G8 approves $60B African aid package

Leaders of the world's richest nations pledged on Friday to give $60 billion to fight the spread of disease and poverty in Africa, but critics immediately booed the pledge's lack of accountability.

The eight leaders of the world's richest nations pledged on Friday to give $60 billion to fight the spread of disease and poverty in Africa, as the G8 members sat down together for the final day of the summit.

Germany's development minister Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul announced the international agreement on Berlin television, saying the funds would be earmarked to combat the "dramatic" incidence of illnesses such as malaria and tuberculosis, as well as HIV/AIDS in Africa.

She added that the U.S. would donate half the money to increase access to drugs and treatment in the continent and that Germany would contribute $5.4 billion between now and 2015.

Attention on Friday shifted to Africa after much criticism from debt-relief activists that the G8 countries failed to make good on a commitment made at the 2005 summit in Gleneagles, Scotland,to boost aid to Africa by $50 billion by 2010.

Anti-poverty activists who had lobbied all weekfor a greater commitment from the G8 on Africaexpressedtheir fury with the announcement.

"Do they think we can't read or count? We are looking for accountable language and accountable numbers: we didn't get them today," U2frontman and Africa advocate Bonosaid Friday in a statement.

"It's worth remembering that these aren't statistics: these are hospitals without the electricity or clean water they've been promised, schools without roofs. Mothers without vaccinations for their children."

British Prime Minister Tony Blair said "the important thing is that we have recommitted ourselves to all the commitments we made a couple of years ago."

'Must not be distracted by big numbers'

Still, British anti-poverty group Oxfam was not convinced, and said the public should take the figures with a grain of salt, noting that the agency had estimates showing the G8 was set to miss the 2010 targets "by a massive $30 billion."

Since the original Africa package promised in 2005 was spread over several years, the new figure only fills in a small gap in aid, Oxfam said in a statement.

"We must not be distracted by big numbers," an Oxfam policy adviser said. "What the $60 billion headline means at best is just $3 billion extra in aid."

Music producer Bob Geldof andBono have singled out Canada for holding up progress on the Africa issue at this year's summit in Heiligendamm, Germany.

Harper insists Canada on track

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, meanwhile,has insisted that Canada was the only country in the G8 that was on track to meet the 2005 goals. He also said Africa was not his government's primary focus for the talks.

"Obviously, a focus of our government, our new government, is the Americas, where we also have countries that have developmental challenges," Harper told reporters.

But the opposition said theHarper governmentonly arrived at a claim to be on target by re-calculating Canada's 2005 commitment and shaving off $800 million — nearly one-third — from the $2.9 billion the Liberals promised in 2005.

The renewed African aid pledge is a coup for German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who chaired this year's summit and wanted Africa and climate change to be the two primary issues.

On Thursday, G8 leaders agreed on a plan calling for "substantial cuts" — or a 50 per-cent reduction — of greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2050. Few details of the agreement were released, though.

That left the issue of African aid on the table for Friday.

Harper snubs Bono

Geldof, who was on hand for the summit in Germany, said he was confident after talks with Merkel that she could persuade other G8 leaders to act on Africa.

Bono was also in Germany and held meetings with many of the G8 leaders, including Merkel and U.S. President George W. Bush, but Harper's staffers did not return Bono's phone calls.

"My priority here this week is to meet with other leaders," Harper told reporters.

"Meeting celebrities isn't my shtick. That was the shtick of the previous guy," he added, referencing former Liberal prime minister Paul Martin. Bono was the keynote speaker at the Liberal leadership convention in November 2003.

Harper said that although he is a fan of U2's musicianship, he is more interested in making time to meet with African leaders this week.

Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi said his country, which owes $351.34 million and did not pay in 2006 and 2007, has pledged to pay that amount and would increase aid spending to $540.52 million next year.

Japan has also signalled that it would not block any language in the final communique on targets to increase aid, combat AIDS and provide for more education in Africa.

With files from the Associated Press and the Canadian Press