July 6, 2005

‘Help Africa now,’ campaigners tell G8

By Madeline Chambers and Crispian Balmer

GLENEAGLES, Scotland (Reuters) - Africa campaigners made a
final plea to leaders of the world's industrialized nations on
Wednesday to boost aid, cancel debt and remove trade barriers
to help lift the continent out of poverty.

However, an Italian diplomat poured cold water on their
hopes of more cash, saying the leaders of the Group of Eight
(G8) would offer Africa no additional aid, just repeat promises
to honor past commitments.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair, this year's G8
president, has put Africa, along with climate change, at the
top of his agenda and rock stars have piled on the pressure by
staging huge "Live 8" concerts around the globe to push for
more aid.

"The prime minister goes in to this negotiation with the
biggest democratic mandate ever assembled on one single issue
in history," said Live 8 organizer Bob Geldof after meeting
Blair ahead of the G8 summit.

Blair wants the G8 to double total development aid by $50
billion per year as quickly as possible with half of that money
destined for Africa.

But Italy's top negotiator at the summit questioned whether
the figure was "serious or credible," saying it was based on
unrealistic assumptions about the strength of Europe's economy
and its ability to give more aid to the developing world.

"No one is offering more money here. It is a question of
honoring past commitments," diplomat Cesare Ragaglini said,
indicating that only Britain and France were pushing to hit the
$50 billion figure.


The campaigners remained hopeful of a last-minute burst of
G8 generosity, saying the world leaders had a unique
opportunity to help solve Africa's many problems.

"It's all to play for in the next 24 hours. One last push.
I really do believe we can get the 50 (billion dollars),"
rocker Bono told reporters, sitting alongside Geldof.

Although G8 and G7 countries have talked of their concern
about Africa for decades, they have taken little concrete
action, aid groups say.

The Make Poverty History coalition of aid groups is pushing
leaders to act in three main areas -- to boost aid to Africa
and improve its effectiveness, to cancel the continent's debt
burden and make trade fairer.

They described the G8's current proposals as "highly
uninspiring" and said the aid increases for developing
countries are paltry and come too late.

"We are facing a deal of $50 billion (in extra aid) in 2010
but the need is now. What they are proposing is turning up five
years too late ... on a continent where poverty claims a
child's life every 10 seconds," said Matt Phillips of Make
Poverty History.

Only about $15-20 billion of that would be new money, he

The coalition backs a U.N. goal for the world's rich
nations to spend 0.7 percent of their gross national income,
which few nations have so far achieved.

Italian aid in 2004 represented just 0.15 percent of its
gross domestic product. It has promised to raise that to 0.51
percent by 2010 and 0.7 percent by 2015, but Ragaglini stressed
there was no question of Rome speeding up this timetable.

Campaigners also criticized the G8 for an apparent lack of
progress on trade.

"There is nothing of substance on the table," said Kumi
Naidoo, head of the Global Call to Action against Poverty.

Pressure groups are calling for rich nations to stop
prizing open poorer countries' markets to bolster exports, to
remove farming subsidies and to introduce more rules on
multinational companies.

Even an agreement to cut $40 billion in impoverished
nations' debt, struck last month by G8 finance ministers, was
not enough, said campaigners, as it affected too few countries.

(Additional reporting by Mike Peacock)