the plane was emblazoned with the G8 summit official carrier badge and the words “From La Maddalena to L’Aquila”. This is a rather odd way of highlighting the last-minute shift of the meeting from a Sardinian island where an expensive summit centre had just been built, to the scene of this year’s earthquake where tens of thousands still live in tents and aftershocks continue to reverberate. It was tempting to scrawl “at a cost of 300 million euros” underneath. It can’t have softened the blow for the mayor of Maddalena to know that the snub to his island would be advertised around the world in the livery of Italy’s flagging airline.

Arriving in Rome I went straight to the Alternative G8 Summit for a session on “public goods” – the critical investments in maternal and child health, education and clean water that need to be made to ensure every child has the best chance to grow up safe and healthy. Just before my speaking slot, my colleague Simon Wright spotted a quiet announcement in the remarks by Marcello Fondi, the man from the Italian foreign office which revealed that Italy intends to go beyond its foreign aid cut this year and cut further in 2010 – this time by an astonishing 66%. This just hours after prime minister Berlusconi told Bob Geldof he was really sorry for the 2009 cut. How sorry is it possible to get? Read Simon’s blog for more.

The G8’s aid promises are under serious threat this week, not only because of Italy’s leadership but also the ongoing economic crisis. The two big aid questions are: how much? And what for? Quantity matters – anything less than a restatement of the promises they made in 2005 in Gleneagles, and a clear plan from each country to get back on track to delivery, will leave increasing numbers of campaigners and observers pointing at the emperor’s rather embarrassing lack of clothing. But quality matters too – currently only 3% of aid goes on maternal health and child survival. The G8 could agree to double that – which is what is needed if the millennium development goals are to be rescued – and they could say so this week. Will they?

The signs are not good. Every G8 summit is a bit of a circus. This one risks being more of a charade. Off to L’Aquila tonight.

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