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Food crisis, Africa aid at center stage

NGOs call on G8 chiefs not to renege on vows to help

by Reiji Yoshida

TOYAKO, Hokkaido — The three-day Group of Eight summit kicked off Monday in Toyako with Japan’s leadership of the G8 being tested by a raft of new global challenges.

The Toyako summit, which Japan is chairing, is the largest-ever G8 summit in terms of the number of participating states, as seven African countries and an additional seven emerging economies, including China and India, were invited to outreach sessions.

Monday’s outreach sessions were devoted to African development and other Africa-related topics, including soaring food and oil prices, which have had a particularly strong impact on people in poor states.

Top leaders from Algeria, Ethiopia, Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, Tanzania, as well as the African Union, met in outreach sessions to deliver African views to G8 leaders Monday.

“This summit is arguably the most important G8 summit of the decade. The world is clearly facing multiple crises,” said Max Lawson, policy adviser of nongovernmental organization Oxfam, at a news conference Monday at Toyako.

At the beginning of the sessions, Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda reported to the G8 leaders the results of the Tokyo International Conference on African Development that was held in May, reiterating Japan’s pledge to double African aid by 2012, according to a senior Japanese diplomat who briefed reporters.

Fukuda said Japan will also beef up assistance to increase private-sector investment in Africa, emphasizing the importance of economic growth in overcoming poverty in Africa, the official said.

The G8 states — Japan, the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Canada and Russia — were expected to announce their new African assistance plans in a joint statement to be issued Tuesday or Wednesday.

During the sessions, African leaders noted that past G8 summit promises often fell short due to the lack of a proper followup mechanism.

To cope with the current food crisis, they also urged the G8 leaders to consider increasing aid to boost farming productivity in Africa.

Oxfam and other NGOs claimed the G8 countries have been neglecting key promises they made in past G8 summits to increase assistance to Africa.

According to aid group Oxfam, the G8 will miss the promise they made at the 2005 summit in Gleneagles, Scotland, to boost global aid by $50 billion by 2010 “by a staggering $30 billion,” which it says could cost 5 million lives.

The pace of implementation of aid promises has been “desperately slow,” said Oliver Buston, Asian and European director of One, another NGO, during the joint news conference with Oxfam.

Germany, the U.S. and Britain have been largely following through on their commitments to Africa, but Italy and Canada have been blocking the G8 process. The groups have yet to make a judgment on how Japan and France are following up on their commitments, the NGOs said.

“We are currently struggling with aid volumes, which I have to acknowledge is the wrong signal at the wrong time,” European Commission President Jose Barroso was quoted by an EU source as saying to African leaders during the outreach session.

“I am strongly pushing all EU member states to establish indicative timetables to illustrate how they will meet their agreed targets,” Barroso was quoted as saying.

During Monday’s sessions, the G8 leaders also criticized Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe’s victory in a one-man runoff election last month, and some leaders even urged further sanctions against the country, Japanese diplomats said.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, climate change will be the main topic of the G8 and its outreach sessions.