More than 3 million face death while Berlusconi and the G8 fiddle

Aid money the G8 has promised but won’t deliver could save more than 3 million lives, Oxfam said today as leaders gathered for the summit in L’Aquila, Italy.

These, and many more lives and livelihoods are at risk unless urgent action is taken to protect poor people from the triple threat of the economic crisis, rising food prices and climate change. Sub Saharan Africa alone is expected to lose $245bn this year as a result of the global slump but will receive only about $5bn in additional aid.

Yet rather than delivering on his own aid promises and encouraging other countries to meet theirs, Silvio Berlusconi, G8 chair and Italian president is attempting to wriggle out of his commitments to the world’s poorest. He has cut aid and pushed the G8 to adopt a new ‘whole of country’ approach that would use creative accounting to hide broken promises.

Max Lawson, Oxfam senior policy advisor, said: “Like a modern day Nero, Berlusconi is fiddling while Africa burns. G8 leaders must get serious and ensure this Summit delivers a concrete plan to get aid promises back on track, and to protect poor people from the triple threat of the economic, food and climate crises.”

According to the OECD, G8 leaders will fall short by as much as $23bn in their 2005 promise to increase annual aid by $50bn over five years. Oxfam calculates this money could be used to pay for HIV treatment for 500,000, services for mothers and newborns that would save a further 2.5 million, child health services that would save a further 600,000 lives.

On average, rich countries outside the G8 give more than twice as much of their national income in overseas aid (0.54%), as G8 members (0.23%).

A G8 in crisis...

Farida Bena, Oxfam International Italian spokesperson said: “It is time that G8 countries paid their fair share of aid to reduce poverty in Africa and elsewhere. Why can other rich countries put their hands in their pocket whilst most of the G8 refuses to do so? A G8 that refuses to keep its word, a G8 that fails to meet the unprecedented challenges facing the world’s poor – that is a G8 in crisis.”

Far from showing leadership in their role as G8 chair, Italy is cutting its aid to poor countries. Last year Italy cut their aid through the Foreign Affairs Ministry by a staggering 56%. France too has barely increased aid despite promises to do so and other countries are not bringing the ambition needed to the table this year – when it is most needed.

The ‘whole of country approach’ promoted by Berlusconi could allow countries to count money charities, philanthropists, companies and trade links deliver to developing countries as part of their assistance to poor countries. Adding these disparate elements to produce a large cash figure of little value would allow countries like Italy and France to deflect attention from their lamentable performance on aid. 

An emergency plan is needed

Instead of muddying the waters with creative accounting, Oxfam is calling on the G8 to agree an emergency plan to get their aid commitments back on track ahead of the 2010 deadline. The need for increased aid is shown by the $245bn economic black hole facing Africa as a result of a reduction in expected growth from 6.7 per cent to 1 per cent. By contrast, aid will only increase by $4.6 billion this year, IMF special drawing rights and other measures agreed at the G20 add only another $16bn. This falls way short of what is needed.

Lawson said: “The world has a triple crisis on it hands. The economic crisis is destroying jobs, reducing remittances and forcing cuts in health and education services for some of the world’s poorest people. Africa is set to lose $245bn this year alone yet the response from rich countries remains pitifully small.

“The food crisis has pushed another 200 million people into hunger – more than one in six of the world’s people now do not have enough to eat. The climate crisis contributes to severe weather that is forces people from their homes and destroys their livelihoods every day.”

Bena said:”Over the next few days, the G8 must show the leadership the world needs – there won’t be any second chances to save these 3 million people later.  The G8 cannot turn their back on the poorest people now – this must be a week of bold action.”

Notes to editors

Contact information