G-8 pledges aid to Africa

Critics say $60 billion for disease falls short of need

June 09, 2007|By Christian Retzlaff and Jeffrey Fleishman | Christian Retzlaff and Jeffrey Fleishman,LOS ANGELES TIMES

HEILIGENDAMM, Germany -- The world's leading industrialized nations pledged $60 billion yesterday to fight AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis mainly in Africa, a gesture that drew criticism from human rights groups that called it insufficient and part of a pattern of unfulfilled promises.

The agreement on African aid, half of which would be provided by the U.S., came as the Group of Eight's three-day summit concluded at this Baltic Sea resort. The money is part of a series of measures to reduce disease and spur economic growth on a continent racked by poverty and corruption, where more than 2 million people die each year of AIDS.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the G-8 would rise to its responsibilities to the developing world. With the representatives of six African nations on hand, Merkel said: "We want to stress that we also have expectations about what should happen in Africa."

The chancellor said that the $60 billion package "is not yet enough. ... Africa is not only a continent with many diseases; it is also a continent with many chances for the future."

Merkel characterized the pledge to Africa as the latest milestone in a summit that also calmed tensions between President Bush and Russian President Vladimir V. Putin over Washington's proposed missile defense system in Eastern Europe and led to a compromise among G-8 members on reversing global warming. It was the decision on Africa that drew the most pointed criticism among activists and tens of thousands of anti-globalization protesters.

"By falling scandalously short of what the United Nations says is needed to fight AIDS and HIV, and by setting the treatment targets well below actual need, [G-8 members] have capped ambition at a level which will be fatal for many," said Steve Cockburn, of the Stop AIDS Campaign.

Human rights groups have charged the G-8 with breaking earlier promises. At the 2005 summit meeting in Gleneagles, Scotland, leaders pledged $25 billion a year in development aid to African countries by 2010. Activists said the pace of funding has fallen well behind that.

They also said the $60 billion pledge to fight AIDS and other diseases is not enough to fund drugs and medicine on a continent where 65 percent of all HIV-infected people live.

"The announcement of $60 billion to tackle disease is not the increase promised in Gleneagles," said Kumi Naidoo, a member of Global Call to Action Against Poverty. "There is no time frame for delivery and a deliberate absence of detail. We are appalled by the lack of urgency they are showing."

The Group of Eight said other assistance to Africa would include granting $60 billion in debt relief, working with 30 African countries to cut malaria deaths by half, improving education funding and pressuring countries to fight corruption. The leaders said the continent's 6 percent annual growth was helping to reduce poverty in several nations.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair said the world's richest nations reaffirmed "the commitments we made a couple of years ago at Gleneagles. But the important thing is we have to set out how we are going to do them. ...

"This is a partnership; it is a deal between Africa and the developed world, and just as we have recommitted ourselves to substantial increases in support and help, so Africa has recommitted itself to its responsibilities as part of that partnership."

Bono, the lead singer for U2, who has been lobbying for African aid for years, criticized the G-8 for offering only "labyrinthine language" that jeopardizes its commitment to Africa and other global issues.

"It's worth remembering that these aren't statistics: these are hospitals without the electricity or clean water they've been promised, schools without roofs, mothers without vaccinations for their children," he said.

Christian Retzlaff and Jeffrey Fleishman write for the Los Angeles Times.

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