The global economic recession is reversing years of progress in reducing extreme poverty – a stark message that leaders from developing nations, in particular Africa, will take to this week's Group of 8 summit of wealthy countries in Italy.
Underlying the alarm over a rising tide of poverty, infant mortality, and hunger is the criticism that wealthy nations have not honored their commitments to substantially increase global aid.
The complaint – from developing country leaders as well as international institutions such as the World Bank and prominent aid advocates such as Bob Geldof – is that while the world's wealthy have found trillions of dollars to rescue private companies and financial institutions, they have cut back on aid to the poor.
"The very real risk is of G-8 countries going back on the [aid] commitments they made because of the economic crisis," says Sue Mbaya, director of Africa advocacy for World Vision, a Christian humanitarian organization with worldwide reach. "As much as [the G-8 countries] will feel the pinch, the truth is that the worst of the impact will be felt in developing countries."
In the poorest countries, lost jobs or reduced assistance translate into malnutrition, declining health, and increased maternal and infant mortality, said Ms. Mbaya in a phone interview from the G-8 summit in L'Aquila, Italy.
G-8 leaders had pledged at their 2005 summit in Gleneagles, Scotland to double aid to Africa by 2010. The pledge was accompanied by projections about the millions of lives that would be made more productive – and in turn boost the global economy.
•90 million more people will live in extreme poverty by year end, a jump of six percent over this year, says United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
Wealthy countries have fallen short of the goal of doubling aid, and in some cases reduced existing aid levels. Experts say the global economic downturn is just one reason for the unfulfilled commitments.
"Certainly, the global recession has exacerbated the situation, but the signs of stress in some of these countries were building before the recession took hold," says Stephen Morrison, Africa Program director at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
Rising food and energy prices in 2007 and 2008, along with a collapse of some commodity prices, was a one-two punch, he says, that dropped 100 million people into poverty before the shock waves of the recession.
Some countries – in particular the US and Britain – have done "pretty well" at honoring their Gleneagles commitment, Mr. Morrison says, adding that the goal of doubling aid in five years may have been over-ambitious.
"You could argue that there was a bit of hubris at Gleneagles, and that commitments that were already unrealistic were made more unrealistic by the recession," Morrison says.
Still, the G-8 countries could do better on aid if they had some kind of internal accounting or a permanent secretariat tracking commitments – something Morrison says is unlikely to happen at a time when the very concept of the G-8 is being questioned.
Some organizations are pressing for G-8 countries to adopt fixed timetables for meeting commitments. World Vision's Mbaya says such a step would increase aid effectiveness by boosting accountability and providing recipient countries the predictability they need to use the aid most efficiently.
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