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Broken Promises Leave Three Million Children to Die in Africa
Published on Wednesday, June 8, 2005 by the Guardian/UK
Broken Promises Leave Three Million Children to Die in Africa
As Blair and Bush close in on deal over debt, UN report reveals human cost
by Larry Elliott and Patrick Wintour in Washington
 

Three million children will die in the poorest countries of sub-Saharan Africa as a result of the failure of the global community to meet its promise of slashing the death rates of the under-fives by 2015, the UN will reveal tomorrow.

The grim figure emerged as George Bush paved the way for a landmark deal on lifting the huge debt burden on Africa's poorest countries when he announced that the US will stump up extra cash that in the long term will cancel $15bn (about £8.2bn) of accumulated debt.

Following talks with Tony Blair in Washington, he also said he would do more on aid, but did not set out a specific figure. The UK is looking for an initial $25bn boost from across the G8 industrialized nations and the EU.

A study by the UN development program, timed to put pressure on G8 leaders ahead of the summit at Gleneagles next month, showed that on current trends, the global community will miss by a wide margin the targets it set for poverty, infant mortality and education in the millennium development goals agreed by the UN in 2000.

"These numbers should serve as a wake-up call for G8 leaders," said Kevin Watkins, director of the UN's human development report office. "Africa cannot afford to see the world's richest countries sleepwalk their way to a heavily signposted human development disaster."

In 2000 the UN said that by 2015 it would cut infant mortality by two-thirds, halve the number of people living on less than a dollar a day, and put every child in school.

On current UNDP projections, there will be 5 million under-five deaths in Africa, compared with 2 million if the goals were achieved; 115 million children deprived of an education; and 219 million extra people living below the poverty line.

President Bush's officials said that following the talks they believed he would provide more aid, possibly targeted at specific projects such as girls' education, water sanitation, malaria and peacekeeping.

The outline deal on debt requires further consultation with the Germans and some other EU finance ministers and it was accepted by British officials that most of the progress had been made on the cancellation of multilateral debt to the World Bank, rather than the International Monetary Fund.

President Bush disappointed environmentalists at the press conference by implying he did not see the scientific case of manmade climate change as being unanswerable. Mr Blair wants to make climate change alongside Africa the big theme of his G8 summit.

President Bush said of climate change: "We need to know more about it. It is easier to solve a problem when you know a lot about it."

But the Washington trip will be remembered for the progress Mr Blair made on debt cancellation and the assertion by President Bush that lifting Africa from poverty "is a central goal of my administration".

On debt cancellation the Americans promised not merely 100% cancellation, but also additional funding to ensure that the World Bank does not lose out over cancelled interest payments.

America had been insisting the World Bank was recompensed through cuts in aid programs to Africa. Now it will provide additional cash.

President Bush told a White House press conference: "We agree that highly indebted developing countries that are on the path to reform should not be burdened by mountains of debt. Our countries are developing a proposal for the G8 that will eliminate 100% of that debt and that by providing additional resources will preserve the financial integrity of the World Bank and the Africa Development Bank."

He omitted any mention of the debt owed to the IMF since America is opposing the British proposal of funding the cancellation by the revaluation of IMF gold reserves.

Mr Bush insisted he would not lift aid to a fixed formula but said he had already tripled aid.

He added: "We have got a fantastic opportunity presuming the countries in Africa make the right decisions. Nobody wants to give money to a country that's corrupt, where leaders take money and put it in their pocket. We expect there to be reciprocation."

Mr Blair also stressed the proposed $25bn extra aid was not a figure taken out of the air. He said, in comments designed to attract the president, that over the coming weeks the cash could be allocated "on the basis of an analysis of what Africa needs".

He listed areas such as malaria, Aids, peace enforcement and education. It is possible the American extra aid cash will not go through multilateral institutions but through funds set up in Washington along the lines of their existing anti-Aids program

Mr Blair also stressed, like President Bush, that the aid was not unconditional. He said: "We require the African leadership to be prepared to make a commitment on governance against corruption in favor of democracy.

"What we're not going to do is waste our country's money."

President Bush bridled at suggestions that America would not provide any extra aid cash. He said: "We've got a lot of big talkers. What I'd like to say is my administration actually does what we say we're going to do."

© Copyright Guardian Newspapers Limited 2005

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