Slim pickings at Gleneagles

Expectations that leaders of the world's richest nations meeting in Scotland this week would take far-reaching steps to eradicate poverty in Africa have not been met, with limited progress on debt relief, increased aid to the continent or the dismantling of unfair trade practices.

At the close of the Group of Eight (G8) summit in Gleneagles on Friday, anti-poverty campaigners expressed disappointment the overall outcome of the much-publicised event.

"What Africa needed from the G8 was a giant leap forward - all it got was tiny steps. The deal that has been announced falls way short of our demands. We have some aid, but not enough; some debt relief, but not enough, and virtually nothing on trade. Once again Africa's people have been short-changed," said Caroline Sande Mukulira, from ActionAid's Southern Africa programme, in statement shortly after the final communiqué was issued.

The G8 agreed to increase annual development aid to Africa by $25 billion by 2010, more than doubling the 2004 level. Global annual development aid - currently around $50 billion - would increase by $50 billion by 2010.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair said the agreements reached during the summit "would not change the world tomorrow - it is a beginning not an end". But he felt "siginifcant progress" had been made on the major issues.

While campaigners have welcomed the progress they said Africa needed the pledged aid immediately to escape grinding poverty and accelerate development.

"The G8 have recognised today that this is the beginning and not the end of their efforts to overcome poverty. The world's richest nations have delivered welcome progress to the world poorest people. But the outcome here in Gleneagles has fallen short of the hope of the millions around the world campaigning for a momentous breakthrough," said Oxfam's head of advocacy, Jo Leadbeater.

Mukulira noted that only 18 countries have had their debt cancelled, leaving 40 more waiting. "After the G8 leave Gleneagles, many poor countries will still be left spending more on debt repayments than they do on healthcare and education. For these countries this is a major disappointment."

Figures show that low-income countries are still burdened by more than $523 billion owed to multilateral agencies.

However, activists said the greatest disappointment was the failure of leaders to tackle unfair subsidies and trade barriers that disadvantage African farmers and businesses; although leaders pledged to end hefty farm export subsidies, they failed to set a date.

"The G8 have completely failed to deliver trade justice. President George W. Bush and the European Union have played a cynical game of bluff. The US has no intention of giving up or lowering the massive subsidies it gives its cotton farmers, that are forcing 10 million farmers in West Africa out of business. Poor countries should take this as a warning that they will have a hard fight in the upcoming trade talks at the World Trade Organisation," commented Adriano Campolina Soares, head of ActionAid's Americas office.

A December WTO finance ministers' meeting in Hong Kong is expected to make firm decisions about the phasing out of subsidies by 2010.

Lysbeth Holdoway, an Oxfam spokeswoman, told IRIN that although it was hoped that unfair trade practices would be address "there was an awareness that not much would be achieved on the issue at these talks".

The British-based Stop AIDS Campaign also welcomed the G8's announcement of a package on HIV and AIDS that included universal access to AIDS treatment by 2010.

"Ending the deaths and incapacity AIDS is causing across Africa is vital to making poverty history. The G8's plan for universal treatment will bring hope to millions," said Kirsty McNeill, Stop AIDS campaign manager.

"What remains to be seen is whether those hopes will be dashed by insufficient funding. The first test will be the Global Fund Replenishment Conference in London at the beginning of September. Few of the G8 countries have paid their fair share to the Global Fund so far."

For more details see: 'Real Aid' needed to eradicate crippling poverty