No place to hide for G8 leaders on foreign aid

International pressure to honor pledges of foreign aid contends with domestic imperatives to slash public spending. This is just one of the dilemmas facing leaders of the world’s most powerful economies at their summit starting on Thursday in the French town of Deauville.

The 2005 G8 summit in Scotland committed to increase annual foreign aid by $50 billion by 2010. International NGOs are unhappy with the outcome, a shortfall of $19 billion.

“Had the G8 met their aid promise, they could have got every child into school,” according to an Oxfam International briefing released last week.

African governments have especial cause for grievance. Only $11 billion out of the extra $25 billion promised in 2005 has been forthcoming.

Defending lackluster performance has become more difficult for the G8 since its own 2009 commitment to offer greater transparency in reporting foreign aid.

The Deauville Accountability Report published by the French hosts in advance of the 2011 summit unleashes 60 pages of information. It declares that “the G8 is on a renewed path of transparent follow-up of its commitments.”

Old habits die hard, however, and the Deauville paper is not averse to camouflaging bad news. It blurs the distinction between the G8 and the wider group of rich donor countries. And it presents aid figures unadjusted for inflation, as well as their real values. Oxfam describes this as a “sleight of hand.”

Nevertheless, European governments come under additional scrutiny through the annual AidWatch report published by CONCORD, the pan-European confederation of NGOs working on international development issues.

The 2011 report published last Thursday goes beyond criticism of unfulfilled promises to question the targeting of aid itself.

“(Governments) are linking their aid more closely to European Union security, migration and commercial interests,” the AidWatch report complains. It focuses particularly on so-called “priority” disbursements for Afghanistan which are being classified as aid.

Although Italy is identified as the major offender in cutting back its foreign aid, the AidWatch report finds Germany’s performance inexcusable. “In spite of being the biggest EU economy and the engine for economic growth in the EU, (Germany) has fallen short of its aid obligations by more than 3 billion euros,” it says.

Monitoring promises by richer countries to assist the poorest is about to become doubly problematic. At recent UN climate change conferences, developed countries have agreed to fund $30 billion of climate aid over the period 2010-2012, a sum of similar order to conventional foreign aid.

“Have Countries Delivered on Fast-Start Climate Finance?” is an analysis released last Friday by the Washington-based World Resources Institute.

It finds that national reporting methods are inconsistent, “making it very difficult to track and monitor progress against the pledges.” This is despite a commitment to greater transparency, negotiated in the Cancun agreements at the 2010 UN climate change conference.

WRI is forced to conclude that, for fast-start climate finance, “developed countries continue to teeter in honoring even their modest commitments.”

A common feature of this NGO scrutiny of G8 performance on foreign aid is praise for the US government in fulfillling its recent pledges. Even Oxfam concedes that “the US is the only G8 country to have met its (2005) commitments and go beyond them.”

However, equally common to the reports is alarm that the Obama administration’s empathy for aid will be a casualty of the fraught budget process for both 2011 and 2012 financial years. The WRI analysis expresses concern that Congress may slash the president’s original request for fast-start climate finance for FY2011 by as much as half.

With so much fiscal pressure bearing down on the world’s largest economies, it seems safe to predict that the 2011 Deauville summit is unlikely to feature any fresh pledges of support for the world’s poor, however urgent the need.

As evidence suggesting a fresh crisis for global food security continues to build, governments of the poorest countries will be anxious to hear of renewed commitment to existing promises from the G8 leadership.

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this article was first published in the OneWorld section of Yahoo World News

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