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Bono Warns G8 Backsliders

Only Britain and Japan are living up to the promises of the Gleneagles agreement

by Larry Elliott

Bono last night called for an emergency session on Africa at next month's G8 summit in Germany as it emerged that rich countries are using the sympathy felt in the wake of the 7/7 terrorist attacks in London to justify their foot-dragging on meeting aid pledges made at Gleneagles two years ago.

Amid signs that Russia and Italy are using delaying tactics to downplay the commitment by the G8 to raise an extra $50bn (£25bn) in development assistance by 2010, the rock star warned there was a risk of a return to the violent street protests of Genoa and Seattle at the turn of the millennium unless the G8 acted next month.

"It's not just the credibility of the G8 that's at stake," Bono said in an interview with the Guardian to coincide with the release of a report from his Data organisation detailing the slow progress since the Gleneagles summit of 2005. "It's the credibility of the largest non-violent protest in 30 years. Nobody wants to go back to what we saw in Genoa, but I do sense a real sense of jeopardy."

Attempts by Tony Blair to inject a fresh sense of urgency into the G8 have been frustrated by other rich nations. At a meeting in Berlin of senior G8 officials - known as sherpas - to prepare the ground for next month's G8 meeting, Britain's representatives received short shrift when they raised the issue of aid budgets. "We only made those promises because we felt sorry for Tony Blair after the terrorist attacks on 7/7," the Russian sherpa said, referring to the terrorist attack on the day before the Gleneagles agreement was signed.

The prime minister flew back to London on the first day of the summit after the four rush-hour bombs but returned to cajole reluctant G8 leaders to agree the $50bn package.

Although Russia has only a tiny aid budget, its hard-line stance at the sherpa meeting was supported by Italy. According to the Data analysis, Italy should have increased its development assistance to sub-Saharan Africa by 79% between 2004 and 2006 to meet its Gleneagles promises; in reality, it has cut aid by 30%. "The 2007 budget has reversed some of the decline, but the amounts promised are seriously insufficient to meet the target."

The report from Data, the organisation set up by Bono and Bob Geldof, is merely the latest in a string of reports detailing the snail-like progress among the G8 - Britain, Germany, Italy, the United States, Japan, France, Canada and Russia - in beefing up their development assistance. The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development and a monitoring group set up by Blair and led by the former UN secretary general Kofi Annan, have come to the same conclusion. A study put out last week by a consortium of European NGOs said that countries were using smoke and mirrors to dress up their spending, counting not just debt relief but domestic spending on refugees and educating foreign students in their aid budgets.

The prime minister intends to use his last big international gathering to demand action from the G8. Blair's argument is that there has been a modest increase in aid spending over the past two years, which has helped to put more children in school and increase the number of people given treatment for HIV/Aids, but that it has been nowhere near enough to make good on the commitment made at Gleneagles. The ambitious target signed up to in 2005 was to double global aid by 2010, with half of that £25bn increase earmarked for sub-Saharan Africa.

Some development experts have questioned whether the planned doubling of aid will be effective in tackling poverty in Africa, but the Data report backed Blair's stance: "Although today Africa is not entirely free from corrupt rulers, infamous examples of waste and corruption from the past no longer justify present inaction. Lessons have been learned and improvements have been made. When money is directed towards better-governed countries or effective programmes that circumvent corrupt leaders to empower the poor, the positive effects are both dramatic and sustained."

The figures released by Data yesterday showed that G8 assistance to sub-Saharan Africa has increased by $2.3bn since 2004, but to be on track for the 2010 target it should have increased by $5.4bn. To compound the problems, Data reported that only small increases in aid are in the pipeline for this year and next.

Hilary Benn, the international development secretary, said last night: "Only a long-term commitment from all donors, not just the UK, will help us reach the international targets to halve poverty by 2015 and continue tackling poverty into the next generation."

Blair will raise aid for Africa at talks with George Bush in Washington at the end of this week and remains confident that the G8 can be persuaded to redouble its efforts at the Heiligendamm summit early next month. Despite the resistance shown by the Russians and the Italians, the prime minister believes, according to Whitehall sources, that there is plenty left to play for. "The draft text is not strong enough," one source said. "Data are ringing the alarm bells. If we don't start to get on track with this G8 summit it is going to be hard to meet the pledges made for 2010."

The Gleneagles accord was the climax of the Make Poverty History campaign designed to put pressure on the G8 to provide help for Africa by opening up export markets, providing debt relief and increasing aid budgets. Bono said yesterday that the G8 could not let the campaigners down. "Telling lies to Bob and me is one thing. Putting their signature on a G8 communique and lying to their citizenry is another matter. Breaking promises to the most vulnerable people on earth is real infamy."

Guardian Unlimited © Guardian News and Media Limited 2007

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