Blair is warned of African aid shortfall

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The rock star Bono joined forces with Sir Bob Geldof yesterday to condemn EU governments for failing to abide by their promises on aid to Africa which he said was "bursting into flames".

The rock star Bono joined forces with Sir Bob Geldof yesterday to condemn EU governments for failing to abide by their promises on aid to Africa which he said was "bursting into flames".

The U2 singer, in Dublin to address EU development ministers from all 25 member states in an informal meeting on aid, was also among a list of celebrities to write to Downing Street calling on the Government to inject more money into fighting global poverty. In an open letter to Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, a string of stars called on Britain to raise its aid budget to 0.7 per cent of national income.

Colin Firth, Dame Helen Mirren, Joseph Fiennes and Ms Dynamite were among those who signed the letter, which warned that failing to meet the target would mean international goals to halve world poverty by 2015 would fail. The EU development ministers, including Hilary Benn, the Secretary of State for International Development, met in Dublin to discuss aid budgets.

Bono and Sir Bob Geldof have been lobbying for a rise in overseas aid. He said he did not want to see a repeat of the harrowing images of starving people in Africa of 20 years ago. But he added that the Aids crisis meant European countries needed urgently to increase help. "There are plans being discussed here today that would mean we wouldn't have to see those awful pictures again," he said. "Continental Africa is bursting into flames right now, there's an emergency going on and, for me, it's not really about charity at this point, it's about justice."

Britain spends 0.34 per cent of national income on aid, and the Department for International Development said yesterday that it was already "committed" to increasing aid to 0.34 per cent by 2005-06.

"The UK government remains committed to tackling global poverty and meeting the UN target of 0.7 per cent," said a spokeswoman. "Since 1997, official development assistance has increased by 97 per cent in real terms and, as a proportion of national income, it has increased from 0.26 per cent in 1997 to 0.34 per cent in 2003-04."

But charities such as Christian Aid want the Government to announce a timetable by which the UK will meet the 0.7 per cent target. The Government is about to decide its UK aid budgets for the next three years in the comprehensive spending review, which will determine the size of help for poverty-stricken countries until 2008.

Yesterday, Bono accused some European nations of breaking pledges on aid and said billions of pounds were needed to make an impact in Africa. He blamed "bureaucratic bottlenecks " within the EU for preventing $14bn, pledged by member states, from being spent. "At a time when 6,500 Africans are dying every day of Aids, that's not the Europe I want to be in," he said.

"We are after billions, not millions. And that's what it's going to take to sort out the problems of our next door neighbour. A lot of these people are doing some great things but there are promises being broken and that's unacceptable. You can't make promises and not keep them. There are some laggards hanging out here and I'm just going to be putting my hand in their wallets. We are getting there, but we just have to hurry them along."

Sir Bob Geldof, who was behind the charity concert Live Aid in 1985, recently attended a summit with African leaders at Downing Street to draw up plans for tackling poverty on the continent. There have been reports that Sir Bob is considering holding a Live Aid 2 to raise money for Africa. But yesterday Bono said: "At this point, there are no plans for a Live Aid 2. It would help but it wouldn't fix the problem."

Tom Kitt, the Irish Development minister who hosted the conference, said: "The EU constitutes the largest provider of aid worldwide: about 55 per cent [of the total]. We have a chance to make a real difference to the lives of poor people."

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