Hope and generosity can triumph over hate

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The Gleneagles G8 summit last week raised the trajectory of global ambition to end extreme poverty. By combining the world’s technological prowess with the long-standing promise of the rich countries to devote 0.7 per cent of national income to official development assistance, extreme poverty can be ended by 2025, with the United Nations’Millennium Development Goals of ­halving poverty a midway success in 2015. Despite foot-dragging by the Americans, Tony Blair, UK prime minister, who hosted the summit, successfully nudged the world closer to this prospect.

With the shocking backdrop of the bombs in London, the Gleneagles communiqué marked a triumph of hope and generosity over hate, offering an important, if incomplete, boost to the development prospects of the poorest countries. The rich countries agreed to increasetheir annual aid flows by at least $50bn as of 2010. At least half the increase is to be directed to Africa,thereby raising annual aid to Africa from $25bn to $50bn within five years. The commitment of the rich countries to double aid by 2010, from $50 billion per year now to $100 billion in 2010, with at least $50 billion directed towards Africa, offers a major boost to the development prospects of the poorest countries.Europe provided the decisiveimpetus for this breakthrough, demonstrating that , an important point to underscore when critics are declaring the “end of Europe” following the recent “no” votes on Europe’s draft constitution. Europe it is very much alive, andiis the champion of globalisation based on international co-operation, development aid and environmental stewardship.

Roughly four-fifths of the $50bn increase will come from the European Union, though Europe is represents but two-fifths of the GNP of the donor countries. Notably, the pre-enlargement EU-15 have set a bold timetable to reach 0.56 per cent of GNP in aid by 2010 and the internationally agreed target of 0.7 per cent of GNP by 2015. ­Canada and Japan gave a nod to 0.7, but refused to commit to a timetable. The US did worse, denying repeatedly in recent weeks that it had ever pledged 0.7, although despite the fact that Mr Bush signed on to the March 2002 Monterrey Consensus to “make concrete efforts towards the ­target of 0.7 per cent”. of GNP as official development assistance.”. Instead, of a bold increase in aid, the US cobbled together some small programmes backed by big spin. The new US effort against malaria is surely welcome, but $1.2bn over five years is paltry when $3bn each year is needed to fight the disease in Africa. The US five-year effort, to put it in perspective, is less than one day of Pentagon spending, and two cents of every $1,000 of US national income.

Mr Blair struggled for months to bring the US into the fold not only on aid but also climate change. He could paper over obscure the failure to win more from the US on aid preciselybecause hisEurope proved ready to shoulder a disproportionate share of the burden. Mr Blair could not, however, paper over the failure on climate change. Here the Gleneagles communiqué is a clunker. Bland ­reconfirmations of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change are notable only because they are made necessary by needed because in the face of so much US intransigence. They do not move the world any closer toward solutions.

For ending poverty, the challenge is to translate the Gleneagles promises into life-saving action. A long list of previous G8 commitments to Africa is appended to the communiqué, ostensibly to show that the latest this year’s G-8 effort is part of a long-standing process. In fact, the list is a kind of momento mori of how high-sounding words can vanish into the air. This G8 Summit can be different – numbers and timetables are set before us – but only if Gleneagles is followed quickly by concrete actions. on many fronts.

The day after the summit finished, I was in Ghana, one of the best governed and most hopeful of Africa’s young yet poverty-ridden democracies. More than 100 of every thousand 100Ghanaian children die before their fifth birthday, for every 1,000 who are born, at least 10 times the deathrate of the rich countries. These deaths are preventable, but the health budget is only one quarter fourth of what is needed to tackle the crisis. The austerity budget supervised by the International Monetary Fund and World Bank constitutes a death warrant that results from Ghana’s poverty and the lack so far of sufficient donor aid. The challenge is to translate Gleneagles promises into life-saving action.

This will happen if theThe IMF International Monetary Fund and World Bank have a responsibility to help mobilise theurgently needed required aid. take the G8 commitments seriously. Rather than tell Ghana to keep its health budget low in orderto preserve macroeconomic stability, the IMF should nowtell donors to honour their commitment to double aid to Ghana, soGhana that it the country can save its children and break free of the disease-hunger-poverty trap. A simple change of procedure in these institutions would have a profound and lasting effect.The executive boards of the IMF and World Bank should address this following critical qbasicuestion when asked to approve approving programmes for low-income countries: that seek come to them for approval: Is the programme sufficiently supported by donor aid and domestic budgetary commitments to enable the country to achieve the Millennium Development Goals?

The newly agreed$50bn a year in official aid for Africa translates into around $75 to $100 per African, depending on each country’s needs and commitments to use the aid effectively. Donor support for African health should be reaching $20 or more per capita per year, not the typical $5 or so on offer now. Donor support for agriculture and rural infrastructure should reach roughly the same amount. With suitable investments in farming systems, African food production can be tripled in a 21st century African green revolution. Increased aid for schooling, urban water and sanitation and other core infrastructure is also vital. The aid should be mainly spent on for investments and service delivery, notthe salaries of rich-country consultants or food shipments.

When world leaders gather at the United Nations summit in September, they can build quickly on the Gleneagles achievements. They should insist that donor countries that still lack a timetable to 0.7 per cent announce one in order to complete the financing package for Africa and other poor regions; that the IMF, World Bank, and other international organisations set their work plans according to the Millennium Development Goals; and that the new donor commitments to double aid start now. The leaders should be guided by the spirit of London that was on display last week, which showed that hope and generosity are by far the greatest bulwarks against terror and hate.


The author is director of the Earth ­Institute at Columbia University and author of ‘The End of Poverty’.

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