Panel Urges G-8 to Increase Africa Aid

By Michael Abramowitz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, June 16, 2008

A panel of prominent figures led by former U.N. secretary general Kofi Annan is warning that the Group of Eight industrialized countries must step up their assistance to Africa or risk breaking their promise to double aid by 2010.

In a report to be released in London this morning, the Africa Progress Panel describes a "mixed picture" of G-8 progress toward meeting aid targets that were set over the years at annual summits. Industrialized countries have eliminated a considerable amount of African debt, but they have not done as well on direct aid: Without major increases, "most countries will be well below" the collective target of $130 billion in aid by 2010, according to the panelists.

"We are in a situation where it is increasingly clear that traditional budgetary resources are too overstretched to meet aid pledges, unless innovative financing mechanisms are promptly put in place," the report states.

The study comes as the United States and the other industrialized countries are preparing to meet next month in Hokkaido, Japan, amid pressure to act more aggressively on world problems, including Africa aid, global warming, international corruption and the sharp increase in food prices.

The critique from the Africa Progress Panel echoes criticism from President Bush, who has complained that other G-8 countries have not fulfilled promises aimed at stemming AIDS and malaria. "To achieve this noble goal, all nations must keep their promises to deliver this urgent aid," Bush said Saturday in his weekly radio address.

White House officials said they expect Bush to make Africa one of his top priorities when he meets with other world leaders for the last time in Japan, and they said the United States is on target to achieve its goal of doubling annual aid to Africa to $8.7 billion by 2010.

But Bush will be under pressure to bend on global warming, with much of the rest of the world hoping to get agreement on steeper reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions than the president has been willing to consider. While praising Bush for his efforts on Africa, Annan asserted in a telephone interview that the United States should raise the percentage of its economy devoted to development assistance. He also said France and Japan should provide more aid to Africa.

The Africa Progress Panel was put together by former British prime minister Tony Blair to focus world leaders' attention on keeping promises to Africa. In addition to Annan, the panel includes former U.S. Treasury secretary Robert E. Rubin, rock singer and activist Bob Geldof, Nobel Peace laureate Muhammad Yunus and former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo.

This is the group's first report, and it focuses heavily on skyrocketing food prices, which are causing unrest and suffering across the continent. The panelists say the crisis threatens to reverse considerable recent progress made in reducing poverty, tackling AIDS and raising economic growth.

"Unless some way can be found to halt and reverse the current trend in food prices there will be a significant increase in hunger, malnutrition and infant and child mortality," the panelists wrote. "Many countries are already experiencing the reversal of decades of economic progress and 100 million people are being pushed back into absolute poverty."

The panel has a variety of recommendations, including increasing emergency aid to the U.N. World Food Program, lifting agriculture tariffs and making new investments to raise agriculture productivity. The members urged the G-8 to take a second look at the subsidies for biofuels that have helped convert land for producing food into land for energy. "The response in food supply to the current crisis will likely take some time to produce results . . . and must receive sustained levels of support," the report said.

In the interview, Annan said the focus of the upcoming G-8 summit ought to be fulfilling the commitments the industrialized world has already made to Africa. Citing recent economic gains, Annan said, "All this could be rolled back by the food crisis, a lack of follow-through of promises made. . . . What we really ask of the G-8 is not to make new promises but to meet the promises that have already been made."

© 2008 The Washington Post Company