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G8 leaders promise a great deal while delivering next to nothing

By Stephen Castle in Genoa

24 July 2001

World leaders returned from a riot-torn G8 summit in Genoa to discover their carefully-prepared initiatives to help combat third world debt, poverty and disease were being derided by almost all the key pressure groups.

Despite the launch of a fund to tackle Aids, malaria and tuberculosis, and a new African partnership scheme hailed by Tony Blair as the continent's "Marshall Plan", non-governmental organisations remained deeply unimpressed.

Cafod, the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development said the G8 leaders "failed in Genoa to heed the international calls for a new deal on debt relief." Oxfam added that the world's wealthiest nations "did nothing meaningful on debt relief and announced a global Aids fund that still needs much more resources and does nothing about the cost of drugs in poor countries. It is unacceptable that these promises remain unmet".

Global warming

"We all firmly agree on the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions While there is currently a disagreement on the Kyoto Protocol and its ratification, we are committed to working intensively together to meet our common objective."

The US's opposition to Kyoto could not be overcome by the Europeans but the talks in Genoa may have had a crucial impact in bringing the Canadians and Japanese back behind the treaty, helping environment ministers negotiating in Bonn to reach a tentative agreement. However, that was immediately damned by environmenalists as being "watered down".

Aids

"To respond to the appeal of the UN General Assembly we have launched, with the UN Secretary General, a new Global Fund to fight HIV/Aids, malaria and tuberculosis. We are determined to make the fund operational before the end of the year. We have committed $1.3bn."

Pressure groups are angry that the cash on offer is little more than one-tenth of $10bn which the UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, demanded.

There are worries that it will be difficult to agree on specific spending programmes. Non-governmental organisations say that much of the money pledged by governments has simply been diverted from other parts of national overseas aid budgets.

Although the UK's contribution of $200m (£140m) sounds generous, the cash was diverted from other parts of the government's development budget and will be spread over five years. "This is like robbing Peter to pay Paul," said War on Want's senior campaigner, Steve Tibbett, who argued that "one-off funds and initiatives don't address the underlying causes of poverty. The global health fund is simply not big enough to make a real impact - more importantly it is not new money."

Hunger

"Over 800 million people remain seriously malnourished, including at least 250 million children. So a central objective of our poverty reduction strategy remains access to adequate food supplies and rural development".

No immediate new initiative here although leaders announced plans for an ambitious partnership with African states in time for next year's G8 meeting in Canada in 2002. By then, the richest countries will have a plan to create links to eight African states committed to reform. Mr Blair described it as the summit's "lasting legacy" and as a "kind of Marshall Plan for the future".

But one key difference is obvious: the Marshall Plan, which levered Europe out of economic devastation after the Second World War, was accompanied by a massive act of American generosity. It is early days but, so far, not one cent has been pledged to the Africa partnership.

Debt

"Debt relief ­ particularly the Enhanced Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative is a valuable contribution to the fight against poverty, but it is only one of the steps needed to stimulate faster growth in very poor countries. We are delighted 23 countries have qualified for an overall amount of debt relief of $53bn out of an initial stock of debt of $74bn. We must continue this progress ... In particular we look to countries affected by conflict to turn away from violence. When they do, we confirm that we will strengthen our efforts to help them take the measures needed to receive debt relief."

Aid organisations are increasingly critical of the HIPC programme, which they see as too slow and insufficiently generous, and are worried the latest position implies third world nations which are involved in conflicts will qualify for help.

Two years ago at Cologne, the G8 group agreed on a target for the cancellation of $100bn of debt but, so far, only $13.2bn has been written off, leaving many nations spending more on repayments than on health and education. Although 23 countries have begun to receive debt relief, 20 which qualify have not and only two have completed the process.

Was it all worth it? Andrew Pendleton, spokesmam for the charity Christian Aid, believes part of the frustration of the protesters arises because the results of summits such as Genoa hardly justify the public expense. "Rather than eating sea bass and drinking white wine they would be better off getting down to business," he said.

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