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G20: A sobering look at the aid numbers

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President Barack Obama of the United States and President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono of Indonesia meet on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Toronto. (Charles Dharapak/Associated Press)

By Takumo Yamada, G20 citizen blogger

takumo52.jpgApology for the long silence - it's been hectic with everything you need to do as an NGO advocate at a G8 summit, plus my PC broke down on the eve of the summit, meaning I had to spend half a day running around the city looking for a solution to allow me to type in Japanese with an English computer.
 
But I managed to get through that with minimum stress because the people of the city of Toronto are so kind and helpful. Everywhere I went, they gave me the maximum support, whether my colleagues at Oxfam Canada, taxi drivers, the IT technicians at the media centre or the guys at the computer repair shop.
 
Yesterday was the mid-point of the summits and the last day of the G8 summit. The G8 communiqué came out around noon. It talks about a meagre $5 billion in "new" money for maternal, newborn and child health over five years (so $1 billion per year on average).
 
Meagre, when you think about the fact that the Canadian government alone managed to pay $1.1 billion just to organize three days of summits. What's needed is actually more like $10 billion, not $1 billion. What was announced was only one-10th of what the G8 collectively needs to provide in order for the world to reach the Millennium Development Goals on maternal and child health.
 
Worse still, this money may effectively mean that a child has to give up schooling in order to save their pregnant mother's life. Here is why:
 
When you read newspapers or watch TV news every year saying that the G8 promised this and that amount of money for so and so, you get the idea that the G8 must be a pretty generous group of countries to give away so much every year. After all, they promised to provide $22 billion for food security and agriculture last year, so the $5 billion for maternal and child health is on top of that, right?
 
Not so.
 
A crude fact is that the overall aid volume of the G8 countries is not going up, despite the promise five years ago to increase annual aid by $50 billion by this year.
 
The G8 countries themselves admitted this just days before the summit when they announced in their "Accountability Report" that they are about $10 billion short of meeting that promise (in our calculation, it is more like $20 billion short).
 
So, yes, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Co. may be being honest when they say the $5 billion for maternal and child health is "new" money, in the sense that it will be additional to the amount of money the G8 spent in this area in 2008.
 
But with overall aid flatlining, this may well mean that aid currently being spent on other crucial areas like education and food will be shifted, effectively robbing Peter to pay Paul.
 
With the fast-changing landscape of the global economy, development finance may be how the G8 proves its worth to the world. At this summit the G8 was giving up on that. But if we are to make the world a fairer place, the G8 countries must continue to fulfil the bulk of global development finance responsibilities, whether they like it or not.
 
I hope that when the G20 starts Sunday, leaders will push the G8 countries to keep their promises, and agree on a financial transaction tax as an alternative source of finance to fight global poverty and climate change.

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