Canada can improve G8 track record on development: critics
A Canadian flag flies under the Peace Tower on Wednesday, March 3, 2010. (Adrian Wyld / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
The Canadian Press
Published Friday, April 16, 2010 7:01AM EDT
Last Updated Saturday, May 19, 2012 1:26AM EDT
OTTAWA - New figures show G8 countries are well short of their development-aid commitments -- but Canada can change that, aid advocates say.
The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development released numbers showing the Group of Eight rich countries are falling US$18 billion short of keeping a promise to double aid to poor countries.
The shortfall is particularly deep for Africa, the OECD says. In 2005, the G8 promised to increase aid to Africa by US$25 billion, but the continent will only receive about US$11 billion based on recent commitments.
"All donors need to make the efforts necessary to meet their commitments," said Eckhard Deutscher, chair of the OECD's development assistance committee.
The G8 agreed in 2005 at the Gleneagles summit in Scotland that they would double their official development assistance by 2010, and dedicate a larger proportion of their aid to Africa.
Canada has largely lived up to its promises, and has put C$5 billion toward aid in 2010-2011, said Jessica Fletcher, spokeswoman for International Development Minister Bev Oda.
"We come out looking better than most," agreed Dennis Howlett, national co-ordinator of Make Poverty History, an umbrella group of large non-governmental organizations in Canada.
That's why Canada should use its moral authority, as well as its control of the agenda as host of the next G8 summit, to pressure other countries to pay up, Howlett said.
Make Poverty History and representatives from dozens of other NGOs from around the world are meeting with G8 negotiators Friday in Vancouver.
They hope to pressure the member countries to live up to their aid commitments, despite the recent recession, and feel they can get Canada on their side, Howlett said.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper has frequently stressed that "accountability" will be a key theme of the summit, and has spoken loudly about the need for countries to live up to their previous commitments before embarking on all sorts of new directions.
And Oda plans to focus on accountability later this month when she meets her G8 counterparts for two days of pre-summit talks in Halifax, spokeswoman Fletcher said.
The NGOs won't stop there, however, in their lobbying of the G8.
Following up on Harper's decision to make maternal and child health a key theme, the NGOs want the G8 to commit meaningful money and agree to a "comprehensive" scheme that includes family planning and access to safe abortion in countries where it is legal, Howlett said.
The NGOs will also be pressuring the G8 to discuss climate change, but Howlett is not holding out much hope on that front. Ottawa has made it clear it would prefer to discuss climate change at the Major Economies Forum, and not at the G8 or G20.
The aid groups are also concerned that even if Canada and several other countries live up to their previous aid commitments, it's downhill from here.
That's because Canada and others have capped their aid budgets for future years, even as demands on that pool of money rise.
Canada has committed to increasing funding to help developing countries mitigate climate change, said Mark Fried, spokesman for Oxfam Canada.
At the same time, the world expects Ottawa to come up with new money for maternal and child health, to back the prime minister's priorities at the summit. Ottawa has also committed to help Haiti with its reconstruction.
"It has to be addressed," Fried said.
Still, Canada's aid record of late is among the best in the G8, said John Kirton, who leads the G8 Research Group at the University of Toronto. France, Italy and Russia are the biggest laggards while the United Kingdom comes out on top, he said.
He agreed that Canada could use its position as host to embarrass other countries to live up to their promises.
The key tool Ottawa can use is the "accountability framework" tested last year at the G8 summit in Italy, he said.
Ottawa has been developing better methodology that would measure compliance of the G8 countries on more than half a dozen different issues. When it makes each country's grades public, there will be pressure to improve, Kirton said.
"They can guilt the worst offenders into compliance."