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G8 pledges on Africa – reduce, reuse, recycle?

This year’s G8 summit is being described as a ‘zero waste’ event, designed to have minimal environmental impact. Yet there’s a concern that this is being taken a bit too literally by some G8 members when it comes to their pledges to the world’s poorest countries.

Five years on from the fanfare surrounding G8 promises of an extra US$50 billion in overseas aid —  half of it pledged to Africa — by 2010, the richest countries are trying to quietly bury these commitments. The latest reports are that the final summit communiqué will make no mention of the $50 billion, or of the shortfall in delivering on that promise —  estimated by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) earlier this year as $23 billion. Italy, Germany and France were reportedly concerned to maintain face after cutting and freezing their aid budgets.

The G8 has, however, produced an ‘accountability report’ that is something of a misnomer. This report counts progress towards the aid target in current 2009 dollars, not constant dollars from 2004, which was the baseline year for the Gleneagles promises. By counting in dollars at today’s value, the G8 has managed to more than halve the shortfall in aid giving to $10 billion.

This should matter to the G8 because it erodes further the forum’s credibility on Africa. But more fundamentally, it matters to Africa, because the $13 billion gap between what was promised in Gleneagles and what’s been given to the region carries a massive opportunity cost. This sum is sufficient to provide basic maternal and child health to millions of Africans, and to achieve universal primary education.

The Canadian Prime Minister should be credited with putting maternal and child health – perhaps the greatest development challenge facing Africa – high on the agenda of the Canadian summit. And David Cameron comes into the summit in a strong position, as leader of one of the G8 countries that has largely met its pledges on global poverty. But it will be perverse if a G8 initiative on reducing the terrible toll of maternal and child deaths is launched in the context of failure to deliver on what was promised in Gleneagles.

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