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G8 countries accused of ignoring debt relief

BMJ 2000; 321 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.321.7257.320/a (Published 05 August 2000) Cite this as: BMJ 2000;321:320
  1. Joe Lamar
  1. Okinawa, Japan

    Leaders of the world's eight most powerful nations were accused of treating the symptoms rather than the causes of poverty in the developing world last weekend after they promised action on disease, education, and technology but failed to progress on debt relief.

    At a G8 summit in Okinawa, the heads of the United States, Japan, Germany, France, Britain, Italy, Canada, Russia, and the European Union noted that the world economy is in its best shape for many years. They committed themselves to share these benefits with poorer countries.

    The leaders pledged support for a United Nations goal for 2010 to have cut HIV infection and AIDS by 25% tuberculosis by 50% and malaria by 50% Britain will double its contribution to this cause, from £50m ($75m) to £100m, and Romano Prodi, president of the European Commission, said that more funds would be spent in this area.

    On education, the G8 said that it would strengthen its efforts to achieve the target of universal primary education by 2015. The US president, Bill Clinton, announced an extra $300m to provide free school meals for nine million children to encourage people into classrooms. Japan has allocated an extra $18bn for developing countries, most of which will be used to improve information technology. The G8 leaders will also set up a task force to study how to close the digital divide between the technology “haves” and “have nots.”

    Critics said that such actions were a distraction from the G8's failure to live up to its commitment at the Cologne summit last year to ease the loan burden of 41 heavily indebted nations by $100bn.

    Only nine countries have met the strict conditions for debt forgiveness, but although the British prime minister, Tony Blair, and other leaders expressed frustration at the slow pace of the system, they made no progress on how to speed it up.

    Comparing this failure with the luxurious hospitality provided by Japan, which spent a record 81 billion yen (£506m; $760m) on the summit, Ann Pettifor, director of Jubilee 2000, said: “This reminds me of Marie Antoinette dining at her table. When the poor of Paris banged on her door she said, ‘Let them eat cake.’ “Médecins Sans Frontières welcomed the initiative to reduce infectious diseases, but it noted that developing countries spend twice as much a year in debt repayments as on health and education combined: “We will monitor the G8 to ensure more concrete action and fewer empty promises.”

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