Mixed aid agency reaction to Blair G8 poverty pledge panel
Leading UK development agency ActionAid has accused G8 countries of passing the buck on Africa, and says that British Prime Minister Tony Blair's announcement of a panel to hold world leaders to their promises needs to be a spur not a sop to real action.
In a report published this week, the charity declares: ìAt present, a mix of backsliding, buck-passing and half-measures by rich countries risk undoing much of the progress of last year.î
It goes on to say that the G8 countries are not on track to double aid by 2010, that unfair trade deals continue, and that most of the world's poorest countries remain in debt. While poverty cannot be rendered history overnight, there are too few signs of progress, ActionAid argues.
Mr Blair gained global publicity yesterday in announcing the setting up of an independent Africa Panel, to be chaired by UN secretary general Kofi Annan. The idea to evaluate progress on promises made by the G8 at a summit in Gleneagles, Scotland, last July (2005).
Campaigner and musician Bob Geldof, who is also pushing David Cameronís ëNew Toriesí to take world poverty seriously, has been enlisted for the panel. So has Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo and Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates ñ who has helped fund the panel and secretariat.
The panel will produce an annual report for the G8 and for the United Nations over the next few years.
The announcement has received a mixed response from aid and church agencies, with many reluctant to ësound negativeí about it, but some underlying concerns about its composition and how effective it is going to be.
G8 leaders promised an extra 50 billion US dollars a year in total aid for all developing countries by 2010, including an expected 25 billion dollars for Africa.
Mr Blair says that ìsteady progressî is being made on this pledge, but critics in the churches and in development groups believe it is too early to tell ñ and say that some debt and aid commitments are being ëdouble countedí.
Plans to cancel 100 percent of the debt of many poor states are on track and have allowed Zambia to provide free health care for people living in rural areas, the Prime Minister claims.
Again, agencies operating on the ground are more sanguine, and express the hope that the panel, constituted centrally by ëthe rich and famousí will not simply seek to spin elements of the pledge record which might embarrass G8 governments.
On fairer trade, which is many say is the most important long-term change generator in the Gleneagles package, talks have been fitful and little progress made.
But the wealthy countries have ìa genuine and urgent choiceî to act now and to make ìreal inroads into povertyî, says ActionAid. Either that, or they will continue to let their pledges slip, with ìgrave consequences for people living in poverty.î
A church aid agency insider told Ekklesia yesterday: ìMany of us have mixed feelings about the new panel. Monitoring is vital, and cynicism isnít going to deliver progress against poverty. But at the same time it is easy to lose the issues in PR spin ñ and the question remains about how the voices of the poor get heard, not just the rich and powerful.î
[Also Ekklesia: World leaders failing global poor, says Christian Aid; Christian Aid welcomes Brown's global education pledge; Debt campaigners look to 'unfinished business' of G8; G8 outcome disappoints poverty and ecology lobbies; Catholics urge Blair to make anti-poverty pledge; Churches call for decisive G8 action; Brown pledges an end to global education poverty]