Blair accused of breaking aid pledge

Prime Minister Tony Blair has been accused of breaking a pledge not to cut aid to poor people overseas in order to fund the reconstruction of Iraq.

Britain is expected to pledge around £250 million to Iraq at the international donors' conference in Madrid on Friday.

Charities have claimed that much of the money is coming from slashing projects to help alleviate poverty in so-called "middle-income" countries like Bolivia, Guyana and Brazil.

Channel 4 News revealed that Mr Blair wrote to Christian Aid director Daleep Mukarji in April to promise that the reconstruction effort in Iraq would not hit programmes for the world's poorest people.

"The Secretary of State for International Development has given a public commitment that funds will not be redirected from other emergencies such as southern Africa or Ethiopia/Eritrea, nor from programmes supporting poor people elsewhere," he wrote.

In a handwritten note at the bottom of the letter, the Prime Minister added: "I assure you the programmes will continue."

George Gelber, head of policy at Catholic aid charity Cafod, told the programme: "It is a broken pledge and we are particularly concerned because of the people it is going to be affecting.

"Very poor people in middle-income countries are the ones who are going to feel the pain."

International Development Secretary Hilary Benn denied that Mr Blair had broken his promise.

The Department of International Development had long been planning to refocus its aid effort on to the world's poorest countries - mostly in Africa - meaning that the middle-income states would get a smaller proportion of the budget, he said. This had been decided regardless of events in Iraq, and no current programmes in these countries would lose out this year.

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